The Guns in My Life

Not all gun owners are nuts.

I read something on Twitter this morning that really struck a nerve:

Monitoring? What did he mean by monitoring?

I read some of the comments and found this one:

I don’t think she meant “special” in a positive way. And that really got under my skin.

You see, I’m a gun owner. And although I like to think I’m special, I’m not special in the way Michelle seems to think all gun owners are.

And that’s why I decided to write this post. You see, I’m not the only person in my family who owns a gun and none of them are “special” in the sense that we need to be monitored.

My Father’s Guns

My father worked as a police officer in our small northern New Jersey town of Cresskill from around the time I was born in the early 1960s to his retirement. As you might expect, he owned a gun and I grew up with at least one gun in the house.

I say “at least” because I honestly don’t know how many guns he had. We were taught at a young age not to touch his gun and we didn’t. When he got home from work, he’d put it on the top shelf of a tall bookcase in the foyer or sometimes on top of the refrigerator when he came home for dinner. (He worked three different shifts: 8-4, 4-12, and “midnights” (12-8).) I knew the gun was dangerous and I knew I wasn’t supposed to touch it. I never did.

Well, that isn’t exactly true.

Every autumn, the town held what was called a “Turkey Shoot.” It was held at the local shooting range. They’d put up targets and participants would shoot. The targets were scored and the high score would win frozen turkeys. I think it was a fund raiser, but how would I know? I was a kid.

At least twice when we attended this event, my father let us shoot his gun at the target. He never handed us the gun. Instead, he held the gun with us to point and shoot. I remember it being heavy and the trigger being hard to pull. I don’t remember if I won a turkey. Again, I was a kid.

Girl Scouts

When I was in Girl Scouts, we learned to shoot rifles. This was at an indoor range in the nearby town of Tenafly (I think). The rifles were probably World War II surplus. They could hold one shot and had a bolt action. Again, I was a kid and don’t remember much about it.

I also don’t know why learning to shoot rifles was a Girl Scout activity in my area around 1970, but today I think it’s kind of cool.

I do remember that they taught us to shoot from multiple positions including prone and sitting cross-legged. I was a pretty decent shot.

My Uncle’s Guns

My uncle was a flag-waving veteran of the Korean War, although the closest he got to Korea was the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. He became quite a gun collector and kept most of them in a big gun safe down in his basement, right at the foot of the basement stairs. I vaguely remember him showing some of them to me. Most of them were collector’s items.

In his younger days, he was also a hunter. For years, he had a bearskin rug on the floor in his living room. He’d got the bear on the same trip my dad had shot a deer. (That’s when I first ate venison.)

He was a little crazy with the guns sometimes, but I don’t think he was unsafe. One day when I was just out of college, I visited his family with my boyfriend, who had a very “plain vanilla” family life. My uncle’s family was anything but “plain vanilla.” My uncle staged a fight with his son, my cousin, with my cousin yelling at him from down in the basement stairs. My uncle pulled out a gun and shot it down the stairs from the kitchen. Yes, in his house. The gunshot was loud! But the bullet was a blank. He’d apparently set the whole thing up to give my boyfriend something to talk about when he got home.

I don’t know how many guns he had, but I suspect it was more than 20. I don’t know what happened to them when he passed away.

My First Gun

I got my first gun in the early 2000s, not long after moving from the New Jersey suburbs to Arizona. My future wasband telecommuted to work back in New Jersey, which required him to be away from home 7 to 10 days every month. While he was gone, I was alone with a deaf dog in a house that creaked a lot more than I was used to. I used to lay awake at night, convinced that the creaking I was hearing was someone creeping up the stairs. Keep in mind that the house was at the end of a gravel road, pretty far from the neighbors so it wasn’t as if help could arrive quickly if there was an intruder.

At my request, my future wasband bought us a gun to keep in the bedroom. It was a 38 special revolver.

