Friday, February 12, 2016

My experience with guns

Illustration courtesy of TSR, 1978
My Dad was a child of the Great Depression.  He was born in 1930.  Growing up, he knew nothing but poverty.  The house he moved into as a youngster had no doors except for the ones they found floating in the kitchen.  They didn't have indoor plumbing for drinking water, only for a toilet.  His oldest brother, who was almost eight years his senior, had known at least some level of prosperity before the Market Crash.  That, and the corresponding alcoholism that my grandfather turned to, plunged the family into near subsistence living. 

Because of their poverty, they sometimes turned to hunting for their food.  It wasn't a game. They lived near what was then the outskirts of Akron, Ohio.  They would take out six bullets and return with six rabbits, or squirrels, or whatever it was they hunted.  There was no room for error.   As a result, my Dad grew up understanding that, in their case at least, guns meant food.  They meant life. 

As he got older, things improved.  He got a job at a lumber yard to help when his two older brothers went off to fight in WWII.  Things got better and hunting for food ceased.  Still, Dad continued to hunt.  Due to the abusive nature of my Grandpa, there was never much loved lost, but Dad said he taught him how to garden and how to hunt.  And so he did.  Dad hunted when he could.  When we moved to a small farming community in rural Ohio, Dad took advantage of the countryside to begin hunting in earnest.  He still played it conservative, and generally expended only a couple more shots than the quarry he bagged.  He either gave the animals to whoever let him hunt on their property, or he brought them home to be fixed as stew.  Rabbit hunting was his prime sport, and I admit it doesn't taste like chicken.

When I was about 3 years old, we lived in our house out in the country.  Dad pretty much built it by himself.  When he bought it, people said it looked like the house on Green Acres.  His bother even made a wood carving to hang in the house that said "Green Acres."  He completely rebuilt and refurbished it.  From his little dream home, nestled on about 20 acres surrounded by farms and woodlands, he would go and hunt rabbits in the wintertime - his favorite time of year. I can remember looking out and hearing an occasional gun shot.  I remember my Aunt Dorth saying 'Run little bunnies!'

Around that time, Dad took my sister and me out to the back yard.  He was going to let us shoot one of the big guns!  Pretty exciting.  He got a .20 gauge shotgun and a huge piece of Styrofoam that he found sitting in a railroad yard (he was a train engineer).  He then sat me down first, between his legs, with the gun near my shoulder.  He held the gun, but let me hold onto it with one hand and actually let me pull the trigger with the other.  He gave me no warning.  I had never heard a gun up close before.  He just told me what to do.  I pulled the trigger back with everything I could and then BAM!

I remember screaming uncontrollably.  I cried my eyes out I was so frightened.  But without consoling me or comforting me, Dad got me up, dragged me by the hand to the piece of Styrofoam that was now half blown to pieces and scattered all over the yard, and said, "That is what a gun will do to you if you goof around and don't be careful." 

The house my Dad built, photo c. 2015
From that point on, my parents could have put a loaded gun in bed with me and I wouldn't have touched it.  In fact, because my Dad often worked nights and my Mom was alone with us out in the country, far away from other homes, she sometimes would keep a loaded, sawed-off .12 gauge shotgun in the corner next to the sliding door to the kitchen (the main entrance way into our house).  Neither my sister nor I touched it. 

One night, in fact, we were lucky it was there.  At around 3:00 AM, a group of young men were out drinking by their car along the gravel and dirt road that led to our house.  For no reason, they suddenly jumped in as my Dad passed them on his way home, and began chasing him.  Dad had driven that road enough, and he was no mean driver from his hot rod days in Akron, so he was able to stay ahead.  He whipped into our gravel driveway, came to a halt, and ran to the sliding door.  Mom was often up and waiting.  She saw him running and knew something was wrong.  She opened the door.  Dad yelled for her to get him the gun.  As she did, she saw the car chasing him turn into the driveway.  Just as it came to a stop, Dad turned around, pointed the gun into the air and fired.  The car suddenly kicked into reverse, and flew back out of the driveway and down the road.  We never saw them again.

Some time later, one of Dad's brothers (he had four) came to visit.  He was from Denver, Colorado.  His wife was, well, one of the more liberal of the spouses.  She was all about positive reinforcement and not spanking and no violence for their kids.  It went without saying that they didn't own a gun.  When they arrived, my Mom and Dad made sure things were put up.  The .12 gauge was put in their bedroom, where Mom sometimes kept it if she went to sleep when Dad was gone.  It was in a corner.  My uncle's kids came into the house and went exploring.  When they saw the gun, they immediately ran for it, only to be caught by my Dad.  He warned them to stay away and leave it alone.  But they spent the whole time trying to sneak back, just to handle it, just to play and see what it was.  Finally, rather than fight them, Dad went and put it in a storage closet.  It was clear they had no clue what it was, other than a gun to be played with. 

