Bang! and Reason Joins Civility Six Feet Under

I do not recall the first time I shot a gun. It was that long ago. I was that young. Shooting was always just part of my life. We were mostly, but not exclusively, a black powder family.20130110-111405.jpg

I recall two muzzle loaders kept in sleeves in the back of Dad’s closet, I’m guessing the 30.06 was back there too. There was also a child’s sized rifle kept under their bed. This was the one I remember best. Not because it fit my shoulder better but because its dark cherry stalk was beautiful. It also had a tendency to just go to half-cock rather than firing when you pulled the trigger. It exposed me as a horrible flincher. For a while there was a flint-lock pistol that lived in the gun chest, the chest filled with led balls, canisters of powder, and ripped up cotton patches. I hated the sulfur smell when we sat in the kitchen swabbing out barrels and wiping them down with oil. I fancied myself a good shot.20130110-111415.jpg

I can still hear Dad’s humorless voice ordering me to keep my finger away from the trigger unless I plan to fire, never under any circumstances point the barrel towards another person, and don’t dry-fire, even if you have already inspected the chamber. Always set up the range toward the side of a hill, inspect it for metal or other rick-o-shay hazards, and wear ear protection. These were all non-negotiable. Guns are tools not toys.

Venison was our winter staple. The family got three “tags” every season. Dad got a buck permit for the regular hunt, then grandma and mom each got a doe permit for the black powder hunt. Dad used all three, the doe permits were to make sure we would have something to eat, the buck permit was in hopes of getting the “big one.” Sitting still in the snow with my father is where and when I learned you don’t always have to talk. It is okay to just sit there. It is also the first time I threw a rock at a bull moose in hopes it would go away.marksman

The guys and I used to drive out to the west desert on Saturdays. Most all of them carried semi-auto .22s, except Trevor and I. I used a .22/.20 over under shotgun, Trevor brought a Mak10. That thing never hit a rabbit but it was very fun to fire. I’m pretty sure that out of the ten of us who went out regularly, I was the only one to ever hit anything. A rabbit would pop out and make a break for it, and despite all the noise, it would just zig zag off into the distance. I remember walking next to Mitch. As he was emptying his magazine I calmly lifted the shotgun to my shoulder and and squoze. “I think it was me who got that one,” he would say time after time. I would just nod and pump the empty out of the chamber.

The first time I heard a bullet in flight. Jimmy Cowley was about thirty yards to my left, my dad about thirty yards to my right, and the rabbit popped out of the sage about thirty yards to my front. Jimmy had a semi-automatic .22 with a forty round clip and he opened fire on the mangy jack rabbit. Rather than running away, it ran right for me. Jimmy was not looking at me, he was looking down the barrel toward the rabbit. He kept pulling the trigger as the rabbit ran between us and by the time he and I realized what had just happened, my father’s barrel was pointing at Jimmy. We were both about 12.

The second time I heard a bullet in flight was while riding a bike in Atlanta. My missionary companion and I were pedaling down the street when I heard a whiz then a slap against the wall behind me. The two of us froze in place while people scattered in all directions. A teenage girl ran by with her coat pulled up over her head.  I saw a man crouched behind a half wall with a silver revolver in hand. From somewhere else I heard the “pop—-pop–pop.pop.pop” of return fire. We turned the corner and just kept going.

Most all of us “inner-city” missionaries had tape recordings of machine gun fire made on the fourth of July. I never knew people fired guns on the fourth till my downstairs neighbors made it obvious. His was obviously a shotgun.

We were already married before my wife ever fired a gun. Under close supervision she shot a beautiful Smith & Wesson chrome revolver at a dirt clod. She pulled the trigger, handed me the pistol, and walked away shaking. She says she was unprepared for how violent it was. She has no desire to ever fire one again.

We don’t keep a gun in our house. I would love too. I miss that part of my life but not enough to make my wife uncomfortable in her own home. I suppose she could learn to get comfortable but that isn’t on her to-do list. I guess there is some irony in that I lived in a house full of guns in one of the safest neighborhoods in America, but lack firearms now that I live in one of the most dangerous. Maybe it is ironic, but it is exactly this situation that has taught me a few things.

Safety and rights are relative.

One of the major hurdles Martin Luther King Jr., SNCC, and other non-violent civil rights organizers faced was convincing the general Black population to put away their guns. For Black people in the rural south the danger of a lynch party showing up on your doorstep, often led by local authorities, was very real. Most every home had a shotgun behind the door as a Black family’s only possible defense. The courts and local laws would not help them. Non-violence was not only a public relations victory, but a daily life miracle of self restraint on the part of an oppressed people.

