I have a mixed relationship with guns. On my Mother’s side, her parents had a Korean War era bolt action rifle propped up behind the floor lamp that stood to one side of their fireplace. A few feet in one direction from the gun was an RCA color TV in a wooden cabinet- a few feet in another direction was a bowl on a glass covered coffee table which was filled with a variety of hard candies and silver-wrapped Hershey’s kisses. In truth, while I knew the rifle was there, I generally paid more attention to the candy bowl and the TV set, not worrying very much about the dental consequences of the one indulgence, and being continually baffled when we returned home and inspected the backside of our television as to why we could only get a picture on it that was black and white.
On our Sunday visits to my Dad’s parent’s house, usually for pot roast and potatoes, there was a very different piece of history on their fireplace hearth. It was a rectangular box with a pivoting metal handle. All sides of this box had regularly spaced holes in it, which I learned, at some point, were there to let air in and heat out, as this was intended for use as a foot warmer in horse drawn carriages. Apparently one scooped ashes, or perhaps smoldering coals, into the metal box within the box and placed it under one’s feet (presumably there was a lap blanket involved here as well to help contain the warmth) when heading out on a chilly carriage ride, or perhaps on a winter dash-about in a one- horse, open sleigh. There was also a round, metal Chinese checkers board with regularly spaced indents in it to keep the glass marbles you played the game with in place. I do not remember ever actually playing the game, but I do recall the noise that the marbles made when they were poured onto the metal disc playing board. These grandparents did not have a television or a radio, and there was never any candy bowl anywhere in sight. When I got that Johnny 7 One Man Army gun for my birthday, it was these grandparents that were not supposed to be told about it. My Mother’s brother gave me my first single shot .22 rifle. To a certain degree, mine was in some ways a conflicted youth.
I learned to shoot a .22 rifle at my uncle’s hunting cabin in the Catskill mountains of New York. There was a lot of space there, and he had set up a plywood platform that one could climb on to and shoot from the prone position at a target on the uphill part of the field it was in, so that bullets had nowhere to go except into the wood-reinforced backstop, or perhaps into the dirt beyond the back of the target. We never shot at animals- I never went hunting, except for once during bow and arrow season when I sat for hours along a deer path waiting for something. When the something came along in the form of a doe and her fawn, I stood up slowly and drew the bow back carefully, only to find myself shaking so violently my arrow, when released, wasn’t even close to hitting a mark. Buck fever is an odd reaction- if I had been starving my reaction might have been different, or not. I don’t know if I could have pulled a trigger on a gun in the same situation, and I haven’t put myself in a hunting circumstance since then to find out.
As far as shootin’ for shootin’s sake goes, I have a hard time getting that one. I can understand shooting ranges and practicing to become a more accurate marksperson, but going out and ripping off either a few or a bunch of rounds has never registered on my radar as something worth indulging in. I do find watching video of wanton shootin’ for no apparent reason to be occasionally humorous, like some of the footage from the very early days of Burning Man, way before it became an over-commodified, high school-like kegger, back when guns on the playa were allowed and couches weren’t motorized and driven, but were the targets in drive by AK-47 shootings. But to tell the truth, having one’s neighbor rip off a few rounds at any hour of the day- 2pm, 10pm and 3am come to mind as gun events of record- becomes unnerving on a now seemingly unending basis.