Guns get a lot of media attention in this country, and a lot more than usual, given the many shootings in the past year. Most tragic, if there can be such a distinction, would be the slaughter of children in Connecticut, but there have been many more than that. After every such shooting, both sides of the gun control issue rattle their sabers – if I can be permitted the mixed metaphor of sabers and guns – and bellyache about increased gun control laws and Constitutional amendments and the NRA and so on.
But as with every issue in the real world, there is no simple yes/no, good/bad answer. Neither side is fully right OR wrong.
I grew up in rural Michigan. If all you know of Michigan comes from “8 Mile,” then you actually have a pretty accurate picture of Detroit…but not the rest of the state. Michigan north of I-94 is a generally placid and scenic state, loaded with rivers, lakes and forests. There is an unlimited availability of outdoor recreation, and as a result the overwhelming majority of people in rural Michigan go hunting. Given the abysmal economy of Michigan for most of my life, a majority of those hunters do it to bring meat home to the table.
Yes, guns are everywhere. I first shot a handgun at a target when I was about five years old – my dad’s nickel-plated Colt Python .357 Magnum revolver. It made a hell of a noise and scared the bazingas out of me.
(as a complete side note, there is a conversation happening ten feet from me right now between two co-workers about gun control. I’ve already heard “…take away all the guns from normal folks and then only the criminals will…” from the other side of my wall. They have no idea I’m typing this blog entry.)
However, my father taught me how to open his revolver and check if it was loaded. He also taught me on my mom’s revolver (a western-styled Harrington & Richardson .22 single-action) and our .22 rifle. (Mossberg 42MB, bolt-action, clip fed military training rifle) Guns in our house weren’t bad, or evil, or a taboo, “don’t touch them” non-subject. There was no mystery. The pistols hung in an open display case on the wall, and I knew how to open, check safeties and load/unload them. Hence, I didn’t play with them.
I think this is a key – education and the removal of mystery for interested children helps keep them from being another cookie jar to be broken into when the parents aren’t looking.
When I was older, I got my first BB gun. My dad built a backstop and I spent hours – and I mean HOURS – shooting BB’s and pellets at paper targets. When the large circles became easy, we had smaller targets. When those became easy, we would sometimes pluck a strand of straw from a bale, clip it to the backboard, and I’d shoot at THAT until I hit it…which didn’t happen very often but was darn satisfying when I did. In my teen years I inherited the .22 rifle, and I spent more hours shooting at targets, tin cans, ice in the river as it floated past during the spring thaw, and so on. I went to hunter’s safety class to learn how to be a responsible hunter, and I got a Stevens 311 20-gauge double-barrel shotgun, and I went small game hunting with the neighbor kid’s family.
Hunting was an interesting education all its own, and I love hunting but I don’t do it anymore, and haven’t since I was a teenager. I’ll explain. Hunting is exciting…tracking prey and trying to move silently through woods littered with dry leaves and sticks, camouflaging yourself to blend in with the forest, it awakens something very primal and origins-of-humanity in me. Then, once your quarry is sighted, and the chase is on, there is a real rush of adrenaline as you aim, fire and…
…then you have a dead animal on your hands, and you bear a responsibility to it. You at that point need to ensure that this animal did not give its life to you for nothing, but that it gave its life so that you and your family could eat and live. I guess I take a stance much like the plains Indians of the 17 and 1800’s, who thanked the animals for giving them their lives, and respected the wildlife that sustained them.
For that reason, I don’t hunt. The thrill of hunting does not equal the responsibility of killing. Not for me, and not only because we can afford to buy meat, but that’s also a reason. I don’t need to kill extra animals to feed my family. We can buy meat – if we don’t buy that pack of hamburger, the cow won’t stop being dead, but it wasn’t killed just for me. Also, sticking my hands inside warm, dead rabbits and pulling out their guts is just plain nasty.
But besides that, I love guns and shooting. I love target shooting, and skeet – where you shoot the flying clay “pigeons,” and so on.
Right vs. Left
So right now we have the conservative right against the liberal left. The conservative right wants all guns available to all people with very little oversight. They are against any bans on “assault rifles” and high-capacity magazines for guns, and they are against any new laws to restrict access to weaponry, or intrude on the privacy of intended gun buyers. They spout catchy phrases like: “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns,” and “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and “you can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hand.”
