17 December 2012

Change Down Range

It was easy to fall in love with guns as as kid, and it didn't hurt growing up on Army posts.  In one of four high schools, I competed on a NRA rifle team and wore my father's shooting jacket from his years on rifle teams.  My first range, under the bowling alley at Ft Monroe, was peacefully dark and brightly lit at the business end with paper targets called the Canadian bullseye.

A wooden block with drilled holes held rounds of .22 long rifle ammunition for a single loading bolt action target rifle.  My father told me to ignore the target center and concentrate on grouping - five rounds per target - anywhere.  Only when I was able to closely group could I work on moving them, Kentucky wind-age style, to target center.

Never did get there.  At least no where close to the Old Man.  Still, I learned basics that held me in good stead on the basic training ranges of Ft Jackson where I qualified M-16 Expert - best in my platoon - second best in the company. I'm still proud of that but pride would fare far worse on the police academy range where I learned it's a rare marksman who is good with both long and short guns.

Couldn't hit the side of a barn with a S&W .357 and was even worse with a 9mm Browning Hi Power automatic. Still, there's something about a range.  Gun powder's saltpeter and Hoppe's No. 9 combine for a blue steeled cologne that I still smell on my hands despite not having been on a range in almost 20 years. The smooth slide of an oiled bolt assembly.  The clicked confirmation of a seated magazine.  A thumb pushed safety.  God, how I loved guns.

I left the range a long time ago but passionately argued for the right to bear arms with the understanding there were a lot of yahoos out there quoting the 2nd Amendment but always leaving out the detail of an 18th century "standing militia." Instead of school shootings, my childhood nightmares centered on a nuclear war and I spent 1st and 2nd grade diving under my desk in drills.  The drills stopped in third or fourth grade.  I guess some kids lost teeth or worse jumping under their desk while school admin types rightly wondered what the point of it all was -- What with an incoming squadron of Soviet ICBMs.

While I haven't owned a gun in over 30 yrs, as an infantryman and cop, who felt it a right for others, I used the image of a single man standing in front of a T-80 tank in Tiananmen Square holding, what looked to be a plastic shopping bag, and told anyone who'd listen, "That crap'll never happen in my country."

But my country has never been invaded by Commies. Only by us.

Can our gun culture be changed?  Not sure it's the individual cowboy spirit as much as it's our competitive nature - economic and religious - that life is a zero sum game. In religion, there's no fun in going to heaven unless you know people are going to hell. There's no fun in being rich without people being poor and, in a very primal way, assault rifles, 30 round magazines, laser sights and 10mm Glocks... all fit right into zero sum. Kill or be killed.

Are we just arming a mad house to the teeth?  


Makaga said...

This is a nice piece, Tintin. Thank you for posting it. I am sort of surprised you haven't been on a range in a long time. Did anything make you decide to become less involved with firearms and shooting?

tintin said...

Makaga- Thank you. Probably a lotta reasons for leaving it with time and lack of interest way up there. None of my friends were into it. Once, in 20 yrs, a friend asked me to help put together a kit Brown Bess for a gift to a friend. I think his friend made a lamp out of it.

Richard said...

As a Canadian gun owner (I own 4 long guns, one of which would be considered by many to be one of those scary assault types), who legally lived a better part of a decade in the USA (and can become a citizen now if I so desire), I just don't get the insane (and it is insane, when viewed by just about every other group of people in the western world) fascination and culture that surrounds the firearm in the US.

It's fine and dandy that in America one's right to own a weapon is enshrined in the Constitution. What so many 2nd Amendment advocates willfully ignore is that that same document also at one time believed blacks were worth 60% of a white, and that women had no right to participate in democracy.

Your founding fathers built your Constitution in such a way that it could be changed and evolved as American society evolved.

In Canada, by law, in order to purchase a firearm and ammunition, one must complete a thorough safety course that involves not only a theoretical study of the firearm, but a practical portion as well.

Once you successfully complete that course, you are subject to a background check and application process to ensure you are not a threat.

Certainly, in Canada, where medical care is nationalized, it is much easier for the Mounties to determine if you've been treated for mental illness... but even THAT is not enough to disqualify you from firearm ownership - if your doctor is willing to provide a letter to the RCMP stating they do not believe you to be a threat to public safety, you can still be granted a license to purchase and own.

As it stands in the USA - it is *easier* to buy a weapon that is primarily designed to kill something than it is to obtain a Driver's License. How is that logical in any way?

