Letter from Langdon: Guns, God, More Guns

Guns and gun-ownership have gotten mixed up in rural politics, but what the Sam Hill are folks really aiming at?

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Back in the fifties the best guys in the whole world carried Colts and rode palominos. A gun and a horse…it didn’t get any better than that. My early years got better when Mother and Dad gave me a Gene Autry gun and holster, a pair of Roy Rogers spurs, and best of all, a Shetland pony.

My steed was a little less powerful than Gene’s or Roy’s. And I was never allowed to use my spurs — the folks said “no.” But my cap-busting chrome six shooter was life size scale complete with simulated cartridges. I could shoot it as much as I wanted. The bad guys didn’t stand a chance.
Good guys were off limits though. When I practiced my draw on Dad as he walked into the room he said, “Don’t ever do that again. We don’t point guns at people, even if they’re toys.”  That was Lesson One in gun owner safety.

Dad was a hunter. Once older, I got my first real firearm: a .410 shotgun. In the hands of a hunter, a scattergun isn’t really a weapon so much as a tool, an extension of the hunter himself that can reach out and grab the evening meal. My second lesson in gun-owner safety, also from Dad: point a gun only at things I intended to kill. We don’t abuse our tools.

A youngster pops off a few with a .410 “starter” shotgun

I got the point, but just the same I pointed at lots of things I didn’t hit, mostly because a .410 loaded with tiny number-8 shot is not the most powerful weapon there is. (I think the ten in .410 stood for range.  And the target always seemed to be 20 away.)

Dad was a pretty good shot. When he filled his deer tag it took one cartridge for his Winchester Model 70.  When he squirrel hunted with the Remington .22, the rule was one shot, one squirrel. If the limit on ducks was three, he only loaded the Belgian Browning 3-inch mag with two in the magazine and one in the chamber.

It was fun for him, but he was all business when it came to shooting. The only time I ever remember him falling out with a hunting buddy was the day a companion wing-shot a goose that fell about a 1/4 mile away. He wanted the shot, not the goose.  “Just leave it,” he told Dad. Always kill clean, and clean what you kill. That was another of Dad’s rules. They never hunted together again.

Time wore on. We started out small and worked our way up. There was a BB gun, bigger shotguns, and a .22 rifle. But no handguns. Then one day I showed Dad a picture of a Colt .22 pistol and said, “I want one of those.”

“What the Sam Hill do you want with that?” he asked. Pistols weren’t accurate, wasted ammunition, and were only good for getting someone hurt. As far as he was concerned, any handgun was a distant second to his long guns.

Advancing to a Hopalong Cassidy sidearm

I’ve never been the hunter he was. Dad never offered and I never asked again, but eventually I bought a hand gun, then another. Pistols and revolvers I’ve had have been used more for plinking than putting meat on the table. Sport is where you find it. Dad measured his success in terms of a full game bag and dinner, not a bullseye. But I have learned that a good, long barreled revolver can be as accurate as the guy holding it.

In America today, more people own more handguns more easily than ever before. Legally acquired firearms along with some that are illegally gotten are more likely to injure someone accidentally than actually to stop a crime. Just the same, We the People are fed up with feeling vulnerable. Guns have become an expression of distrust or maybe a symbolic gesture that people can be pushed only so far. When deranged predators use firearms to kill innocent victims at shopping malls or college campuses, we tell ourselves that an armed citizen could have saved the day. I think that’s why guns are so important to us today.

The fact is, though, that even law enforcement officers with the best training, who make their living and qualify regularly with their sidearms, can have shooting accidents. Part of a gun safety class I attended showed a video of a police officer accidentally discharging a weapon, narrowly missing two colleagues and a handcuffed perpetrator lying face down on the pavement. In the cinder block wall of the classroom where I watched the video is a bullet hole made when a qualified instructor did the same thing during a class.

Accidents happen.

It’s hard enough to keep up with every day life. How many gun owners review their firearm skills and practice at the range every week? Maybe it doesn’t matter. Is the deterrent simply owning a gun even if they can’t control it? Is that enough to prevent crime? Should I worry about the criminal, or the inexperienced shooter who wants to protect me? Depending on which way the muzzle is pointed, I worry about both.

Most policemen never fire their weapons in the line of duty. If law enforcers who place themselves on the line don’t need a gun most of the time, why do I? The Boy Scout motto “be prepared” implies that the best defense is a good offense. Buying guns may be quick and easy most places, but the process isn’t so fast as reaching for one under your coat.

And what exactly are we preparing for?

An inauguration day photo of President Obama hangs in a Missouri gun store. Underneath is the inscription “Top Salesman of the Year.” In parts of the country, gun-ownership and religion have become fundamental to politics. But Jesus practiced passive resistance, not armed revolt. He never led an army or slew a single soul even though he was persecuted by Pontius Pilate. I’m not the best hunter or a devoted student of the Bible. And I sure can’t explain why all of a sudden we Christians are attracted to lethal means when our Savior was, according to the evidence, a pacifist. I suppose we’ll follow Him to heaven, but no one wants to go to the cross.

If Pilate’s soldiers were coming to take me away I’d rather be on top of a hill with Dad and his Winchester than in the middle of the street with a machine pistol. Whenever I hear about Congress taking my rights by banning assault weapons, I think of Dad. Most likely, he would tell Congress to go right ahead and take them because a short barreled automatic rifle couldn’t be good for much of anything.

What are you shooting for — paper bullseye or hard hitting laws?

We are targeted and rendered most ineffective as a nation when we lose what keeps us safe. And that’s not guns. It’s the ability for average Americans to earn enough wealth to be comfortable, safe, healthy and happy in our own homes. That’s what’s really at the heart of the Constitution.

Do we buy handguns to use, or just to have? I think we take comfort and security knowing that while we may not be able to fight white collar thieves who stole our bank accounts, collapsed the value of our homes, or victimized us in a thousand ways, we can at least protect ourselves if someone breaks down our front door.

We buy guns to feel empowered; meanwhile, ineffective regulation shields distant villains better than Kevlar. Just like Dad’s Browning brought game within reach, laws could put white-collar criminals within our grasp. But written with the help of bandit lobbyists, many statutes are the equivalent of my .410 shotgun. They almost always fall short of the mark.

So there’s the great irony: while frustrated gun owners prepare by shooting 9 millimeter fire-power at paper targets, robbers of our money, property, and opportunity snipe at us on paper from thousands of miles away–and get away with it.

No matter how big our firearms get, it seems those lawbreakers will always be out of range.

 

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