Gun Violence in Underworld

When I first drafted underworld in 2013, I really didn’t set out to write a story about gun violence. But over the years it took me to finish the story, I think it’s become one of the more prominent themes. The book isn’t a preachy book, least of all about guns, but they’ve become a hot button topic in the last year or so, and I think it’s worth talking about what I believe, what the characters in Underworld believe, and how inadequate I feel inadvertently becoming part of the discussion.

The Firm Stance

I had a booth at FlameCon last weekend, a convention for and about gay geek culture. This year, to support those who died in the 2016 Orlando Nightclub Shooting, the con banned all gun paraphernalia as well as any weapons that seem real, no matter how fake they were. The team in charge said they were tired of gun culture, and the fear it creates. Gun violence, they said, should be a thing of the past.

They took the firm stance. The no tolerance stance. And while it’s a stance I can admire, it’s not one I support.

The Road to Perdition

I had a strange experience, pitching Underworld at FlameCon. I pitched Underworld thus:

Eight high school seniors go to a rave on the eve of their graduation to party, do drugs, and get laid.

All save one, who brings a gun.

And getting right down to it, that’s the story. Things get bad for our protagonist, Hero Banner, and then they get worse. And worse. And then kids start shooting guns. Of the many questions of novel, the most pressing is this: Can Hero Banner keep his friends from getting killed as a result of his bad choices?

I didn’t write the book as my stance on guns. The book is about knowing yourself. And the dangers of not knowing yourself. Guns just happen to be the best way, in our time, to make horrific mistakes. I never considered that a belief of mine made manifest on the page, because it’s absolutely clear to me that guns are dangerous, and the less out there in the world, the better. You don’t need to take a leap of faith to believe something like that. You just need to look at the statistics.

But at the politically charged event that was FlameCon, pitching my book became a statement, rather than a description. And it was one that I really didn’t feel comfortable making. I can’t even count the number of people who looked at me with disappointment for writing a book about a hot topic. Nor the number who looked at me with reverence for taking a stand.

In a sense, an opinion was projected upon me, rather than it stemming from somewhere inside me.

But of course I have an opinion, and to set the record straight—at least for today, August 26, 2015—here are my thoughts.

The Hard Truth


At the Huffington Post, I worked on an editorial project where we went through the last fifteen mass shootings. For each, we showed just how many were killed, and precisely what holes in legislature allowed people with criminal records, a history of mental illness, and suspicious terrorist connections to walk into a store and buy automatic weaponry.

I found it thoroughly appalling just how easy it would be to prevent further mass shootings. And just about the only thing worse was just how quickly the public forgot their outrage for the Orlando shooting. Just how easy it was for congress to forget to pass that legislature in favor of their gun lobbyist’s money. Just how easy it will be for the next shooter to kill.

We ultimately decided to hold off on releasing the project because of how quickly the population forgot Orlando. We archived it so that we’d be ready to release when the next massacre happened. Because we know there will be another.

For that reason, I don’t blame the lunatics who inflict gun violence on the rest of us, but the able-minded people who forgot what happened. Who gave up on petitioning their lawmakers. Who found it easier to forget their friends’ and family’s thoroughly stupid opinions about gun control. Who don’t think its worth their time to sign a petition. Who are willing to vote for politicians lacking a firm stance on the issue. Because all of those people might be the next shot up at their school, at their church, at their favorite club, or in the comfort of their own home. And still they do nothing.

A Balanced Perspective

That said, I don’t think it’s at all productive to ban the concept of guns. Neither from a convention, nor from the world. As Underworld proves, guns and gun violence are thoroughly useful fodder for stories, and a good story never hurt anybody.

We can’t change all the laws around guns at once, but we can certainly work our way toward a safer, better, more enlightened world. If we try.