THE FAMILY GUN

One hears so much irrational drivel about guns in the home, nowadays. The most irrational, of course, comes from politicians and media moguls who surround themselves with armed guards. Those of us who insist upon owning a weapon for the defense of ourselves and our families are urged to go through ridiculous and unrealistic procedures to insure that children don't shoot themselves or their playmates. Yes, a trigger lock will prevent that sort of tragedy, as will keeping the weapon and its ammunition in separate locked cabinets. These are fine if the idea is to make the thing impossible to shoot without going through time-consuming procedures. Unfortunately, that is not the idea behind a home-defense weapon. That idea is to have the thing ready to deploy quickly, in case it should be needed. An unloaded or locked-up weapon may not be capable of doing anyone any harm, but it also, for damn sure, will not do you a bit of good if you need lethal protection in a hurry. This attitude on the part of self-righteous politicos is so detached from reality that it would be humorous, were it not so potentially tragic. The following is my family's approach to the subject.

In 1950, my family returned to Kentucky from postwar residence in Detroit. My father
left his job at a Ford auto factory to move us to a small town in rural Western Kentucky. An industrial boom was budding in the area, due to the recent availability of cheap hydroelectric power from a new dam, convenient river and railroad shipping routes, and a relatively inexpensive and malleable labor pool.

We first settled into a rented house which, while located on the right side of the railroad tracks, was also immediately adjacent to them. As it turned out, we were also situated a block or so from the local pool hall, the malignant tumor of dissipation and degradation in an ostensibly church-bound "dry" township. One night, soon after moving in, we were startled awake by a horrendous racket from our front porch, where two of the local low-lifes were engaged in mortal combat. My father called the local police department, while my mother, my baby brother, and I cowered as far from the flimsy front door as we could. The local law-enforcement showed up after an amazingly long stretch of time, having probably been lurking in a side road along a stretch of highway, waiting for speeders. This has, traditionally, been the essential component of the small-town cop's job description: adding to civic revenues. From this experience, my father confirmed something which has still failed to register with unthinking citizens and their duly elected officials: The police do not exist to protect the citizenry; they exist to try to catch criminals after they have victimized citizens unprepared to protect themselves. There is never a cop around when you need one. If there were, the victimizers would be doing it somewhere else. This applies equally to New York City or Western Kentucky. The biggest difference is that here in New York, the police are more likely to catch the culprit, after they have robbed, raped, or killed. This is of some comfort to the victims, I would imagine.

The next day, my father went shopping, returning home with a 20-gauge shotgun. He had spent WW2 as an infantryman in the Pacific Theater, where he spent most of his time carrying the military version of the Thompson Submachine Gun. This was all the serious arms-bearing he had hoped to experience. However, if the war taught him anything, it was to be realistic. Therefore, he felt compelled to arm himself again, in more localized defense of his loved ones.

Due to incessant post-JFK anti-gun propaganda, many people are shamed into hiding
their defensive weapons; as though having one is somehow a sign of depravity. They secrete them away, maybe with their pornography collection. Since the media have inculcated all this embarrassment, gun owners tend to not tell their younger family members about their gun ownership. As it is virtually impossible to keep anything hidden from an inquisitive child, quite frequently, they are found. In these circumstances, it is understandable that a young child might think that the discovery is a toy. This shame and secrecy is where a lot of tragedy originates.

My father showed us the shotgun and its ammunition, and showed us where it would
be kept in the closet. At the earliest opportunity, he demonstrated its use, by blowing
holes in something inanimate with it. No one who has ever heard the blast of a firearm
and experienced the power of its recoil will ever confuse it with a toy. After teaching and catechizing me on the rules of gun safety, he borrowed a smaller .410-gauge shotgun
and allowed me to shoot it. The rules of firearm safety are simple enough for a six-year old to learn in five minutes, but I had to repeat them to him every time, before I was handed the gun. He stressed that there might come a time when I might be called upon to use the gun to protect our family, should he not be around to do it. I took in the whole concept, and have never forgotten any of these logical rules:

1. Never point a gun at anything, or anyone, you wouldn't want to put a hole through.

2. Always assume that the gun is loaded. When you pick it up, immediately check to see whether it is loaded or not. Even when you have verified that it is truly unloaded, you still follow rule #1.

