Tag Archives: guns

Albania’s Blood Feuds

AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Our neighbor accidentally drove over our lawn, dislodging a decorative boulder that I put in, but he never mentioned it. We could see the tire tracks from his side of our shared driveway. He probably saw me digging another hole to put the giant rock back in. It was just a boulder, but his un-neighborly silence irritated me. We avoided a feud because I decided an apology didn’t matter as much as our peaceful relationship. So I forgave him, and he kept being his painfully shy anxious self, gentle and unable to deal with the challenges of sharing a driveway. Forgive and forget, I figured. Not in the Balkans.

For Virginia Quarterly Review, Amanda Petrusich traveled to mountainous northern Albania to examine its culture of vengeance. For some Albanians, forgiveness is shameful. Someone must die to right a wrong, and families go on and on for generations, murdering the murderers or the murderers’ relatives, only to get shot themselves and continue the feud. Many blood feuds start over trivial acts, like refusing an alcoholic beverage. Feuds have killed an estimated 12,000 Albanians in the last 25 years. Traveling the region’s rough roads, Petrusich spent time with a negotiator whose job is to facilitate a détente between various parties. Some negotiators get murdered, too.

Per ancient edicts, the avenging family should hunt only an able-bodied adult male (the elderly, women, or boys who are too young to carry arms are excluded), though in recent years those dictums have relaxed, and it is no longer unusual to hear about the retaliatory murder of a young boy or girl. Feuds can begin over most anything, though a high percentage seem to involve property disputes. Despite earnest intervention by the church and the government, reconciliation between feuding families is rarely (if ever) brokered without blood, and the object of a feud—and his family members—are forced to spend decades barricaded inside their homes, hiding. To venture beyond the property line could mean a forceful and immediate death: sudden bullets from on high. Children are pulled from school; jobs are lost. Untethered from the rhythms of a regular life, and unable to conceive of a peaceful future, people drift into depression. Life is at once terrifying and terrifically boring. Families rely on donations to survive. Maybe friends bring food, boxes of groceries. Everyone watches a lot of television. Suicide is not unheard of.

That sounds like a horrible way to spend your life, and for what? Vengeance  seems to only bring more pain. Petrusich looks deeper to understand why this practice exists here and what retribution gets people. Albanian vengeance isn’t lawlessness. It’s an ancient code, so was there something in the exchange that made sense, something that connects back to humanity’s most basic collective unconscious? Most people don’t want to discuss resolution. They want revenge, and targets, as one told Petrusich, just wait for the bullets.

Despite believing these feuds to be barbaric and philosophically flawed—savage by any Western standard—I wondered if the blood feud was also the purest distillation of justice as practiced by a modern society, the least complicated restoration of some essential psychic balance. Blood let for blood let. By any accounting, it was a cathartic reckoning, to avenge a crime properly. It surely facilitated a particular kind of healing. Besides, what did it mean to witness and absorb something wicked, but not to correct for it yourself? Intellectually, I understood it was a mark of maturation and empathy and civilization to defer justice to a court, to some impartial entity separate from the family. But I thought, too, of the political philosopher Michael J. Sandel and his book Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? “The conviction that justice involves virtue as well as choice runs deep,” Sandel writes. Was justice not, at heart and freed from any attendant subtext, simply a faithful restoration of equity?

Vengeance is not merely prevalent in rural enclaves here; the notion of vigilante justice is threaded into Albanian culture. In 2015, Armando Prenga, a Socialist lawmaker and an elected member of Parliament, was arrested after getting into a barroom scrap with a sixty-six-year-old fisherman named Tom Cali. When members of Cali’s family went to local police to report the incident—Cali had been badly pistol-whipped—Prenga burst into the station with his brother and a cabal of associates, discharging several rounds of gunfire and hollering, “We will eradicate your tribe!”

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When Everyone In Town Has a Gun, But the Enemy is the Economy

(Joshua Lott / Getty)

For decades, residents of Nucla, Colorado mined the coal that fueled the nearby power plant. But a lawsuit brought on by environmentalists will close the nuclear plant in 2020, and the mine will shut down as well. One in eight people in the town will lose their jobs. Nucla had a moment of fame in 2013, not for its declining economy, but for an ordinance in the wake of Sandy Hook which ran against a national call for restricted gun access: Every household in Nucla would be required to own a gun.

Lois Beckett traveled to Nucla for the Guardian and talked with residents there about the fight for their livelihood. But Nucla’s enemies can’t be run off their land with firearms; they’re in the liberal town next door.

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Our Well-Regulated Militia

Illustration by: Kjell Reigstad

Alexander Chee | Longreads | April 2016 | 15 minutes (3,713 words)

 

Editor’s Note: In April, novelist Alexander Chee wrote an essay for us about the proliferation of automatic weapons and growing gun culture in the U.S., the complicated, polarized politics around gun control—and the notion that with more guns, we are somehow safer.

We re-post this in the wake of the tragic mass shooting, Sunday, June 12th, at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando—although, as Chee notes, there are, increasingly, too many occasions when this sort of piece is relevant.

“When you try to write about guns in America, you can’t bother to use the news peg approach. Any peg you choose goes by too quickly, replaced by another. It isn’t a peg as much as something that is always there—a constant, always rising death toll—spokes in a wheel that never stops turning.”

* * *

My partner Dustin and I recently bought a cabin in a 1930s-era hunting association a few hours from New York City. Out in the yard is a game hook for hanging a deer after shooting it. We are thinking of turning it into a swing.

