“I wish we had an automated phone line like ‘if you want to buy a Bushmaster please press one.' And then, when they pressed one the message would be ‘we don’t have any frickin’ Bushmasters and we’re fresh outta AR15’s!’”
Everybody was gunnin’ up and the cupboard was bare. A box of .22 cartridges would have died of loneliness; there was more lead in the paint on the walls than on the ammo shelves. You would have thought an invasion fleet of Canadians was paddling across the Detroit River on rafts made of Labatt’s beer kegs, wielding Wayne Greztky signature edition hockey sticks to club us to death.
Most Americans need an assault rifle like an earthworm needs a new pair of basketball shoes. But the danger has never been more clear and present. Twenty young children, six adults had been splattered all over an elementary school and now folks had ants in their pants to be the first—possibly the last--on their block to own the make and model of the weapon used to slaughter them.
How do you explain that to your kids? “Remember when your little friend got run over by that drunk driver in a Land Rover? Sure, we could have joined MADD but instead your mother and I started drinking tequila and driving an identical Land Rover to make sure that would never, ever happen again, Honey! I bought this gun to protect you from all the other people who have guns just like this!”
I have a few guns, old clunkers. I don’t shoot much, mainly because after firing a weapon you have to pamper it, clean it like it’s a month old baby mongoose. It’s a pain in the ass for a lazy man, more work than the puerile pleasure of punching a few holes in the smirking paper faces of Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck warrants.
I’ve heard the argument that gun ownership teaches responsibility, moderation. Perhaps. Some people carry a weapon like others tote a Bible, as though wielding the artifact confers some sort of moral authority. But the gun is not only a symbol of power; it's the vessel containing it and the delivery system.
In the 90’s I bought some property in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. While visiting there I ran across a guy teaching his kid to shoot a pistol in a sand pit on the property. I introduced myself, explained that I was the new owner. He couldn’t put the gun down long enough to shake my hand. He let me know that his family had been shooting there for years. I let him know that I bought the place and that maybe it was time for his boot heels to be a wanderin’. I didn’t get up in his personal space yet I was somehow too close for his comfort. We did a weird kind of dance as we talked, him always staying far enough away to draw down on me like we were in the Old West. “Dude, are you gonna shoot me for buying this property?” He looked at me like it was a possibility.
They left. Sadly the takeaway for the kid didn’t include picking up the brass and target garbage lying on the ground. The lesson was this: possessing a weapon allowed one to intimidate, trample another’s property rights and entitled one to indignation and embitterment at the suggestion that perhaps this behavior was wrong.
The problem is a human one. We are born to excess, educated—sometimes--to moderation. We’re compelled to explore the ultimate capability of ourselves and our creations at damn near any cost to others and ourselves. A five hundred horsepower car doesn’t exist to idle down to the 7-11 for a lotto ticket and a Slurpee. It wasn’t enough to drop one atomic bomb on Japan; we had to go with two, just to be sure they got the point. The first ten rounds in a thirty round clip are as unimportant as the first two inches of an erection. There is more to come and more is always better. Use it all or lose it all.A friend had an AK-47 with a drum magazine that held fifty rounds. It was so heavy he could barely lift it let alone accurately aim and fire it. He lit it up once and put it down forever. It was the ATM rather than the ATF that KO’d his AK; my Bud couldn’t afford to shoot it. He traded it for an accordion and a book by the Dalai Lama and started getting laid more regularly. He’s a happier man.
How many magazines are enough? A relative of mine spent a formative teenage year schlepping an M-16 through some of Vietnam’s most scenic landscapes. By the end of his tour as a tracker he was carrying forty-seven, twenty round ammunition clips. Why forty-seven? “People were shooting at me! I would have carried more but I only weighed a hundred and forty pounds myself!”
Never mind that the last time he was shot at Americans were still puffing filterless Lucky Strikes and tooling around in Ramblers, he’s now scrambling to buy a one hundred round drum magazine while he still can. Just in case.
At least his paranoia has historical roots. How do I justify my own?
I just sold a truck to a guy. I put a beater on craigslist and had eight emails the next morning. “Meet the guy at Tim Horton’s,” my Sweetie told me. “I don’t want to buy him a donut, I want to sell him a jalopy.” “No, Jackass,” she said, “he might be an internet predator. Meet him in a public place so he can’t club you and ass rape you!”
