Guns, domestic violence, and other terrifying things below the cut, especially in linked material. No comments. Perhaps there can be a discussion at the friendsofcaptainawkward.com forums. I cannot moderate that discussion at this time.
Partner and I have been together 7 years, living together for most of that time. We definitely have communication problems, exacerbated in part by less-than-ideal childhood experiences along with mental health issues (some of which are being treated). How we handle arguments with one another is WILDLY different. Partner prefers to argue it out until we’re done. I feel trapped and need to get away to process things and get out of my “fight or flight” mode (a mode that is often activated via conflict, especially Partner’s anger).
We also have VASTLY opposite opinions on guns. Partner enjoys guns quite a lot and believes them useful both for hunting and for protecting me should my safety be threatened by someone breaking into our living space. They feel safer with a gun in the house. I, however, am extremely NOT okay with guns. To me, they create a possibility for unmitigated violence in any situation, particularly since I have had suicidal ideations my whole life. Before Partner purchased the gun they own, we talked about precautions they would need to take to ensure my personal safety. These precautions include me not knowing where the gun is, not having access to the key or combination, and alerting Partner if I am feeling actively suicidal. I was still incredibly uneasy with the idea, but agreed that I would not say no to them buying a gun.
It’s been over a year, and I’m still not okay with it. I hate having it in my living space. It makes me feel terrified and uncomfortable and unsafe. When I bring it up to Partner, they say that it’s unfair for me to express displeasure about their gun, and that them having their gun is synonymous to me enjoying my hobbies. I tried to explain that part of my terror is that I must factor the existence of the gun into scenarios in which we break up. (Aside: running possible scenarios is both a thing I do as part of my personality AND is part of my anxiety disorder.) But Partner insists this scenario isn’t something I need to ever fear.
Thing is, 4 years ago, in an argument where I tried to leave the living space to clear my head and feel safe, Partner chased me down our stairs and slammed my head into a wall, then knocked my phone out of my hands when I tried to call 911.
Partner has not been actively violent to me since that interaction (passively violent, yes, but even that has stopped altogether 18mos+ ago, after many conversations explaining why things like blocking my exit or following me if I leave are abusive). I tend to not view Partner as An Abuser, but as a Person Who Has Done Abusive Things But Tries To Learn And Do Better. There isn’t the typical honeymoon period or anything of that nature, but a genuine growth.
And yet I cannot help but draw the equivalency in my head between Partner assuring me they would never hurt me followed quickly by me laying in the floor with a migraine that lasted for days watching my phone fly across the room, and their current promise that they would never shoot me, themselves, or others.
I haven’t brought up this equivalency for fear of being told I am dredging up the past to hold over Partner’s head. But I can’t fathom a situation where either of us feel that we win. In one scenario, they keep their gun and I continue to live in fear and discomfort. Another, they get rid of their gun but resent me for forcing them to. Another, we break up so they get to keep their gun and I get to live in a gun-free living space. I suggested another scenario today, where Partner stores their gun at Not Our Living Space, but they told me that wasn’t a logistical possibility.
Any advice or validation or any such thing you have for me would be greatly appreciated. I also understand if this just isn’t something you’re comfortable addressing (or even have time to!). Thank you for creating a space like Captain Awkward — it’s definitely made my life so much better by giving me better tools and strategies for viewing myself and others.
Unapologetic Gun Hater
Dear Unapologetic Gun Hater,
I don’t know where to start but I know that your letter is going to boil inside me until I answer it so here we are.
Your partner could be a total sweetheart with no history of controlling or violent behavior and also be General Goodperson of Gun Mountain, Olympic Gold Medalist in Gun Stuff, Annie Oakley Award Recipient For Neat-o Gun Tricks, Sworn To Only Eat What They Personally Kill and there should still be no guns in your shared house, ever. Constitutional rights, state and local ordinances be damned, growing up in a culture where guns are common (military family, hunting, etc.) be damned: You do not put a quick-acting and irreversible means of causing death within easy reach of a person who says, “I can’t have guns around; it makes me feel unsafe.” You get to set your own personal risk tolerance, and you get a say in whether deadly weapons come into your home, and one thing that your partner could do to make you feel instantly safer about the prospect of gun ownership in general is to actually listen to you and believe you about the part that specifically affects you. Instead, what we have is:
- A person who has done abusive and terrifying and violent things to you brought a gun into your house against your stated wishes,
- A person who claims to love you, who knows of your history of anxiety and suicidal impulses, brought a gun into your house against your stated wishes, and kept it there, knowing how its presence haunts and terrifies you,
- You feeling that you are not “allowed” to bring up your “displeasure” because something-something-hobbies-fairness-hunting-fun-logistics, and,
- Your suggested compromise, that partner gets to have gun as long as they keep it somewhere else, completely dismissed; and,
- Your partner took multiple years to “learn” that you are allowed to leave a room when you want to.
