Monday January 14, 2013

RICHMOND

Just to get the record straight from the get-go, most of my mother’s seven brothers owned guns and knew how to shoot them. They brought home pheasants, deer and various other edible creatures as part of a big rural family’s way to keep food on the table. It was no easy task.

My mother recalls a day when she asked what the family was having for supper. "Faith," my grandmother said. Good, of course, for feeding the soul, but not so hot when it comes to stopping a stomach from growling. With ever-hungry mouths to fill - seven boys and four girls - hunting was part of the picture. Some of the brothers went on hunting after they were married - and their upbringing dictated that it was not for sport (which doesn’t mean they didn’t enjoy it) but for food.

My father had guns, too. He preferred fishing to hunting, but he hunted occasionally. And he was adept at taking care of the woodchucks that dared eat a row of beans in his garden or wild animal marauders that threatened his turkey flock on the open range.

My brother learned to shoot those guns, but I never did. My major gun achievement was not to flinch when I took the dare and touched an electric fence with my brother’s metal pop gun. Then I shrieked with laughter when he confidently followed suit and nearly jumped out of his skin as the hot shock ran through him.

By and large we’re a family that has been bypassed by the American gun culture, even those members, like my husband, who actually own guns. So we are taken aback by how the gun culture has corrupted itself with what Donald Rumsfeld would call "shock and awe."

We are shocked by the death of so many and the destruction of those who survive a mass shooting. And we are awed by people who think things are pretty much going okay in America’s gun culture.

Most other countries don’t even have a gun culture. They don’t classify guns in the way of such proverbial necessities as a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.

And what’s the corollary of that thinking? They don ‘t kill 30,000 people a year via gunfire.

Even though the much-hammered Second Amendment was born into a world of clumsy, one-shot muskets, not Glocks and AR-5’s, most Americans don’t want to deprive their neighbors and friends of all guns.

That hyperbole is designed to inspire gun owners to protest. And many Americans understand that the Second Amendment, no matter where its commas reside, was a means of insuring that a young country would be ready.

The British might come again, for instance, or Indians deprived of their lands might attack. It was a time when the national Army was small, and many regions had few or no law enforcement officers.

That was then. This is now. We have an Army and a National Guard. We have sheriffs and constables and police. Towns no longer ring a church bell and expect armed citizens to gather at the square.

Today, the argument that criminals will always get guns, and we need defense against them, is knocked out by the fact that the shooters in this year’s killing rampages had no criminal records.

What have we learned today, they ask on "Morning Joe." In recent years, we have learned that smoking kills and have attacked that problem despite the economic value of the tobacco industry.

We have learned that gas-guzzling cars are bad for the environment, and we have fewer of those big vehicles, despite their economic value to the auto industry.

We need now to consider that a lot of people financing the anti-gun control fight make millions manufacturing guns and bullets. Much of this fight is not about hunting and target shooting and personal protection - it’s about big business and money. Our children deserve better.