gun control and/or firearms education

Bloody rare. I like my meat. I’m an omnivore, not a vegetarian. Once my first daughter was old enough to start asking questions, I began more seriously investigating my own relationship with my carnivorous tendencies. I taught her that this was “cow meat,” and this was “pig meat,” instead of hamburger or bacon, for example. Around that time I read Barbara Kingsolver’s fantastic book, “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.” Mindfulness, or intentionality in my food choices became important to me.

Fast forward a few years and where my food comes from is still important to me. As much as I love eating meat, I don’t love pretending that’s not what I’m doing. I like the idea of knowing the animal, for example, before eating it. Or, if that’s not an option, knowing the farmer and trusting they provided the animal with a good life.

I got the idea last summer that I’d like to harvest my own meat. Our landlords won’t let us have chickens, so that’s out. I would like to explore the relationship between taking an animal’s life so I can eat its flesh and my own thoughts and ideas about mortality, what it means to be human, all those big ideas. I’m toying with the idea of going hunting. Deer hunting, I guess, is what has crossed my mind.

In On Killing (an incredible book—if you’re a peace-loving liberal like me—as it instilled in me more respect than I thought possible for our military) he talks about how death is taboo. How as in Victorian times sexuality was hidden and therefore became the Holy Grail. Everything was about not dealing with sexuality and sexuality was perverted from those days. These days most of us aren’t familiar with death. In past times death was a part of life. Killing chickens or other animals for meat was no big deal. If someone in your family died, you dressed the body for the funeral. It was close and real and undeniable.

I would like my meat’s former life to be undeniable to me. Not every moment, but I’d like to face it head on.

In the quest to face the truth of meat, I signed up for a firearms training course sponsored by the North Berwick Rod & Gun Club and the NRA, Women on Target. The experience was spectacular. Most startling to me was what it felt like to be on foreign territory. It was clear that no one, even those people who seemed to think they understood where I was coming from, had any idea. Every single person there had experience with guns in some form or another. I once touched a rifle that a boyfriend had for when he and his father would go duck hunting in the boundary waters of Minnesota, but that was about three minutes of contact with a firearm. That was it. Everyone else was used to them. They had them in their homes. They talked about using them “to protect themselves.”

Of course, with the horrible shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a lot of people are talking about “gun control.” There were a couple times in my workshop where I decided to go ahead and bring up some of the issues I knew would be controversial. I surprised myself with how much I held my tongue, honestly. I wanted the guys to like me. But I also didn’t pretend to be who I wasn’t. It was just difficult to sit back and hear them talking about how “this light’s gonna shine on an intruder and scare him away before I even take a shot” as if the terror of a home invasion wouldn’t render them immobile (maybe it wouldn’t but there was something so television/movie about the way they described protecting themselves).

One of the greatest things I learned in this experience is what an intellectual or even spiritual experience it is to work with guns. There are so many different levels of appreciation or talent. My addict’s personality was definitely into it. I wanted to shoot more. Keep shooting until I mastered it. I immediately had a favorite gun (if I were a real fan of the things I’m sure I’d call them firearms, as that’s what the guys of the club did) because of how it felt. I was totally drawn into the experience of learning how to hold them, how to not anticipate the shot, how to aim correctly with a variety of different weapons, etc.

What I’m saying is those of us on the outside of gun culture don’t understand, or, I didn’t, that it’s a complex experience. It’s not necessarily just a bunch of yahoos who want to go explode some shit with bullets. There is mastery of a skill. There’s a major psychological component to the experience. Even writing about it I’m reminded how I wanted to arrange some practice time again.

It’s my position that outside of a military or police context, only cowards use fully automatic weapons. This is a statement I think that should become the norm in our society. It’s something I think even the most radical right wing fanatics would agree about. I’m not discussing issues of legality or control here. I’m talking about our moral compass as a culture. If we all agree that fully automatic weapons = cowardice, we can begin to find common ground. Stepping outside the “control or no control” argument seems key.

It’s also my belief, and the workshop confirmed this for me, that we must require significant levels of training and testing before anyone is allowed to own or operate firearms of any kind. It’s not like riding a bike. Even riding a bike takes practice. We ought to, as a society, put firearms in the same category as automobiles. Our government (we, the people) is responsible for our protection. Part of that protection ought to be the requirement that gun owners train, practice, obtain licenses after testing, and get re-tested every year or so (to be determined). We ought to be free to own and operate any kind of weapon we see fit. But those weapons also ought to be available to us only after we show we have the skills required to use them. It’s just common sense.

