Boys With Guns
Over the last few days I have seen quite a few FB posts in defense of guns. Many of these are posted by men of my generation (Boomers) who talk about the prevalence of guns in our youth and what is remembered fondly as the absence of gun violence. Most of these guys, myself included, grew up in hunting cultures and remember hunting as a way to bond with our fathers and their friends. We often kept a shotgun on a gun rack in the cab of a pickup. Or if like me, who didn’t own a car until college, it was not unusual to have a shotgun in the trunk. I have no memory of anyone getting in trouble for this. We didn’t have them there for protection, we were not scared of anything. They weren’t there for intimidation. We were hoping to be invited to go dove or deer hunting on someone’s farm.
Old guys like me who wax nostalgic about such things then say something like this:
Guns haven’t changed
People have changed
It’s not the guns
But of course, that is only one half of an inconvenient truth.
It is true that people have changed. Cultures are always in a state of flux. Guns have changed too…a lot.
My first gun, a gift from my father, was a single shot, 20 gauge shotgun. Pull the trigger once, break it down manually, take the spent shell out, replace it with a new one, close the barrel, cock the hammer, then pull the trigger. The deer is gone by now. I still own the gun.
I remember sitting in the living room with my father cleaning our guns. The barrel of my single shot shotgun was completely removed. There was no possible way it could be fired. There was no ammunition in the room. As I prepared to put it back together I pointed the isolated barrel at my sister and went “bang.” My father reached across, took the gun, put it together himself and said,
“You can have it back when I have some reason to believe you will treat it responsibly.”
“But Dad,” I protested, “It can’t fire. It’s broken down!”
To which he replied, “Son these guns are not for hurting people, even as a joke. People are killed by unloaded guns all the time.”
There was no further discussion and I was not allowed to use my gun for many months. And yet, even then, the issue was carelessness, not malice.
Later I graduated to a 12 gauge pump. As a young adult, a friend and I killed a 1500 pound moose with our 30.06 rifles. It fed our families for over a year. Later, after Ann and I became vegetarians I quit hunting. I found no pleasure in killing and did not want to kill what I would not eat.
But people have changed and guns have changed too.
Guns have changed…In my childhood it was legal and easier than it is today to buy an automatic weapon. There was no registration of guns, no background check for anyone, and no requirement that you be an adult to buy, yet I never knew anyone who owned an automatic weapon. I never saw anyone pull a gun in a fight. To compare the right to own the shotgun of that day with the popular AR-15 of today is ludicrous. Seeing a shotgun on a gun rack, in a pickup truck in those days was not intimidating. Today you might look twice. I live in Arizona, an open carry state. When I see a man in the produce department of my local grocery, 9 ml handgun strapped to his waist, I do not feel safer. Who is that guy? What is it about tomatoes and avocados that threatens him so? Is he competent, well trained, or just angry and showing off?
I have friends chomping at the bit to correct me about those AR-15s. They are not truly automatic rifles. That is correct, but they are close enough. Close enough to leave 17 people dead on the ground in a high school, in a neighborhood that is one of the safest in the US…or at least it was. I’m still fumbling for the second shell in my childhood 20 gauge.
People have changed…Here me clearly. I do not believe in the good old days. They were just days and so are these. In these days we have many more socially disconnected young men, not quite automatic rifle in hand, struggling to make a point even they don’t understand. Because of that bodies are piling up in the halls, playgrounds and streets and our legislators are unwilling to talk about the issue. The NRA which was once a gun safety organization, now intimidates them as they funnel millions into the coffers of legislators to insure silence over issues surrounding gun safety.
It seems to me that the question is pretty simple; are we willing to give up the right of civilians to own military style weapons so that our children can go to school without the fear of a massacre. Will we give them up so we can fearlessly listen to country music in the streets of the city?
I can hear my deeply offended, good hearted friends howling in outrage that they would never use their gun to hurt anyone but they are fun to shoot. To you dear friends I would say this isn’t about you. It’s about men mostly young, cut off from healthy families, isolated in communities that no longer share responsibility for their care.
It’s time for a change. Not a modest change. “Thoughts and prayers” only have meaning if they lead to carefully considered action. I am a follower of one who died for the transformation of the world. The one who said faith can move mountains. Well it’s time to throw this mountain into the sea.
“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”
I’m mourning and waiting for comfort.