What is it about guns?

What is it about guns? Why is it in the United States a majority desires to own and carry firearms?

In 1959, according to a Gallup Poll, 60 percent of Americans felt there ought to be a total ban on handguns in the U.S. In 2008, that percentage dropped to just 28 percent. In 1990, 78 percent believed there needed to be some restrictions on handguns. In 2008, only 49 percent felt restrictions should be in place.

What is it about guns? Why is it we Americans have such a love affair with these weapons?

As a boy growing up in Connecticut, we did not have any guns, rifles or shotguns in our home. I did receive a cap pistol and holster along with a cowboy hat one Christmas so I could “keep up” with other boys in the neighborhood and play cowboys and Indians with them. By the time I went to junior high. I had grown out of playing “shoot-um-up.” My thoughts and interests turned to sports and, shall we say, the more delicate creatures captured my imagination.

There were some friends who graduated from cap pistols to BB guns and then to 22-caliber rifles. With BB guns they shot at birds in the trees around the neighborhood. One friend came to youth fellowship at church one Sunday evening with a bandage and patch over his right eye. He said he and another boy were out shooting at birds, and the other boy pulled the trigger by mistake and my friend was shot in the eye with a BB.

I had another friend who received a 22-caliber rifle as a birthday gift from his dad. I went with him to a garbage dump not far from our neighborhood. The object was to shoot at the rats that lived and ate off of the garbage at the dump.

We sat up on a boulder overlooking the garbage waiting for a rat to show its face. Finally, whe one did, my friend aimed and fired. He missed the rodent, but kicked up a can that flew high into the air. Suddenly, a man’s face, and then body, appeared from behind a hill of garbage. He was shouting and swearing and shaking his fist at us. He was a hobo and part of a group of hobos who camped near the dump. Several other homeless men appeared yelling and shaking fists at us. We ran for our lives.

I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand the thrill of shooting birds out of a tree, or shooting rats at a garbage dump. I did understand, and I understand now, that playing with weapons can cause serious injury to others and, even death.

I am saddened as I remember my friend from church who has lived without the sight of his right eye for all these years. I am also very thankful one of those hobos didn’t get wounded or killed as my friend and I acted so irresponsibly with that dangerous weapon.

Every time I read in the paper or hear on the news about some child, man or woman who has been killed or wounded in an accidental shooting, I remember my friend at church and the homeless man that was almost shot.

Just what is it about guns?

In 1963, at 18 years of age, I went into military service. It was in the second week of boot camp we received our M-14 rifles. It was the first time in my life I actually had a weapon of that magnitude in my hands. It was a week or two into boot camp before we actually got to fire the weapon at the rifle range. Before that we learned to march with it, stand at attention with it, run with it, clean it, tear it down , put it back together, and eventually to tear it down and reassemble it while blindfolded.

One Sunday afternoon in the barracks, after cleaning and oiling my M-14, I sat on my bunk, put the rifle’s stock to my shoulder and I aimed out a window.

There were no cartridges in the magazine, but as I aimed the weapon I experienced a thrilling surge of power. With a weapon in your hand, you feel bigger and stronger and in control. Perhaps, I wonder, here lies the secret about the appeal of guns?

The experience of such power in your hands is intoxicating. Just like all intoxicants, the desire to experience the “high” can become addictive. Perhaps this is the dark side to the appeal of guns in our culture.

We are a nation head-over-heals in love with our guns. We want to own them. We want to shoot them. We want to strap them on our sides and carry them in public. Some politicians want to carry them into halls of Congress.

We turn to the Constitution to find a rationale for our desire. Gun advocates argue the Second Amendment to the Constitution establishes a right to bear arms with few restrictions. Others interpret the article differently. But Americans in general, with with the acquiescence of the courts, we have concluded bearing arms with few restrictions is the law of the land, at least for the time being.

The rhetoric of gun advocacy suggests guns are necessary so we can protect ourselves from those who might wish to harm us. Studies inform us, though, we are more likely to be injured in a gun accident than in any assault on our person.

Gun advocates also claim an armed citizenry is necessary to dissuade our government from taking away our liberties. The reality, though, is we are the government. We vote for the government we desire and we receive the government we deserve.

In the end, we want our guns because they make us feel bigger and stronger than we really are. The problem, though, is feeling bigger and stronger keeps us from truly facing, and knowing, ourselves.

We must have an honest assessment of who we are if we are to be mature and live lives of integrity. Our love affair with guns keeps us in perpetual adolescence, and that is a dangerous thing for ourselves and our world.

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