The Observer: Gun Smoke and Mirrors


My first gun? A pistol. A Luger. I was 5. It was a gift from my parents and I loved it. The grip felt at home in my hand, cool on my palm. I rushed to load it immediately, shoving it under the kitchen tap, watching it fill through the translucent red plastic. Topped off, the medium capacity H²O reservoir of its hollow body gave the piece a satisfying heft. Its short throw, high-pressure trigger action forced a stinging, needle-thin wet-jet through the barrel’s flyspeck of a bore. Visions of sodden, saddened sisters danced in my head. Oh, yeah! I was armed and drencherous.

“Not in the house,” Mom said, probably unconstitutionally. “Take it outside.”

I did. And everything looked different. With that gun in my hand, the world looked dirty. Scummy. In need of a washing. By the purifying water blast. By me.

All that summer, I packed my brimming pistol everywhere, carried it openly, valiantly, around the neighborhood, my soft kid-fingers tight around the cross-hatched hilt. (When holstered in my front pants pocket, it leaked, making it look like I’d peed myself, so hand-carrying seemed the smarter play.) My mission? Tidy things up, put things right. Mud on my bike? Squirt. A column of ants walking across the driveway? Squirt, squirt. A kid littler than me with (honest, I swear) a smear of PB&J on his face? Squirt, squirt, squirt, squirt, squirt, squirt, squirt, squirt, squirt.

Sure, some neighbors disagreed with me about whether the newspaper on their lawn was covered in germs or all cats are filth incarnate, but what’d they know? Often in life, one is blind to a problem until one has the power to unilaterally attack and correct it. What’s more, I was living and fulfilling the promise of every western, every cop show, every war movie I’d ever watched with my dad: Guns get stuff done the gunless can only seek consensus on.

I did get things done, too. Lots. Though it soon became clear I was just one little kid in one big dirty world. Despite my best efforts, including an expanded arsenal, it was going to remain grimy, grim. Thus did the fun of my toy guns fade. After all, how long can spritzing soon-to-evaporate profanities on a sun-baked sidewalk, or doing complimentary sprint-by Super Soaker eyeglass cleanings to passing strangers, hold a boy’s interest? Answer: Till age 10. That’s when I decided to up the stakes, take on a more meaningful problem, apply guns to a higher purpose, and in the process, renew, even amplify the thrill they could provide. It was, in a nutshell, time to stop pretending.

Anyone whose freshly carwashed vehicle has been serially crapped on or whose newly sown lawn has been lost to a ravenous mob of seed-besotted grackles or who’s been rousted from a sound sleep by the chipper din of birdsong 5, 6, 7 minutes before the alarm’s set to go off or felt personally mocked by creatures with nowhere they need to be flaunting their gift of flight, knows all too well what a plague, what a menace, birds are. My friend Jerry and I set out to fix that. For everyone. For good.

Armed with just our BB guns and pockets bulging with ammo, we stalked the backyards of our cul de sac ready to visit justice on the beaked bastards responsible for turning the promise of suburbia into a feathered hellscape. Admittedly, given the number and variety of avian offenses in our neighborhood, it was impossible to conclusively link a specific bird to a specific crime. But even if a particular sparrow or dove hadn’t done anything yet, we knew it was just a matter of time before it did. Everybody knows birds are all alike.

Those sun-soaked days spent teaching our feathered foes a lesson were also days of learning. Because only by putting a gun to its true, intended, solitary, and irrevocable purpose, could we truly grasp both the expediency and permanence of problem-solving by death. As Jerry used to put it, “Don’t do the crime if you don’t want to run out of time.”

No matter how many of those bug-eating buggers we dispatched, windshields were still sullied, grass seed gobbled, sleep disturbed. Our only solace was that without our efforts it likely would’ve been worse.

As for our feeling of being mocked by their ability to fly, well, wielding the power of life and death put that in some serious perspective.

To paraphrase 1 Corinthians 13, verse 11: “When I was a child, I armed myself as a child, I shot as a child, I killed as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish guns.”

