Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Guns, Personally

Like most Americans, I've been thinking a lot about guns for the last month or more.

I've tried to organize some thoughts around the issue and I find it very difficult to do. In fact, I kind of give up and admit I can't. I may come back to this topic, but I decided I'd start here, with my personal history with guns. This isn't particularly religious or theological. Maybe I'll get to that sometime. This is just personal anecdote, which is hardly persuasive to anyone but maybe it gives a context to anything that may follow in future posts.

I grew up in a house with guns. I think it was only two, but may have been three. We had at least a shotgun and a .22 rifle. They were not locked up. They simply leaned in the corner behind Mama and Daddy's bedroom door. Daddy's dresser was next to the door and the shells and bullets were kept on top of it.

We weren't hunters. We had guns to protect livestock, the end. I don't ever recall a conversation about self defense, although I'm sure that had there been cause for such use, we would have done so. That's hard to imagine, though, as we lived in a house without locking doors. We hooked the screen doors at night, mostly to make sure no animals tried to get in.

My experience of my parents (and I say "my experience" because I was born in their mid-forties while my oldest siblings were born while they were in their twenties---I recognize they may have had different parents) is that they didn't make a big deal out of much of anything. Their approach to dangerous things, like farm equipment, was to show us how they worked, demystify them, if you will, and in the process showed us how to be careful around them. The guns were no different. They were simply there, and we knew it, but there wasn't much of a "forbidden fruit" aura about them. When I got old enough---12-ish, as I recall---I was taught how to use them and over the years I did a few times. I shot several chicken snakes in the hen house, a skunk, also in the hen house, and a couple of armadillos that were tearing up the yard. That's all I recall at the moment. There may have been other creatures along the way, but all rather usual farm predators and pests.

Mama didn't like toy guns and I only remember a couple. I think one was a leftover relic from older sibs' childhoods. One Christmas, I remember a pair of plastic rifles that shot those suction-cup darts that never actually stuck to anything. If Gary, the only brother I really grew up with, and I ever pointed a toy gun at each other, we got fussed at. Not punished or yelled at even, just told that we weren't ever to point a gun at another person, even a toy gun.

I recall a time when a cousin brought a BB gun to our place. I don't think Mama liked it, but she let us go out to the barn and shoot cans off of fence posts and the like. We were told to not shoot at any animals and to make sure there none in the background. I think Gary and I both wanted one, but I don't recall much of any kind of discussion about it. My best guess is that my parents, being the practical German Lutherans that they were, didn't see BB guns as useful. If guns are used only to protect livestock, a BB gun didn't add anything to that arsenal and therefore were only useful for mischief and mishaps.

And that's pretty much my experience with guns. Once I left home, I never owned a gun personally and still don't---I have no livestock to protect! Despite living in large cities for the last decade (more if you count Austin as a "large city"), I've never felt the need for one.

But given my personal experience, I can't say that having guns in the home is categorically unsafe. I can make the argument that I grew up with unusually safe people, but I can't say that guns made us feel unsafe.

What I do know is that we were taught not to point guns at other people, not even toy guns. Who knows what one will do in a life threatening situation, but if I carried a concealed weapon, I'm not sure it would make a difference: my hard wiring is set for not pointing a gun at another person. Maybe I would in self-defense, but even if I did, chances are high that I'd likely just be dead. Or, as some manage, I'd talk the assailant out of killing me, but I'd probably be dead. If someone else's life was threatened? I'd probably be more aggressive, but even then my hard wiring is to not shoot people.

And this is the part I've been puzzling over for weeks now. Why is that just a basic thing for me? Why is that so hard wired for me and other people obviously aren't? I realize not everyone had my parents, but why are we, as a culture, so given to violence?

I have my ideas and maybe I'll get around to them. Having told my story and given my context, I'll jump to the thing everyone's arguing about these days: I'm for tighter gun control. But given my history, I also know that fearing a gun in the home---or even feeling safer with one in the home---isn't all there is to the discussion.

Anyway, here is my context and my confession that I don't think this is all about giving up our guns, nor is it about everyone being armed to the teeth.

I know it sounds simplistic, idealistic, and naive to say that we, as a culture, need to do a better job of teaching each other and our children that it's wrong to point guns at people. But is it anymore simplistic, idealistic, and naive than saying everyone would be safer if we all had a gun on our hip?

As I said, I'll likely come back to this. But tonight I end by saying one more time the thing Mama and Daddy taught me: It's wrong to point a gun at another person. Period. 

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