Of course, being responsible (not “special”) gun owners, we immediately sought training to make sure we could use it safely. The only training we found in the area was a Concealed Weapons Permit class. It was a weekend long and included lots of information about guns, including safety and legality. The guy who taught it with his wife — both of whom wore camouflage outfits to class — was very pro-carry. Remember, Arizona is an open carry state, meaning you can wear or carry a visible gun in most places. The concealed weapons permit enabled holders to carry a gun concealed by clothing or in a purse or backpack. Some people think this is important. I was the only woman in the class and they kept trying to convince me that I’d be safer if I carried a gun with me at all times. I said I wasn’t interested. They said, “Well, what about if you’re in a mall parking lot late at night, parked way out on the edge, and a gang of guys comes toward you.” I replied, “I’d never put myself in a situation like that. I’m not an idiot.”

The class was informative, opening my eyes to a different gun mentality than mine. It also included range time where we had to qualify before passing. Since I was the only woman in the class, I got a bit of attention. I was told that with a little practice, I could be a good shooter. Great.

A side benefit of having a concealed weapons permit was that I could worry a lot less about rules when I took my gun to the range or elsewhere. For example, suppose I’ve got the gun out of sight in my car’s glove box when I get pulled over for speeding. The gun would be considered “concealed” and without a permit to carry it that way, I could get in deep trouble. The course explained how to handle such a situation and the permit made it legal to have the gun in the glove box to begin with.

Beretta 21A Bobcat
My Beretta isn’t very practical, but it holds a place in my heart as my first gun. And yes, that’s my hand holding it.

Of course the 38 Special wasn’t really my gun. It was my future wasband’s. I wound up buying something quite a bit smaller, easier to handle, and less practical: a Beretta 21A Bobcat. It’s a semi-automatic handgun with a magazine that holds 7 22 caliber rounds. I bought it brand new in a gun shop and, yes, I did go through a background check process before it was sold to me. It’s less practical for three main reasons:

  • If I ever did have to use it to stop a serious attacker, I’d basically have to empty it into his body to stop him/her. 22 rounds aren’t very big.
  • It’s extremely picky about ammunition and will jam if I don’t buy the right stuff. A recent trip to the range for some additional training confirmed what I remembered about it: there’s a popular (and not cheap) brand of ammo it simply chokes on. No one wants a gun that will jam when it’s needed.
  • I’m not nearly as accurate firing it as I am with a bigger gun. I think that could be resolved with more practice, though.

But since I really don’t need a gun, I never saw a reason to replace it.

And it does have a nice feature that I thought was handy for horseback riding out in the desert: it’s rather unique flip up barrel makes it easy to load a single 22 long “snake shot” round. That turns the little gun into a small shotgun suitable for killing rattlesnakes or deterring coyotes out on the trail.

My wasband eventually replaced the 38 special with a Glock. I don’t know which one, but I do know that I was more accurate with the Glock than the Beretta.

The Big Sandy Shoot

As I’ve blogged about here and here, there’s a twice-yearly event called the Big Sandy Shoot, which his held on some private property in the middle of the Arizona desert. It’s a gathering of gun enthusiasts who get to fire a wide range of weapons at reactive targets. There are strict safety rules with range officers to enforce them. No one gets hurt, although the tracer rounds they use at night have been known to start fires.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, a “reactive target” is one that literally explodes when hit.

These are hobbyists, mostly, although I suspect more than a few of them are “special.” (Ever see a cannon made out of a fire extinguisher that fires bowling balls? I have.) They’re really into their guns and showing off. It’s interesting, but a bit too hard core for my taste. Since I’ve already blogged about it, I’ll let you read those blog posts to learn how crazy it is.

My Brother’s Guns

My brother shoots for a hobby. He owns fifteen guns — as he just informed me in answer to my texted question — and he’s quite proficient using them. He regularly competes using an STI Edge handgun. According to him:

It’s specifically for competition. I have different barrels for it so I can shoot 9mm, .40 Cal and .22 with it.

