No one can know what it was like in the Bataclan Theatre in Paris last November 13 except those who were in there. As lead singer of the Eagles of Death Metal, the band playing when three terrorists armed with assault rifles and hand grenades killed 90 innocent people, Jesse Hughes sure does.
Watching the huge hulk of a man openly sobbing in every television interview he has done since, the effect the massacre had on Hughes is painfully obvious and profoundly heartbreaking.
Eagles of Death Metal singer advocates guns
Jesse Hughes questions France's gun laws, arguing they did nothing to stop the 90 people killed during a terrorist attack at the Bataclan theatre in Paris.
In an interview with Sweden's TV4 last week, before his appearance at Paris' Apollo theatre in front of Bataclan survivors on Wednesday night, Hughes recalled hearing gunfire coinciding with "the very last note of the song – almost a diabolical synchronicity. I knew exactly what was going on. I think I might have been the only person in the theatre who knew instantly".
Hughes went backstage to find his partner, Tuesday Cross, and saw a terrorist at the end of the hallway, holding a gun. "He didn't see me. The door shut behind me and I was trying to back up, very sneaky – but he noticed me. And I thought I was dead.
"I waited for the shot to hit me. When he went to pull his rifle down, the barrel of his gun hit the doorframe, thank God. And when it hit the doorframe ... I opened the door, and he started firing and his rounds shut the door behind me."
Unable to contain his tears, Hughes, who looks like a tough lumberjack from Central Casting, continued. "I know this sounds terrible, but ... I didn't see anyone do anything cowardly. I just saw people doing some of the most beautiful things that a person could do, and for lack of a better word to describe it, my friends died very beautifully. They died very well, with great courage."
I don't know about you but, watching the interview, I was deeply moved by Hughes' recollection to the point where I was also swallowing back tears. What the frontman experienced is incomprehensible, his visceral pain just one more casualty of a barbaric act that shocked the world.
However, another insidious tragedy has emerged from Hughes' suffering, one I didn't expect from a man with a debut album titled Peace, Love, Death Metal. Hughes is now more determined than ever that gun laws should be abolished.
Echoing the sentiment of Donald Trump – who says "Democrats want to confiscate all guns, which is a dumb idea because only the law-abiding citizens would turn in their guns and the bad guys would be the only ones left armed" – Hughes now believes if the fans at that fateful gig the Bataclan had been armed, the carnage may not have been so great.
In an interview with French television station iTele, Hughes said: "Did your French gun control stop a single f---ing person from dying at the Bataclan? And if anyone can answer yes, I'd like to hear it, because I don't think so. I think the only thing that stopped it was some of the bravest men that I've ever seen in my life charging head-first into the face of death with their firearms.
"I know people will disagree with me, but it just seems like God made men and women, and that night guns made them equal. And I hate it that it's that way. I think the only way that my mind has been changed is that maybe that until nobody has guns everybody has to have them. Because I've never seen anyone that's ever had one dead, and I want everyone to have access to them, and I saw people die that maybe could have lived, I don't know."
Yes, Hughes once said "I wanted to be a Republican politician, for God sakes. I'm a conservative, dude". However, the fact that, after seeing the devastation guns can inflict, the man is now more determined that ever that more guns is the answer to me is soul destroying. I want to respect his opinion and the events that have formed it, but I just can't.
I was deeply moved by Hughes' recollection to the point where I was also swallowing back tears.
For me, the stats regarding guns speak louder than words and in the US, where gun control is lax to put it mildly, the numbers are horrifying. Last year alone there were 372 mass shootings in America in which 475 people were killed and 1870 wounded (according to the Mass Shooting Tracker). For every one million Americans, there are 29.7 homicides by firearm each year (in Australia the figure is 1.4).
Hughes' comments came in the same week in which Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush posted a photograph of a handgun inscribed with his name, with a one-word caption: "America".
No, that is not America. It's insanity. As Hughes' comments show, madness begets madness. Let's hope that, come the US elections, a lunatic won't be elected to run the proverbial asylum.
Saturday Age columnist Wendy Squires is a journalist, editor and author.