A Writer's Complicated Relationship With Guns
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Elaina Plott has had a complicated relationship with guns. Growing up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., hunting was a big part of growing up. Plott's grandfather sold guns at his store. And then she was shot. In a new piece for The Atlantic magazine, Plott wrote about her evolving opinion on guns and gun control. She joins me now in our studios in Washington, D.C., to talk about it. Welcome to the program.
ELAINA PLOTT: Thank you so much for having me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So why did you decide to write this story?
PLOTT: The Parkland mass shooting had just happened. And as a congressional reporter, I was responsible for getting reactions from Republican lawmakers. It just sort of occurred to me for the first time how deeply personal it felt to write about guns. And so I ended up going into my editor's office and saying to him, is there any way that I can make this personal?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How were guns central to your life growing up?
PLOTT: Growing up, I mean, from a very young age, you're kind of taught to revere guns because hunting is such a big part of the culture. Deer season is something everyone looks forward to. And I note this in the piece - and it sounds silly - but even when you're in high school, and you start dating, it's a big deal if your boyfriend asks you to go hunting with him. It's kind of a rite of passage in a relationship. I feel like it touched our lives in so many ways that even I hadn't really articulated before, which was one interesting experience I had in writing this.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then something happened to you.
PLOTT: Junior year of college, I was home for summer break. And I was in Tuscaloosa. And it was around 9 o'clock at night. I drove up to a red light. I was alone in my mom's car. I had my window down, and I noticed a silver pickup truck driving really closely toward me. And as it passed, I heard this popping sound, and then it just felt like my arm was on fire. And I looked down, and I just saw blood gushing out of my arm.
And it seems logical to think, well, of course I would call 911, or I would try to go to the hospital - never crossed my mind. I just thought, well, my dad will know what to do. And from there, I went to the hospital, and we got two opinions from surgeons, who both said that the bullet was too deep in the muscle to take out, that it would do more damage than good. So it's still there.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You still carry this bullet around with you.
PLOTT: I do carry it, yes.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So did that change the way you viewed guns? I mean, you sort of took them as a fact of life. And then, all of a sudden, you were shot.
PLOTT: It didn't change my views initially. And I think part of the way I coped with what happened to me was just not thinking about it. Even when close friends at school knew what happened and they asked me, had my views changed? - I just kind of brushed it off because I think I knew a seed had been planted in terms of me actually wanting to explore how I felt about this issue beyond the cultural elements of how I grew up. And it wasn't until Parkland that I really decided I can't stop thinking about this or pretending that it's not so intricately connected to me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You write that after the shooting in Parkland, Fla., your grandfather called you to say he was thinking about not selling assault rifles anymore.
PLOTT: Right. I was going to dinner one night, and right before I went in the restaurant, my grandfather called me. And he was really torn up over what had happened in Parkland, as most Americans were. And he said, you know, I called the manager of the gun counter of our store, and I said, do we need to keep selling AR-15s? Is this something necessary? Like, why do people buy these from us?
So he ordered kind of an inventory of who bought them from the store and what their purpose was. And then he also got in touch with the ATF to say, will I get in trouble if I raise the age restrictions, just for these rifles alone, from 18 to 21?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ATF is Alcohol, Tobacco...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...And Firearms.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Federal agency.
PLOTT: Right. And they said you can do this because it's a private business, but you'll open yourself up to lawsuits. And he said, well, I don't care. I - this feels important to me to do, however small a change it seems to be. And after that conversation, it's almost like I felt I had permission to start deviating from the way I'd been raised, in a way, to view guns.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And did he take the guns off the shelves in his store?
PLOTT: He ended up not doing that. A lot of people who own land outside of Tuscaloosa to hunt have their grain and everything ravaged by wild hogs all the time. It's just a chronic problem. And AR-15s are the most effective tool of stopping them. And for that reason, he continues to sell them. But he did go through with the age change.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You say that this became personal to you when you started speaking to lawmakers about what had happened in Parkland and what they were thinking of doing about it. What do you think the biggest disconnect is between them and gun owners? Because on the one hand, you have some of them saying, we're not going to do anything. But you have your grandfather saying, you know, I'd like to do something. What can I do?
PLOTT: You know, my grandfather is no lefty. He voted for Donald Trump. He has been a lifelong Republican. And to hear him say we've got to, you know, start having a real conversation about this and finding a way to arrive at the middle because these mass shootings are only increasing and then go and talk to lawmakers who insist to me that constituents in their deeply red district just bristle at the idea of any change with regard to gun laws, it started to ring incredibly untrue to me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What did your grandfather say about your story?
PLOTT: He loved it. He said that he just hoped that it started a real conversation in this country about even just the incremental things that could be done. So if that conversation is spurred at all in part because of my piece, I'll be quite thrilled.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Elaina Plott. She's a staff writer for The Atlantic. Thank you so much.
PLOTT: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF KORESMA'S "THE OVERLOOK")
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