Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gun Appreciation Day - a powerful anecdote

Here's a letter from a reader of TPM that hits very hard:
I read about your scary childhood experience and I had to leave work due to the sick feeling in my gut. The sick feeling has been building, maybe since Sandy Hook, but your story forced to write about something I had never written about before.

I accidentally killed my best friend when I was 15. Shot my best friend of eight years a week before we started high school. I was sitting in his room holding his rifle across my legs as he talked about how he had looked it up in some collectors guide and it was worth more than when he got it (Christmas or birthday or something). All the sudden there was a gigantic explosion and the rifle flew off my legs and I looked over as my friend fell over holding his gut and the whole world was tinted a hazy red.

There's more at that link, and as I say, it's very powerful. Of course, it's just an anecdote, and it's an anecdote from an anonymous source, too. I don't want to imply anything else, certainly not that we should make policy based on anonymous anecdotes.

Luckily, I never had an experience like that, although I was given a BB gun when I was four years old, then had it taken away again when I pointed it at my sister (not intending to shoot her, but playing, as kids do).

I got it back again eventually, and a .410 shotgun a little later, but I'd learned my lesson. I always tried to be careful. My dad taught me to never pick up a gun without immediately checking to see if it was loaded, and I made that a habit. He told me to never point a gun at another person, even if it wasn't loaded.

But my dad also kept a handgun in his bedroom dresser, which he confidently - and wrongly - expected that we kids would ignore. Certainly, I dug it out on occasion, then carefully put it back again, so he wouldn't know. (And he never did.)

But not everyone is that careful, and there's another part of that letter which rings true to me, too:
So yeah, I don’t really want to be surrounded by people carrying guns. And it isn’t just that I had a terrible experience with guns. I also don’t want them around because I grew up with the Gun “Tribe”. Many of the loudest, baddest, sharpshot, ninja, gun-owners (and part-time Constitutional Scholars) I know are the biggest knuckleheads of my past:
  • There is the Facebook “friend” from high school who huffed a lot of gas and never got higher than a C in any class (especially history/social studies)? Yep, he is now an (unofficial) sniper in the anti-fascist militia and a legal expert. He changed his avatar to an AR-15. Now watch this Sandy Hook Truther video he just posted!
  • There is the uncle who has held like 80 different jobs, thought that removing lead from gasoline was Communism, and used to send me every paranoid conspiracy theory chain-email ever made until my mocking responses finally made him stop? Yep, finally got an (unpaid) job as Constitutional Scholar, varmit-destroyer, and protector of free society.
  • There is the cousin-in-law who got a job as a cop and then was quietly let go like two weeks later for reasons no one will tell me, and who now plays shoot-em up video games all day. His new milita-member duty is mocking people who call a “magazine” a “clip” and informing them that if they can’t name all the parts of weapon correctly, they have no business having opinions about it.
Don’t get me wrong. I grew up in small town Rocky Mountains. Everyone had guns, and they weren’t all like the characters above. Some people have a rifle they only pull out of a safe in hunting season. The problem is the characters above are the ones that have the 10 gun arsenals.

I grew up around guns, too. I spent every fall of my childhood hunting - or, at least, wandering around with a gun. In my small Nebraska town, I could just walk two blocks to a park bordering the Missouri River and shoot all I wanted (yes, in the town park, though "park" might be giving it too much credit).

Other than reading, this was my childhood. I didn't have much to shoot, except for the occasional squirrel, but I was always wandering around with my gun, looking for something. I was strictly warned to stay away from the riverbank, because the channelized Missouri is pretty much a death trap for anyone falling into it, but, of course, what my parents didn't know couldn't hurt them, right? I tried to be careful, at least.

But I wasn't the only person wandering around with a gun back then, and some of them weren't as careful as I was. There were kids I wouldn't hunt with because of how careless they were with their guns. And there were occasions when I had to hide behind a cottonwood tree, as bullets slammed all around me, from some idiot with a semi-automatic rifle who was just bored, shooting into the woods.

I'm serious. That happened at least twice when I was in the park and, one of those times, I was seriously afraid for my life, since even my yells didn't stop it. (Again, I didn't tell my folks about those incidents, because they might have banned me from going there again.)

Most people weren't like that. Most people were responsible enough. But those aren't the people I worry about today.

I know a lot of hunters, and I know a lot of target-shooters. Well, it's Nebraska. And we Nebraskans not only grow up with guns, we grow up with the gun culture on TV and in the movies, too. (Guns aren't just a penis substitute, but they make a lot of people feel manly, and that's also a big part of it.)

But almost invariably, the gun nuts - the people who are obsessed with owning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, the people who want to pack a pistol everywhere they go - are the least sensible people I know. They're often racists, with little education - bigoted, macho, and woefully ignorant - people I wouldn't trust to babysit, let alone want to have military-grade weapons.

They're people who subscribe to Soldier of Fortune magazine. They're people who buy into the craziest conspiracy theories. They're people who pass around loony right-wing emails which 30 seconds at would refute. And they're people who seem to be very eager to shoot someone, anxiously awaiting the opportunity to pull out their piece and start blasting away. Well, everyone wants to be the hero.

Of course, this is almost entirely fantasy (although the guns are all too real). And not everyone is this bad, even among the gun nuts. But it's not as though the most intelligent and most rational people are the ones building up an arsenal. Many people own guns, but the reasonable people aren't obsessed with them.

Well, that's why 85% of Republicans, even, support common-sense gun control laws. But it's the crazy minority who run the show. And, unfortunately, all too many of the rest are gullible enough to buy into what the NRA and other fanatics tell them. After all, Barack Obama is black! So anything is possible, right?

1 comment:

Gregg Garthright said...

I used to get the pistol out,too. I was very careful........

I never had any close calls down by the river, though. That's scary!