In 2016, armed libertarians, disgruntled by the U.S. public government’s management of federal lands, began an occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. After one death and many attempts at negotiation, the standoff was finally brought to a peaceful halt by a Nevada assemblywoman, Michele Fiore, who herself had made headlines a few weeks prior for sending a Christmas card that leaned heavily on a gun-toting vision of familial affection. She shared that vision with the militants themselves; their leader, Ammon Bundy, had trained for rebellion under his father, Cliven Bundy, who is at the time of writing currently incarcerated and awaiting trial for an earlier standoff.

Spring Breakers

In the Oregon standoff, as elsewhere in American politics, affection for guns was not only integral to the making of mischief but also to making mischief stop. The standoff underscored the extent to which American intimacies and weaponry are entwined, but beyond the occasional statement that “Americans love guns” (an ahistorical shoulder-shrug of a phrase), American culture currently suffers from a poverty of language with which to address this entwinement. I want to suggest that, beneath all else James Franco’s Alien tells his spectators in Harmony Korine’s 2013 film Spring Breakers –beneath his many exhortations to “look at my sheeyit!” – he has something to say about attachments to guns, something that prompted me to revisit the film a presidential term after its release. Alien’s credentials in this regard have to do not only with his love for guns, but the fact that he loves them in a near-biblical sense. This trait allies him with certain other cinematic blowhards without taking away from the specific present-day difficulties his story foregrounds.

Slowly but surely, Harmony Korine has become a chief chronicler of the American fascination with firearms. If readers receive an escalation of discrete weapon types in Geoffrey Canada’s memoir Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: A Personal History of Violence, in Korine’s work Canada’s basic taxonomy sprouts new branches: BB gun, cap gun, mock handgun made of one’s fingers, whiskey-filled squirt gun, bedazzled AK-47.1 Korine’s projects themselves seem to branch off from this central preoccupation with guns: his first solo painting exhibition, at the Gaghosian gallery in 2015, was titled “Shooters.” His next film, the long-stalled The Trap, will reprise many of Spring Breakers’ themes – revenge, best friendship, the cocaine trade – and its Florida setting, with a cast including Al Pacino, Robert Pattinson, Idris Elba, and, of course, Franco. His most recent short nonfiction film for VICE, The Legend of Cambo (2015), sees an Alabama teen living off the grid, hunting, digging foxholes, and waiting for the apocalypse – then getting shot in the arm during his 21st birthday celebration. In his collaboration with South African provocateurs Die Antwoord on a short film entitled Umshini Wam (2011), or “Bring Me My Machine Gun” – a repurposing of a Zulu antiapartheid song – we see him looking at the same topic, farther afield.

Korine has guns in his sights, and he joins a lineage of thinkers – from Susan Sontag to Christian Metz to Friedrich Kittler – interested in cataloguing the congruity between two kinds of shooting, that of the gun and the camera.2 The early pistolgraph was a camera which looked like a gun and as such sometimes encouraged the instruments’ outright confusion, as when the inventor attempted to take a “pistolgram” of Queen Victoria and was arrested as an assassin.3 Later, Eadweard Muybridge would collaborate with Étienne-Jules Marey on a fusil photographique for shooting birds at twelve frames per second. Today, most weapons have cameras, their own distinct ways of seeing. A film like Sicario (Denis Villeneuve, 2015) – which puts its viewer behind the lens of the scope of night-vision goggles – captures this well; such contemporary technologies descend from early cameras propped on hunting rifles, including the Kilburn gun camera (no relation). Many have landed on the point that cameras and guns both shoot, but the difference between them is that the gun destroys what it shoots, whereas in the camera’s case what is shot is preserved, and everything else is destroyed by time. In telling Alien’s story, I want to attend to this relationship, and to the way in which the twin impulses toward destruction and preservation are contained within Alien’s gun logics.

Spring Breakers

Four spring break seasons have come and gone since the release of Spring Breakers,  and in that time the film’s legacy seems to have hardened around that aforementioned gem of contemporary oratory, Alien’s “Look at my sheeyit!” speech. In it, Alien appears as a godson to Gatsby, flaunting his “sheeyit,” hoarding shorts “in every color” and diffusing fragrances – Calvin Klein ‘Escape’; Calvin Klein ‘Be’ – in what may be the first time a film has succinctly spritzed its central tension at its viewers. Alien’s ardor for weapons produces a peculiar synesthesia (he raves about “different flavors” of shurikens) and more garden-variety paranoia (at every window, a sniper rifle is cocked). If the viewer has any doubt that Alien’s affection for firearms is real, in a scene less-shared but to my mind just as important as the speech, the film even lets us in on the consummation of this relationship: two-thirds of the way into Spring Breakers, Alien gives a gun a blowjob.

