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Guns: they've always been a part of country life. Will they be in the future?

Countryside readers often hear woeful tales of the results of the urbanization of America. Americans, who think food is manufactured in the back room of the supermarket, can't imagine how anyone could kill an animal for meat (as they chomp on their Big Macs,unable to see the connection). Roads, malls and developments are more important to them than fertile soil. Never mind what rain does for crops: for most people, it's just something that spoils their golf or other fun.

Another result of urbanization is a changing attitude toward guns. Most people who live surrounded by concrete, traffic jams, close neighbors--and increasingly, crime--have no use for guns, literally and figuratively. They don't need them as tools, they could use them for recreation only rarely even if they wanted to (and most don't), and since guns in the hands of the wrong people are liabilities rather than assets, they see no reason why firearms shouldn't be outlawed altogether.

Most country people see things a little differently, for several reasons. Let's look at some of them.

I own and use several guns, but I could hardly be considered a gun nut. I'm not one of those collectors who can recite models and features the way some goat people rattle off pedigrees. I don't read gun magazines--and I am not a member of the NRA. So although I can't pretend to be a gun expert--and I certainly can't speak for any other gun owners--I can tell you why I like guns, and why I think they're part of country living.

Like most young boys of my era, I wanted a gun. The glorification of the military (this was World War II) probably played a role, but the Saturday matinee westerns loomed larger. Even though my sympathies were with the Indians (who, as I recall, seldom had guns in those '40s movies) I fantasized about racing over the plains and desert on my black horse, with my carbine and six-shooter.

And then there were the ads in boys' magazines. I especially recall those for the Red Ryder BB gun. They were very good ads, extolling the fun a barefoot country lad could have with his gun... even pointing out the responsibility he would learn to handle by owning one. My father never owned a gun. That both surprised and disappointed me. His French and Indian ancestry conjured images of buckskin-clad trappers and Indians hunting for food, and since they were my ancestors too, I felt somehow robbed of my rightful heritage.

But my mother, with her typical wry wit, said, "Wait 'til you're 18. Uncle Sam will buy you a gun."

I had friends, whom I envied, with guns, which I shot. But Mom was right. The first one that was "mine" was an M-1 Marine Corps rifle. I could fieldstrip it (and reassemble it) blindfolded, I hit the bulls-eye nine times out of 10 at 1,000 yards (and earned the coveted Expert medal), and if I really tried, I'll bet I could still recite its serial number, more than 30 years later. The Marines taught you to love your rifle.

Later I bought an army surplus Springfield 30.06, and I acquired a.22 pistol... a gift from my father. But as a college student, and then a struggling entrepreneur with a family, I had little time to use either--and I couldn't have afforded ammunition anyway.

Although I used my father-in-law's guns on occasion and bought guns for my sons, it was almost 30 years before I got another one of my own. And I still haven't joined the NRA.

Pretty dull, huh? Yet it's the rights and pleasures of millions of dull people like me that are being threatened in the erroneous assumption that this will somehow magically make some problems go away.

The gun as a homestead tool

I have often used a gun as a homestead tool. There are ways to butcher hogs, cattle, and sheep and goats without a bullet, but they are seldom as easy or humane. If you have guinea fowl that have never seen the inside of a coop and roost in the treetops, you might never get to dine on guinea without a gun. (If anyone dismisses this because they're against eating meat, then we're not talking about guns, but something else. Unfortunately, that's how much of t "gun debate" goes. It's not really about guns at all.)

It isn't always possible to co-exist with certain other creatures. "Planting extra" for the crows, rabbits, groundhogs and others might sound good in theory, but it doesn't always work out in reality. Yes, there are non-lethal ways to control snakes, killer dogs, and other predators, up to a point. We won't starve or go broke if a varmint kills our sheep or chickens or decimates our gardens, and yes, we could let people in California, Mexico and South America grow our food. But then, why bother homesteading? (And are we talking about the rights of animals on whose territory we have encroached, or the rights of us on whose territory the animals have encroached? What about the responsibility we hold by altering the environment in which both we and animals live? No matter how you cut it, this goes far beyond any simple argument for or against guns.)

I have never touched a bowling ball in my life, except as a teenage pinsetter. Sorry, but I just don't see any point in rolling a ball with the object of knocking down 10 pieces of wood (or maybe they're plastic or fiberglass now for all I know or care.)

I did hit a golf ball--once. But spending hours walking around trying to put a little white ball into a hole in the ground? For me, watching paint dry would be more exciting.

But I do enjoy target shooting.

I don't question the morals or sanity of those who do golf or bowl, and I would hope that they wouldn't classify me with armed robbers or murderers just because I enjoy shooting a gun. There is as much skill involved in hitting the bulls-eye or a clay pigeon as there is in doing well at golf, bowling, or horseshoes. There is satisfaction in improving through practice and technique, and in using good equipment. There is pride in a good score. To me, it doesn't make sense to take away my gun just because it's easier to hold up a 7-11 with a gun than it would be with a bowling ball or golf club. Moreover, while other recreational activities are city-oriented or at least require certain facilities (and numbers of people to pay for them), shooting can provide casual, personal, strictly country entertainment, the more isolated the better.