Requiring citizens to take a safety course and submit to a proper background check (which includes a medical record check) does not infringe on your Constitutional rights. Any responsible gun owner should really have zero issues with a program like that.

The bottom line is that unless everyone in America is ready to make some real cultural changes in society, this is *never* going to end. Ever.

It's one thing to wring your collective hands and say "SOMETHING MUST BE DONE - THINK OF THE CHILDREN"... but actions matter, not words.

It's time for action - action that both sides can meet in the middle on.

I'm not holding my breath, sadly - this will happen again.

tintin said...

Richard- Thank you for the comment. Not aware Canada had such stringent yet liberal gun policies. The Canadian mix makes sense. I think something has to change. I know Friday changed something in me and I can't believe I'm the only one.

Brohammas said...

I owned a muzzle loading black powder rifle before I could ride a bike. My youth was filled with hunting trips and shooting competitions. I still love that.
I now live in a place where people, often kids, get shot and killed every day. A standing militia and a rifle range is one thing... people packing heat, scared to death, wondering which one of us is a bad guy frightens me to death.

Anonymous said...

Great post Tin. The last paragraph is perhaps one of the most astute observations I've read in a while.

We are also a culture in which things like manners and respect for others has been replaced (if not decimated) by the glorification of the rogue spirit. Think of best sellers and block busters.

This is a society that turned bad into a positive adjective. Perhaps we welcome disasters?


tintin said...

Bro- You know how much I think Phila has going for it. So much so, I can't stand to call it 'Philly' because it's so much more. A dangerous place to be sure.

Matthew- It's all connected isn't it? If I grow up not respecting anything and am without any shame...that's a toxic combination that's amazingly common in our society. A kind of "Get all you can get for yourself then split."

Ben said...

I've owned many firearms of the sporting variety, but have never seen the need to own a handgun or an assault weapon. The latter two, if you're law abiding and balanced, are only good for posing in front of a mirror. My shotgun, which I use for skeet and bird, will protect my home and family just fine. When the time comes I can shoot the heads off the approaching zombies at long range with my 30-06, and at shorter range with my 30-30 lever.*

I certainly don't want Big Government to know what firearms I own, but it's a minor intrusion really, compared to Their other intrusions. I don't want Them to take them away, but certainly I can wait two weeks to purchase something reasonable.

I think the subject of firearms is appropriate but the other common denominator of the recent episodes of mass shootings is mental health. Did you hear about the mom who blogged about her mentally ill son, and her reaction to the shooting on friday?

*Incidentally, when has Charlton Heston or any other gunner ever really had to protect his home? That's why the zombie metaphor is so apropos.

Anonymous said...

I own more than 20 guns, all of the hunting variety. More than the guns themselves, the armed to the teeth para-military culture that pervades our country is simply too much, and frankly too crazy. I go to gun shows because I like to look at old shotguns, and see the old hunting license patches, but those shows aren't about hunting anymore, they're loaded up with nutjobs that have a compulsion to arm themselves against some imaginary threat. It's all just gone too far.

tintin said...

Ben- I had a few friends in the Army who owned semi auto assault wpns and I can relate to why they bought 'em. One buddy had an HK41 & a Valmet. While civilian versions of the G3 and AKM, there was a respect for the design and, with the HK, the quality.

In some way, we were in the business of guns and what impressed these guys as infantrymen were purchased with their own $.

So, I do understand...but like you, I never saw the need to fork out the money. I also don't need to own a car that can do the 1/4 mile in 4 seconds, drink a single malt aged 50 yrs or screw a 20 yr old cheerleader. But for some men, price is no object.

Main Line Sportsman said...

You know me to be a hunter. I own numerous shotguns and deer rifles.
I neither own nor want to own any assault rifles. I would not object to stricter regulation and more stringent pre-purchase requirements.
Sadly, the truly deranged ( Lanza was clearly extremely ill...how can anyone pump bullets into 7 year old kids) will wreak their havoc one way or the other by whatever means once they feel compelled to do so. Hence,I embrace the position that charges better mental health care in these debates.A thoughtful post Sir..thank you.

tintin said...

Anon- I agree. What scares me even more is that when these nutjobs get a whiff of an assault wpn ban, there'll be a buying frenzy like no one's business.

Ben- By the way, I did see the piece you mentioned and it was terrifying. When I was a teenager and living in Colorado, my Dad would turn me onto to these great books about the west. Very modern 1970's interpretations.