Last summer, my retired prison guard neighbor there tried to convince me to do two things: marry Dustin—“I’ve seen too many gay guys like you get screwed by the family when something happens to one of you”—and get a hunting license to help him shoot some of the bears. We thanked him but did not marry, and as for the hunting license, we prefer watching the bears eat apples from the trees in the meadow—you could even say we prefer the bears to some of our neighbors.

The bears don’t bother us.

Most of the members of the association don’t seem to hunt much. Dustin and I go up regularly, every other weekend, and only a few times a year do we really hear anyone off in the woods shooting at anything. One day another neighbor appeared in camouflage and a bush helmet, carrying a bow and arrow, inviting us over to drinks.

Real hunting, as I know from my own family life, is hard. You have to be in decent shape, you need to be dressed for the weather, sprayed for bugs, you need sunblock, you need food packed for the day, you have to have a good dog you’ve trained year round, and you have to be able to field-dress what you kill or at least drag it to where you parked your car. Also: you need to know how not to get lost in the woods. I have a lot of respect for many of these hunters even if I don’t agree with what they’re doing or want to participate in it.

But I also know my cousin Jon back in Maine has a sideline as a butcher for deer and moose, was young when he learned how to carve them up from his game warden father, and he gets a little money and a little or sometimes a lot of meat from it, plus bones for his dog. This sideline exists because most of the hunters coming through his small town don’t know how to do what he does, or they can’t be bothered to do it.

His venison with garlic marinade is exceptional. Every time I have it, I’m grateful to his clients.

I wonder if the day will come when I’ll have to buy a gun. I’m just afraid that when the day comes, it won’t be because I’m hunting bears. Read more…

American Gun Culture Is Literally Killing Us: A Reading List

“You look like you’re saving the world. Are you saving the world?”

I looked up from my notebook into the face of a tipsy, friendly woman, glammed up for her night out. We were in the narrow aisle of our local pizza joint. She’d shared a quick snack with her friend, and my sandwich and soda were half-finished. Writing here has become a Friday night tradition: When I wrap up my shift at the bookstore, I head here to eat, read and sketch out last-minute ideas for my reading lists.

If she knew what I was reading, she wouldn’t ask me that. “No!” I laughed. “I wish.”

“Well, good luck with it, whatever you’re doing,” she said. I thanked her. She left with her friend.

I was reading—am reading—about guns. About their magnetism, their effect, their handlers. About the people caught in the literal crossfire, the innocent and the marginalized. Read more…

Guns ‘R (Still) Us

Out-of-state residents can purchase firearms in Arizona read the sign behind the counter at Sprague’s Sports in Yuma. ASK US HOW. I asked a clerk named Ron for details. He was short, packed solid as a ham, with a crew cut and a genial demeanor. He pointed to the cavalcade of hunting rifles lined up on the long wall behind him. “Any of these you can get today—or these over here,” he said, leading me to a corner of the store where two young men in ball caps and a woman with a sparkly purse were admiring a selection of AK-47’s.

I didn’t really want to buy an assault rifle, or even a handgun, but I was curious to know what buying one felt like, how the purchase worked, what-all was involved. Nobody in my circle back east had guns, nobody wanted them, and if anybody talked about them, it was in cartoon terms: Guns are bad things owned by bad people who want to do bad things. About the only time the people where I come from thought about guns was when something terrible happened. A lunatic sprays into a crowd and we have the same conversation we always have: those damn guns and those damn people who insist on having them.

In this 2012 GQ piece, Jeanne Marie Laskas spends a few shifts behind the counter at Sprague’s Sports in Yuma, Arizona, to learn about guns and gun culture in the most gun-friendly state in America.

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How Does a Magazine Go About Calculating the Financial Cost of Gun Violence?

To begin to get a grasp on the economic toll, Mother Jones turned to Ted Miller at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, an independent nonprofit that studies public health, education, and safety issues. Miller has been one of the few researchers to delve deeply into guns, going back to the late 1980s when he began analyzing societal costs from violence, injury, and substance abuse, as well as the savings from prevention. Most of his 30-plus years of research has been funded by government grants and contracts; his work on guns in recent years has either been tucked into broader projects or done on the side. “I never take positions on legislation,” he notes. “Instead, I provide numbers to inform decision making.”

Miller’s approach looks at two categories of costs. The first is direct: Every time a bullet hits somebody, expenses can include emergency services, police investigations, and long-term medical and mental-health care, as well as court and prison costs. About 87 percent of these costs fall on taxpayers. The second category consists of indirect costs: Factors here include lost income, losses to employers, and impact on quality of life, which Miller bases on amounts that juries award for pain and suffering to victims of wrongful injury and death.

Mark Follman, James West, Julia Lurie, and Jaeah Lee writing in Mother Jones about the magazine’s six-month-long investigation into the financial costs of gun violence in America.

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Guns in America: A Comprehensive Look

We’re pleased to bring College Longreads back for the academic year. Even if you had a productive summer, you still didn’t do as much as the 2014 News21 team. The Carnegie-Knight News21 is an investigative multimedia reporting project based out of Arizona State but staffed by student journalists from some sixteen universities. This year’s project, Gun Wars, resulted in dozens of stories, videos, interactive graphics and more about gun rights and regulations in the United States. The slick presentation is supported by deep, solid reporting, the kind that’s time consuming (interviews) and sometimes just plain tedious (comparing suicide-by-gun data, state by state). News21 presents its findings with empathy but without judgment, a rarity in a media culture where reporting is often presented through the lens of a particular point of view. So read, watch, and explore this lush journalism experience.

Gun Wars

Carnegie-Knight News21 Fellows | News21.com