The scene isn’t in the original script; according to the DVD commentary, Franco suggested its basic contours on set, and it snowballed from there.4 Within the plot, it comes to pass like this: Alien returns home hyped up from a run-in with Archie (Gucci Mane), his former best friend, current rival, and soon-to-be cause of death, chanting bravado (“I’m the motherfuckin’ Death Star up in this shit!”) in an effort to counter Archie’s wounding suggestion that Alien ought to “go back to robbing spring breakers on the boardwalk like we did when we was kids.” Alien drops his guns and turns his attention to Brit (Ashley Benson) and Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), two of four collegiate vacationers he’s recently bailed out of jail. Alien announces, “I got a bouquet for you all,” and fans out a stack of hundred-dollar bills. “Let me smell it,” Brit says. Alien parts the money around her face, and they begin to kiss.

Spring Breakers

Candy, meanwhile, is handling a gun a few feet away. “Careful,” Alien says softly, eyes closed. “That’s loaded.” “That’s better,” she purrs, and Alien’s voice takes on a sharp edge: “Don’t point that at me!” Brit grabs a gun, too, and the two begin to berate him in low tones. “Get down on your knees. You think you can just fucking own us? Open your fucking mouth…What if we just used you to come here, and in five seconds, we shoot you, you’re dead? Blow your brains out? And we have all your stuff. What do you think? Should we kill him?”

It is at this moment that Alien begins to fellate one gun, then two. The element of fear present initially quickly dissipates, and his pleasure is apparent. “I just sucked both of y’all’s dicks,” he whispers, after, elated. “You loved it,” Brit squeals. “I’ll do that shit every night,” Alien says, still breathing heavily. “You better,” the girls chorus. “You are my motherfuckin’ soulmates,” Alien proclaims. “I swear to God I just fell in love with y’all.”

Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers

There’s a parallel act in French writer Jean Genet’s short (and only) film Un Chant d’Amour (1950). There’s other gun fetishism in cinema and popular culture, too – from the gun-embracing revolutionaries in Bruce LaBruce’s Raspberry Reich (2004) to photos by Helmut Newton to the countless action heroes who conflate their guns and dicks – but because it is Genet’s scene that Korine is so clearly citing, it is Genet’s scene that I wish to unpack here. Set in a French colonial prison, Un Chant d’Amour centers on two prisoners (Lucien Senemaud, Java) and the voyeuristic guard (André Reybaz) who keeps watch over them.5 It turns on a series of turnings-on: to cope, the cooped-up prisoners create escape tunnels for their breath, poking small airholes in the wall with a reed and blowing smoke back and forth. This in turn draws the attention of the guard, who shoves his gun in one prisoner’s mouth and forces him to fellate it.

The scene is shot close, the prisoner’s face illuminated, darkness behind him. As the gun intrudes from the right and enters his mouth, he maintains eye contact with the guard for a few seconds, then stops. His face is slowly pushed out of the frame by the pressure of the guard’s rocking. We cut to an extended shot of the guard’s face, seizing up with pleasure. We watch the guard beat another prisoner, who retreats into fantasy: he and his fellow prisoner alone together, romping and reclining in a forest and then a field. The film is a paean to fantasy’s power, and we close with the guard watching the two prisoners from an open courtyard, despondent in his knowledge that his gun cannot rupture their private spaces, as they swing a bundle of wildflowers from one cell’s window to the next.

Spring Breakers

Korine’s gun fellatio is framed just like Genet’s, but unlike in Un Chant d’Amour – where the prisoner looks away from the guard, and then inward, as the camera flicks its gaze over to the guard’s face – here we remain with Alien, whose eyes are locked with the girls’. And if Genet illuminates his prisoner’s face against a stark background, the better for fantasy sequences to bloom against, Korine hangs a tessellation of weapons behind his. In other words, if Un Chant d’Amour’s scene of gun fellatio describes a love that circumvents and looks beyond violence – a love that circumvents the gun fellatio itself – Spring Breakers posits the act as catalysing a love that could not exist prior to the gun.

