Ichabod's Kin
A place for politics, pop culture, and social issues

Gun Shy

Given human nature, a fully armed populace would be a disaster of immense proportions.

That’s what I am, regardless that I hail from the Southern U.S. where guns were common and I fired highest score in my National Guard unit with both carbine and M-1 rifle.

But in very few years and with a gun lobby that was a mere shadow of what the fun folks at the NRA are today, I detested the damn things, their pervasive presence in civilized society, and never, ever owned one. When a former schoolmate came to visit years ago and we took target practice at his behest, he was surprised that in my new incarnation I “couldn’t hit the red side of a green barn.” I took it as a compliment.

As a kid I played with buddies in my uncle’s home, running throughout and scooting on our bellies under furniture–and came with stark suddenness across a large handgun kept beneath his bed. We fell quiet for an eternal moment before remembering parental warnings not to touch any such things we might encounter, thereby escaping the tragedy of another six year old who was shot by his brother–with his mother’s gun: she had bought it as protection from her ex-boyfriend, thought it was safely stored, and had no idea “what made them go up to that shelf.”

But the image of my uncle’s gun stays in my mind with an admixture of fascination and fear. Nothing is made like a gun. Merely to see or hold one evokes a fascination like no other–as did my older brother’s .22 rifle that on rare occasion I surreptitiously took from its closet case to examine its unloaded beauty. Firing one introduces an exhilaration of power until and unless you ponder the horrible effects that can and will be brought on people or objects.

Still in mind too is my first attempt to kill a rabbit on a cold winter morning, as friends stood nearby to celebrate the occasion. Furnished with a borrowed shotgun, I fired unnecessary times across a creek, clueless to the difference between buckshot and solitary bullets. A buddy held up the hare and noted that every bone in its body was pulverized. It was both dead and useless. No celebratory dinner that night, and I had no stomach to retry my luck.

Years have passed and we’ve found how many gun lovers can be both resilient and brutish in their “right to bear arms.” Had the genteel crafters of the Bill of Rights known the sorry pass to which we would come in the modern world, it’s my guess they would have placed a caveat on that one. We no longer live in an agrarian America where the British might invade our property (historical sources claim that many colonists wouldn’t fight until they did). But we’re told that thieves and druggies are tantamount to terrorists and redcoats, and our rebuttal that guns are more a risk to family and friends than to strangers in our homes falls on deaf ears. As someone wisely said, “Jefferson doesn’t have to live in today’s world–but I do.”

Guns are but one part of the larger issue of violence. We are still Dodge City Kids, reared on fantastic and untrue stories of gunslingers like Jessie James, who was no Robin Hood: he robbed the rich and kept it. He and his gang (and the Youngers) were popular after the Civil War when defeated Confederates loved someone who was still a rebel. So along with two chickens in every pot, two cars in every driveway and 2.3 VCRs in the average home–not to mention a cellphone or two for everyone in the family, there is now at least one handgun in two out of three households.

Now, I know something about fear and am no stranger to it. I fear getting knocked in the head, shot, stabbed or beaten; and I tend to be alert in my comings and goings. But I do not believe that I should arm myself or encourage others to do so. Not because I am immune to anger, retaliation and vengeance, but precisely because I am not. Given human nature, a fully armed populace would be a disaster of immense proportions. Laws that favor those who believe in the right to have handguns only increase our peril, strange as that may seem.

The bereaved mother mentioned earlier said she would get a gun again if she had it to do over but then belied her feelings when she added, “You get something to protect yourself, and you end up hurting yourself.”

And therein lies the tragedy of handguns: they do what they’re made for–but to the wrong people.

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