9mm Glock image © 2010 Slate.comNo matter how hard I tried and after hundreds of shells, I never hit a single skeet. My old high school friend and National Rifle Association instructor, Dave Litman didn’t give up on me. He figured maybe the shotgun recoil was affecting my aim so we switched to an H&K 91 battle rifle. After a few more sessions with that piece at the Allegheny County Gun Club, I could reliably hit a stationary target at 100 yards. The pistols were another story. Didn’t matter if the gun was an historic Luger or a modern 9mm Beretta, I couldn’t get on the paper at 10 yards.
Small arms training wasn’t my idea. As a would-be pacifist, I’d almost moved to Canada to avoid the Vietnam war. If the Pentagon hadn’t reclassified me from 1-A to “Undesirable” for anti-war activity, I’d probably be in Toronto, now. It was Litman’s nagging that got me to the gun club. He constantly reminded me that most of my extended family and most of his had been murdered in cold blood by the Nazis. Litman never tired of saying Jews should arm themselves and be ready to take a couple neo-Nazis with them should it ever come to that. Eventually, I figured there was no harm in at least learning how to use guns properly. After all, my uncle let me to shoot a .22 rifle when I was 10 years old.
Litman was at the extreme end of the gun ownership spectrum. Wherever you sat in his apartment, you could be sure there was a loaded pistol in a drawer or under a cushion within arm’s reach. His gun cabinet was full and his closet had another half dozen rifles and shotguns. I thought he’d change his ways after his girlfriend got drunk one evening and shot holes in the walls, but no, the guns everywhere policy remained in effect. The neo-Nazis never came to get him. In the end, a heart attack killed him while he slept.
My college friend, Jan Junge was a gun nut, too. I didn’t know that until I visited him and his wife, Kyra at their home after he graduated. The shotgun mounted over the fireplace in their living room was loaded. The coffee table had a police .38 caliber pistol as did the nightstand in the guest room. Jan and Kyra were concerned about break-ins, though they’d never had one. They also liked to drink vodka, lots of vodka, and argue. Their freezer was stocked with Stolichnaya.
Kyra called me early one morning to tell me Jan was dead. Kyra had heard something outside the night before. Jan went to look and took the shotgun with him. Apparently, he tripped walking down the front steps in the middle of the night and fell on the gun. Some friends of Jan’s who never liked Kyra thought maybe they’d been drinking, had an argument and picked up guns. Wouldn’t surprise me. Whatever. The police investigation called it an accident.
My best friend, Caney, may he rest in peace, finally convinced me to buy a gun in the 1980s. He was a lawyer and serious yachtsman. Caney kept a 9mm pistol in his car, a .357 caliber pistol and a shotgun on his boat. He was prepared for carjackers and pirates. Living in Washington, DC, Caney had a point about carjackers. But, practically speaking, it’s hard to imagine how a pistol in the glove compartment would be much help when somebody points a gun at your side window when you’re stopped at a traffic light. I asked Caney when was the last time pirates had boarded a vessel in the Chesapeake Bay. He said the real problem was robbers getting on your boat while you’re at the dock, sleeping. Robbers never visited Caney’s boat. He fell off his yacht after spending the evening in a bar drinking with his buddies and drowned.
I guess my friends’ paranoia infected me. I was living alone in a fairly secluded cabin at the time. So I bought a 9mm pistol and practiced with it at the local range. A few years later, when I got married, I locked the gun in a box on my boat. After our first child was born, I sold the pistol. I already knew that guns and alcohol don’t mix. It didn’t take much research to find that guns and kids don’t either.
Occasionally, like when our car is broken into late at night or a neighbor’s house is robbed I wonder if maybe I should have a shotgun handy. Then, I remember the statistics about accidental gun deaths and think about Litman, Junge and Caney.