From the gun’s structuring of interpersonal space in these two scenes, both films deploy theses about guns and the navigation of space more generally. Spring Breakers and Un Chant d’Amour depict serious constraint: Genet’s prison cells are rendered stifling by their lack of light, color, and sound; Korine’s Florida achieves the same effect through sensory overload: the sun’s glare, the neon hues of its characters’ tank tops and Vespas and koozies, and the never-ending reverberations of its Skrillex-scored soundtrack. But if the rub of Genet’s film relies on the contrast between the violence and claustrophobia of jail cells and the light, airy openness of the bucolic spaces in which fantasy takes place, Korine’s film calls into question the very existence of such fantasy spaces – of the validity of a broad swath of discourse that conflates the conquest of outer space with inner ease. This discourse of conquest fuels Alien’s drug empire, and also the ritual of spring break.

When the girls first meet Alien, they are fresh off their rabid robbery of a chicken shack, which provides cash for the road trip south. He is rapping in front of a cotton-candy sky about his desire to “take off” in his spaceship. Initially, the girls echo him in canned phraseology, the only way they know how: “Take it off!” Spring Breakers’ power comes from the way it considers forms of escapism alongside each other – the way it sets Alien and a gaggle of collegiate vacationers’ own separate optimisms about “taking off” on a collision course, and in the resulting pile-up exposes those optimisms as cruel.

The girls crave space, then rapidly lose it: upon arrival in Breakland, they soon find themselves sardined, first into cramped beachside condos and then into an even smaller jail cell – a tiled cube with bluish cast almost identical to the bathroom in which they counted their skimpy cash pre-robbery. Space, then, is not the inalienable guarantee of spring break, but its unstable enticement. In teaming up with Alien, they learn that to be “in fuckin’ space” means at once to marvel at its expansiveness and live with the fear that it could suddenly contract; they come to see that Alien is straining at a tight tether to earth.

Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers

As Alien initially gives the girls a tour of his one-man narco-state, he declaims:

This is the fuckin’ American dream, y’all. People always tellin’ me, “you gotta change.” I’m about stackin’ change!

Alien’s desire to stack change is also an attempt to stack the odds against death. In making sense of his life – his family laid to waste by addiction and violence – he swings back and forth between narrowest and broadest causes: biographic abjection and nationalistic meritocracy. Cinephile that he is, to the “American dream” metanarrative he adds a metacinematic one. Alien keeps a framed gun from the set of Brian De Palma’s Scarface (1983) in his room, and tells the girls, “I got Scarface on repeat! Constant, y’all!” which conjures Tony Montana living said American dream – then dying bloodily in a fountain emblazoned with “The World Is Yours.” If the foundational American myth of manifest destiny that brought pioneers to, say, Montana (or the ambitions of earlier European explorers that brought them to, say, Florida) at least dispensed a sense of divine, collective purpose, “The World is Yours” subtends a lonelier vision. It captions the picture of Alien’s tenuous monopoly on violence, through which we see how the gun fellatio’s dramatisation of survival could be intensely pleasurable for him. Yet Alien’s manufacture of himself as Alien (as alienated, hustling, and marginal) is just that, a mash-up of other gun men’s greatest hits, from Tony Montana’s white ethnic entrepreneurialism to Cliven Bundy and his antecedents’ fetishization of the frontier.6

Alien craves the normative and holds it in contempt: in spite of his arsenal the only violence we see Alien carry out in Spring Breakers is a pistol-whipping of a wedding party, where pastry innards replace actual gore. The film’s ubiquitous tricolored popsicles are a melting homage to a waning nation; in one robbery montage, a USA-themed video game is Out of Order; and the military institution with which Alien compares his own supplies – “U.S.S. Enterprise up in this shit!” he is prone to chanting – was at once the longest warship in the history of the world, and, during Spring Breakers’ filming, being decommissioned.7 Alien’s America is almost uncannily available to description by the Trumpist rhetoric of decline that would follow it. (In case you were wondering, Pinellas County, Florida, of which St. Petersburg is a part, swung narrowly to Trump.) Yet in Spring Breakers’ world, #MAGA could only stand for Make Alien Great Again, because his ambitions are limited to his self and his objects. His childhood solidarity with Archie has given way to a familiar narrative: the white man as most besieged. Alien’s well-armed militia is, well, just the arms. Before the girls’ arrival, and even after it, there’s little collectivity here.

Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers

In one of the film’s earliest scenes, while the girls sit in a classroom doodling cartoon penises and miming self-execution, there’s a historical debate unfolding several rows and one sonic stratum below. Their professor’s silhouette is seen in the distance, his words barely audible:

…something deeper and harder to get at, which is the civil rights movement, or the black freedom struggle, or as some historians have called it, the Second Reconstruction. It ties into the first Reconstruction after the Civil War, and shows that there is a continuum, there is a constant struggle on the part of African-Americans in the South to claim their freedom…World War II is what really provides the fuel for this. When you go overseas to fight Hitler, you get shot at, you see your friends killed, you’re going to come home a different person. You’re going to come back a radicalized individual willing to risk life and limb…Defeat Hitler and his racist policies, but also come home and defeat Jim Crow and the racist South…without question, one of the most important…

And then he fades out. This is Korine at his deftest in chronicling the deafness upon which whiteness relies. Throughout Spring Breakers­ – and the scene of gun fellatio underscores this – bullets-as-projectiles seem to preclude the necessity of speaking or listening to that other projectile, human language. Language is vulnerable and so often doesn’t land. Its hold is tenuous; the main thing the professor gets out of speaking to his students is that later, when they rob the chicken shack, they steal his car as a getaway vehicle and then set it on fire. Alien’s manic need to pontificate, to catalogue his “sheeyit,” alternates with the intense focus of his security-minded moments. Having his own gun turned against him and used to shut him up cuts off his two main avenues for projecting himself. To be cut off from them is an apparent relief.

Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers’ classroom scene also sees Korine wrangling with the uses of violence. For the professor, violence had a point; the question Spring Breakers leaves open is whether the girls’ “Perverse Freedom Ride” (as the critic Ross Scarano has called it) has any salutary consequences whatsoever.8 Korine’s oeuvre catalogues hurt: myriad mock-executions and mercy-killings, cat-slayings for the dual purposes of sandwich meat and population control in Gummo (1997), death-by-poisoned-pancakes in Trash Humpers (2009), chilling murder ballads, public health crises, and the infamous curb-stomping in Kids (1995). Where his early works seem steeped in a belief in the tonic quality of violence – à la an Italian Futurist or a Fanonist – Korine’s later work is less about glee than about resolve: the small spaces violence may hold open. We see him trying to slice the topic ever more thinly, asking, “When is violence necessary? When is it pointless?”

He, or we, might blame Anton Chekhov for obscuring the question. In his famous letter written in 1889, Chekhov described the role of guns in theater in a dictum designed to keep viewers on the edge of their seats: a rifle once introduced awaits its telos of firing, preferably by act three.9  In 1926, Jean Epstein wrote admiringly, “There was a time when hardly a single American drama was without a scene in which a revolver was slowly pulled out of a half-open drawer. I loved that revolver. It seemed the symbol of a thousand possibilities.”10 And yet in practice we might point to the deadening sameness: the formulation keeps us watching the drawer in which the gun has been stashed, keeps us drawing the same conclusions, and drawing up the same kinds of narratives as well. It is perhaps for this reason that Korine begins Spring Breakers with the sound of a gun being fired, and ends it with the sound of one being loaded.

That firearms have become such a reliable source of suffering further complicates the task. In his analysis of William Klein’s photograph Little Italy (1955), Roland Barthes looks at a photo in which a young boy grins, a gun held to his temple by some invisible adult.11 Barthes knows he’s supposed to focus on the gun, but knowing he’s been set up by the photographer to feel shock or indignance means he can’t muster either; he instead fixates on the child’s crooked teeth. In Gummo, similarly, a tap-dancing mother coaxes her kid to smile by putting a gun to his head.

Spring Breakers

In Alien’s case, it’s easier to smirk at the trappings of his life than to see all the violence that shrinks it. “Look at my sheeyit!” Alien shouts, over and over, showing the girls around his home for the first time. Alien is not one to plead, so when he does so, and survives it, during the gun fellatio, everyone is thrilled. We might, though, read Spring Breakers’ most oft-repeated line as a plea, leaning more heavily on its first word than usually supposed.

