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Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Guns and poses

I grew up with guns.  My dad had a Winchester Model 97 12 gauge broken down in its canvas and leather case in the basement.  I spent most of my summers with my mother who cared for her mother who lived on a farm with two bachelor sons.  A short distance from the kitchen door was a 3-unit building.  One unit housed the cream separator.   The middle unit was where the stoves that heated the dining room and living room were stored during the warm months of the year.  The third unit was the wash house.   It contained a stove for heating water, a washing machine, and a large galvanized tub for bathing.  That unit was closest to the kitchen door.

High on the wall of the bath house was a shelf that held boxes of shotgun shells and rifle ammunition, and above it was a rack that held a 12 gauge Winchester pump and a .22 Mossberg bolt action.  Bathing was done in the aroma of laundry soap and gunpowder.  The bath house was closest to the barnyard gate so that if you heard a skunk or coon raiding the chickens or a fox taking a baby pig, you could quickly grab your weapon of choice on your way to dispatch the critter.  Such actions happened fairly often.

Guns were regarded as just tools,  like saws and hammers and fence wire cutters.  You kept them clean and oiled and unloaded.  You used them to maintain the farm, which included an occasional hunt for what we now call game.  Hunting  was not an outdoor sport by the people around me then.  It was part of providing food.  That included the elimination of predators of the food animals.  

When I was a child in Illinois, deer had been eliminated from the land by over-hunting and lack of habitat.  Hunting was therefore limited to small animals, rabbits, squirrels, and wild fowl.  It was a matter of providing food and some variety in the diet.  Many farms then had hedge fences.  Those fences were great habitat for game animals.  Game animals were part of the food production.  Although they were not referred to as game.  The rabbbits, the quail, and an occasional pheasant stretched the food budget.  They were not the objects of a sport.  The people around me regarded those who hunted for the purpose of killing as perverted and demented.  Trophy hunting was aberrant.  People who had mounted animal heads on their walls or preserved pheasants on their shelves were regarded with ridicule and disdain. 

When I was 12, I got a  Springfield .410 for Christmas from my brother.  Thus, I became a gun owner with the capability of contributing to the food supply.  And I became responsible for a gun.  

My next ownership came years later when working in the sports department of a newspaper. I joined a group that in the closing days of summer would register to build duck blinds in the chutes and sloughs of the Mississippi River.  I bought a used Winchester Model 12 for the duck season.  Men from the group would get up before sunrise and boat to the blinds, and often get our limits shortly after the sun came up on the days there were ducks to be had.  Duck hunting was almost a religious ritual in terms of the preparation and rules for the hunt. We took the ducks to our homes to clean for our freezers and stoves.  However, one of our members owned a riverside restaurant that featured game on its menu.  At the end of duck season, he would prepare a banquet for the families of the hunters with some of our harvest to celebrate the season.  He had a recipe for roasting wild duck that was renowned throughout the region. The occasion was a duck thanksgiving.

During our hunts some of the men took thermos bottles of steaming coffee which they would lace with brandy.  After sitting in a duck blind on a cold river and retrieving ducks from the frigid waters, the enhanced coffee was a welcome way to warm up stiff and cold bodies.  One morning as we were walking back to where our cars were parked, a 16-year-old son of one of the hunters seemed to have gotten into the coffee. He was careless in the way he was handling his gun so that the muzzle was pointing every which way. One of the men said, "Be careful where you're pointing that gun."  The kid stopped, pointed his gun in the man's general direction, and said, "No one tells me what to do." In an instant, three men were holding their guns on the kid.  Even the retrieving dogs were on alert. The boys father walked up, said, "I'd  better take charge of that," and took the shotgun away from the boy.

Our duck thanksgiving was kind of a doleful affair that year.  It was clear to us that our group was disbanding.  That incident with the boy had made us question the ritual of the hunt in our day and age.  

M2 carbine
However, my relationship with guns continued.  Shortly after that incident, I was drafted into the Army.  In basic training, I was issued a much used M1 rifle on which the rear sight broke while I was shooting my qualifying rounds.  Up until that point I was shooting in the expert range.  I ended up with a marksman score.  Then when I was sent to Germany, I was issued a fairly new M2 carbine made by Winchester.  M2 meant that it had a lever that could switch from semi-automatic to fully automatic.  It was so accurate that the cadre of my unit were permitted to sign it out for their qualifying shoots.  They also liked It for the prank it afforded.  While it was "at rest" while the cadre were changing the range distance, a cadre man would  surreptitiously flip the switch to fully automatic.  Then the man using the carbine would carefully sight on the target, squeeze the trigger, and instead of getting a nice, clean shot, he'd get a machine gun brrrrrrrrrrp, and a lot laughter from his fellows on the firing line.  And an ass-burning chewing out by the range officer in charge.

