News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Don't take your chainsaw to church, son.

There are guns in my house.  Most of them are old because I obtained them when I was young, and now I am old.  They include shotguns, a rifle, some Civil War re-enactment muskets, and a handgun which I hid so children can't find it, and I can't remember where.  

A Model 97 in its take-down state. 
I have always been around guns.  My dad had some, and I still have his Winchester Model 97 12 gauge.  That model designation, by the way, stands for 1897, not 1997.  My father kept his guns in a tool chest with the Swedish saws my grandfather brought when he immigrated to America.  That is the way my family regarded fire arms.  They were tools.  

I often stayed on the farm of bachelor uncles who provided a home for my grandmother.  Across the yard from the kitchen door was a utility building with three rooms.  One contained the cream separator.  The middle one is where the heating stoves were stored during the summer.  And the one on the end closest to the kitchen door was the wash house.  It was also closest to the well.  It had a small stove for heating water, a washing machine, and some big galvanized tubs for bathing humans.  The wash house smelled of lye soap and gun powder.

Both clothes and guns were cleaned in that room.  Above a shelf which held the soap was a shelf that held ammunition.  And above the ammunition was where the guns were racked.  They had the same status as tools, like washing machines and wash tubs.   One of the reasons they were in the wash house was because that was the most convenient place to have them so they could be quickly grabbed and loaded in the middle of the night when coons were heard in the hen house or foxes were going after baby pigs.  As they were tools, we children had no inordinate interest in the guns.  They were common tools and held about the same fascination for us as pitchforks and manure scoops, which were not among our favorite things.  Tools were not kept in the house. 

That is not to say we did not learn to use these tools.  I had a Red Ryder BB gun with which I became something of a marksman.  It developed a skill which was handy when I graduated to fire arms and participated in the hunting.  Back then, we did not hunt for sport as much as for meat.  Rabbits, game birds, and the occasional deer helped manage meager family budgets. Shooting skill was also handy when I was drafted and was provided an M-1 Garand as my principal soldierly tool.  

Guns were part of the culture and a set of cultural rules governed their use.  It was common for children, some children, to run through neighborhood playing cowboys and Indians or war and pointing and firing toy guns at each other.  Not in the culture I grew up in, however.  Once a cousin and I were fooling around and I shaped my hand into a gun, pointed it at him, and said "pow."  My Dad came up behind me, grabbed my pointed finger, and said if he ever caught me doing that again, he'd break it off.  In that culture, one never, never pointed a firearm, real, toy, or imaginary, at anyone.  To do so was to show the ultimate disrespect for another person's life.  It was considered an expression of disregard, disdain, and a desire for the other person's  death.  It was a serious threat.  

I tell people that story today, and of course, in this age when children are thoroughly grounded in the processes of killing by films and video games, it is incomprehensible.  

In that culture, the right to own and bear arms was fully exercised, but it carried with it a prodigious responsibility about when and where those arms could be used.  That was also true in the Army.  

The literature of the west and its "taming" with guns has two versions:  the popular fictions of gun-slinging heroes, and the facts of history in which the carrying and use of arms was strictly regulated to eliminate the menace they created in the hands of the mentally and morally challenged.  

Guns don't kill people.  Cowards, gangsters, and the cohort of mentally and morally challenged kill people with guns because guns make it so easy.  The fact is that there are is an awful amount of babies out there with guns.  

I don't haul my guns around town for the same reason I don't take my chainsaw to church and fire that baby up when the tone-deaf old battle ax behind me tries to quaver through "A Mighty Fortress."

I don't take my guns to church because I am not a member of the Taliban or any of its Christian versions.  

Generally, I don't talk or write much about the Second Amendment, because it guarantees that one will be deluged with stupid.  And the bearing and use of arms is a matter of intelligence, not of establishing a right which permits people to exercise their malice. 

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States