In order to sustain our gaze, Korine draws heavily on tactics of elegy and of ethnography.12 Before Alien dies at Archie’s hands, before the girls engage in a spate of revenge killings, there are languid, campy sessions of singing Britney Spears, of dancing with guns, that invite us to consider Alien as singular, rather than merely hilarious. If Jacques Derrida wrote of the difficult task of mourning not for oneself but for the other, “One should not develop a taste for mourning, and yet mourn we must (…) not to like or love through one’s own tear but only through the other” – Korine’s project is much the same.13

As for his ambiguous status as an ethnographer, many of Korine’s past characters have played, simply, themselves; Alien is based on at least one, and possibly, litigiously, two actually existing rappers.14  It’s easy to write off Korine’s method as sensationalistic, or to write off Alien as a blowhard – and he is a blowhard, but Korine shows us how this trait may be a reasonable reaction to the hardness of a life based on the buying and selling of blow and other sundries. And he shows us how it might be equally reasonable, under the same circumstances, to fall hard for a couple of spring breakers while giving a gun a blow job – just like in the past, say, he’s shown us someone (joyous and self-possessed) shaving off her eyebrows in Gummo.15

Alien’s bombast is one of many ways, as Eve Sedgwick once put it, that “selves and communities succeed in extracting sustenance from the objects of a culture – even of a culture whose avowed desire has often been not to sustain them.”16 So long as the sustenance has to be extracted, won’t it just go to fortifying little fortresses like Alien’s? A landscape leached of care may not be easily replenished.

When Brit and Candy try to make sense of their broken spring break, as they monologue on the phone to their mothers at the film’s close, all they have are platitudes: “I’m going to do better now;” “I think that’s the secret to life…being a good person.” The “I” in the girls’ “I’m going to do better now” sidesteps any question of justice or structural change – questions which really ought to be asked, since they’ve just casually ended the lives of Archie’s entire entourage.17 As in Alien’s choice of modifier – “Look at my sheeyit!” – the expression of suffering is singular, blindered. In the film’s final frames, shot from the perspective from the dying Alien, Brit and Candy walk off in balaclavas, upside down.

Spring Breakers

The optimism of Un Chant d’Amour is that the gun is ultimately no match for fantasy. The paradox of Spring Breakers is this: guns can open up spaces of prosperity and fantasy and communion and love, but also close them off. There are some people who seem to reside at this paradox’s most dangerous junction, and that precarity makes them hard to look at. Not looking, in Korine’s view, is worse. It means we never consider the possibility of entanglement. Yet mere looking does not guarantee anything either.

As in Un Chant d’Amour, where gay love exists in opposition to the colonial prison, it’s not clear what forms or institutions Spring Breakers’ ambiguous and often oppositional gestures of care – the gun fellatio among three soulmates, the revenge killings between best friends, the homecomings promised to invisible mothers – could congeal into. It seems to be a mark of Korine’s own optimism that this film still scans its Floridian vistas for something that might, like Genet’s bouquet, have once grown, something that might grow still. What Korine seems to propose is akin to the act of assembling a bouquet from whatever’s at hand – or, as he has described the film, an act of remixing. Take the things of which some viewers are most fatigued: gun violence, James Franco, consumerism, Britney Spears, Scarface, Skrillex, Calvin Klein Escape, Calvin Klein Be, and recombine them such that they are seen anew, in a light that is more tender if not especially flattering.

Spring Breakers hinges on the gun not fired – the rifles propped against the window joints, forestalling disaster; swung by Alien’s sides, like ski poles slowing his fall; thrust in his mouth as he falls in love. These moments evoke the razor-thin edge of the word “guarded,” which means to be safe, which means to be closed off.

Right now, there are about the same number of guns as people in the US (far more if we count the military ones).18 A few are going off; some are stashed away; some are loaded, gripped or otherwise gripping. Spring Breakers calls for us to pay attention: not only to the staccato of gunfire, but to the ways guns and us more quietly click. In forcing us to reckon with gun love’s most and least nourishing aspects, the way it helps someone like Alien “take off” even as it facilitates a whole cycle of taking and offing, Spring Breakers offers a rejoinder to those who would simply take guns away, or call their proliferation madness: some offering is needed in their place.

