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Me and My Guns 1

October 8, 2015

I begin this episode with the story of how much I’ve enjoyed guns. On page 2 and page 3 I tell about some misadventures; on page 4 I celebrate my favorite gun, and put that in context; page 4.5 is an interlude with a poem and short satiric film; on page 5 I’ll analyze myself about that favorite gun; and on page 6 I’ll think out loud about a larger context for giving up guns, letting them go (or at least well-regulating the militia).

But, Dear Reader, I’m not going to play it careful while trying to be persuasive. I want to state right up front what my attitude is, as I tell this: I’m really, really pissed, about people who want me to tolerate murder, in unlimited number, so that they can benefit from unlimited distribution of lethal weapons.

Shortly after I was born, war broke out in Europe; when I was one and a half, Japan attacked the U.S. and we went to war. Before I entered kindergarten I knew what a gun was: a weapon designed to kill. Especially to kill people.

Historically, guns were used more often, and by more people, to kill wild birds and animals for food. After the war I began to see guns in our house. Now and then I would notice a shotgun or rifle leaning in the corner of a bedroom or closet. In the winter I would see my dad and uncles dressed for hunting, carrying those guns; and then I would see the dead rabbits and sometimes a squirrel or a pheasant that they brought home, watch them being “cleaned”—just as we cleaned fish in the summer, and eat parts of them for dinner. With mashed potatos topped with rabbit or squirrel gravy.

In about 1947 my dad inherited two guns that had long been in his family. One was a flint and pan shotgun; the other was a cap and ball muzzleloader that we always called a “Kentucky long rifle.” It was very long, very heavy, and very loud when dad fired it to celebrate the new year. I’d like to have those guns today, but dad eventually sold them.

We lived on the “outskirts” of town, in NE Indiana, with the edge of a working class neighborhood out the front, and a farm out the back. I had a bunch of neighbor kids to play and hunt with. When we were 12 we boys got to carry 10-gauge shot guns along the raised railroad bed, looking to kick up a rabbit from the snowy weeds. I can see us quite clearly, walking spread out in a line, in the glow and gloom of a late afternoon, a shotgun in the crook of each left arm. We knew what guns were, and we were well regulated in their use.

Before that, at 8 or 9, I had begun walking the line across frozen, snowy farm fields, watching for a sudden rabbit, and watching how quickly my dad and uncles could lift their guns and sight, gauging which direction it ran and who should make the shot. They had hunted as kids, and then been trained during the war. I carried a 22-calibre rifle, first a single shot, and then my all-time favorite gun, a spring-loaded, semi-automatic 22 carbine. I still have that single shot, leaning in a closet somewhere. I’d surely like to have that carbine, but dad eventually sold it.

Some of my best memories with a gun are from squirrel hunting (I’m guessing the season began in late summer?) with my dad. A couple miles from town there was a large area, coming up close to an uncle’s new house, of fields (with lots of low hazelnut trees) that were too irregular for farming, and then a long, deep drop-off to a shallow creek, with flat, heavily wooded land stretching away on the other side. We would get into that woods very early on a sunny morning, to sit in the silence, sometimes for more than an hour, waiting to hear a squirrel’s chatter, and then peer up into the branches, watching for him to show himself. (I only remember eating squirrel for dinner on a couple of those nights.) As noon approached we would give up hunting, climb up to the top of the ravine, and target practice with the walnuts hanging directly out from us. It’s hard to hit a walnut with a rifle.

Once, in the shade along the dry creek bed, we saw, maybe a hundred feet ahead, a red fox. He paused briefly to look, and then calmly trotted on, into the shadows. Majesty! No way we would have shot at it. When you see a fox, you know immediately, with all your body, what you are seeing. (Now, if you’re a chicken farmer, you might feel differently.)

Those fields and woods are neighborhoods now.

When I was in high school, class of ’57, there was a very large space in the basement in the center of that round building, in which they built a rifle range (for 22s), for target practice by members of The Rifle Club, an after school activity. Our faculty sponsor taught us gun safety, which most of us already knew, and the NRA supplied guns and ammunition (maybe we chipped in a bit—but it couldn’t have been much, or few of us could have joined).

Maybe my friend, RM, wasn’t in The Rifle Club to learn about gun safety. One Saturday afternoon we were in my bedroom and he picked up that carbine, aimed it out the window and across a vacant lot at a window of the house next door, and pulled the trigger. Bam! he said. Of course I knew better than to keep a loaded gun in the house (or out of my hands). And as it happened, my grandparents lived in the house next door.

While in high school I also had a CO2 cylinder-charged pellet pistol, with which I enjoyed target practice. At that age I had excellent eyes, calm nerves, and steady muscles, so I got very good with that gun, right or left hand.

(2 b cont.)

From → guns

2 Comments
  1. Tom: My boyhood was likewise filled with firearms. I got my first shotgun for Christmas when I was 12. My .22, which I still have today, was one of the only presents I ever received from my father. He showed me how to finish the stock by sanding it, putting a light coat of linseed oil on it, then sanding it again, and again, and again.

    I can’t remember if you ever met my uncle, Dave Fisher, who really raised me after my father left our family. He died in a farming accident when I was in graduate school. Anyway, I have the two guns of his that were most important to him. The first was a .357 revolver that he carved like the whalers did their scrimshaw. Although they were estranged after my father left, he made those grips for him–which I have always found inspirational.

    The other is a semi-automatic .22, that we always used to call “Dave’s machine-gun,” because whenever he saw a squirrel, it seemed he used the first few shots to get close to it before he actually centered on the creature! He broke the stock over a possum’s head and the rifle was useless until my father had a gunsmithing class at the local community college fix it.

    It’s a beautiful rifle, as is my Remington. I’m not at all a big fan of the latest “technical” rifle craze, with polymer stocks, always black, and always military-looking. The guns I have were made and cared for lovingly, and even though I’ve never fired that .357, I’m glad that I have it to care for.

    Your position and mine on firearms will probably always be different, but it’s such a breath of fresh air to read your post, indicating that guns are often much more than simply a means of killing things.

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