Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Growing up with guns

After two mass killings in a two-week period, I am way beyond upset. Way beyond sad. Way, way beyond.

So let's talk about guns for a minute. I know a tiny bit about them.

My Dad was a marksman in the European theatre in World War II. I think this actually might mean he was a sniper. I know from remarks in his diary, written while he was a P.O.W., that he shot a few people. OK, it was wartime, and that's what warriors do. Dad's view of killing in wartime was uncomplicated, and I don't know that he ever suffered pangs of guilt later. He did what the war demanded of him, including a seven-month stint in Stalag VII-A. He was a hero, in my eyes -- it was, after all, the Good War.

Long before I was born, Dad was collecting guns. He loved to go to the practice range. He had ten or fifteen guns, safely locked in a cabinet in the den. I knew they were there. I was forbidden to touch them, and never had any interest in them anyway. The guns never seemed like a threat to me, or to anyone else, actually.

In the days following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King., Jr., there were riots in my hometown. I was fifteen; I didn't know a riot from a birthday party. I was fairly sheltered (read: teenaged, oblivious and self-absorbed), we lived in a suburb, and all kinds of danger seemed remote and unlikely. I have forgotten most of the details of that turbulent time in our national history.

But I do remember Dad unlocking the gun cabinet and sitting up all night by a front window, for a few consecutive nights. I thought this was noble.  He was my hero, remember. Fortunately, the rioting stopped, the gun cabinet was locked again, and life returned to normal.

At least, it did for me. Years passed, and  I left home. Mom and Dad stayed in their house. Eventually, sadly, it was just Dad in the house alone.  After he died suddenly, it was up to J. and me to clean out the house.  In the course of going through the possessions accumulated over 40 years, we made a startling discovery.

"Mom, look what I found!" called my son. I stared into the drawer.  There was a gun. I don't even know enough about guns to describe it further. It looked like something the police should be carrying.

It got worse. There was at least one gun in every room. It seemed as though we found another gun every time we pulled a drawer open. J. and I stood staring at each other.

"Are they loaded?" he asked.

"Beats me," I said. "What should we do now?"

In the end, we called up the State Police, who (quickly) sent around an officer.  He determined that the guns were all loaded, and he unloaded them for us. Meanwhile, we had come up with a sheaf of papers, which proved to be gun licenses.  They were all legal.  This was my Dad, after all. He was a responsible gun-owner.

But ... seriously.  One in every room? I suppose Dad got nervous, living in the house alone after my Mom died. Still ...

All the guns, which I inherited, went to auction, along with most of the house's contents. That was in 1997. Fifteen years later, I still don't know what I think.  A gun in every room?

I have two dogs and a burglar alarm.  That will have to be enough for me, I guess. Or not.