Garret Keizer’s “Loaded,” a political personal essay that lobbies for the Second Amendment, exudes cynical, anecdotal elements combined with sardonic humor. While at first the liberal reader prepares for a haughty essay designed to offend, (enter the term “Islamo-facists” in the essay’s opening sentence) Keizer manages at least a few credible points in favor of gun ownership. Interestingly, some people may be reluctant to acknowledge the similarities between Keizer’s pro-gun essay and civil rights’ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of the twentieth century’s most iconic revolutionaries. Dr. King is rightfully remembered as a proponent of peace; however, he was not apathetic to violence and knew better than to dismiss force. Just weeks before his assassination, Dr. King was quoted as having said that “a riot is the language of the unheard.” (This quote is derived from Dr. King’s speech christened “The Other America” and is seldom recited by white people when the topic of race inequity encroaches mainstream conversation.)
Keizer may seem to boast a different agenda than the one supported by Dr. King—we might reach this conclusion if we consider that the revolutionary advocated for nonviolence, Keizer a symbol of violence—but “Loaded” articulates a message noticeably similar to the message conveyed by Dr. King in “The Other America.” For example, Keizer writes that “when the rules of participatory government are broken, the governed have a tendency, a right, an obligation to become unruly.” He continues in the next paragraph, writing “We are possibly in need of some civil unrest.” (p. 274). The essay may tease the reader at first as if to convince the easily-offended that the author’s sole purpose is to deride his opponents, but Keizer surprises with empathy. In his own informal way, Keizer acknowledges that violence communicates an otherwise ignored message. This informal style, a prominent feature of the essay, contributes to the overall jarring tone.
Given that gun control policy is among the most divisive issues in the United States, some might expect a person covering the topic to speak formally. If this is your expectation then Keizer does not deliver. However disappointed, consider that his informal approach aligns with the essay’s purpose: “Loaded” endorses the idea of a balanced government by ensuring citizens have adequate resource, namely resources of defense. For instance, Keizer writes: “When I was a kid, I thought a liberal was a person who couldn’t fix a car. But the cars aren’t so easy to take apart anymore; the ‘check engine’ light comes on and only the dealership has all the codes.” (p. 272). Keizer seems to suggest that modern U.S. society is stripping its citizens of control and it is doing so by design. Technology, he implies, is a double-edged sword. For example, Keizer compares the aiming of a computer cursor to the aiming of a gun, elaborating that “the illusion of power and choice is perpetuated to disguise a diminishing sphere of action.” (p. 272). Thus, his use of informal, conversational style suggests that he has purposefully rejected conforming to the formal, “political correctness” he attributes to an increasingly immobile society.
Keizer also uses humor effectively in this otherwise strong-hold essay. For example, he paints compromise into a real account of an angry-mob situation that ultimately ended with guns drawn. Keizer writes hypothetically of this night on which white supremacists sought the body of executed sharecropper Bennie Montgomery, stating, “With the help of a skilled mediator and a regimen of trust-building exercises, the night riders might have been persuaded to settle for a limb or a chunk of Bennie’s torso…” (p. 268). Keizer’s point is that mediation without force would likely not have ended in the ideal fashion that we would rather believe it would. Such an example illustrates the tongue-in-cheek tone of “Loaded” which, for the most part, works.
Keizer, Garret. “Loaded.” The Best American Essays. Ed. Robert Atwan. 7th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2014. 267-274. Print.