Thursday, March 15, 2018

About Guns

I'm listening carefully about proposals for new gun laws. Perhaps my experience with firearms is too unusual to make a solid argument one way or the other. Maybe the best way is to note a few memories, and comment as I go along.

I have three or four memories of my mother. She left when I was about two years old. One of those memories is of her opening a closet door. There, on the floor of the dark closet, was a toy pistol and holster, in a crumpled pile, as if thrown into that dark place.  My mother looked away, and said very quietly, "Those are from your dad." My first gun.

 A few years later, my grandfather's grocery store was broken into, and my dad started sleeping on a cot in the attic of the store. I climbed up there to see his new sleeping quarters. I found it, along with a shiny new revolver on a table next to the cot.  I learned something about my father that day.

 Then came the five years with my mentally ill step-mother. No guns, thank God. When I was sent away at age eleven, my Uncle Dale and his boys were avid hunters. I was trained how to safely handle a gun. A year later, I was taken in by relatives in Oregon, who were also hunters. Pheasant was our game of choice. Then I was given an air rifle. I spent many weekends in the woods after that, killing things.

 So, my first experience of guns included the memory of my mother's disapproval. Seeing as she ran off, my inclination was to gravitate towards that which she deplored, of course. As a twelve and thirteen year old, I went out into the woods to kill things. Eventually, thanks to my young cousin, whom you  met in the link above, I got over that phase.

But I think it is worth noting that I was not always alone on these hikes of death. Many of my friends who had also grown up with guns around would often go with me. I think there is a fascination with death among some twelve and thirteen year olds. We cannot create life, but we can take it. That kind of power is a strong temptation for some young people. My experience is that eventually, we outgrow it.

 Now comes the part that is difficult to put into words. From the ages of fourteen through nineteen, I spent most of my time either on the street, or locked up. Living on the street meant engaging in a number of criminal acts. Some involved guns. I never shot anyone personally, but I've pulled a gun ready to use it, and I had guns drawn on me many times.  I was only shot once, but that is another story.  One time, I wrestled with the man with a gun, and he won. And now he was pissed. As he pressed the barrel of that revolver against my forehead, I honestly thought it was all over. I add that detail for those who might imagine I don't realize the danger involved.

I'm not going to dwell on those years, for the simple reason that I did many things during that time for which I am still deeply ashamed. But here's the point I want to make; we either stole our guns, or bought them from one another. We rarely had to look far to find one. During those street years, I cannot recall anyone who bought a gun from a store. In other words, the criminals will always have guns. Just so you know.

 Fast forward a few years. After my time in the Navy, my wife and our young children and I moved to Wisconsin. I now had a .22 semi-automatic and two 12 gauge shotguns. The .22 was a camp gun; good for varmints, both four footed and two footed, while camping. And we did a lot of camping. The shotguns were for deer season. Where I was in Wisconsin, only shotguns were allowed to hunt deer.

A friend of mine and his family fell on hard times. So I let Tinker, his wife, two kids and huge dog move in. Tinker was like me, having spent some rough years in his youth. After a month, I made them move out. The next thing I know, he's trying to move into my father-in-laws house, because they were gone and their young son was there alone. I got Tinker on the phone, and after screaming at him for awhile, he hung up. I got the family in bed, loaded my shotgun, and sat on the stairs all night, waiting for Tinker to come crashing in our front door. He never did. 

There's been a few situations in which I've had to load a gun to protect myself and my family. Why didn't I call the police? In my street days, I was beaten, dragged by the cuffs, and basically treated like scum by "peace-keepers." I'm still working on learning to trust someone who forces me to do his will because he has a side arm on his hip and I don't. In my professional life, I do call the police. In my personal life, I deal with it.

Back to Wisconsin. One day, I came home and found that my two boys, who were toddlers, had gotten into my gun cases. They had pulled one shotgun out, and were working on the second one. That scene scared me.  I sold all three guns within a month.

A few years later, I knew I was going to be traveling and camping a lot, so I wanted another camp gun. I went with a single shot break open 20 gauge. A very simple gun, and quite safe. I still have my "little fire stick." It's a good tool.

 So, I listen to the debates about gun control. Most of the voices are on the extreme. One groups shouts, "They are going to take away our guns!" That's just silly. That's politicians trying to scare you into voting for them. The other group screams "All guns are evil." I assume that is the voice of naivety.

 Let's get something straight. Some animals cannot kill their own kind. Humans can. Human history makes that clear. We are all capable of being mass murderers. It is the nature of our species.

Gandhi knew that only those who were aware of their deep hatred for the British, so deep that they wanted to kill them, could practice non-violent resistance effectively. In order to rein in our dark side, we have to face it. You can only restrain that which is conscious. The most dangerous people in the world are those who hide from their potential for great evil, which dwells within us all. I speak out against killing because I know I am a killer.

 So, regarding gun control; if you speak of me as a "bad" person for owning a gun, I assume you are just very sheltered from some of the realities of life. If you want to arm your teachers, you don't know many teachers. That notion is just bonkers. Seriously.

I think I'll wait until some of the high pitched drama wears off. Maybe then we'll hear some sanity on this issue. In the meantime,  I'll keep my little fire stick, tyvm,  until, as Moses would say,  "you tear it from my dead, cold hands."  ; )



  1. Firstly, it's a deep pleasure to see you back, Fr. Jake; it comes as no surprise that you make sense on this touchy subject.

    i, too, have had experience with firearms, and was trained properly with a single-shot .22, still in the family after sixty years. I've been hunting, and not all the game were four -legged. I shot expert without any real familiarization beforehand, with the military AR-15; I know it's made to be easy for the relatively unskilled to use effectively, and that it's brutally effective against humans, but damned little else. I was trained and re-certified for years, and know that arming teachers is at best a vicious game that promises solutions for votes without real change: politcal cyniciam at its worst.

    I personally favor the elimination of manufacture of military arms for civilian sales, ban of gun shows, and a far more restrictive registration process. And I know laws are not obeyed, but we must control that which we can. I also include seizure and destruction of firearms used in violent crime.

    This is intended to kick off conversation, not to complete one; wat do yall think?

  2. Hi, Fr. Jake. I've never owned a firearm, don't know how to shoot one, and for quite a few years tended to look askance at good ol’ boys and their guns as overly macho scaredy-cats. But the 2016 election season opened my eyes to traces of snobbery and elitism in myself and my fellow liberals that I hadn't been aware of (I was a Bernie supporter). Now it seems obvious that people with other cultural orientations -- such as white working class males -- have the same rights as anyone else, and their grievances deserve the same consideration and respect as those of any other group. I can even understand why some gun owners fear the government and would panic, even revolt, if they seriously thought their guns were being confiscated. Our government was set up to represent all of its citizens. Whether or not it does, I think we as Christians can agree that in his lifetime Jesus did not discriminate against anyone (except, rhetorically, the Scribes and Pharisees) and that the lord he worshiped loves all of us, all of us, equally.

    We need better gun safety rules and higher levels of mental health in this sad country, but no one can tell you that you don't have a perfect right to your fire stick, Fr. Jake – which you obviously own and use responsibly. Thanks for your timely post; I hope it opens up a fruitful conversation.

    -- fs