In other words, backyard birds and BBs are fine for wet-behind-the-ears kids, but as one matures, becomes aware of America’s hunting heritage, the stalking and slaughter of sizeable mammals begins to feel like the duty of any truly patriotic citizen. (The explosive noise and awesome devastation that accompany the high-powered firearms used for such purposes is simply the hunter’s awesome reward for upholding such a cherished, timeless tradition.)

Of course, killing an animal is not done out of bloodlust or for titillation. That would be wrong. Rather, hunting fulfills two basic needs of humans: sport and food.

The sport is as basic, as primal, as it gets: man versus beast in a battle to the death (of the beast). A contest that pits a feral creature’s finely tuned instincts and survival skills against the highly evolved brain and brainchildren (precision guided firearms; laser scopes; computer tracking devices; farm-harvested doe urine, et al.) of man. And for anyone who thinks modern tools provide an unjust leg up on the opposable thumbless, that no prey has a chance against a predator with a “never miss” smart rifle or hovering helicopter or night-goggles, think again. Hunting is a “leisure activity,” one of high spirits, often pursued with good friends. In other words, we’re drinking. And when one’s in pursuit of perfectly sober wildlife, how much more level could the playing field be?

Of course, to an outdoorsman such as myself, one of the great joys of the sport is observing wildlife living their wild lives. Looking upon a creature of God—a deer, a moose, a bear, a Texas ranch-born impala, a non-celebrity lion—unconfined, roaming its natural (or designated) remaining habitat in all its majesty. This, for me, is beauty. Wonder. A life-affirming moment. Lasting until the crosshairs are steadied, quickly followed by the sharp crack of gunfire, crumpling knees, and the dull, distant thud of a body. Bending over the warm and bleeding carcass, its eyes empty as a china doll’s, I offer these few words: “Ya know, since 1776, that majesty shit don’t mean a damn thing.”

Or I should say, don’t mean a damn thing except food. Because just like our frontier forebears, bagging game means my family will eat. And not the “factory farmed” meat we settle for the other 350 days a year but free-range, free-for-the-taking (minus travel costs, equipment and ammunition, licensing, butchering, and dental work from biting a hidden piece of buckshot) meat. There’s nothing that makes me feel like a better provider than serving up a hand-killed meal with zero antibiotics, zero Big Government health and safety inspections. (Trichinella spiralis? Toxoplasma gondii? Francisella tularensis? Come on, USDA, you’re just stringing together random letters.)

But a person, a family, can’t hunker down in the woods, safe and surrounded only by delicious, defenseless forest creatures, indefinitely. No. To earn a living and put side dishes on the table requires living in some proximity to people. Which is a slippery slope. People are, as all people know, stupid idiots. (Ever met a cat lover?!) Worse, their ranks are rife with home-invading intruders, menacers, thieves, and all manner of criminals whose violent behavior could at any minute reach Alec Baldwinian proportions. Should such a person have a gun, the person(s) he’s pointing it at may not live to enjoy the Rapture.

Now, I refuse to let a bad guy have that kind of power over me. Especially when today’s rightfully frightened American has virtually unlimited access to unlimited handguns. (For inside the home or for personal protection, shotguns and rifles are too unwieldy, not to mention hard to fit under one’s pillow.) Anyone enters my house uninvited they’re gonna wind up with more holes in them than a prairie dog town with a meth problem.

I know, I know, I’ve seen the same studies as anyone else. A homeowner’s gun is more likely to be used against him. A gun in the home is far more likely to cause the death of a family member (by homicide, suicide, or fatal accident) than an intruder. The violent crime rate in America is so low the annual per capita risk of death during a break-in is 0.0000002. There’s just one thing: I don’t believe any statistics that come from a source I don’t care for or I don’t compile myself. And 100 percent of my guns strongly agree with me.

Besides, there’s no substitute for the feeling of safety and security a few guns in the house provides, regardless of whether it’s misplaced or has the wife gobbling Xanax. Like all the other good guy gun owners I know, I’m confident I’m smarter, more careful, less impetuous than the dumbasses who make up the negative statistics. We have a rare courage, the courage to back up our convictions with the lives of our loved ones.

For me, it’s just a simple matter of commitment: I’ll buy enough guns to keep from being victimized if it kills me.