Hunting combines shooting skills with outdoor skills perfected and enjoyed by many who do not hunt-including me, when I choose to go afield with a camera or binoculars instead of a gun: learning the habits of wild creatures, tracking, blending in with nature, being a part of nature. Add to that the Daniel Boone mystique that still survives in many people, and putting meat on the table, and you have a powerful tradition that many would fight to preserve.

Pride of ownership

Pride in equipment: In three months of Marine Corps boot camp, transforming a dull, unfinished gunstock into a thing of beauty by hand-rubbing linseed oil into it for hours on end probably replaced the pride in the cars and motorcycles (and hair) we'd left behind. A glass-like stock was a badge of pride and honor.

Today, I can look upon the guns in my cabinet with the same satisfaction as I view my collection of old farming books, or as someone else might see their stamps or coins or antiques. Just looking at them, even those I seldom shoot, is a pleasure. They are handled and cleaned with pride and regarded with the reverence others might accord fine works of art.

The problem of self-defense

While few could convincingly argue with that--although they might once again point out that "guns are made for killing" and that therefore my pride in owning them is aberrant and antisocial--they find it far easier to take issue with the argument of gun ownership as a means of self-defense. Some argue that guns kept for this purpose are often responsible for accidents... and occasional outrageous behavior. Many gun owners with the self-defense mindset are inadequately trained in firearm use and safety. It's argued that confronting an armed assailant with a weapon of your own is counterproductive. Besides, that's what the police are for. At the same time, there are many examples of cases where guns have provided protection and self-defense. Your position depends on many factors not associated with weapons per se. Therefore, here is another argument that can never be settled dogmatically, and realistically, has little to do with guns themselves.

But for those of us who five in relative isolation and security, far from police or other forms of protection, owning a gun--and knowing how to use it--can provide an important and valuable sense of security. We hope we never have to use it in this way, but then, who eagerly awaits the day when they can use the fire extinguisher or any other form of insurance? There is comfort in just knowing it's available.

This segues into what might be the most emotional, problematical, hypothetical, and certainly the most unspoken argument of all. Carry self-defense to the ultimate... speak of constitutional rights ... an armed citizenry and ready militia ... Does this suggest something too absurd, perhaps too unthinkably horrible to even whisper?

At what point are the oppressed justified in rising up against their oppressors? Even today, who can define or identify oppression: what will it be like tomorrow?

This, of course, is another topic altogether--and a mountainous one... which too many people refuse to even consider. What it comes down to is that revolt is not impossible, and that when the anti-gun forces scoff at the ready militia as being unnecessary and anachronistic because "the government" will protect "us," they're wearing blinders.

Just as many people were shocked and amazed to learn that their neighbors had firearms in their bomb shelters in the '50s, many might be surprised to discover how many more have weapons in their homes today... and why.

We might address the role of the National Rifle Association, which, in the emotional parrying, is usually depicted as a massive, rich, and powerful lobby, like a roaring locomotive set on a collision course with the real will of the American people.

Nonsense. The NRA is a coalition of about two million Americans, each paying $25 or so a year ($15 of which goes for a magazine), to an organization that supports their views. That's not coercion: it's democracy. It doesn't even begin to compare with the lobbying of, say, Big Oil, or even the AMA or the NEA, if only by dint of the number of people it represents and the paltriness of their individual contributions.

Furthermore, not all gun-lovers are NRA members. Whether we're too poor, too cheap, or we're just not joiners, the NRA certainly represents the stand of many more Americans than its numbers indicate.

The NRA is a force to be reckoned with (it's one of the three largest PACs), and it helps a volatile and emotional issue from becoming too one-sided-by sometimes being too one-sided in the opposite direction itself, which seems to be a necessity for anyone in an adversarial role today. But die power of the opposition is also considerable, as evidenced by the increased pressure being put on the NRA... and by the successes of the anti-gun forces. But take away the groups and the debate is simply between people. Democracy.

And what is it exactly that these people are debating?

Ostensibly, it's not the existence of guns. Rather, it's their use by criminals. By children. By people who are no more mentally capable of handling a firearm than they would be to drive a school bus, and by those who are no better trained to shoot than they are to pilot a jet airliner or work on a high voltage power line.

But wouldn't it make more sense to address these root problems than it would be to take the simplistic approach of throwing out the baby with the bath water?

If the debate is about the existence of guns, then most homesteaders will want to keep theirs clean and sighted in.

Guns are deadly. No one knows this better than a hunter, or anyone who has been properly trained in firearm use. We might argue that children who treat firearms as playthings should be educated about the dangers of guns, just as they're educated about playing with matches and, today, even about drugs and safe sex. And before the urbanization of America, they were--at home, where guns were a normal part of life.

I personally would hate to see the day when my grandchildren, or their children, would be denied the right to acquire shooting skills by plinking at tin cans; the pleasures of spending a day in the woods with a rifle or shotgun; the satisfaction of owning a fine precision tool; or the opportunity to use their weapons to defend themselves and their families.

The horse, which many of us miss, was replaced by the resource-squandering Earth polluting tractor and car. The one-room country school, where we at least learned to read and write, has been replaced by education factories. The vibrant small family farm has been replaced by sterile suburbs.

If gun control advocates have their way, I wonder what will replace the gun.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Belanger, Jd
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Previous Article:"The first time we did everything wrong." (homesteading)_
Next Article:.22 caliber: the homesteader's weapon.

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