My shotgun is a Benelli M2 and my rifle was built by a company called JP

Back in 2013, when I was visiting my brother and his wife, I went with them to one of their competitions. (They both shoot.) It was professionally managed and extremely safety oriented. Rules were followed with no exception — range officers made sure of it. I could see why he enjoyed it. It was challenging stuff, with a variety of target types and scenarios. It got him outdoors year-round, with other people who enjoyed the same hobby. Beats parking his ass on a sofa watching TV, no?

Keep in mind that my brother lives in New Jersey where gun laws are pretty strict. (My uncle lived in New Jersey, too.) I don’t know the details on how he’s required to register, store, transport, or shoot them. But I do know that he competes all along the eastern seaboard.

He and his wife divorced a few years ago. They still see each other occasionally at the range and at competitions.

I tried to find a YouTube video of him shooting but came up empty. He sent me a 30-second video of himself at a competition shooting a rifle but I don’t think it’s up to me to share it online. If he sends me a YouTube link, I’ll add it to this post.

My Shotgun

Concealed Carry Permit
I got a concealed carry permit good for Washington State when I moved here.

When I moved to Washington state, which I believe is also an open carry state, I brought my little Beretta with me. Then I did the paperwork to get a concealed carry permit here. It’s actually easier here than in Arizona; no class is required. (I think that’s wrong.) I carry it in my wallet, even though I don’t carry the gun.

Reminton 870
My Remington 870 Tactical shotgun. I had it sitting by the front deck door with a box of ammo for weeks after the second dog attack.

But when I started having serious worries about coyotes coming into my property to steal chickens or possibly my dog, I started thinking that maybe I needed a more practical weapon. And when my neighbor’s dog got into my chicken yard and slaughtered a total of 18 laying hens and two roosters (over two visits), I made my decision. I bought a shotgun.

The shotgun I bought was a Remington 870 Tactical. It’s a pump action 12-gauge shotgun that can hold 7 rounds. (I don’t keep it loaded.) And no kidding here: I bought it at a local store called Hooked on Toys and yes, they did do a background check on me before completing the sale.

Once again, I took it (and my Beretta) to the range to work with an instructor. A friend and I actually took a course together. The course was created by the NRA and had NRA materials, but the instructor was not an NRA employee and he assured us that the educational and political arms of the NRA are completely separate. (Although I thought that was okay at the time, I now want absolutely nothing to do with the NRA and will never pay for anything if there’s any possibility that part of my money might go to the NRA.) The course was informative and I got a chance to learn how to shoot the shotgun. I discovered that the kickback with the butt against my shoulder hurts like hell and I can be pretty accurate shooting from the hip. Hell, if you can’t hit a target with a shotgun, you probably shouldn’t be shooting a gun at all.

Fortunately, the neighbor’s dog has not returned. Could I shoot it? I don’t know. But the Animal Control folks say it’s legal for me to do so, as long as I kill it.

Not All Gun Owners are Dangerous Nuts

You might be able to see why I was bugged by Michelle’s tweet above. As you might imagine, I didn’t let it go uncommented:

But she’s not the only one making uninformed comments about gun owners. There’s a lot of it going around right now. It happens after every mass shooting.

And although I am a gun owner and have insight why other people own guns, I agree that we need to have some common-sense gun control laws. At a minimum, we need:

  • A ban on all guns and accessories that make it possible to fire more than 10 rounds without reloading. These devices should be absolutely illegal to own, let alone sell or use. There is absolutely no reason anyone needs this kind of equipment.
  • Registration for all guns, including those sold in secondary markets such as gun shows or private sales. If you own a gun, it should be registered. Period.
  • Background checks for all gun owners. The check should be done before each gun is purchased and should include criminal activity, domestic violence complaints, and mental health checks.
  • Training requirement for all gun owners. Before you purchase a gun, you should be required to take a qualified class in its use and operation and have a certificate to prove that you’ve taken the class. Additional refresher course training should be required periodically, perhaps every five years.

