I grew up in rural Arkansas, both my parents were veterans of World War II and I had three brothers but we never had a gun in our house.
We knew plenty of people who hunted, but it wasn't part of the tradition in my extended family. I didn't know anyone, other than police officers, who sported a handgun.
I've lived several decades, my homes have been broken into, I've been mugged on a city street and run hundreds of miles in the pre-dawn hours, but never once have I felt I'd be safer with a gun.
Quite the contrary. Like reckless drivers on the highway, guns are something I try to avoid.
These thoughts came to mind Tuesday as politicians and retailers rushed headlong to repudiate symbols of the Confederacy following the horrific shootings in South Carolina.
There, by all accounts, Dylann Roof, a young man who had posed with the Confederate flag and dreamed of reviving a separate nation for whites, sat and prayed with a group of black people in a church for the better part of an hour and then shot and killed nine of them.
Walmart, always ahead of the game, was the first major retailer to yank Confederate flag items. "We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer," a spokesman explained.
I make no case for the Confederate flag. Like guns, it was not part of my upbringing. All my grandparents immigrated to the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And, Arkansas, although a beacon of intolerance in the mid-20th century, narrowly voted for secession and provided about as many Civil War volunteers to the Union as the Confederacy. There just wasn't much Old South nostalgia floating around in my childhood.
But what I can't figure is why in the world retailers responded to this horrible tragedy, apparently carried out by a 21-year-old who had no trouble buying a gun with his birthday money, by removing flags — and not guns — from their stores?
If Roof had walked into that sanctuary armed only with the Confederate flag and his crazy ideas those people would be alive today.
Cynicism is always in order when public figures and institutions make symbolic gestures, like removing Confederate merchandise from stores or yanking Jefferson Davis out of the Kentucky Capitol. As a marketing professor noted in a column for Fortune magazine about Walmart's action, "the decision will have little negative financial impact; the items were likely not big sellers in any event."
Not like guns.
The same for the politicians, particularly Republicans, who shucked off the aggressive race-baiting that served them so well in Kentucky last year to clamor for the ouster of Jefferson Davis. Certainly the long-dead president of a short-lived failed nation is a safer target than the powerful, wealthy, thriving gun lobby.
Don't get me wrong. I know that the tragedy in Charleston, the deep grieving of that community and the astounding forgiveness expressed by victims' family members have moved many, many people very deeply. We can only hope that one day all this pain and carnage will lead us to a better path.
But Walmart does offend me by removing only the symbol and not the instrument of this pain from its stores. And facile politicians offend me when they try to absolve their complicity in violence and inequality by moving a statue.
Symbols hurt people, sure, but guns kill people.
Reach Jaci Carfagno at firstname.lastname@example.org or 231-1652.