In addition, I don’t think this is a rifle, useful for outdoorsy hobbies like hunting. I think this is a handgun, useful for shooting people. The “don’t criticize my hobbies, I’m not controlling, YOU’RE CONTROLLING” reaction to your displeasure mixed with the justification that it’s all really for your safety, to protect against intruders who might hurt you, does not pass my smell test.
When you run scenarios about breaking up (which I suggest is less a quirk of your personality or a symptom of your anxiety than a completely reasonable response to all of the above sent by your fear which is trying to protect you), the gun is a factor because how could it not be? It’s a factor because all the research says that the presence of guns in the home increases risk of suicide and homicide and because (I think) (deep down) you suspect that you are not really “allowed” to leave this relationship (alive). You remember what happened once when you tried to leave the building, you remember that ‘passively violent’ things occurred until 18 months ago (until…they bought a gun). It’s not unfairly dredging up the past for you to consider all of that history when you assess your partner’s fitness to be a gun owner, it is entirely fair, it is MORE THAN fair. People who smash their partner’s head against a wall don’t get to decide what it’s fair for that partner to consider when it comes to personal safety.
When someone with a history of controlling and violent behavior buys a gun, it is a red flag and it’s not a coincidence to me that they would become interested in that specific “hobby.” In fact, I have a theory that your partner’s sudden improvement in behavior and interest in guns possibly coincided with some great improvement in your life – a new & better job, some increase in confidence or improvement in finances – some event that increased your independence and spooked them that you might actually leave someday. I hope I am wrong about that. While we’re talking theories, I have to raise the possibility that on some level, your partner likes your discomfort with guns, and that’s part of the reason they insist on keeping one in the house. They like “winning” the argument to logick you into agreeing to let them purchase one. They like the drama of “where is it?” They like knowing that there is this powerful, scary force that makes you run scenarios about how hard it might be to leave them. They like it because they like controlling you, and the constant presence of a weapon that terrifies you as a trump card of their control. You’ve had to do the calculus of “partner would never physically harm me” and now you are doing the the math of “partner would never shoot me” and Letter Writer, it’s the same:
“I tend to not view Partner as An Abuser, but as a Person Who Has Done Abusive Things But Tries To Learn And Do Better. There isn’t the typical honeymoon period or anything of that nature, but a genuine growth.” -You
“There’s good in him, I’ve felt it!” – Luke Skywalker
Luke deserved a better dad, and you deserve a partner who doesn’t do anything abusive, ever. You deserve a partner who doesn’t have to “grow” into basic decency and kindness and, um, not terrifying you. You deserve a break from having to justify their behavior and calculate their “growth” and from wondering if today is they day they finally kill you or if today is the day the suicidal darkness takes over when you find the gun in the china cupboard. If your partner wants to grow and leave behind their abusive past, that’s good, but it doesn’t obligate you to stay as a reward. “Not abusive” is literally the LOWEST possible bar to set. They should want to do that anyway as the bare minimum of being a good person, not just as a means to keep you invested.
Let’s look at your scenarios:
“In one scenario, they keep their gun and I continue to live in fear and discomfort.” NO! Do not recommend. Though your partner seems strangely okay with your terror.
“Another, they get rid of their gun but resent me for forcing them to.” I read this as “Your partner will get rid of the gun (or pretend to) and then punish you constantly in a million small ways.”
“Another, we break up so they get to keep their gun and I get to live in a gun-free living space.”
“I suggested another scenario today, where Partner stores their gun at Not Our Living Space, but they told me that wasn’t a logistical possibility.” This was a brave compromise on your part and its rejection does not speak well of your partner. If only their needs are important, yours are dismissed, they are okay with you being totally unhappy and nervous, what choice does that leave you? If you wrote to me hoping for scripts for convincing your partner to relent on this point, I’m sorry – I think you probably made this request just fine and there are no words that will change the mind of someone who has contempt for your feelings.
We are people of action, and lies do not become us: Leaving is scary and opens up more than just the uncertainty of heartbreak and starting over domestically, since most domestic violence-related murders take place when the abused partner decides to leave. That gun is blocking your exit at the same time it is making leaving a matter of urgency, and you are the only one who can decide the safest path. I hope you will call a trained person and talk with them about what’s going on. I hope you will make a safety plan. I hope you will gather up Team You. I hope you will get out of there. I hope I’m wrong about all of this, that I’m totally overreacting and misreading the situation, that I’m just on edge from living in a country where this is happening.
Your letter sounds like an emergency to me, and the call is coming from inside your house.