Gun Control Fail, 1944 Edition
“Lady, we can’t do anything about a threat. We have to wait until he acts.” “You mean after I am shot?”
By Maria Popova
“Assault weapons will remain readily available to crazy people,” wrote Stephen King in his essay on gun control and violence, “until the powerful pro-gun forces … accept responsibility, recognizing that responsibility is not the same as culpability.” Every few months, a heartbreaking news headline announcing another mass shooting confirms King’s conviction. Recently, after nearly the entire city of Boston was under lockdown as a suspected terrorist with a handgun roamed the streets, I was reminded of a highly symbolic vignette from The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947 (public library) — the same tome that gave us Nin on the meaning of life and why emotional excess is essential to creativity — that illustrates the uncomfortable disconnect between such local, situation-specific defense measures and our general legislative approach to guns.
In June of 1944, Nin met a young sailor by the name of Harry Herkovitz, whom she describes as “dark, intense, lean” and who had written “a strange story, influenced by Edgar Allan Poe, about ravens attacking a traveler.” A protege of Nin’s longtime lover Henry Miller, Harry soon develops a fierce infatuation with her, one Nin astutely recognizes as based on a projection, a myth, and thus not real, since she knows that “where the myth fails, human love begins.” Nin observes in dismay:
I realized he did not see me as I am, that he was seeking a myth. He was calling on an Anaïs as described by Henry, which bears no resemblance to reality.
In August, she writes:
Seeking to break the friendship with Harry, I became more and more aware that he is disintegrated, chaotic, unbalanced.
Then, one day in October:
I received a telephone call from Harry Herkovitz. He said: “I am waiting downstairs with a gun. I’m going to kill you.”
“You can’t force people to love, Harry. I have been a good friend. Your girl loves you deeply, and that is rare to find.”
“I’m going to kill you.”
“I will call the police.”
I hung up. I called the police station in our neighborhood. I explained what was happening. The answer was: “Lady, we can’t do anything about a threat. We have to wait until he acts.”
“You mean after I am shot?”
“Yes, lady. People get millions of threats every day. We can’t do anything about that.”
“But you are only two blocks away. Why can’t you send someone to see if there is a young man with a gun waiting in front of 215 West Thirteenth Street? He has no right to carry a gun.”
“We can’t do that.”
I stayed home all day. In the evening, I became restless. I called up a friend Harry does not know and asked him to come and see if Harry was still at the door. He came. Harry was gone.
It’s sad — tragic, really — that seven decades later, rather than amending this attitude, we’re clutching the Second Amendment with trigger-ready talons, using it as justification for signing Nin’s experience into policy: The government is now Nin’s local police station, not even just refusing to act until someone is shot but refusing to legislate until well after a number of gruesome shootings, hoping instead that the metaphorical “Harry,” that quintessential threat of brutality enabled by arms, would simply be gone.
For more prescience from Nin’s diaries, see her meditations on embracing the unfamiliar, character, parenting, and personal responsibility, the fluidity of personality, anxiety in love, Paris vs. New York, and the joy of making things by hand.
Published May 2, 2013