After time in the Army, I lost interest in guns.  Other matters dominated life, and guns lost their relevance as tools of food production.   I have some that are kept as heirlooms mostly.  I gave my children opportunities to participate in shooting sports. My daughters' attitudes are, who finds it enjoyable to go out and kill things?  My son who went through 4-H firearm training, received a shotgun for Christmas one year, went hunting once and developed the same attitude. He sold his gun.  Their attitudes may have been inspired by a conversation when I had a seasonal job with Game, Fish, and Parks.  The subject of restocking pheasants came up, and a relative said that it is evidence of social dementia when we stock wildlife just so some idiots can have something to kill.

For a time my son and I participated in Civil War re-enactment  and did some target shooting contests with muzzle loaders, but the Japanese replicas we shot wore out  the rifling quickly, making them inaccurate.  And buying the black powder and making the Minie balls was expensive and very time consuming.

Hunting and hunters have earned some deserved ridicule.  Years ago  I covered the International Livestock  Show  in Chicago, which started every year on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  Comedian Red Blanchard said the Livestock Show was created so that farmers had someplace to bring their cattle during hunting season.

The question of gun control always raises the question of what guns are used for.  They were invented to do one thing:  kill.  Or in the case of inept users:  maim.     They are not instruments of creativity.  We do not live in an age where they are tools for provisioning.  They are used for sport. When they are not used for sport,  they are used for self-defense... mostly defending oneself from other people with guns. 

The matter of gun rights seems to have been established by the Kyle Rittenhouse case.  He went to a protest demonstration against police brutality after the police shot a man and brandished an assault-type rifle.  Some men thought he was a menace and tried to disarm him.   He shot and killed two of the men and wounded a third.  He was tried for murder, but was acquitted and his right not to be disarmed was held as law.

It turns out that the father of the boy who relieved him of his shotgun when he became threatening with it would be wrong in doing so today.   In order to collect a human trophy, you don't even need a license.   You need only to carry a loaded firearm into a crowd, act in a menacing manner, and if anyone tries to disarm you, kill them in the name of self-defense.  It is now well-established that people have no right to feel threatened and take defensive action when a firearm is involved.   It is the Rittenhouse rule, and it disproves the old adage that you should never give a baby a gun.



Jerry K. Sweeney said...

I have a S&W revolver I received from my father, who got it from his father, with the understanding that it never be fired and passed on to the next generation. I am uncertain if ammunition is even obtainable for this vintage weapon. I've not fired a rifle since I qualified, despite being a horrible shot, at Fort Leonard Wood in 1962.

bearcreekbat said...

Great article David. It brought back many memories of my own interactions with guns, and similar lessons from my grandfather. A gun was just another dangerous tool to be handled carefully and used only to accomplish some necessary task.

I disagree, however, with your analysis of the Rittenhouse case. As best I can tell that case creates no new legal rule permitting some bozo to carry a gun into a crowd and then kill someone trying to disarm him if he poses a danger, any more than the OJ Simpson verdict meant someone could kill his wife and her lover with impunity. Instead, despite all the publicity and commentary, the case is simply one jury's verdict in one case based on their conclusion, right or wrong, that the prosecutor failed to prove the elements of the charged crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. The next guy who kills someone in similar circumstances could just as likely be convicted on all counts and sentenced to life in prison, or execution in some states, depending on the particular attitudes of the jurors, the skill exhibited by both the prosecutor and defense counsel, and the manner and nature of the judge rulings and behavior.

David Newquist said...

I also hope that justice In the future will hold people fully responsible for their acts. The Rittenhouse case does not set a legal precedent, but it reflects a prevailing attitude.

Valerie Matheny said...

I enjoyed your article but when I grew up in the 60's with a brother using me for target practice with his BB gun, it was not enjoyable. I developed a hatred for guns at age 6.

Guns are not toys for little boys to PLAY with.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States