 

Acknowledgements

With thanks to my prior readers of this essay: Eugenie Brinkema, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, Cara Giaimo, Ryan Pierson, Linda Kinstler, Paul Clarke, and the participants in Yale’s Film and Media Studies Cinemania conference.

 

Endnotes

  1. Geoffrey Canada. Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995).
  2. For an excellent survey of technological developments that combined elements of photography and of firearms, see Karen R. Jones. “Landscapes of Testimony: Performing the Game Trail in Literature, Art, and Photography.” Epiphany in the Wilderness: Hunting, Nature, and Performance in the Nineteenth-Century American West, (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2015), p. 137–180.
  3. Kaja Silverman. The Miracle of Analogy: or The History of Photography, Part 1 (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2015) p. 72.
  4. It should perhaps be unsurprising that the origins of this scene lie with Franco, given his penchant for phallic art, including his own short film Dicknose in Paris (2010). For a thoughtful profile of Franco that dwells, in its sixth section (“A Queer Career”) on his affinity for for queer theory and themes of sexuality, see Sam Anderson, “The James Franco Project,” New York Magazine, 25 July 2010 http://nymag.com/movies/profiles/67284/index4.html
  5. These actors went uncredited in the original film.
  6. I am grateful to Paul Clarke for noting the multiple strains of gun men who converge in this narrative.
  7. Mark Thompson. “Obit for a Carrier.” TIME, 7 January 2013.
  8. Ross Scarano. “Interview: Harmony Korine Talks ‘Spring Breakers’ as a Pop Song, Chief Keef, and How White People Ruin Everything.” Complex, 15 March 2013.
  9. Anton Chekhov. Letter to Lazarev-Gruzinsky, 1 November 1889. In Peter Mikhailovich Bitsilli, Chekhov’s Art: A stylistic analysis (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1983), p. 42.
  10. Jean Epstein. “On Certain Characteristics of Photogénie (1924),” in French Film Theory and CriticismVol. I: 1907–1929, ed. Richard Abel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), pp. 316–317.
  11. Roland Barthes. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography (New York: Macmillan, 1981), p. 43-46.
  12. There’s also a third tactic – trolling teens to see the film by casting Benson, Gomez, Franco, Hudgens, and Mane as its leads – the wiliness of which I can only admire, and which reinforces Jacques de Villier’s writing in this publication about Korine’s “fascination and irreverent play with celebrity image.” (in “When Korine Filmed Culkin: (Dis)placing the Child Star in SundaySenses of Cinema 69, 2013.)
  13. Jacques Derrida. The Work of Mourning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), p. 110.
  14. For more on the reactions of rappers Dangeruss and Riff Raff to the film, see David Drake, “What Did the Rapper Who Inspired James Franco’s Character in ‘Spring Breakers’ Think of the Movie,” Complex, 2013, http://www.complex.com/music/2013/03/rapper-james-franco-dangeruss-spring-breakers-riff-raff and Amos Barshad, “The Curious Case of Riff Raff vs. Spring Breakers,” Grantland, 2013, http://grantland.com/features/harmony-korine-riff-raff-james-franco-making-spring-breakers/. Dangeruss came to admire the film, with one salient caveat: “I was throwed off by him sucking on them guns, though. They shouldn’t have did that…That’s cold. Him suckin’ them guns like a dick. That shit there was crazy.”
  15. For Korine’s reflections on this scene and its critical reception, see Mike Kelley, “Interview with Harmony Korine,” FilmMaker, 1997. http://www.harmony-korine.com/paper/int/hk/kelley.html
  16. Eve Sedgwick. Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), p. 150-151.
  17. Hints, here, of how, in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent words, “black bodies repeatedly refinance the Dream of whiteness.” In Between the World and Me (New York: Random House, 2015), p. 132. For a meticulous investigation of the way self-defense laws have been framed as universal but have in practice been limited to the propertied and bound up with American racial and gender politics, see Caroline E. Light, Stand Your Ground: A History of America’s Love Affair with Lethal Self-Defense (Boston: Beacon Press, 2017).
  18. Over the past few decades, household gun ownership has oscillated between a third and half of American homes. Within this group, according to a Harvard/Northeastern study, approximately three percent of gun owners account for half of the available gun stock, with members of this cohort owning seventeen guns each on average. See “Gun inequality: US study charts rise of hardcore super owners,” The Guardian, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/19/us-gun-ownership-survey.