What I learned was most of the "heros' of the west were certifiable mental cases. So, what has changed is not so much the culture of violent men but the fire power.

tintin said...

Main Line- I've always wondered how these people are so damned organized. I'm serious. These people, supposedly sick and out of their minds, manage long and detailed planing, weapons and ammo hoarding and they manage to do it without being found out.

Trailer Trad said...

"No fun going to heaven unless you know people are going to hell." -You've got to be kidding.

Religion as COMPETITION? -Please tell me you're kidding.

tintin said...

Trailer Trad- Not competition. A zero sum game, which I think is worse. And I'm serious. Even within the Christian ranks, most Methodists I know are pretty sure Catholics are Hell bound. And Catholics, while enjoying their Methodist friends, shake their heads and think, 'too bad I won't know him in heaven.'

Jeff P. said...

Former Army Infantryman here - the Canadian has it right I "feel", well said.

Julia said...

There's something to what you're saying about the American appetite for competition. No one can stomach being wrong about anything, and the subjects range from the debt ceiling, to appropriate children's birthday party menus to lawn maintenance. No one can stand to be wrong, but, more importantly, no one can bear to take the time to earnestly listen to another point of view. For the "Homeland-ers" out there, Saul said it to Carrie last night, "You are the smartest and the dumbest fucking person(or country) I've ever known."

tintin said...

Jeff- Thanks. I think Richard hit on a lot.

Julia- I've mentioned before my theory the Russians put something in the Coca Cola 40 yrs ago. Not just wrong but angry. I count myself as well.

Anonymous said...

Politically incorrect rant alert, so here it is. Just one trained and armed school official with a handgun would have stopped this killing, and the bastard would have been DRT (Dead Right There).

Are we a madhouse armed to the teeth? Maybe. But we are also a nation losing its families, morals and balance. The question to ask: why?

"In religion, there's no fun in going to heaven unless you know people are going to hell." Speak for yourself, hombre. I personally don't know any religious person with that cynical a view. And I hope I never do.

tintin said...

Anon- The 4th high school I went to had two deputy sheriffs stationed in the school. One was fired for drinking with high school students. Not that it makes any difference but neither does your argument that some admin type w/ a gun would've been the magic bullet.

I'd ask you why we're a nation losing everything but I don't know who you are so you have me at a disadvantage. And, as a matter of fact, I am speaking for myself.

LPC said...

So good to hear your point of view. You so often speak for the traditional American male. Well, the time comes.

Here's what I think. Baseball bats can kill. So, let's keep all guns legal that can kill like baseball bats. Anything more lethal, treated like other lethal and addictive substances, heroin, cocaine, meth.

Chris said...

Maybe I'm buying into the media frenzy, but I carry now -- legally. It's nothing I brag about to anyone, but I do it the same reason I wear a seat belt when I drive or a helmet when I cycle -- haven't needed them yet, hope I never will. I just don't want my last thought to be, "Damn, I wish I had my gun."

tintin said...

LPC- In many ways I feel this blog is like an army tent, and an enlisted men's tent at that. You have put up with a lot from me but it's always good to see you. I mean that.

I do like your analogy - It reminds me that today I have to go through more to buy cold medicine than I do to buy an assault rifle at a gun show. I have to take my shoes off and give up my bottled water to board a plane. I have a sense things are gonna change.

Chris- I don't think it is something to brag about because someone will steal your gun. I hope you don't live in Philadelphia.

KSB said...

Many gun nuts also believe that Earth is 6000 years old and that Jesus had a pet dinosaur and they have hijacked the Republican Party. We all suffer because of their lack of intellectual rigor.

Anonymous said...

Could it be that your gun views are "evolving" the way Obama's views did in regard to his stance on gay marriage?


Anonymous said...

I do not know what the answer is. If banning anything would ensure that such tragedy would never happen again, then I think most thinking people would be in favor of bans. I am not sure that bans are the solution though, for various reasons.

What is interesting to keep in pespective is that other countries have school shootings as well, and they are unfortunately not new to history. Even Canada has an long list of school shootings (you can look up "school shooting" on wikipedia for a global breakdown). Same with countries with even stricter gun control.

As for assault rifles, I have no use for them, but do note that the worst school shooting to date in the US (in terms of number of murders) was Virginia Tech and that was not an assault rifle but two handguns (I believe that one did have a 15 round clip though).

