Guns are only objects.
Sometimes they are beautiful objects. The craftsmanship of a Purdey over and under is easily on par with that of a vintage sports car. The sci-fi sensibility of an FN P90 is just jaw-droppingly cool. Even the spare lines of a Glock hold a purposeful energy. There’s a deliberate lack of ornamentation. It is as clean as a racing bike and as functional as a pocket watch. Appreciating the skill and purpose woven into these creations of steel, brass and sandalwood doesn’t require you to be a misanthrope.
I own a few guns. There’s a tiny .25 revolver left to me in the will of a maiden aunt who, so far as I can tell, never removed it from the box she used to bring it home. There’s a Colt Navy large enough, heavy enough, and ancient enough to please Roland Deschain. I also have a slender .22 rifle that cost somewhere under $ 50 in my youth and a trio of shotguns including a model 1898 Marlin that belonged to my grandfather. The broken stock of that last item is literally held together by bailing wire and the deeply blued barrel has dispatched so many squirrels, rabbits and possums over the years that the end of it has thinned to fretwork. This too is a beautiful thing; a working tool, still ready to do the task it was designed for a century after it was made and more than 30 years after the man who handed it to me left this life.
These items have a purpose. I don’t think I’ve harmed a furry critter in several years, but I have sighted down on rabbits, no matter how cute, and knocked quail out of an autumn sky. I have even shot a deer with a rifled slug fired from that old shotgun on a terrifically cold winter morning. Once. It’s been a long time, but one of these days, I may take up these old objects and shamble off to lean up against an oak where the squirrels are chattering. Maybe when I have a grandson of my own to take along. I expect my grandfather’s gun will be ready when I am.
There’s another purpose to these objects, of course. Any one of these guns, even the toy-sized little pistol and my boyhood tin can plinker, would easily serve to kill a human being. I have, thank God, been given the good luck to never have to sight down the barrel toward another person in fear or anger, and the good sense to never do so on a whim. I would very much like to believe that situation will not change. Still, the potential for destruction of life is there—just as it is there with every knife in the kitchen and every car in the driveway.
These, after all, are only objects, and no matter how trite it seems they really don’t kill people. What they do is make it easier to kill people. And much, much easier to kill people in numbers.
Numbers like the 12 who died when James Eagan Holmes opened fire in Colorado last week. Numbers like the five who died when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire at Gabby Gifford’s “Congress on your corner” event. Numbers like the 23 who died when George Hennard opened fire in a Luby’s Restaurant in Killeen, Texas.
Events like these generate understandable grief, considerable shock and immediate outrage. They also bring on outrageous comments from the organization that represents the greatest threat to gun ownership in the United States, the National Rifle Association.
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