Apparently, you can get a gun quicker than a book out of the library, in some US states. Everyone we know here – all five friends – have told us to get a handgun, for protection. After a visit at 2am from a carload of drunken rednecks (down our 8 mile windy driveway) we decided it was time. I have to admit I was excited; I’ve always harboured a Ma Baker fantasy.
The variety of guns at Diamond Jim’s was staggering along with the selection of booze and candy. Holding a Beretta – originally made for cowboys 500 years ago – felt flash. A Ruger Blackhawk revolver was just plain sexy. Did we want security or steadiness? Lightweight or light price? Should I be Linda from Terminator or Agent Starling from Silence of the Lambs? We ended up leaving with option paralysis and a bag of gummy bears. The Camp Director told us Marcus*, a nineteen-year-old staff member could help us decide.
‘Everyone’s got a Beretta,’ he said, ‘and Glock’s are cheap. AB10 submachine is cool, probably not what you need tho. Smith Wesson’s are dope. The police told me, when I was in jail, Sig Sauer’s the most reliable – don’t jam and easy to hit your target.’
You could have fitted a small child into my open mouth. Marcus is one of my favourite staff members; good-natured, smart, funny and friendly. He was not, in my mind, an arms expert with time on the inside. Everyone here’s got a story.
Hunter’s Point, where Marcus grew up, is home to two of San Francisco’s most notorious gangs: Big Block and Westmob. Amongst graffiti-scarred housing projects – in a neighbourhood smaller than Taradale – the two warring gangs have a revolving total of 20 members. You’re lucky to make 30, so they recruit them young.
Twelve years old, was Marcus, when he fired his first gun as initiation into Big Block. ‘We learnt to aim by shooting out the streetlights,’ he said. His teenage years were spent hiding, shooting, hunting and being hunted. Just like a video game. Marcus took a gun to school, to the mall and often just leaving the house. ‘Got your hammer?’ his friends would ask. ‘Tucked’ he’d reply.
Of the 70 homicides in San Francisco last year, the biggest share took place in Hunters Point, most of them young black men. Marcus is lucky to be alive; he’s been fired at plenty, once through the foot. ‘I feel like I didn’t really have a childhood. At the time it was cool, but looking back it wasn’t fun.’
He told me, quietly, he shot a couple of guys – in retaliation. Fortunately they survived, however that has put a monstrous target on Marcus’ back. The Director’s van was shot at when she picked him up a couple of months ago so he’s been staying at camp ever since, to help out with rentals. And stay alive. Not that anyone would know this unless you’re a nosy cow like me.
It’s hard to believe it’s real. Spike Jones tried to capture Hunters Point in a film; the truth is wilder than fiction. Everyone seems to agree the hood’s spiraled out of control since guns became ubiquitous. Marcus’ story makes me feel grim.
Sadly, if we met him in the city, at night, we wouldn’t see his friendly face – we’d only see a saggy-trousered, shaved-head youth. If the Dimple owned a gun he might tuck it. We would certainly never trust him to babysit, as we’ve done.
Guns are sexy, because they’re powerful. They kill. Ma Baker was one wild mama but she died with a gun in her hand.
The Dimple wants to protect us but if we shoot at drunken lost boys in the middle of the night, won’t they retaliate and fire back? Will it start a redneck vs. woodster’s war? We consulted our arms advisor and surprisingly, Marcus was the first to say, ‘Nah, you don’t need a gun. You don’t have to worry about nothin’ happening to your kids up here.’
Perhaps he’s right. Best I join the library.
What say you big brother?
* I’ve changed Marcus’ name for his protection.