The net result of these people’s 2nd amendment restraint was the passing of civil rights legislation and the assassination of MLK.NRA

On the other side of the country, and the tactical spectrum, other Black people took the opposite tact and began carrying guns out in the open. The White establishment would have none of this. The self destruction and implosion of the Black Panther Party has made most of us forget that these were not just a bunch of leather clad fools. The Panthers not only organized a militia and bore arms but crafted a constitutional argument defending their right to do so. The idea that the only thing that would stop a bad guy with a gun was a good guy with a gun, was preached by the Panthers. They also happened to believe that a large majority of the bad guys were wearing badges and the good guys were wearing black berets. And really, if one looks at things through the historical lens of a Black American… they had a lot of evidence to prove their point. The Panther’s guns were confiscated. The NRA did not defend them.1streetmemorial

Skipping forward to today, most of the Black people I know want guns gone. Gone from the streets, gone from their homes, just gone. I sit in church and listen as month after month someone from the congregation will stand up and tell of someone they love who has been shot, or about when they themselves were hit by flying bullets. I have yet to hear one of these people stand up and pray for more firepower.girlmemorial

My Facebook feed is alive with memes and sound bites taking this position or that on gun control. The newspaper and radio give arguments for restricting guns or arming more citizens. I have seen dozens of stories praising gun owners who have shot intruders in the act of invading their homes. I have also followed a story of man licensed to carry a concealed gun who shot and killed an unarmed kid who was walking home from the convenience store. Where I grew up Elementary school teachers are being taught how to use guns to defend their classroom. Where I live now, a police task force is going to trial for running its own citywide drug ring. A couple of years ago a cop in my neighborhood got drunk, got angry at some noisy kids, went inside to get his gun and killed someone.irishflagmemorial

I hear and read a lot of arguments, not normally about what to do, but about how the other side is stupid. I talk to people on both sides but I get the feeling they don’t really talk to each other. How does this help? Every kid I know in the city can get their hands on a gun if they want one. Many see guns even when they are trying not too. Would more guns really make these kids safer?

Do I think I have a right to own a gun? Yes I do.

Do I want everyone to own a gun? No I do not. I know plenty of people that would terrify me if they were armed. I know other perfectly law abiding people that I would not trust with a gun in a million years.streetmemorial

I’ll tell every bad guy out there right now, odds are, if you break into my home I will not shoot you.

I do not care how bad you are, I do not think my TV is worth your life.

If my wife were to ever relent and let me keep a gun in the house, it would be unloaded and locked away some place making it impossible to be of any use in the event some burglar comes a prowling. This is because I know I can only control certain things in my life and will do everything in my power to make sure no one accidentally, or intentionally, kills someone with a gun I own. But I can only control so much.

I can’t control others who may wish me harm, just like I can’t control an out of control car coming my way.

But I can do my best. I register my car. I get my car inspected for safety every year and get my picture taken at the DMV. I can keep my home gun free to keep my wife happy but mostly because there are no deer or rabbits anywhere near my door.shootingdalyn

Lets go ahead and disagree. If you can show me where I am wrong, please help me out. If I think you are wrong maybe I should try to find a way to effectively communicate why. But please, lets do so in hopes of making things better, not in the name of proving a point. Comparing your apples to another person’s oranges does not make things better. Claiming to know what the other side “really” means or what their ulterior motives are is equally unproductive. Realize that for many people, mostly for the victims of violence, this is not a philosophical discussion. It is real life. It is too often real death.

One of my favorite memories from youth, one I fall back too when I’m feeling old and nostalgic, was the day Jake and I spent at the gun club. It was just the two of us, a .12 gauge, and about ten dozen clay pigeons. I don’t remember any real conversation, and I may have separated my shoulder, but I know I was happy that day. It was a good day, but not the only way to have one.

How do we ensure more good days for everyone?

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Bang! and Reason Joins Civility Six Feet Under

  1. uglyblackjohn

    Very nice. Reads like an article in a magazine. Brohammas has writing skills too?

  2. mommalynn

    Dad speaking here. Good article and you have a lot of good points. If you are trying to bring up an issue, what is really the issue? Are you saying all black individuals want to get rid of guns? That of course would be a bad blanket statement, In your city, that may be somewhat the case as anywhere where there is gun violence, black or white. You dwell on the past, and that is good to know our history and what it has brought about.
    We have seen major changes in society, some good, and some bad. It is the now that we need to work on.
    Guns are used by violent people, cars are used by violent people, and alcohol and drugs are used by violent people, In fact, more people are killed by nonviolent and violent people driving cars, in fact more people are killed from the use of alcohol and drugs every year than people being killed with guns. Do we take away automobiles because they kill people? Do we abolish alcohol because it kills people? The answer is no. We try to make laws to keep those things from happenings. As you well know, guns will be found to use legally or illeagely. Our main issue should be, how can we help the person who would do a gun crime? We used to have institutions that helped those individuals and others. We used to have whole families that raised their children instead of the single parent mode today.
    Yes there are bad cops, bad teachers, bad people, in any profession and place. On the other hand,fortunately, the good outnumber the bad at the moment.
    I of course don’t live in what we would call a violent part of the world, I do have guns, and I would fight my given rights by law to keep them (with following the law, not with guns). Interestingly enough, I feel as you do, my television is not worth a life and shooting someone for it. I have never had the inclination or thought of using one for protection or to harm another human. On the other hand, our table had meat due to the use of a firearm. Were I to live in a big city (I guess you could call Salt Lake City a small big city) I would still own a gun, again for the same reason, I still like wild game and I can still go somewhere else to hunt it).
    Where we can start, is whithin the schools, having armed protection. The President sends an armed guard to school with his children, Our childred deserve the same right.
    How can we solve the issue of how to help the person who would do crimes with guns? Take away guns (histroy shows, that does not work)? Answer?

