MY LIFE WITH GUNS
OR HOW I LEARNED TO LIVE WITHOUT DEADLY WEAPONS IN MY HOUSE
When I write that I grew up in suburban Rochester, New York, anyone under the age of 50 probably gets a picture of neat, pretty, three bedroom bungalows lining the streets, drives, ways and cul-de-sacs as they are today. But during my younger years, that’s not how it was. Mill Road was basically a rural country road, not lined with bungalows but more or less “dotted” with houses on four to ten acre lots. In fact, we owned 40 acres of property that we planted with about five acres of corn each year, maintained a one acre strawberry patch next to the corn field that was kept under weed-control by a gaggle of ducks whom I trotted out to feed every day. This long distance task was supplemented by my chicken feeding operations which took place in our chicken coop just 50 yards from the house, even during nasty blizzards in the depths of winter. (I hated those chickens!)
This was the picture until I reached the age of about ten or eleven years old. By that time, say, the late 1950’s or early 1960’s, suburbia had finally encroached on us (my Dad sold ten acres of our land to a developer) and began to resemble what we think of today when we mind picture the term “suburbia.” One causality of the growing population was the reduction of my shooting career. Yes, me, urban creature that I am today, shot all sorts of weapons until about the age of 14 or 15 when it became nearly impossible to shoot anywhere in the neighborhood without endangering the welfare of someone’s cat or dog roaming through the fields.
My gun slinging career began, as most of my friends’ did too, with an air rifle that shot flat pellets which basically couldn’t do any real damage to a human unless one inadvertently shot someone directly in the eye from a distance of less than a foot. This, as I recall, was around the time when I was eight years old, the same time l learned to drive our Ford tractor. I graduated to a BB gun and a 22 caliber rifle, again, not anywhere near the fire power of Adam Lanza’s AR-15 Bushmaster (such wonderful advancements in gun power we’ve seen over my lifetime) and not a firearm that was particularly dangerous provided one exercised caution by not aiming it directly at anyone.
You see, my Dad was a hunter. He and my uncle went traipsing up to the Canadian wilds each year to hunt ducks, pheasants and deer. We occasionally hunted pheasants in our own fields too. But given the cases of beer they packed in our two toned green Chevy, it was a wonder that they returned intact each year. My Dad schooled me in the protocol of gun use by whacking me in the head if I inadvertently aimed the gun I was handling within ten feet of a human person. I have to say it was pretty damned effective as far as training goes but might have contributed to my faulty short term memory facility today. Blasting unopened tin cans of beans? Smashing glass Coca-Coal bottles? Even a bird or two? They were allowed. Even encouraged. And I did my best.
My Dad stored the rifles and shotguns under a couple of loose floorboards in the attic. There was also a silver 38 caliber pistol that I lovingly stroked innumerable times and ran around the attic shooting imaginary "Indians" (aka Native Americans) but there were no bullets around for it so it was useless for target practice or as a weapon. Same with my Uncle’s World War II pistol that lay alongside. Under my father’s tutelage, neither my brother nor I injured anyone in our gun slinging careers. I can’t say the same for the birds I heartlessly injured in flight having to inflict the fatal shot as they lay twitching on the ground. And while I was always eager to bag a squirrel, these quick, lithe creatures never fell under the onslaught of my vigorous, yet ultimately futile, attempts at ending their lives.
It was when I graduated to 10 and 12 gauge shotguns, maybe at the age of twelve, that what had been a fairly gentle schooling by my Dad, morphed into the rigorous instructional mode of gun safety I described above (the whacks). And rightly so. Shotguns can kill people as well as deer, ducks and pheasants. I accompanied my father and my uncle only once on one of their Canadian adventures. And I hated it. It was cold. My feet were constantly soaked and freezing. It rained five days out of the seven and we were hold up in some ratty cabin in the woods with no running water, no indoor bathroom and a wood stove that filled the place with acrid smoke along with the tepid warmth it produced when its belly was filled with green firewood.
This one trip is probably the reason that I never became any sort of hunting enthusiast or gun nut. It wasn’t until ten years later in college, that I had the occasion to pick up a gun again as a result of a mandatory ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) class over a semester. And since we had to marshal ourselves on the football field each Saturday morning at 7:30 AM, it wasn’t the kind of experience that endeared me to gun slinging. No, in fact, while I did learn to break down an M-1, clean it and reassemble it, I frankly considered the entire exercise a colossal waste of time. But I did enjoy the target practice and the kick of the M-1 against my shoulder. There was very little of this, however, and we spent more time learning the rules and regulations in the ROTC training manual and marching in formation (not exactly how I would have chosen to spend my early Saturday mornings after having been to some party the night before and gotten to bed at 2AM) all of which I considered pretty damned useless.
But as an adult, I am fully in the camp of eliminating firearms from our country much the same way that Australia did after that horrific mass killing in Port Arthur back in 1996 that resulted in the death of 35 living, breathing, heart pumping, human beings. It appalls me that after Adam Lana’s slaughter of 20 young five to eight year olds and 6 adults we have done absolutely nothing to remedy the situation. (This, of course, is ignoring the Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech and all the other mass killings of late.) There is, at least from my view (as perverted as Rush would have it) no rational reason for 330 Americans to own 270 million firearms, which figure does not include the armaments owned by our 900,000 police officers around the country. Plus, there’s the fact that each year more than 30,000 Americans die as a result of gunshots.
So when I rant and rave about Congress doing nothing about gun control, it’s not that I don’t have some experience with guns. Sure, I don’t patronize gun shows, I don’t go to the firing range weekly and I do not own a firearm because it’s just too dangerous. A whole lot more people are killed each year through gun accidents than are killed by citizens attempting to fend off Obama’s troops trying to deprive them of their rights.
Have a safe day!