RICHMOND

My first set of guns was given to me by my parents, who didn't know about the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The guns were bright and shiny and came with a gun belt that fit around my waist. I tucked the guns in the holster and made several quick draws, frustrated when the metal stuck to the cheap material that simulated real leather. But when you are 5 years old you don't know anything about the care and maintenance of real guns and I ran around pointing the guns at whoever came across my sights, yelling "Bang. Bang. You're dead." This went on for several years while I played cowboys and Indians with my friends, always wanting to be the cowboy but forced at times to be the ignoble red savage.

When I reached what they thought was the right age, my parents bought me a BB gun and I spent most of my time in the backyard shooting at cans that could be knocked off some kind of pedestal. A couple of times the BB bounced off something and broke a window but I don't remember their being too perturbed when the "accident" happened. For a while I shot at birds but it took only one occasion of hitting the target that made me give up that kind of "entertainment."

Some of my friends came from hunting families and I envied them the experience of being taken on a hunting expedition and learning how to shoot a real gun. When we were alone in those houses, my friends would sometimes bring out the real weapons for us to admire and play with. Their weight always impressed me and I was very careful picking them up. Sometimes they would also bring out ammunition but we never loaded the guns because we were never sure how much time we had before an adult entered the picture and always scurried to put things back carefully so that no one would know what we had been up to.

In high school and college there were no guns visible, even in the ROTC sessions at Massachusetts State College. It wasn't until I enlisted in World War II that I again encountered guns, in basic training, notably the British Enfield rifle from World War I. We were issued the single-action bolt model and the kickback was severe enough to keep you alert every time you shot it. I did pretty well in training and achieved a fairly good score during firing range practice. We were also meticulously taught how to care for the rifle and barracks evenings were spent assembling and disassembling the rifle, oiling the parts and making them bright but not shiny. I looked forward to firearm training each week and grew to anticipate and enjoy the fierce kickback of my assigned piece.

I became a medic when assigned to my division so I had no personal experience with the M1 Garands, except to stack them in a corner while tending a wounded GI. They seemed fairly heavy but were beautiful in their own way. And quite formidable in the right hands. We also had opportunity to check the German rifles when we encountered any of their wounded but their lethal ability was never questioned.

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Toward the end of the war, when Hitler brought in the high school kids and the old men, our guys would disarm them, give them a kick in the rear, and send them back to their families. However, even a little kid can pull a trigger and we started to get casualties. Then the story was quite different.

I brought a German handgun home with me but sold it when we had children. We had enough trouble with varmints in our vegetable garden that my wife bought me a beautiful little rifle, a Browning semi-automatic with .22 caliber ammunition. The woodchucks, skunks, rabbits and raccoons would wipe out whole sections overnight until my weapon and I gave them pause. We tried gassing holes but that didn't work. It reached the point where I killed a porcupine, firing several times into that spiky body, telling myself it was to protect my children in case they were attacked by the needles. I'm bothered about that to this day.

And shortly after the porcupine I came across a poem by Maxine Kumin titled "Woodchucks." Her problem was similar to mine and she took action. In the poem she kills a mother and two baby woodchucks with her .22 rifle. The only one left is the wily old father and he haunts her nightmares as well as her daydreams. She ends the poem thusly:

"if only they'd all consented to die unseen,

Gassed underground the quiet Nazi way."

All of the above was a long way to go for me to get to my target, the unredeemable tragedy in Newtown, Conn. The Second Amendment to the Constitution was written at a necessary time by our government. They did not intend to give permission for people to buy weapons of war that can wipe out contingents of human beings in a few seconds. We have amended other amendments and that puts the Second in the game. It is one thing for people to have guns to hunt for food or to shoot at a target; it is quite another to make one person capable of being such a killing machine.

We don't need the National Rifle Association to be an irresistible force in our government. We don't need the maxi-guns that are available now or the ones that might be even more dangerous in the future. Let Wayne LaPierre earn the more than a million dollars a year he gets for running the NRA by making things safer rather than more dangerous. Let the gun-happy Republicans shut up.

Milton Bass is a regular Eagle
contributor.