My father loved to hunt. He loved to fish. He owned guns. He was a member of the NRA back in the day. There’s one other point to be aware of with all his interest in and love for guns: he was extremely cautious about letting others in the family use guns. My mother never touched one so far as I know. My two brothers, much older than I, may have had BB guns at some time but nothing more lethal. In my teens, my father let me use an air pump rifle in the basement where he had a target set up, showing me in great detail (too much, I thought at the time) how to handle that air rifle. Never again did I ever touch it, nor did I want to.
My father grew up on a farm and guns were a necessary part of his family’s existence, to keep down rodents, snakes, and other predators. His encounter with weaponry during World War I in Chateau-Thierry, France, when shrapnel burst through the make-shift hospital in an old school building and severely wounded him, his life changed. He had been a battle surgeon and planned to continue his practice of surgery once the war ended. His wounds forced him to change his specialty to pathology, and he suffered the rest of his life from the effects of his wounds. He knew the deadly nature of weapons and armaments.
When I was a child during WWII, while my father spent the war in Hawaii after the rest of our family returned to the States, I did manage to have toy pistols. In those days, however, all the kids could buy were toy guns that somehow used inch-wide rolls of paper as ammunition, and made a loud pop. No cap pistols available. I’m not sure about BB guns. I guess they were all banned for the duration, in order to save explosives for the war effort. I probably still have that little gun in a trunk somewhere.
When my brothers and I were still children, my father laid down strict rules pertaining to guns and their usage. We were forbidden even to point a finger at someone and go “ka-pow!” His respect for guns and their potential led him to keep us from any exposure to guns. I do recall once in Honolulu when I was eight, aiming the paper boy’s BB gun at my skate key that he held out for me on its string. Unfortunately, my aim was good. The BB hit the skate key and ricocheted right into his ribs. His surprised yelp! put an end to that adventure. Poor Barney was always getting injured by me. He was twice my age but vulnerable. Once I demonstrated how I could do a football tackle and he came down so that his back hit the lawn spigot sticking up from the ground. For some reason Barney didn’t linger on his route when he came by our house after that.
In more recent years, family tragedy has underscored our lack of interest in guns or in hunting. A nephew was killed accidentally with a rifle that wasn’t supposed to have any bullets in the chamber. Our family love for animals has contributed to our reluctance to use any kind of weapon as well, and no one among us has an interest in hunting. One son loves to fish, but that is the extent of intentional family brutality to living things, although I show no mercy to mosquitoes and ticks.
Whenever I hear the terrible news of shooting run amok at crowds or even small groups, it strikes a part of me that is already wounded by sorrow. The murders of those gathered in some area, whether school children, government leaders, customers in a restaurant or store, military centers, high schools and universities, or now those in a movie theater, cry out for solace, where none exists. The terrible losses cannot be remedied by vengeance nor can the dead return to their lives. One element in all instances is present: that of weapons. Often multiple weapons. These tragedies are not accidents. They have nothing to do with hunting or other sports. They are what they seem to be: murder, the worst offense, and some would say the least forgivable.
Whether it is fruitless to limit gun purchases to those with licenses, whether it is helpful to provide instructions on gun use, or whether certain weapons should be banned for private use are possible solutions along the way to a civil society. Our nation is labeled as one that ranks with the most violent in the world, with the greatest number of deaths by weapons other than in wartime. I don’t know what can be done to reverse statistics or reverse the inhumanity of individuals. All I can recognize is the need for new ways of societal behaviors that alter our prejudices and hatreds, our demeaning of others, and begin at that point. I have nothing further to offer except my tears and my prayers for those lives taken because of gun violence.