I don’t believe guns are bad. I believe people are bad. I also believe that we should not make it easy for bad people to do bad things with guns.

The situation we have in this country is absurd, with different laws in every state, many of which make it all too easy for people who are crazy to obtain weapons of mass killing capabilities — like the bump stock the Las Vegas shooter used to fire over 500 rounds without reloading. How can anyone think that’s okay?

The Second Amendment was written in a time when a high-tech gun fired one shot at a time. The Founding Fathers likely never imagined the kind of carnage that could be done with today’s weapons, so it’s pretty silly to keep referring to our “right” to have these kinds of weapons.

And no, a good guy with a gun isn’t the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun. It’s a good way for others to be injured in a crossfire or for the “good guy” to get mistaken for a bad guy and gunned down by police.

And yes, I’m a gun owner. But if the only solution to the gun violence epidemic in this country was to take away everyone’s gun — as they have done in other civilized countries — I’d hand mine over in a heartbeat.

Comments?

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When Lifelong Republicans become Democrats

Look into your heart, Republicans. You may see what this man saw.

I saw an interesting tweet this morning and clicked the link to see what it was all about. Just as the title suggests, it’s an essay by political blogger and activist, Bob Schneider, author of the Politics Now column on the Chicago Now website, who has recently given up on the Republican party.

There’s a lot that makes me — someone who leans left — really happy about what this conservative had to say:

  • He talks about why he was a Republican for so many years. This helps me understand where Republicans are coming from. I’ve heard versions of his story before.
  • He clearly understands why, in today’s U.S. political system, there are only two parties that matter. If you don’t understand why, read his explanation. (Please don’t use the comments for this post to whine to me about it.)
  • He explains what drove him to make the jump from Republican to Democrat. It’s the same stuff we’re all seeing: dishonesty, betrayal, corruption.
  • He explains, in his section headed “Why I left the GOP,” exactly what Republican viewpoints turn him off. This list is the best part of the essay and, if you only have time to read part of it, read this part. He’s nailed it all, from the GOP’s view on the poor to their xenophobia and outright racism to their hatred of education and science.
  • He lists the reasons why he joined the Democratic party. For the most part, it’s the same reason I finally signed up as a Democrat last year. (I’d always been independent but I wanted to vote in primaries.)

This essay isn’t new. It dates back to July. I’m not quite sure why he tweeted about it today. Maybe it’s because there are additional essays available that refer to it.

It doesn’t really matter that it’s two months old. What matters is that he wrote it and he published it under his own name and he’s someone with a good political following. What matters is that it might help other Republicans do some soul searching and admit to themselves that the GOP isn’t exactly in line with their own personal convictions, especially about how other people should be treated.

Personally, I don’t care if someone is a Republican or a Democrat as long as they are capable of thinking for themselves based on factual information and doing the right thing. Blindly voting for party candidates, even when you know they’re “dumb as a rock,” as

I honestly believe that if far right nut jobs and their media outlets — yes, I’m talking about Bannon/Breitbart, Hannity/Fox News, Jones/Infowars, Limbaugh, etc., etc. — would just STFU or start presenting unadulterated facts for listener/viewer consideration, anyone with a brain would realize how bad things have become in the GOP and politics in general.

It shouldn’t be us vs. them. It should be us.

Got something to add? Great! Use the comments link for this post. But please don’t comment unless you’ve read Mr. Schneider’s essay first. I think you’ll find it as enlightening as I did, no matter how you vote.

What’s Wrong with Being “Politically Correct”?

I’m tired of being criticized for being civil — and you should be, too.

I was at an impromptu neighborhood gathering the other day.

Most of the people in the group were thinking people who understand the difference between right and wrong and the importance of having a civil society where we work together to make the country a better place for all of us. But one couple among us had many of the ideas espoused by Fox News and other right-wing media: that the country’s problems can be blamed on high taxes, handouts to poor people, and, of course, immigrants. Since they were hosting the gathering (in an offhand way that really doesn’t matter for this discussion) the rest of us were walking on eggshells, afraid to say anything that would “set them off.”