I've often thought about that.  Over the years I would go hunting with Dad.  I wasn't a bad shot, though I preferred not to kill anything.  It figures that something I was good at was something I really had no stomach for.  Still, I did it because it was special for Dad.  I posted about that here some years ago.  But I was always careful.  I always took care and always hunted under my Dad's watchful eye.

Not ready for responsible gun ownership
In the mid-80s, there was a sudden spate of classmates receiving guns for Christmas.  I think it was before A Christmas Story, so I'm not sure why they did.  Even my best friend received a gun, and his parents were as far from that world as I could have imagined.  The guns they received weren't anything major: .410s or .22s.  But still dangerous. 

I went out a couple of times to help them.  Some, like me, had hunting licenses.  That means they had to go through classes and training.  Others just had their guns.  After a couple tries, I said enough.  They could have been cap guns for all they acted.  They swung the guns around, tossed them about, fired loosely at whatever tickled their fancy.  When I was with my friend alone, it was a little more controlled, and I wouldn't let him do anything without asking.  But in  a group? No way.

Same thing with deer hunting.  One reason my Dad and I didn't deer hunt was because in our neck of the woods, deer hunting was what some of your city and suburbanite folks did for fun.  It was their yearly connection to the great outdoors.  Many deer hunters were responsible, don't get me wrong.  But more than any other season, that seemed to be where you had fellows trading their suits and ties for camouflage, then coming down with a 12 pack of beer and a box of ammo.  No thanks.

I realized that guns were like cars in many ways.  Most auto accidents are preventable.  Some aren't.  Accidents happen.  But despite the training and the licenses and the tests, people still get out and drive like maniacs, speed to unsafe levels, and drive recklessly or under the influence.  And people die.  Same with guns.  Have all the classes you want, all the licenses and regulations, and people will still be people. 

And in the cases I saw, I couldn't help but notice a trend. Most - not all, but most - who treated guns and hunting with respect and caution came from older families, older parents who had grown up around Dad's generation.  Many - not all, but many - who ran about and looked at guns as the next neat toy, came from younger parents - including my uncle and his aunt.  Children of the next generation.  Children of parents who didn't hunt to eat.  I don't know if that says something, or that it might point to a reason behind some of the gun issues today.  I'm sure there always have been gun deaths.  But perhaps there is something to it.

Today you have many, mostly on the Left, yelling Gun Control!  That seems to be a term with a lot of punch.  About .12 gauge worth.  And while some of it is clear - they only want to eliminate dangerous guns like fully armed, combat assault rifles - there are some muddy areas as well.  Clearly some would be happy banning all guns.  And as I said here, I think many conservative gun owners don't trust the gun control gang, and see them using gun control to start the domino effect of eliminating other pesky freedoms.  In any event, if my observation is near correct, it means that those who embraced the rebellious, devil-may-care attitude of the Boomer cultural revolutionaries helped establish a culture of adult children whose irresponsibility have led to the need to regulate what people once had no problem handling.

Like sex.  There was a time when liberalism was all about free sex.  Just rip off your clothes.  Sex with everyone.  Everyone having sex.  Doesn't matter the age.  Kids playing doctor, adolescents fondling around, who cares?  It's sex!  And now, of course, it is that same liberalism and its strange, ethereal board of PC enforcers, who will take a kindergartener to jail because he held a girl's hand under the auspices of sexual harassment, sex crimes, and the need to control rampant sexual improprieties. 

I can't help but think that about guns.  The ones I knew who were most irresponsible were the ones who seemed to most gravitate to, if not exploit, the whole 'no rules, just fun' attitude of the emerging Left.  Just do it.  No rules.  Rules are for losers.  Adults and responsible people?  Boring.  Just play, goof off, party like it's 1999.  That's all.  An attitude like that is no good when it comes to guns, or cars for that matter.  I may not be able to diagnose everything, but a 'why act like adults' generation and guns is going to be a toxic mix.  And so a generation that lost all respect for rules and responsibility for anything - including guns - is now turning around and adding ten thousand rules, restrictions, or even the elimination of the right to self protection.  I don't know if I'm close to correct.  But it's a trend I notice.

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