Sadly, the negligible possibility of having to protect or successfully defend one’s home against an intruder is hardly the only thing it’s essential for all Americans to vigilantly fear these days. There’s also America itself.

Almost daily, a mass murder occurs somewhere in the United States. Typically, the perpetrator is male; white; single; the kind of totally insane that acquaintances and gun dealers can only see in retrospect; and has impeccable taste in guns. Before opening fire, such an individual, with his impressive portable arsenal of assault weapons outfitted with super-sized magazines, may, to passersby, appear to be your average Joe Hollowpoint, no different from me or a million other pragmatic, open-carry defenders of personal space and property. Not so. These heavily armed and ammoed marauders—distinguishable by their over-under boot lacing technique rather than the criss-cross method preferred by non-mass murderers—are mentally ill. Miscreants who need immediate long term treatment that somebody beside we taxpayers needs to provide and whose guns should be adopted by a loving family.

In the big picture, however, our mad countrymen are a relatively small threat. An unfortunate distraction, really. For by focusing on such splashy massacres, dwelling on the corpses of school children, the shattered lives of the wounded, the raw anguish of survivors, we overlook the real tragedy of such rampages: the heartbreaking increase in calls for gun control. Gun control! The only way that sorrowful prospect doesn’t bring a man to tears is if another man’s around to laugh at him for it.

For what does it matter, really, if every innocent man, woman, and child among us remains unshot and alive if our ironclad, irrevocable, unconditional, Constitutional right to bear arms has been circumscribed in any way? Isn’t America’s seductive, unlimited smorgasbord of legal weapons and our unfettered access to them what separates us from, if not the apes, then the French? And just as a Golden Corral with no hot wings or no sprinkles for the soft serve would soon lose its customers to some other, better managed house of excess, so, too, would making 750 rounds-per-minute M16s or 100-round drum magazines illegal drive gun rights advocates to move to a country where those things remain available, if such a country existed. Put another way: How we deal with the trigger-happy mustn’t make everybody else trigger-sad.

Don’t think it can’t happen, either. In the aftermath of Newtown, Aurora, Charleston, and—never forget!—the presidential election of 2008, the storm clouds of moderation gathered, threatening not merely to erode our gun rights but to sweep every last firearm from the hands and holsters of freedom-loving government-haters from ages 3 to 103.

Among those in the know, in fact, it is the all too real assumption, based on highly credible rumors of a conceivable conversation among unnamed Obama administration staffers regarding an imminent incremental chipping away of the Second Amendment, that has, understandably and repeatedly, led to the only reasonable conclusion: the federal government is planning to confiscate all 300 million weapons held by private citizens. An action that the evidence may contradict but undisprovable distrust outweighs. It’s just like they tell me at the gun shop every time a new rumbling drives me there to stock up on whatever weapon that, to date, has yet to be banned: “You can never have too much paranoia or too many guns.”

But do not despair, friends. Rather, let us hope. Hope that, regardless of how drastically weaponry or authority or society or reality may change, America’s love of guns (and gun lovers) never will. For by clinging to our past so shall we build the glorious future.

For I have a dream.

A dream where the NRA and other gun lobbyists, through even greater campaign contributions, nastier electoral intimidation, and the loosest possible interpretation of the word militia, further tighten their grip on the entire political process, thus assuring our agenda is prioritized and the values of our intractable minority institutionalized.

A dream where daily reports of gun violence and mass shootings and no resulting legislation leads to outrage fatigue. And that with this fatigue, the news media, seeing ratings and profits fall, will cover more stories about severe weather and car wrecks instead.

Above all, though, I have a dream of peace. A peace made possible by removing all prohibitions against concealed carry throughout this great land. For it is a speculated fact that nothing deters a disturbed, suicidal killer more than knowing everyone around him may have the power to end his life. This will be the advent of a murderless utopia, a world in which, wherever we go, be it sporting event, political rally, campus bar, grade school pageant, workplace, or jam-packed freeway, we are equally bonded by the brotherhood and constrained by the fear of a unanimously armed populace.

I cling to this vision as tightly as I cling to my most precious arms, knowing we shall triumph over our foes. Unless they’re wearing Kevlar.

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