Sunday, November 8, 2015

On guns

© Joshua Stark 2015

First off, I must admit it -- I am a gun nut.

This may come as a surprise to many, many of my friends and colleagues, since I don't work in a field where guns get talked about much, I don't have a political affiliation where being a gun nut is held in high regard, and I don't often even pick up magazines or books anymore that refer to guns.

Contrary to what many may think -- and my birth certificate -- I'm also an 80 year-old man (on the inside), and so set in my ways, and I haven't kept up with all the newfangled gun stuff ("newfangled" probably being any caliber that came out after the .280).  I am especially turned off by the latest fetish with the AR platforms -- maybe because I'm a bit of a gun snob (guns are metal and wood, not a bunch of plastic molding), maybe because I'm concerned about high-capacity magazines, and maybe because I'm turned off by the less-than-subtle racism, rampant indignant victim mentality, and rabid anti-American, pro-Confederacy bluster that all-too often comes along with it.  Also, the .223 is a worthless cartridge for my uses (I don't seal hunt or varmint hunt).
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But, I do own a large number of guns.  These include two deer rifles (one bolt-action .270, one lever-action 30-30), five shotguns (two side-by-side double barrels in 12 and 20 gauge, one over/under double barrel 12 gauge, one single-shot 20 gauge, and one pump-action 12 gauge), and one pistol (a single-action .22/.22 magnum).

To my liberal friends, this may be considered a not-so-small arsenal.  To my conservative friends, it is dangerously lacking in anything appropriate for personal defense.  To my gun-snob friends, the cache has no caché (apart from my not-quite-yet-functional 1887 Greener side-by-side, which would be given a slight nod).

Not one of my guns is available for home defense, should the need ever arise (pray God it doesn't).  No, they are all locked in a safe -- unloaded, and separate from the ammunition.  Instead, we have the standard strategically-placed Large Stick, various long knives, and a hatchet I'm sure I could find if I had the time to spring out of bed and dig through the backpacks.  We also have a MagLite (not the mini version, mind you, but the full-on model made so popular by Ben Stiller in "Night at the Museum").

The purpose for my guns is that I hunt with them (except one).  But I would be lying if I didn't say that I really, really like my guns.

To be completely honest, like most kids, I've liked guns ever since the first time I heard about them, and I have no idea when that happened.  All I can say is, from the time I can remember, I was already fascinated by ballistics, the fit and finish of wood to metal, and the various capabilities, provenance and mystique of certain calibers, gauges and models.

This love didn't come from my family.  My Dad only had one gun -- a Winchester model 20 single-shot 20 gauge that kicked like a 12.  He'd hunted some when he was younger, but he wasn't a "hunter".  He was (and remains) a working-class intellectual -- an English major mud-logger -- but the tomes filling his bookshelves are not Ruark nor Capstick.  Hemingway, yes -- but moreso Shakespeare, Faulker, Vonnegut, Merton; treatises on religious philosophy and ethics, and the Great Works.

My interest in guns did come naturally, inextricably linked with my being completely head-over-heels in love with the Outdoors.  We fished all the time, and I ran barefoot through miles of corn fields, ditches and levees.  I read National Geographics, Field & Stream and Outdoor Life cover-to-cover, along with Olaus Murie's "Field Guide to North American Mammal Tracks".  I watched for birds, and we bought a handheld spotlight and drove the empty levees in search of foxes, coyotes, skunks and other marshland denizens.

And I hunted.  And hunted.

I also kept up with gun-tech.  In high school, I did four years of rifle team, and earned my varsity block my Freshman year.  I hung out with a couple of gun nuts, guys with modified Ruger 10/22's, guys shooting 22-250's and Thompson/Center pistols.  I can still make a cop feel comfortable by rambling on about the good points of a .40 cal over a 9mm.  Target practice and shooting clays is fun -- really fun!

But, I am torn today.

Yes, guns are just tools -- and tools have special purposes.  Hammers are really good at nailing; drills are really good at drilling. I think you know where this leads...

I see the horrific impacts of so many guns on streets, amid rampant poverty and powerlessness.  I do not believe that the 2nd Amendment guarantees a right to private ownership of any and every weapon  (else we'd have to allow for nuclear armaments owned by private citizens), so I'm okay with drawing lines (though I don't know where those lines are).  But, I also find myself cheering on the female Peshmerga Kurdish troops and women demonstrating empowered equality on U.N. missions in Africa.  If I'm happy to see women empowered through being armed (and to be honest, in these cases being armed is a vital part of their empowerment), then why not my own sisters here at home?

I know that gun ownership carries with it a tremendous power and responsibility, and, as a leftist, I don't completely trust that power in the hands of government (especially where I see that government failing to protect many poor folks).  As a Christian, however, I see the gun as a crutch and an obstacle to real power and transformation.  I guess I'm torn like Hamlet, only I don't have to deal with it face-to-face like that poor bastard.

I don't have an answer to the violence of our society.  I know fewer people would be harmed, physically, with fewer arms, but I don't see the disarming of American society going so well in reality.  In the meantime, I see the weak preying on the weaker with arms, and I wonder how best we might protect them.

But when it comes to my own guns, it has little to do with ideas of protection.  I enjoy guns like I enjoy knives and cast-iron pans, binoculars and bows. I like to look at the really nice ones, then, when I can afford one, I might pick up one of the cheaper ones.