There was a time when I was gun crazy. Oh, I wasn’t loony or anything like that. I was merely a card-carrying member of the gun culture. Guns were like air, all around, unnoticed unless we decided to head for the countryside and shoot whatever moved. I couldn’t imagine a life without guns.
This was in a state that I will not name because I still have a lot of relatives living there and they are all still deeply engrossed in the gun ownership and user society. I don’t mean that any of them would come after me with guns blazing, but they sure as hell would burn up E-mail circuits and leave caustic messages on my phone.
These are the same people who once were kids like me, kids who bathed in a Number 2 washtub in the backyard under a peach tree in the summertime and then just as quickly rolled around in the grass and dirt until all signs of our Saturday bath were gone.
Like me, they read the Shooters Bible and dreamed of owning one of the sleek automatic shot guns depicted in full-color on slick pages designed especially to appeal to budding manhood.
And when we were older, like me they’d tromp down to the hardware store for a duck-hunting license that we’d pin on the upturned brim of a hat just like the men and swagger around the main street until the newness wore off.
Later, on warm summer nights, we’d load our guns and a few girls in an old heap and tool on out to the gravel pit where we’d blow tin cans and rocks to smithereens to the musical accompaniment of roaring 12 gauges and 7 mm Mausers while the girls sat on the car’s fender with their legs crossed oohing and aahing.
One of us, a football hero we all admired, brought a pistol one night, a revolver with a barrel almost as long as a rifle, and we’d practice pulling and shooting with hardly a thought that we might put a bullet in a leg or a foot if we snagged a finger on our pants or something.
And another guy managed to come up with a double-barreled 10 gauge shotgun with those curly-cued hammers that looked like the hammers on an old blunderbuss. That gun sounded like a cannon when someone fired it, and on a couple of occasions, a guy fired both barrels at once. The blast threw him backward and he went down on his butt.
As for me, I had a couple of simple guns, a single-shot 22 caliber rifle and a single-shot 12 gauge that once belonged to my granddad. Flame would erupt from the barrel of the shotgun when it was fired, and I delighted in shooting it at night in the gravel pit.
Like the rambunctious young men we were morphing into, we often engaged in dangerous activities. We’d climb a fence in a posted area where the county stored dynamite and hunt rabbits. We’d ride down a country road at night with the headlights on and shoot rabbits when they came into the lights.
But the dumbest was a game we called Shotgun War. We’d divide into two groups and head for opposite ends of a patch of woods. Then we’d fire our shotguns in the direction of the other group. The birdshot from the other group would whistle through the leaves over our heads as we ducked, hoping that a stray pellet wouldn’t ricochet off a limb and drop on us. Those things sting.
Shortly after our Shotgun Wars grew old, we decided to enlist. In basic training, we enjoyed most the firing range. We were accurate, much more so than the guys from some of the big cities who had never fired a rifle. A few of them continued to shoot into the ground 20 yards or so in front of the firing line in spite of the extra training they received. Us country boys, though were always on the mark.
Later, after my discharge, and service in the Air National Guard, I was invited to become a member of the squadron rifle team. By then, however, my interests had begun to change and I declined.
Little by little, with hardly any conscious deliberation, I became disinterested in guns as a hobby. Yes, I kept a shotgun around the house but I probably never fired it more than once or twice. One day, a guy offered me ten dollars for the gun and I sold it and that was the end of my personal gun culture.
I don’t know why I changed, but it probably had something to do with becoming a parent, working my buns off to support them, and coming home tired after a day of dodging verbal bullets from very ambitious co-workers.
More importantly perhaps, I no longer lived in the old town and no longer hung around the old gang. We are, after all, a good deal like the people we hang with. The gun culture became a thing of the past.
But a little tiny thought still nags me. In all of those young years we tromped around the woods and fields firing indiscriminately at rabbits, squirrels, quail, pigeons, and pheasants, I never killed a single animal. And I was a damned good shot.