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Sunday, June 28, 2009


Two Fridays ago my son and I went for a swimming workout. He comes along mostly just to humor me. It was the first day of his summer vacation, but he wasn't enjoying himself, so I felt bad for him. I actually felt bad enough to take him afterward to a place I despise but he enjoys: the firing range.

When we got there and Johnny had to choose a gun, he of course opted for a .357 Magnum. Johnny's not 18 yet, so I had to go into the gallery with him. We'd been there before, and once again, I found the entire experience extremely unpleasant. Each time he pulled the trigger, there was a very bright flash, and a mini-explosion. Even with ear muffs, the noise was painfully loud. I could feel the shock waves from the gun in my hair, my chest, and even in my hips. Every shot felt like a small grenade going off at fairly close quarters.

I found the thought of one of those bullets entering my body -- the purpose for which they were designed -- highly unappealing. And all it would have taken was one of these people in the range turning to the side before he pulled the trigger, instead of facing front as he was supposed to.

What kind of people are attracted to this stuff? The guys I saw at the range (and the gun shop connected to it) looked fairly normal. None would have attracted a second look had I passed them on the street. Of course, in the context of the shooting range, my first thought was "sickos." I found myself wondering briefly about why each of them was there.

But my son wanted to be there, too, and he's not a sicko. (He has no interest in hunting, and finds the idea of killing animals highly unsporting.) He loves guns, though. After each round of six shots, he would turn around and look at me with a big smile on his face. (I would wince back.) After we left, he said several times that when he's old enough, he wants a .357, as it felt "so right" in his hands.

Guns are one of those hyper-masculine passions -- along with firecrackers, muscle cars, loud (and not necessarily tuneful) music, and motorcycles -- that I've just never found appealing. Maybe I don't have enough testosterone to be attracted to these things. Maybe I'm too old now anyway. (Ask my son, he'll tell you there's no "maybe" about either of those things.)

I can understand the appeal of guns in an intellectual sort of way. They're finely crafted instruments. And they're a form of power. Who among us does not want more power -- whether it comes from the barrel of a gun or not? (If I could order the entire world to read this blog, even if I had to do so at gunpoint, I would.)

But the entire experience left me thinking what a better place the world would be without guns. People would still commit murder, but it would be much more difficult. (This doesn't mean I'm for gun control, I think the NRA is basically right when they say that such a policy would put all guns into the hands of criminals.)

The experience confirmed for me that I am a pacifist at heart.

Of course, I'm also a coward. I strongly suspect the two personality types have a fair amount of overlap. In any case, both have found a home in me.

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