Making my day as a liberal, middle-class gun owner

May 19, 2000|By Robert Lee Mahon

UNION, Mo. -- I'm 53, white, male, middle-class and an English teacher with a doctorate.

I'm married (twice) and come complete with kids, stepkids and an attitude so liberal I almost carry the cards: I vote left, think Gore Vidal and the ACLU are fine American institutions and get junk mail from Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Federation. If I were a couple of years younger and a lot more affluent, I'd be a yuppie.

And I'm a member of the National Rifle Association.

I joined more for the magazine and the conversations my NRA bumper sticker would start than for the organization. But I confess to being a lifelong shooter and gun collector. At one point I even had a federal license that permitted me to deal in firearms.

In other words, I'm one of "them." That bunch of .44-Magnum-toting, pickup-trucking, Busch-drinking, baseball cap-wearing, Commie-hating, right-winging, "Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People" bumper-sticking, assault rifle-wielding good ole boys.

Admittedly, guns -- and stereotypes -- make for strange partners. Still, while you wouldn't believe it from listening to the official line, some of us can occasionally think logically about the right to bear arms.

Not all of us consider all of you city-slicking, Commie-loving bleeding hearts intent on disarming real Americans. In fact, far from mistrusting your good intentions, we'll admit they're based on some sound premises.

For instance, guns are dangerous. Very dangerous. They kill much more efficiently than any other form of weapon, which both explains and justifies many of those statistics you toss at us about murder rates and accidental deaths.

Bumper stickers aside, a firearm makes killing a lot easier. A maniac and a knife just aren't going to get their quota of kindergarten tots nearly as quickly as a partnership that features an AK-47.

And accidents? Despite being safety-conscious (and most of us are; the NRA's not exaggerating here), almost every gun owner has his "almost" horror story to tell.

I know a judge, for example, who shot himself in the foot while cleaning his prized .45, and I once put a .357 slug through my living room wall while loading a rifle. (Yes, inside my house.)

A third admission: A gun is all but useless for defense -- whether of home, virtue or self. Either it's not around when you need it or it's not ready to use.

And most of us are not up to playing Dirty Harry in the presence of a prowler. Unlike Harry, first I've got to find the damn thing, and then find the ammo for it, and then mate the two -- and all this in the dark? I might as well go back to bed, pull the covers over my head and hope the guy's only interested in TVs and video recorders.

Most enthusiasts, you see, are neither competitive shooters, professional gunners of any sort or even hard-core hunters. Instead, like me, they're part-time plinkers, casual collectors and occasional nimrods, no more capable of self-defense against armed intruders than of piloting the space shuttle.

We do not keep our assault rifles loaded in expectation of making the National Rifleman's "Armed Citizen" column, and the closest most of us ever want to get to violence is a Clint Eastwood movie.

So what's a nice guy like me doing in a place like this?

In other words, why do I love guns? My firearms are more than just weapons; they are things of beauty.

And before you snicker, consider. In an age of all things shoddy, the handgun, the rifle and shotgun remain benchmarks of craftsmanship, reliability and that marriage of form and function that hallmarks superior design.

The guns hanging on my wall will outlast me, as some of them have already outlasted previous owners; further, they have done (and will do) so while doing supremely well what they were made to do.

Human males, like it or not, are drawn to weapons, and the firearm is simply the ultimate weapon. Modern man, as has been pointed out hundreds of times, has no rational need of weapons. And so, logically, you argue that access to guns should be limited to those officials, like the police, who do.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Having no need of weapons for actual defense or legitimate aggression does not mean having no need of weapons. That need, in fact, may be even greater when its only legitimate expression comes from blowing away beer cans on a Saturday afternoon.

How about power?

My AR-15 is a concrete reminder that my government's power does, indeed, spring from me. In retaining it, I retain some of the power.

Robert Lee Mahon teaches English at East Central College in Union, Mo. This article first appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.

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