You can probably guess how each of us feel about Trump being president. And if you’re not a Trump supporter but are friends with or related to people who are, I’m sure you know exactly what I mean about “setting them off.” These days, it’s difficult to maintain a friendship with people in the opposite camp any time politics comes up. Simply said, those who don’t support Trump think Trump supporters are either stupid, gullible, racist, greedy, or crazy. Or a combination of some of those things. I suspect Trump supporters think Trump detractors are just plain dumb.

It’s unfortunate that we have to go through the exercise of a Trump presidency for history to report which group was correct.

Slurs from our Childhood

Brazil Nuts
Public domain image of Brazil nuts from Wikipedia.

I don’t remember exactly how — I think it all started with rhymes we knew as kids that would not be acceptable in today’s society — but the topic of conversation turned to racial slurs. If you’re white and you’re old enough, you might remember certain phrases being quite common. It suddenly became a competition to list the common names for everyday things that would no longer be considered acceptable in polite society. (The one for Brazil nuts is a good example; Google it.) Then came company ad slogans and imagery. I admit that I hadn’t heard or seen many of them. I’m a bit younger than the others and maybe the fact that I had black friends and neighbors when I was a kid made it unwise for adults to mention such words and phrases in front of me. Growing up in the New York City Metro area probably had a bit to do with it, too.

(A side note here. I was born in 1961. Even in the late 60s and early 70s, my formative years, I had an idea of what a racial slur was. I clearly remember the day that one of my fourth grade classmates called one of my black friends a nigger in my presence. I nearly got into a fistfight with him and he didn’t do it again.)

Of course, a discussion like this is fuel for right wingers, who immediately start talking about how the country is “too politically correct now” and “people are afraid to say what they think.” And, of course, the husband of the Trump-supporting couple started going that way. He spoke up: “You can’t say those things now because it’s not politically correct.” He made sure to pronounce those last two words with as much scorn and ridicule as he could throw into their syllables.

I was already pretty much out of the conversation, not having anything to contribute and not wanting to contribute anything anyway. I honestly found the entire conversation disturbing and even rather shameful. But alarm bells were going off in my head. It was a nice afternoon and I was enjoying a glass of wine with people I mostly liked. (Yes, I even liked the Trump supporters when they didn’t talk about their political beliefs.) If the conversation went political, I’d have to make a quick exit and I really didn’t want to gulp the rest of my wine.

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one hearing silent alarm bells. The group got quiet for a moment. Then someone else who had been in the conversation skillfully steered it in another direction. I breathed a sign of relief and joined the new conversation, eager to leave the old one behind.

Political Correctness Explained

I don’t remember when the phrase politically correct came into general use in this country. I’d Google it, but as I type this I’m sitting at a campground picnic table without any possibility of an Internet connection. I did use the dictionary built into my little MacBook Air to see what it would tell me. Surprisingly, it came up with a quote from Michael Dirda that says pretty much what I wanted to explain. I’ll let him say it for me:

The tediously overworked phrase politically correct can be used only with a smile, whether of irony or slightly embarrassed affection. Originally, the politically correct were those who ardently championed the rights of women, people of color, homosexuals, and other long-marginalized groups. But politically correct rapidly came to be associated with adherents who were overscrupulous in these observances, in short, zealots. Today most people recognize the fundamental justice of many, if not all, the legal and social advances linked to political correctness, but no one really cares to be called PC. The fight has largely been won, at least de jure if not always de facto, and so the term now sounds a bit old-fashioned, and usually carries an undertone of mild vexation or benign indulgence: Oh, Joan, she’s so politically correct!

