Kurt Vonnegut was once a card-carrying member of the NRA during the earlier half of the 20th century but something changed.
Vonnegut grew up in Indianapolis in the 1930s where he would show off a collection of firearms to his cousin. His collection included antique pistols, rifles, and shotguns, and, he admits in Fates Worse Than Death, he became “very good with guns”.
How did Vonnegut grow from gun-collecting National Rifle Association member, to so adamantly against them, to the point of calling them “intolerable”?
Despite being a member of the NRA in his early life, it seems Vonnegut grew out of it. Perhaps it stemmed from his distaste for war in general, that he came to realise the negative influence gun culture had on every day folk.
Later in life, Vonnegut was very clear about his feelings towards firearms, calling them “intolerable” in a magazine interview, and expressing how he “wouldn’t have one of the motherfuckers in my house for anything.”
While Vonnegut was particularly vocal about war and military invasions, he also spoke up about what he saw as the US American obsession with guns. In Happy Birthday Wanda June, his character Ryan is the epitome of toxic masculinity, using aggression and violence as a way to feel like a ‘real’ American man. The character’s obsession with guns and hunting, of course, is his downfall when he turns the firearm on himself. It could not be more clear that Vonnegut utterly condemned gun violence, and the distasteful way gun enthusiasts salivate over the “iron penis 3 feet long”.
A 1982 novel Deadeye Dick is another story satirising the USA’s poisonous obsession with guns, using a sympathetic narrator to help tell the tale of the toxic link between a particular view on ‘manhood’ and gun violence. The narrator, Rudy Waltz, is given a key to the gun room within the family home, his highly unlikeable father saying, “how natural and beautiful it is for Americans to have love affairs with guns”. When Rudy fires the gun for no real reason, and in no real direction, the bullet strikes a pregnant woman, killing her and her baby. Rudy says “it was a farewell to my childhood and a confirmation of my manhood.”
In 1991 Vonnegut responded to the promotion of the NRA and guns on television, by saying it felt to him like they “were praising the germs of some loathsome disease, since guns in civilian hands, whether accidental or on purpose, kill so many of us day after day.”
It comes as no surprise that when Vonnegut inherited his father’s gun collection in his will, he had no want or need for them. “They rust”, he said.
He refused to pass on his father’s interest in firearms to his sons, nor did he want them to work for anyone who made “massacre machinery”.
I do not believe he could make his feelings any clearer than in a powerful piece of pure Vonnegut prose from Deadeye Dick, in which the husband of the murdered woman says:
“It makes the blackest of all human wishes come true at once, at a distance: that something die. There is evil for you. We cannot get rid of mankind’s fleetingly wicked wishes. We can get rid of the machines that make them come true. I give you a holy word: DISARM.”