I was born two years after World War II ended… on the leading edge of the Baby Boom. "Boom" was the operative word. Our fathers came back from Europe and the Pacific with duffle bags crammed with souvenirs. From our old man, my brother Leo and I inherited a Japanese mortar shell, a combat knife, and many bits of his Navy uniforms.
The popular 1983 holiday movie, "A Christmas Story," has it exactly right. The Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun was every boy's dream gift under the family tree. Everybody in the movie warns little Ralphie Parker that he'll shoot his eye out. When his dream comes true, he nearly does. Nobody I knew lost an eye. The manly stunt was to fire your gun while your thumb was planted firmly over the end of the barrel. Ouch!
The long summer days, when I was in elementary school, were typically spent playing either "little men" or "big men." Little-men meant setting up our toy soldiers and conducting mini-battles on the living room rug or out back in the dirt beneath our second-floor porch. When we got a little older, realism was enhanced by lobbing the tiny firecrackers known as wickies into the enemy ranks.
Big-men meant a foray into the woods, where we built clubhouses of sticks and branches and - far more fun - raided other guys' clubbies. Homemade bows and arrows supplemented the Red Ryders. Surprisingly, not many wounds ensued.
By middle school, a fun Sunday morning was a drive to the town dump with dad to shoot rats with our 22-caliber rifles in between mass and dinner. Once I got past the smell of smoldering and rotting trash, this was a lively, enjoyable sport.
The Second World War resulted in a steady stream of "action films," as my pop called them. When John Wayne and Audie Murphy (a real war hero) and Gary Cooper and Alan Ladd weren't fighting Nazis or "Japs," they donned chaps and ten-gallon hats and six-guns. "Injuns" made equally good targets.
Another ever-popular genre was the atomic-monster horror film. "The Amazing Colossal Man" (1957) is just one example among many. Lieutenant Glenn Manning has an atomic accident and grows to be 60-feet tall. He adapts poorly to his sudden rise in stature. The outcome is tragic for him and his lady-love but great yucks for my duck-and-cover generation.
Thanksgiving Monday marked the start of deer season. Many schools closed for the day. Buck, doe, and small game had their seasons in turn. Wild game graced the family tables. Teeth occasionally got broken on stray buckshot accidentally left in the dressed rabbits and birds.
It's no exaggeration to say that guns and shooting were as much a part of a boy's life, where and when I grew up, as bikes and baseballs. The funny thing is that I can't recall anybody ever going nuts, pulling his gun from the rack, and shooting a bunch of innocent people. My memory apparently isn't selective or faulty. A little research on Google indicates only one such shooting occurred in all of the 1950s.
There were six in the Sixties, 13 in the Seventies, 32 in the Eighties, and 43 in the Nineties. The first decade of this new century logged a "mere" 24. "[C]rime rates were relatively low during the 1940s and '50s, and so too were mass murder rates. That was also a time when much of the country saw high rates of marriage, births, jobs, home ownership, church attendance and other pro-social indicators." [Grant Duwe, "The Rise and Decline of Mass Shootings," AOLNews, March 1, 2010.]
My pals and I didn't give much thought to social indicators. But maybe we benefited from them.
The only gun I've ever seen up close and in real life was a rifle that's been hanging in our sunroom, some sort of war relic passed down from my father's father, if I remember correctly. I don't think it works, or if it does, it's not loaded. I don't know if any of us would know how to use it if it were. It's up high enough as to be almost out of sight; so high, in fact, that I never knew we had it until my dad asked me to take a picture of it for insurance purposes last year.
The point is, that is the only gun I've ever seen in real life. The only gun. I never even held it. Or touched it. I have no desire to do either.
Maybe that's why it's so difficult - perhaps impossible - for me to see the "other side" of the gun argument. The "right to bear arms" side. Guns aren't a part of my life, and I pray that they never will be. So I simply don't understand why anyone would want them in their lives, let alone in their houses.
Let me try to understand…
Hunting. Okay, I'll give you hunting. Hunting is a legitimate activity that requires a gun, and hunting is an important part of keeping certain animal populations down. Although I've never had a yen to go out shooting animals, that reason at least makes some sense to me. But you don't need a semi-automatic assault weapon to go hunting.
And yet I know people who like to hunt, who also like to own semi-automatic assault weapons. According to them, it's for "fun." For "target practice." According to the legal definition of "assault weapon," those guns are primarily used for the "paramilitary assaulting of human beings." Please, explain to me why you find it so vital to practice shooting with one of those.
If your reasoning is that it's our Constitutional right to bear arms, I must point out that our forefathers probably didn't foresee military assault weapons when they wrote that part. What's more, the Constitution is not the Ten Commandments - it's not written in stone. We have the right to change it to fit our changing society, and thank goodness for that.
Or is your reason a little less politically informed? Do you "just like" owning assault weapons? Is that your only reason? If so, I'm here to say that that reason is not good enough for you to get to keep your weapons. It is not a good enough reason to perpetuate a system that makes buying such weapons so unbelievably, infuriatingly easy.
If you aren't willing to give up your assault weapons in order to make the world safer for all of us, but especially for children, then you are part of the problem. And as an auntie, I can't help but shake my head in disgust at you.