I don’t know when Mr. Dirda wrote that, but in recent years, politically correct has taken another turn. It has been co-opted by the right to be slung as an insult to those on the left. These people don’t seem to recognize the justice of social advances linked to political correctness, as Mr. Dirda believes most people do. To them, political correctness is a farce — something to be laughed at.

And that’s a real shame.

Some Ideas are Incorrect

View from the Cheap Seats
Great book of essays that really make you think.

What got me thinking about this today, as I sit in a nearly deserted campground looking out at a secluded mountain lake in a smoky National Forest, is the very first essay in Neil Gaiman’s nonfiction compilation, The View from the Cheap Seats. That’s what I was reading just moments ago, while sitting in a folding chair facing out over the lake. Called “Credo,” it begins by talking about ideas. I don’t know where it goes from there — something on its very first page got me thinking about political correctness and I stopped reading while the idea to write this took control of me.

What triggered this overwhelming desire to write an essay about political correctness? This:

I believe that ideas do not have to be correct to exist.

How timely! This book was published in 2016, yet within the past month the war of ideas — both right and wrong — has been going strong. Charlottesville brought part of it front and center with a large gathering of Nazis, KKK members, and other white supremacists. This brought out protesters opposing their hate speech and resulted in violence when the two factions clashed, culminating in a senseless death and injuries of protesters when a white supremacist allegedly drove his car into them on purpose.

I think it’s an understatement to say that the ideas of Nazism and white supremacy are incorrect. Countless people around the world agree. These ideas are hateful and certainly un-American. America fought wars against these ideas and won. And, if need be, I’m sure we wouldn’t hesitate to fight them again.

The President of the United States should be, among other things, a moral leader who publicly, in no uncertain terms, condemns things that are widely accepted as un-American and downright wrong. Every president before him has done this after every American tragedy brought on by a difference in ideas — whether it’s Lincoln’s stand against slavery or Obama’s comments following the racially motivated shooting of elderly people at a church prayer meeting in Charleston.

Trump’s failure to condemn Nazis and white supremacists, in part, supports the view of his rabid followers that political correctness simply doesn’t matter. It also gives a boost to those who are pushing their morally wrong ideas, sending a message that their harmful, divisive views can be just as acceptable as those of the people who protest against them. It supports political incorrectness.

(And don’t try to tell me that morals should be left to religious leaders. Doing so reveals your own prejudices against those who don’t practice a religion — a growing percentage of the population throughout the world, including many of your neighbors, co-workers, and even friends and family members. Many of these people have higher moral standards than so many of the church leaders you look up to.)

The Importance of Political Correctness in Civil Society

Let me go back to our neighborhood gathering.

The racial slurs we talked about that weren’t necessarily recognized as such by white Americans in the 1950s and 1960s are still hurtful and wrong, especially today when we have a better grasp of how they affect the people they disparage. That’s what makes them politically incorrect. Is there anything wrong with that?

Are the people who mock those of us who try to be politically correct telling us that it’s okay be hurtful? That we can — or should — use language charged with racism or hate to inflict pain on our fellow men and women?

After all, isn’t that what political correctness is all about? Being sensitive to the feelings of other people?

And isn’t that a cornerstone of civilized society? Simply caring about our fellow man enough to have the courtesy not to insult or hurt him with words?

We don’t tolerate bullying in our school systems. Why should we tolerate it as adults in our everyday lives? Isn’t it the same? Using language or actions to spread hate and demean other people?

Isn’t being politically correct the same as being kind and civil?

What’s wrong with that?

Stop the Hate

There is an overabundance of hate and intolerance in today’s world. It has overwhelmed us, it permeates every fiber of our daily lives. It’s eating away at us from the inside, chewing away at our brains, making us blind to what’s good about other people and the world we live in. It’s stopping us from moving forward as a society; it’s preventing us from embracing our differences, learning from each other, and working together to make a better world.

We have the ability to stop it in its tracks. Being politically correct — not saying hurtful things to or about others — is a good way to start.

So yes, I’ll do my part. I’ll try to be politically correct — and be proud of it.