April 1998
s m u g
smoking jacket
by Jack Smith

After a tragedy involving a firearm either intentional or accidental, the blame falls one of two places: on the gun or on society. I've searched for another cause like the quadratic equation or the most recent Van Halen album. However, the demarcation is in the sand and it's shaking out to be an either/or with Smith and Wesson vs. the remnants of a common societal value set.

When a school kid opens fire on classmates everyone jumps on the bandwagon barrelling toward strict regulation. It's knee jerk, certainly, with the gun banners riding the press monkey to push through their agenda. Jeremy spoke in class, today, and ruined recess for the rest of us.

I love guns but I only have a few. Fortunately my fondness for firearms hasn't reached the 'special' love that some cops possess. It's more like a crush that you have on an ex-girlfriend that returns every time you see her and dissipates when she chases you out of the bushes in front of her house.

I got my first gun at 11. In Kentucky it's a focal point of the culture. I felt like a man when my grandfather handed me an HR .410 shotgun. I'd been hunting with my dad since I was 9 or so but this was different. This shotgun was my own. Dad taught me as his father taught him the two most important rules of firearms: treat every gun as if it's loaded and don't point a gun at anyone unless you plan on killing them. These tenets were drilled into my head and I can say that knowing how to respect firearms was the first grown-up responsibility I ever had. All other adult responsibilities I gained after this. So, these lessons were pretty crucial to my development. To this day I have a problem with pointing even a water pistol at someone.

I no longer live in Kentucky and it's strange to watch the news when I visit my family. Lately, during each visit there's been at least one hostage situation that involves the same cast of characters: a guy with no shirt brandishing a cheap pistol, his mall-banged ex-girlfriend, and Sheriff Lobo - in the same location (in a trailer a mile up some holler in a poor county), with the same outcome (the guy with no shirt surrenders after sobering up).

There have been two other incidents in Kentucky in recent years, one in Paducah and one in Carter County, that made me question my own pro-gun stance. In each situation kids bring a piece to class and cap a few people. Kentucky's public schools are not the finest in the nation and most people who went to school there only want to kill their high school teachers after they take Calculus in college and realize how much of the educational shaft they got. My questions about my pro-gun attitude don't revolve so much around the guns themselves but around the parent's difficulty or complete inability to instill any sort of meaningful responsibility in their kids. It's certainly harder than it's ever been.

The most interesting point of my own personal gun education was when my dad taught me what would happen if I actually shot someone. We did this by killing a squirrel. I shot a squirrel with my brand new shotgun. I went over to pick it up and part of it's head was missing with brains oozing and bits of squirrel skull scattered about. Dad told me that that was what happened when you pointed a gun at someone and pulled the trigger. It wasn't like it was on television. And if I wasn't careful and respectful of my gun that I could do that to him or to my mom or my sister or myself. It was a powerful moment that I haven't forgotten.

TV and the Internet are continually removing us from the flesh. We're operating on remote control with an inability to feel and empathize. We hurt less than we ever have because our experiences are increasingly mediated. It was only the shock of killing something that truly made me realize what goes into the decision to point a gun at someone and pull the trigger. It's a shock of recognition that two kids in Arkansas jail cells should've learned earlier and are only now beginning to understand.


write to jack@smug.com


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