Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I love having weekend dilemmas like this: Do I go to the range Friday night and spend Saturday and Sunday playing City of Heroes, or do I play City of Heroes Friday night, hit the range Saturday, and finish with a Sunday session of CoH? This weekend is a "double XP weekend" where you basically get twice the reward for crimefighting. It's a nice little incentive.

I have come into the possession of an old Iver Johnson single-shot shotgun in .410 gauge. It's old enough to where I wonder if it's still safe to shoot. I'm sure a trip to a gunsmith will tell me that. Hopefully it's still safe, because it's a beautiful gun. It's very plain and workaday; there is no fancy checkering of the stock or handguard, no intricate engraving or filigree. It shouts "Substance before style!" and I think that's why I find it so pleasing to the eye. There's nothing extra to take your eyes away from the simplicity of the design. Well, there is the light patches of rust, but that can be fixed. I hope at the least I can use light squirrel and rabbit loads in it, but I think even a .410 slug would be too much for the barrel to handle.

With that shotgun also came a Revelation. No, no messages from God or sudden understanding of universal truths, but a Revelation 120 rifle in .22 caliber. You've never heard of the Revelation brand? Don't worry, if you're my age, you probably haven't unless someone in your family owns one. Most shooters will know this rifle better as a Marlin Model 60. Revelation was a brand name used by the Western Auto Supply Company to market a line of inexpensive shotguns and rifles. Yes, in the 60s even auto supply companies sold guns over the counter. We can only be awestruck by that idea today because of how sales of firearms are relegated to either specialty stores or to back corners of sporting goods stores.

If firearms were so ubiquitous that auto parts stores sold them, it seems like American middle-class culture used to have a healthy respect for firearms use. It was virtuous to know how to fire a rifle or shotgun, if only so you could bring home food once or twice a year from hunting. Nowadays it seems that there's a gibbering fear of firearms among the white-collar set. Thanks to that, we've allowed people who misuse guns to determine how we feel about them. It's not just the convenience-store robber, it's the guy who decides that his first response to a verbal argument is gunfire. I don't know the best way to describe it other than to say that respect has been replaced with fear. This fear has led to some kind of fetishization that a gun will solve all problems, that it will kill without a human hand to guide it, perhaps even with a malevolent intellect.

I don't blame video games for that fetishization. I don't blame movies, tv or any other media that makes guns look like the first and best solution to an array of problems. I blame a culture that has replaced respect with fear in regards to firearms. To respect something, you have to know about it. There's so little middle-class familiarity with guns outside of secondhand images in the media. Without being familiar with guns, people don't look at the chain of consequences that occurs when they decide that violence is the only answer. Stan Lee's "with great power comes great responsibility" line rings very true in this case. The destructive power of guns requires a responsible hand to guide it, and a responsible mind to know when its power is appropriate. When that responsibility is understood in the case of firearms, fear lessens. When that fear lessens, respect grows. When respect grows, misuse subsides. Will it subside completely? No, it won't. There will always be someone who wants to misuse that power. It will be up to those who respect that power to correct those who would misuse it, preferably through reason.

Is this to say that there are no situations where violence is the only answer to the problem? No, I'm not saying that at all. There are many situations where reasoned discussion must give way to violence, either for self-preservation or preservation of others. Are there situations where we feel like violence is the only answer, but calming down and taking another look is best? Definitely.

At this point, I'm blathering, so I'll try to summarize. The point is that the responsible people who own guns are feared as much as those who misuse them. This fear is a lack of respect based in ignorance. Ignorance is not bliss in this case. You may wish to never touch a gun, much less use it, and that is your prerogative. I do ask that you not impede responsible gun owners from spreading that sense of responsibility, and I also ask that you become more tolerant of our choices in what we do with our time, money, and material. I will not demand that you own a gun, do not demand to strip me of my right to own one in return.

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