He was a carpenter, a gentle schlub, one of those guys who maintained his innocence despite evidence that this was a hard way to go through life. In a different time he might have been considered a holy fool. Now he was just another post-industrial bottom feeder. He gave me three hundred bucks down and begged me not to rip him off while he scrounged up the remainder.
He was coming to pick up the truck the next day. It was just easier to meet at my house and I gave him the address.
Then the paranoia started trickling down my back.
What if I read this guy wrong? What if he was a Tarantinoesque psychopath? This had never happened to me before. I had pretty much gone wherever I chose, felt safe traversing some very unsavory neighborhoods from Detroit to Dakar without any weapon other than my own disarming, good natured ignorance. “God protects drunks, fools and small children”; I had gold medals in two of these categories but now I was old and sober and lived in my Sweetie’s house, a nice house with nice things in a nice neighborhood. And I had invited an internet pervert, an ass-raper across the threshold!
Thank God I had a hand gun! Should I conceal it or open carry? I had a holster but it was right handed and I’m a lefty. How the hell could that work? And the gun was only a puny little .22! Would the perv and his henchman—now there were henchmen—just laugh as they brandished their Really Big Guns and blasted my kneecaps?
This was a lot of grief over a six hundred dollar truck. I decided to trust my instincts. Besides, I couldn’t find where I hid the bullets.
The guy and his buddy wheeled up the drive in a Honda Element with a skyscraping whip antenna that looked like it could be used to communicate with the planet Tauron 6. They appeared in a cloud of cigarette smoke and modern country music like two slightly goofy hillbilly genies and we started yakking about CB radios, deer hunting, Kentucky, bicycles and the guy accidentally gave me a hundred bucks too much and I gave it back to him. He thanked me for selling him a truck with only two hundred and sixteen thousand miles and they vanished in a cloud of oily exhaust.
And to think I almost had to shoot them.
Why are so many of us—hunkered in our man caves, munching Doritos, sucking Bud Light, slapping the pony while watching 3D cable porn with Dolby Surround Sound—embracing the illusion we are as threatened as khat chewing Somalis squatting alongside their AK’s, listening to a Blackhawk’s rotors slicing the dusty sky above Mogadishu? It’s just Captain Tim slurping a Starbuck’s in fucking Traffic Chopper Seven, Boys, not the dreaded Black U.N. Helicopters!Anyone who's seen a picture of his house on Google Earth and truly believes the government is after him should be digging a deep, deep hole. All the AR's and ammo in the world won't save his ass from a drone strike. The Ruby Ridges and Waco's of the future may be just a mysterious series of pesky and unexplained natural gas explosions augmented by an impressive fireworks display when another hoard of ammo lights up.
On YouTube there's now a dude looking like an escapee from a WWE breeding program, calling for White Man’s Jihad, civil war. Against who? I’m not a fan of gun-toting authority but I’m even less so of camo-wearing, barking-at-the-moon lunatics with the Second Amendment tattooed across their asses and survival-of-the-fittest lodged in their wilted hearts (Sorry, Ted). Strangely, the black man who wants to take our guns seems more rational and less threatening than my locked and loaded, loudmouthed brethren.
It can only get weirder. As Leonard Cohen sang, we’re guided by the beauty of our weapons. Guns are currently too big to fail in our cultural imagination, the stories we like to tell ourselves about rugged individualism, the redcoats running from the ringing of the rifles, God creating men but Colt making them equal. Uncounted Native Americans murdered through the centuries, black kids capped daily in Detroit, L.A., Chicago, little kids blown to hell all over Afghanistan and Iraq don’t count as much as the freshly slaughtered twenty kids of Sandy Hook. The former are ignored but the latter disrupt—temporarily—the myth of who we think we are.
Maybe the world did end in December. Maybe it’s a good thing, an old world of violence slowly giving way to something better. Or maybe we’re devolving, sliding back into nature red in tooth and claw, too afraid to drop our weapons and pull each other free of the primordial ooze bubbling at our feet.
Or maybe it’s just the same old game. Lace up your new shoes and get ready to play.