    • There are a couple of points and a few possible solutions:
      First is that not all people are policed the same and a major risk of seeking a solution through MORE guns is that this problem will become exaggerated. Minorities are in fact still discriminated against, which is nothing new and won’t magically go away, but the more people walking around with guns trying to “police”, will result in those who are now disadvantaged will be in a heightened level of danger. If the police, who are trained, have trouble policing fairly then it would be a fair assumption that the general public will be even worse.
      When I walk through the “bad” part of town, where I know lots of good people live, I have real trouble thinking more guns makes this place safer.
      Cops in school is already a reality in many schools, with mixed results.
      Who pays for this?
      might I add that the comparison to the first family’s secret service protection is not a fair comparison to the general public. This is a political red herring normally thrown in the mix to further politicize the issue… unless your argument is that every child needs a secret service contingent. If that is what is being asked for then it needs to be spoken outright.

      the comparison to the lethal nature of alcohol and cars is only fair if you are willing to consider all the “regulation” that goes into both of those things.
      cars and alcohol are NOT banned, but cars are all licensed, inspected yearly, have a special court and police agency assigned to them (highway patrol and traffic court), every driver is required to have insurance, pass a test, and carry a license that corresponds to a govt database.
      No one can sell alcohol without a license. you must be at least 21 to drink. the police test people’s blood level for intoxication. There are such things as dry counties.

      If these ‘legal” dangers are recognized as so dangerous (yet legal) that we are willing to regulate them so thoroughly, then why not guns?
      cars and alcohol are not designed to kill, yet they do, and so we take steps to be safe.
      Guns are in fact designed to kill, yet they are less regulated. Why?

      If we resist the legal steps to protect us from other regular bad guys then we should consider what guns are best for this task. semi auto rifles with 40 clips are not the best tool. I would offer that if you are in a public space and you can not “end” the trouble with less than 7 bullets then you are not the hero we need and are in fact making the situation more dangerous. a hand gun for the street and a shotgun for the home would be the best tools in this case. The Feds are not trying to ban either of those.
      If one is resistant to regulating arms to protect themselves from the govt. itself, then might I note that the government has tanks, missiles, the Navy SEALS, and drones. A bushmaster will not protect you from these things, so if you are really advocating for protection from the fed you need to push for the legalization of private ownership of stinger missiles.
      Both sides need to be less political and more reasonable.

      Background checks for purchasers at gun shows is reasonable. Making it illegal for me to purchase guns on behalf of someone who cannot pass a background check is also reasonable. Both of these things would slow the flow of firearms to those who should not have them. Is it enough to keep guns away from bad guys? no. but it would help.

      Car manufacturers have loads of regulations for car safety. Smith & Wesson operates under far less regulation.

      And of course there are plenty of other societal factors that we need to labor on. Intact families play a role? sure. But until families are strengthened, pumping more firearms into a dysfunctional society will not lessen the violence.

      The prevailing point is that both sides need to work together for solutions, not against each other.

  3. mommalynn

    Dad here again,
    I agree wholeheartedly and do not have a problem with regulating those things that you mention, though I think some of certain radical groups would sure like to get their hands on some of those Stingers. Good points and not questionable! Good job my son!

  4. Dan Carlin had a VERY interesting show on gun violence.
    http://www.dancarlin.com/disp.php/csarchive/Show-244—Gunning-for-Violence/guns-firearms-gun%20control

    If I remember right:
    He pointed out that there is no way this country will ever get rid of guns. Too much a part of the culture.

    Change the perception among the public regarding violent crimes committed with firearms. (just as drunk driving used to earn a wink and nod but is now a very serious and punishable offense).

    Get the NRA to advocate for life sentences for violent gun crimes. Pay for the cost of those life sentences (cheaper than execution) with a tax on guns and ammo.

    Get (somehow) popular culture to think that shows and music that glorifies gun violence are abhorrent. (I know – not going to happen – sigh.)

    Have reasonable regulations.
    I think Dalyn is right – both sides spend so much time shouting about how stupid the other one is that they miss what could be an opportunity to actually make things better. I think EVERYONE wants less gun violence.

  5. Natalie

    Well reminisced (although I still smile with disbelief at your childhood!) and well written.

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