Friday, October 14, 2011

Guns as Inheritance: Passage or Portent?

From the archives:

I haven’t been able to think clearly about guns since my ex-husband shot me in the behind with a pellet pistol 30 years ago. He actually said those classic words - “I didn’t know it was loaded.” 

He said it in an uncharacteristically high and nervous voice as he was wringing his hands. My ex kept that gun in our over-the-junk-store apartment for the unbelievable purpose of shooting wasps, and he was actually quite good at it.This isn't on my mind at the moment. 

Right now, I am troubled because I was witness to an odd ceremony last weekend. A grandfather, a relative of mine, gave a pistol with a holster and ammunition to his 14-year-old grandson. It was not a toy. He talked about not being around much longer and wanting someone to have it. He helped the boy strap on the belt and tie the bottom of the holster around his leg. Showed him how to load it. His segment of the family takes periodic Sunday afternoon outings to a shooting range at grandpa’s behest. 

While I understand the idea, this last gift is a bit disconcerting. Adolescents don’t live in the same world this 78-year-old grandpa did when he was coming of age. After Columbine and other recent school shootings I can hardly believe anyone would think this was a good gift for a teen. 

Though this boy seems smart and sensible, he is a teen. The young seem to live in a world of exaggerated response, always testing the limits and forming the brain circuitry. A young teen’s world is up and down in a day. Their triumph and despair always seem life rending. I hope his parents had the good sense to store it out of reach.

No doubt guns have several iconic meanings in American culture. The giver of the gun was a guardian-of- freedom type, a wanna be militia man with twisted but good intentions. For him and for many conservatives and libertarians, guns represent a sacred trust by which we remain free, though the federal government runs amok, though invaders from abroad or from Mars descend. To the frontiersman or the hunter they are a tool to dinner, triumph, survival. To the egoist, validation. To the vigilante and the sociopath, gunfire is the bark of the archangel. 

As a wounded pragmatist, to me guns will always represent a pain in the ass and an unanswered moral question.
---- Mar Walker
December 4, 2006