On the other side, the liberal left grudgingly accepts that there are sportsmen who like to hunt, but they want to restrict the type and number of guns available, as well as access to them. They support background checks, and waiting periods, and all-out bans on guns. They support laws to limit the ammo capacity of guns, and the types of guns available. They spout things like “end the bloodshed,” and “nobody NEEDS a gun that….”
So one of the most-blithered things out there is the tired, old: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Sigh. Really, this is largely true, BUT, not the total answer. It is 100% true…guns don’t pick themselves up, aim themselves at someone’s head and pull their own trigger. They need a person to do that. A gun is a tool, much like a hammer is a tool. A hammer doesn’t hammer nails on its own, either. It needs a hand, too. It’s the perfect analogy…or is it?
Looking deeper into that analogy, the unsimilarities come out. Yes, both are tools; yes, both need a person to run them. But, a hammer makes it possible to pound nails…there are very few things around that could succeed at pounding in a nail. But a hammer doesn’t make it easy to go hammer in 30-50 nails in a matter of seconds. (ignore nail-guns for the moment)
A gun, however, does not make it possible vs. impossible to kill someone. It makes it EASY to kill someone. People have been killing other people since the beginning of people, without guns. We kill each other with sticks, rocks, knives, cans of soup, cars, poison, electricity and our bare hands. There are television shows about “1000 Ways to Die.” A gun is a tool, yes, but it is a tool that makes its job easy, not just possible.
Upping the ante, what about the assault rifles and high-capacity pistols that the liberal left wants to ban and the conservative right wants to protect? What do they do? They make it easy to carry and use 30 to 100 rounds of ammunition. They are designed for war, for killing large numbers of people. They are generally not ideal for sporting or hunting – the calibers are often unsuitable for hunting game, the sights are often inaccurate, or unsuitable for hunting. They are not well suited for concealed personal protection, either. A rifle is pretty hard to conceal, and a high-capacity pistol is a large, heavy, ungainly thing to try to stick in a pocket or hide under a jacket. There is a legitimate argument that nobody NEEDS these weapons, as they are not the best tool for the job that most gun-buyers need to fill.
Guns in the House
So with all of the foregoing said…I have guns in my house, and I want to have more. I like them, I think the precision and intricacy of them is fascinating. I feel a responsibility to protect my home in the event of an intrusion. I enjoy target shooting. I have the .22 rifle, the .22 handgun and the 20-gauge shotgun that I described earlier in this piece. They hold, respectively, seven shots, six shots and two shots – none of them are high-capacityI also have young children in the house. So why do I keep the guns?
First of all, I know that it is possible to safely have guns around children…I’m living proof, as are most children of my generation from Michigan. Education and de-mystifying are keys, as I said before. The best way to stop kids from playing with guns is to remove their desire to do it. And…since this is the real world, I keep my guns unloaded and disassembled and haven’t taught my kids how to re-assemble them. I also keep the ammunition in a separate box that my kids can’t open.
Then, for the final wrinkle…I live in Florida. I think they named it “Florida” because “Bat-Shit Crazy” was already taken. This is a scary place to live – the heat does something to these people, I think, because the strangest, most depraved, most awful news stories come from Florida. Lottery winner murdered and buried in his own yard? Florida – ten miles from my house, actually. George Zimmerman? Florida…across town from me. Casey Anthony? The case was in Pinellas County, one county over. Face-eating zombie guy? Florida. Of course. Veteran shot in front of his young daughter when he defended some skateboarding teens? Florida, about two miles from my house…and it happened in a “good” neighborhood when someone invoked the “stand your ground law.”
The Stand Your Ground Law in Florida. There’s a special kind of screwed-up right there. I’ve written about this one before, so I won’t rehash it much, but I will say this: All my life, I have been surrounded by guns and gun-toting people, but I have never felt like I NEEDED to carry a gun on my person…until I moved to the “respectable” suburbs in Florida. I have an uneasy feeling whenever I walk the dog, that all of these crazy, stupid people are carrying guns, and looking for a reason to Stand Their Ground. They don’t know, I might be carrying Skittles, or Red Vines. That would make me a threat.
The upshot of all this? I want a concealed carry permit – they’re ridiculously easy to get down here – and a handgun that will actually stop someone, should I need to Stand MY Ground…or prevent someone from eating my face. I’m a good shot. I know how to not shoot myself in the leg. I’m mature enough to not wave my gun around to impress people. And I’m kind of scared that I live in a place where I actually think I need a gun.