It is troubling that the Rep. Giffords, the Batman Movie Theater, this Conn. school shooting, and Va. Tech are all cases of severally mentally disturbed people grabbing guns.

I also think we have a rather odd gun culture. I was shocked when I learned recently of the enormous popularity of certain video games like Man of War which consist of nothing but shooting up virtual people with military grade weapons. This is a bit different than the cowboy movies I watched as a kid when the good guy usually only shot when he was absolutely forced to.

Could it be your theory of zero sum gain? Maybe. Maybe it is just giving in to good old fashion hate.

WmBTravis said...

Interesting post. I too was interested in firearms in my youth. Going to the public range was a once every few weekends experience with dad and my brother. Skeet or pistols; sometimes black-powder. The range was not crowded, and was in a fraying condition. It wasn't a "gun culture" to me, it was a sport, with lots of data to sift through.

Time drifted by though, and a legal study of the Second Amendment was my last impassioned stay with guns for about 20 years.

College, marriage, and family turned the till to other pursuits. I became interested in non-firearm goods; taking the time I used to spend on reading Guns and Ammo, and going to the gun-store, to read about, and buy, what made for the best shirts, suits, leather-goods the UK/US could offer etc. Why the change? Probably urbanity. Guns are just not conducive to the image of sophisticated living. Don't believe me? Just propose a skeet-shoot at the young lawyer society meeting.

But then, you get older, remember your youth, and it does not take much to get back into the swing. And remember how much fun it is to go to the range.

In the last few months, I revisited that old range, in this town that is almost 5 times bigger than it used to be. It is over-run, new-ish, clean, and teaming with neophytes and competitive sorts. Whereas before the range-master was unremarkable, the new range-masters, clad in their para-military pants (popular with homeland-security sorts) and barking like a DI, lorded over the range. And they needed to; many shooters were amateurish and boyish. Usually armed men exude politeness tempered by necessity, at the range presently, the politeness is a bit less defined, perhaps by the disarmed nature of those standing behind the line after cease-fire is called. And whereas before an autoloader would be rarely displayed at the range 20years ago, now the range teemed with these AR-style rifles. My bolt-action Krag was most-definitely primitive.

It made me ask why these ARs were popular. And I was asking it a month or so ago. Perhaps their popularity came from video games experience; but more likely, their numbers were a tell that their owners see them as a means. That all but two of the guns at the range last session was telling. It was almost as if purchase of and shooting these guns was an act of rebellious defiance of the old "assault rifle" ban (still in place in CT), as well as some sort of investment in a chattel that they knew was moving toward extinction.

I think these ARs are also a silent signal, a fraternity pin for those wanting to exude and enjoy some aspect of manhood that most definitely eludes suburban white guys these days.

If it is a "mad house", it is billeted with a bunch of confused boys, not ill-tempered men.

tintin said...

KSB- Fox News is looking into a new show where a woman from GA reads pigeon entrails & predicts the future. She and her son kill pigeons with Claymore mines. Sounds like a hoot.

DB- Highly evolved folks change their views.

Anon- I agree with hate. Still, you can have lots of angry people but without assault rifles & large capacity auto handguns, the damages are restricted.

I sold consulting services to law enforcement agencies back in the late '80s. At the time, there were a number of large settlements and jury awards for excessive force and high speed pursuits. Since then, cops go under extensive "Shoot - Don't Shoot" training. Their employers also carry hundreds of millions of dollars in liability insurance. How odd any, Joe Shit the Rag Man, can buy an assault rifle, skip any training and suffer no liability if say, the owner sells his AR15 in a parking lot that is later used in a violent crime.

It will be interesting to see how Newtown plays out insurance wise since the shooter was under 21. The father may lose everything due to parental liability. Too early to tell at this point and obviously not that important at this point.

WmBTravis- Thank you for taking the time to contribute your comment. Lots of insight for those of us who haven't been on a range. Guns do carry a stigma and living in a north shore suburb of Chicago, they were considered not very urbane by liberals or conservatives due to the proximity of Chicago.

So much is directly related to fear. I know of a successful novelist whose teenage daughter was raped. The two men were found innocent and a cop told the writer to buy a gun because there was nothing the police could do.

But with the ownership of a gun comes a heap of responsibility and I wonder how many folks on a range with an AR15 understand that. Shooting a man trying to rape your daughter is one thing. Shooting a thief who steals a $400 iPhone is something else. Not to mention a child who finds a weapon in a home and shoots a brother, a friend or himself.