Two weeks ago, I wrote a column arguing that “Gun obsession is an issue of a nation, not just a male one.” The story was met with contention — 50 comments’ worth — because some thought that I am anti-gun.
I am from South Central Los Angeles, and if you know anything about that area, then you know I am no stranger to guns. My parents and a lot of my extended family were in the Air Force, and my father, whom I love, owns multiple guns.
I am not anti-gun, nor am I a stranger to shooting guns or being around them. My argument, based on the comment section, was lost in translation as readers compartmentalized my points.
The next day, I received three emails. One person said every possible insult without cursing, and another replied in the form of a rebuttal column. The third one was an invitation.
Jace Allen Foulk, a computer science sophomore, reached out to me to explain gun culture from his perspective. After working out logistics, we met at Enoteca Rossa, a cafe on Bissonnet Street.
This was my first time meeting a reader. He also invited me to a gun range, but it was members-only. The owners, all UH alumni, offered to let us shoot anyway, but our appointment isn’t until Friday.
Seeing a face behind the thoughts, especially conflicting thoughts, was surreal.
“There were no proposed solutions,” Foulk said about my column.
Foulk spoke a lot about the lack of solutions offered in The Cougar’s opinion columns. That was something else we disagreed on: I responded that the solutions we offer are simply ones he does not like.
“A solution that I would propose is instating Project Exile,” Foulk said.
Project Exile was a strategy implemented in Richmond, Va., that prosecuted felons who illegally carried firearms with harsher sentencing. After the implementation, the city saw a 22 percent yearly decline in firearm homicides.
Foulk was not the average gun lover wanting to shove information in my face. He wanted me to be aware. The more I started to realize that there is a real culture around guns, I started to ask about his personal history with them.
His family history with guns goes back to his great-great-grandfather, Bill, who was a German immigrant. He has lost one of his eyes, leading to a nickname: “One-Eyed Bill.” Still, he was a great shot.
In early 1900s Oklahoma, One-Eyed Bill owned an ice store. Black cowboy towns surrounded the area, and One-Eyed Bill hired a black man to work in his store.
One night as they were coming back from a party to the store on their carriage, Foulk said that they were confronted by four KKK members. One-Eyed Bill drew his gun first, and thanks to his reputation, the KKK members all stood down.
“This isn’t confirmed, but I suspect that he knew who they were because he called out their names,” Foulk said.
Foulk himself has been shooting guns since he was 4 years old, practicing with a Model 85 Taurus .38 special revolver, a small handgun.
Foulk talked about the different types of guns he has and how they work. He spoke with such breadth of knowledge that it seemed he had gone to some type special training or camp. He knew as much offhand knowledge of guns as I do about film, which is where we found common ground, leading to a half-hour Star Wars discussion.
‘One life is too many’
Whenever immersing oneself in a new culture, you must be aware of the social issues in that culture, simply because you must be able to defend your identity to people who do not understand it. When talking about firearms, the most controversial social issue is gun violence.
According to TIME Magazine, the highest homicide rates come from St. Louis, Memphis and Chicago, with about 60, 29 and 27 deaths per 100,000 people, respectively.
According to the Violence Policy Center, in 2013, the last year with complete research, more than half of 41,149 deaths from suicide were completed with firearms.
In 2017, 737 people have been killed by police with guns.
I asked Foulk about his thoughts on gun violence.
Foulk said that violence is saddening, and he understands the nature of it from growing up in neighborhoods where he would hear gun shots and sirens not long afterward.
As he internalized this question further, Foulk’s once eloquent, smooth answers halted. He couldn’t speak for a few seconds.
“I wouldn’t say one life is too many, but one life, with an unlimited amount of possibility, it’s incredibly disheartening (for someone to die),” he said, referring to Philando Castile.
Castile was shot and killed by a police officer in Minnesota during a traffic stop in 2016. After telling the officer about the firearm in his car, Castile allegedly reached for a driver’s license. The officer mistook the action as drawing a gun and shot him.
“As someone who concealed carries, like the Philando Castile case, that hit very close to home,” Foulk said. “I cried over that story and was frustrated with the ruling.”
Carrying on campus
State law, specifically S.B. 11, makes carrying a concealed weapon on Texas’ public university campuses, including UH, legal.
Still, there are certain places where you cannot carry a concealed weapon, like places of worship, health care facilities or most of UH’s dorms. S.B. 11 states that universities cannot “generally prohibit” people from being able to carry a concealed weapon.
Even though “generally prohibiting” is subjective, it directly affects the students that do choose to carry.
Every morning, Foulk commutes an hour from his residence hall, Moody Towers, to his car, where his weapon is stored. Moody Towers residents are not permitted to store guns in their dorm rooms. After class, he walks back to his car, stores the gun in a lockbox, then returns to his room for the evening.
Those inconveniences could be enough to argue that a less-committed gun owner would be “generally prohibited,” an infringement on state law.
Allowing students to store their weapons in their dorms would make this process much easier. Professors are allowed to store their weapons in regulatory lockboxes in their offices.
It is much safer, generally, for students to keep their weapons in their dorm, which has more security, than in a regulatory lockbox in their car.
Storing his weapon is not the only inconvenience for Foulk.
“I have to be cautious of how I use the urinal or enter a stall, so someone doesn’t think I’m showing them my gun because that’s against the law,” Foulk said.
A word of understanding
This experience of sharing thoughts with someone opposed to mine was great. We had a genuine conversation, exchanging our thoughts to understand each other, not for the sake of arguing.
I asked Foulk what he wants those who support gun regulation to truly understand.
“Most mass shootings happen in gun-free zones,” Foulk said. “A criminal by definition is not going to follow the law, and they know that there is a good chance that there won’t be any guns there.”
No matter how much some people do not like guns, they are going to be around forever. Since the first settlers landed in America, guns were there with musket and brimstone.
“Guns are a part of American culture,” Foulk said. “With gun culture, it’s adapting, like with women growing in gun ownership.”
Guns are not just a hobby for Foulk, like knitting or coin-collecting. He has grown up around the culture, making it a part of his life and his kinship.
That immersion does not make him a bad person or hard to understand.
“I’m just a regular guy,” Foulk said. “I love Star Wars, and I watch Game of Thrones.”
Opinion Editor Dana C. Jones is a print journalism junior and can be reached at [email protected].