At some point I’d like to detail the entire experience of the workshop. For now, here are some highlights.

My first shots:

The Henry. My favorite. It was smooth and steady. I felt it was my favorite before I saw how I did firing it, but I did alright with it and that made me like it more.

When they took us out at the end to shoot… I forget what they called them, the things that get shot up into the air, several things were interesting. First, there was almost no guidance about how to do this. I liked that, though, because I like doing things to learn them rather than being told how. It was less satisfying, though, than shooting the (very close) targets because it was hit-or-miss. With the targets there was the satisfaction of knowing how close I was getting. Still, it was a fun way to end the morning.

Keeping ourselves safe shouldn’t be about getting guns into everyone’s hands. It should be about making sure that everyone who has guns is trained in their use. And, of course, criminals will always have weapons. That’s not the point for me, here. Guns are scary, powerful things. Holding a loaded gun in my hands was freaky and strange and exhilarating. It was a meditative experience that brought up many philosophical issues that I’d like to explore further. I will explore them further, in fact. I am glad to understand that it’s not just idiots who like guns. That’s pretty much how I felt, though I knew intellectually that wasn’t the case. It was my sense that only idiots would like guns, what was the point in them anyway, right?

Well, if this social anarchist peace loving empathetic and caring liberal can learn the gun culture isn’t about assholes and power (only) I think maybe some of those guys from that side might learn that those of us who believe regulating firearms aren’t against them entirely. It seems there are opportunities to learn from each other, find common ground, and still hold true to our own values.

4 Comments

Filed under activism, ethics of eating meat, mindful living

4 responses to “gun control and/or firearms education

  1. the thing that surprised the most about the first time i held a handgun (not a rifle or shotgun or more hunting-ish firearm, a glock of some sort) is what an incredibly dynamic and powerful object it is, as if it's somehow more than inanimate but not quite sentient.

    having that thing in my hands, there is just absolutely no denying or diminishing that this thing is a purposeful tool, and it was made only for the purpose of putting huge holes in human beings, and that is the only it does. without even going into the morality or intention of the sentient being who owns such a weapon or what he/she actually does with it, the object itself is irretrievably bound with destruction, and the potential destruction inherent was simply inescapable, palpable, totally in your face and couldn't ignore it or equivocate if i tried.

    in my case, the handgun belonged to a to a sheriff's deputy and it was his service weapon. (he was very watchful and careful with letting me hold it and i only did so for maybe half a minute.) i think even for a lot of the people at the liberal end of the spectrum, this is a clearly legitimate and reasonable purpose and use of a weapon. it certainly is for me, but even so, having it visible nearby was discomfiting and unpleasant.

  2. Don

    It's a weird thing, all that destructive power in hand, wrapped up in a sophisticated piece of machined metal and plastic and maybe wood that covers all kinds of ground between utility and art.

    It's my contention that safety training teaches respect for the tools and thereby removes the dangerous romantic sense of power that leads to the death fantasies of the likes of J. Loughner. I would require a parent's signature to not take an otherwise mandatory gun safety course in 9th grade. The fewer boys sit around stroking their badly misunderstood pistols the better.

    But anyone would think me a horrid right-wing wacko if I ever suggested this mandatory training.

  3. Right-wing Don? You jest, yes? Mandatory anything is Always Evil on the right.

    What you're both talking about reminds me of some of the other gadgillions of things I wanted to write about after this experience. The biggest lesson for me, though, was how complex it all really is. I mean, using guns.

    The conflict of the two worlds was very stark when I saw signs all around that said, “Always point firearms in a safe direction.” We were sitting there before the workshop started and I said, “What's a safe direction?” And the instructor said, “Well, that's common sense.” And, to me, it wasn't. For example, I suggested “At the ceiling?” and he said, “Yes, that works here because there's only one floor.” It hadn't occurred to me to think about what was above us. People who have been around guns all their lives probably are more likely to “just know” that you don't aim a loaded weapon at the ceiling if there's a second floor on the place, y'know? Different worlds…

  4. Zac

    I lump my firearms interest under geeky gadget-love, and as with other personal technology items, my interest has gone on the back burner.
    There's a certain myth/narrative in the American gun culture, not entirely rooted in television, that individual heroism with arms is what will protect/restore freedom in this country.
    I remain convinced most of what people seem to mean by gun control doesn't work, but more and better education in proper use is needed. Allegedly, that's what the NRA's primary mission is, if they find time for it between Republican fundraisers.

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