3. Always be aware of where the bullet will end up when it leaves the muzzle. Assume
that it will pass through the intended target and hit something else. Think of rule #1 again.

4. Guns are not for threatening people. If you are in a situation in which you are required to produce a weapon, use it immediately. You do not wave it around, risking that it may be taken away and used against you, or others you care for. If you are forced to take up a gun and shoot at someone, shoot to kill. Only in cowboy movies does the hero shoot to wound.

While backwards in many respects, in comparison to New York, the state of Kentucky has the edge in enlightenment to do with certain reality-oriented concepts. The Rangers of the State Department of Wildlife Conservation came to my elementary school once a year, to teach gun safety and shooting skills to students who might not have been taught the subject at home. There have always been a fair amount of shooting deaths in my home state, but very few of them are accidents.

Later, my father arranged for us to accompany some rural relatives on a squirrel hunt. This was meant to underline yet another rule, that you only kill an animal if you intend to eat it. My father was not much of a hunter. Whether this was because he didn't care for the taste of wild game, or that creeping through the forest carrying a weapon reminded him too much of his wartime activities, I don't know. Nevertheless, he felt it important that I be exposed to the experience. I watched as the victims of the hunt were killed, skinned, and eviscerated. I was left with two vivid memories of the occasion: that, deprived of their cute costumes, squirrels look remarkably like rats, and that the scent of a skinned and gutted creature is very exotic, if repugnant. I never became much of a hunter, either.

My father's tutelage was vindicated twenty years ago in Philadelphia, when I was in the passenger seat of a car while the windshield was being shattered by an umbrella-wielding Asian fellow whose garage entrance had been blocked once too often. At the time, I was fully aware that I was armed with a loaded handgun. My father's teachings prompted me to urge the driver (a hot-blooded buck of the Italian-American persuasion) to start the car and retire us from the scene. Whether this was because I didn't feel that the situation was sufficiently life-threatening, or that I was not in the mood for Chinese food, I don't know. Either way, my training dictated restraint.

When my wife and I moved to our current location in Manhattan, nearby Union Square Park was a notorious drug bazaar, and our section of Broadway was desolate after dark. I made it a point to always meet my wife when she left the subway at night. I was invariably armed when I did so. I purchased a 20-gauge Mossberg pump shotgun at a swap meet down home, which hung, continuously loaded, on the wall over our bed for a number of years. As soon as our young daughter was mobile, I acquainted her with it, stressing its deadliness. As soon as possible, in Kentucky, I demonstrated its use to her. When she was six, I taught her gun safety and shooting skills. She was a sufficiently apt pupil to the extent that, when the opportunity came for me to acquire a sweet little .22 caliber semi-automatic handgun, I bought it for her. Of course, every time I've handed a weapon to her she has had to repeat the rules to me. She has never failed to remember them.

Eventually, our neighborhood became relatively civilized; to the extent that I didn't feel the need to keep serious defensive weaponry at hand; so I relocated all of our firearms to my family's home in the south. We keep an air rifle and B-B pistol on hand, though, to maintain our skills; and I have sometimes given lessons on their use to my daughter's friends. As always, the proceedings begin with the ritual: "First, repeat the rules to me".

Most people's homes, are filled with dangerous devices. My tool cabinets contain many instruments which enable me to make holes in things. A firearm is no more inherently evil than an electric drill or nail gun; they are all variations on the concept of the hole-making tool. So far as I'm concerned, a prime example of evil is the current attempt to deprive decent citizens of the means to protect themselves and their loved ones from evil-doers. As you listen to Mrs. Clinton and her ilk preaching about those evil guns, bear in mind that Adolf Hitler was a non-smoking vegetarian who was kind to animals and, through the creation of law, disarmed the civilian populace of Germany. Having achieved that, he went on to attempt the extermination of an entire race of innocent people. Now that's what I call pure-D evil! Too bad the German Jews were such a law-abiding lot. History has since shown that their survivors, at least the Israeli branch of the tribe, learned much from the experience.

The fact that I currently feel secure enough to not feel the need of having a gun close at hand does not mean that I want to keep you from having one close to yours. All I ask is that you know and follow the rules of gun handling, and teach them to any children who may possibly have access to your weaponry. That may not satisfy Mrs. Clinton, but it certainly works for me, as well as a multitude of other Kentuckians.

Jim Wilson © 2001
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