Being rural somehow equates with gun ownership, even, apparently for the criminally insane. But not everyone beyond the city limits is packing. And those who are don't mind a little inconvenience for the sake of public safety.
The current firearms debate, and the fall back proposal for extended background checks for gun purchasers, has curiously been one of the few times that “rural” has come up prominently in the news. Mostly it appears as a residential designation to excuse the need for all gun regulations.President Obama says, if he lived in a rural area, he would have a gun. In the last hours before a vote, the Senators proposing background checks at gun shows and for Internet purchases offered a rural exemption. Perhaps desperate times require unworkable compromises. This one would have meant the rural criminally insane would be permitted to buy semi-automatic weapons with 100 round clips at gun shows, but city dwellers would have to come clean about their traffic citations and trips to the shrink? That is not a compromise. That is a comedy club skit.
As a policy proposal, it is neither worthy of the extended body count of recent months or the legacy of Senate debate, where decisions about slavery, suffrage, war and peace were sorted noun by noun and verb by verb. We have already come to an interpretation of the Second Amendment where “militia” no longer means “militia,” and I am bracing for some senator to say the only way to stop a bad guy with a bomb is a good guy with a bomb.
I grew up in a small town in East Kentucky. It is still small. My dad would ask, “Did you ever hear what they say after someone gets shot by accident or after one brother shoots another in a quarrel? Somebody will ask, ‘Why did you have the gun?’ And the answer always is ‘to protect my family.’ ” My Dad would hold out his hand, “They bought the gun to protect the person who just got killed with it.”
He did not have a lot of rules, but one was no gun in the house. That has been my rule too. I live in a small town. We have occasional murders and robberies, some gruesome, some therapeutic. In 30 years I still have not locked the door, and I haven’t had a gun in the house.
One time Morris Dees, a pal from Montgomery and a frequent target of skinheads and knuckleheads, came to town unexpectedly on his motorcycle. He needed a place to stay. The FBI had told Morris there was a contract killer out for him and that they had tracked the guy, then lost him. They thought it was a good idea for Morris to get out of Alabama for a couple of days. When he pulled up the driveway, he asked will my guns be OK out here on my bike, or should I bring them in? I told him to leave them outside, they were safe. And they were. No use breaking my streak.
I am not afraid of guns, much. I live in a town where most everyone owns one, carries one or can get to one lickety-split. No use being squeamish. One time I started counting, and I came up with something like eight times I had had some kind of a pistol or rifle pulled on me. You could say it is the rural life, but it also happened to me in cities like New Orleans and Lexington, too. When that happens, what are you going to do, have a shoot out? Mostly people pull them because they are showing off, trying to look tough, or maybe because they are scared, the kind of scared you can get yourself when your fantasy life lingers on your pulling a weapon on some guy you don’t care for who looks a lot like me. Never, when these guns were pulled, was I being violent or threatening. Maybe a few times I was enjoying myself a little loudly, but sometimes it just happens when you are asking for directions or getting misheard in a gentlemen’s club. My first cousin once-removed came by with his wife. We hadn’t seen each other for 20 years. He said right off, “Every time I ever had a gun pulled on me, I was with you.” Luck of the draw.
I came to understand guns because my Uncle Don explained them to me at a tender age. For years my little brother and I would go sit beside him while he watched TV and tried to get us to take puffs off his Salem. He had an end table beside his chair full of girly magazines. I would try to sneak off with one when we caught him out of the room or not looking. I thought I was slick. Then there came a day when the girly magazines were fewer and fewer, and the pile was jam-packed with catalogs from Browning and Remington and men’s magazines that were all about hunting bears and shooting sharks, and the women in the pictures all wore clothes. One day as I was getting frustrated thumbing through the catalogs, my Uncle Don said, “Yeah, boys, they tell me, when a man quits thinking about girls, he starts thinking about guns.”
Well that is it, isn’t it? You don’t have to live in the woods to know that a gun is a glandular extension of a man’s power to broadcast theyself widely. Freud figured it out, and he lived in downtown Vienna. Maybe that helps to know. Guys really need to have guns, at least until the Viagra kicks in. And sometimes those guns are necessary. Farmer has to shoot that sick cow. A skinhead is slipping across the country to ambush you. I know salt-of-the-earth people who feel they have to shoot any snake they can’t run over with a truck.
And here where I live in rural America, where Virginia and Kentucky touch West Virginia and Tennessee, there are a lot of people who already have firearms, maybe two or three a piece. I don’t know that it will disturb the way we go for coffee in the morning or run over snakes, if we have to swipe a driver’s license at a gun show. As a matter of fact there are a few unsavory elements in the community who are referred to as pill-heads and belligerent drunks, that I would very much like to have to swipe something before they can buy semi-automatic glandular broadcast devices from under a tattered exposition tent set up at the fairgrounds. The rural people I give a damn about are all people who give a damn about those little boys and girls in Connecticut and those mommas and daddies there living in anguish because they could not protect the ones they held so dear. The rural people I care about here aren’t stupid or mean, and they can handle a momentary inconvenience for the public safety.