Commentary: There are guns, and there are guns

Edd Merritt

Well, sometimes we’d travel right down the Green River
To the abandoned old prison down by Adrie Hill
Where the air smelled like snakes and we’d shoot with our pistols
But empty pop bottles was all we would kill
~ John Prine, Paradise

I grew up in a gun-club family. My father and his father-in-law were avid duck hunters, and our weekend ritual during duck season was to rise before dawn, eat breakfast with other hunters in the only café in the area open at four a.m., and then hie to my grampa’s camp on a lake that was formed like a figure eight. We waited in a cold, wet duck blind until the mallards decided to fly over us from one end of the lake to the other. Red heads and teals joined them, with a few ruddies thrown in for good measure. The ducks would stay south through most of the daytime. I don’t know whether they enjoyed southern delicacies (minnows with a Cajun twist) or, even, whether a lake in Minnesota had such things, but that was their ritual.

Our ritual, on the other hand, was to eat lunch in the blind and listen to the University of Minnesota football games on our battery-operated radio—yelling the score to the hunters on the other side of the lake.

All in all it was not my cup of tea, nor had it stuck with my grandfather. He usually stayed about a quarter of a mile up from the blinds in a camp where he puttered and cleaned even though it had not been used since he last puttered and cleaned. Cows grazed in a field next to us and only mooed when shots rang out. I think they might have been trying to warn their duck friends, a warning that most often went unheeded.

When hunting season ended, my dad waited until spring to start sharpening up for the following fall by shooting trap and skeet regularly. He traveled to Vandalia, Ohio, to the Grand American World Trapshooting Championships. He would bring home his badges announcing that he had hit 50 straight pigeons, and mom would sew them to his hunting jacket that he would wear proudly at the local gun club. Having outgrown its original site next to a golf course, the gun club moved to a spot where it could carry two sets of trap stations and a skeet range and have all of them in use at the same time. The number of members grew dramatically. They even built a special clubhouse where they sold shotgun shells, pop, coffee and donuts—no alcoholic beverages.

Somehow the shooting scene did not turn me on in the least, so I worked as a pigeon thrower. When the trapsters yelled, “Pull!” I pulled. On the skeet range I worked both high and low houses. Given that the alternative on Sundays was church, I preferred the gun club.

Let me give you a brief description of what I learned about the difference between duck-hunting guns and those used in the mass murders. The guns used for killing ducks were a totally different type than those used for killing people. My grandfather gave me a gun for a high school graduation present, a 20-gauge over-and-under shotgun whose trigger I have pulled perhaps five times over a lifetime. It held two shells, one for each barrel. My dad shot a 12-gauge Browning automatic. It held four shells, I believe. Neither would take a clip the size of today’s murder weapons.

I am of the opinion that our ability to buy automatic war rifles on the street is the first thing we ought to banish in the way of gun control. Tell the NRA to put its demands where the sun doesn’t shine. The only weapons that should be sold are those for hunting animals. Wackos will still find ways of shooting people but in fewer numbers—and without carrying 23 weapons up 30 stories in a hotel.

Instead of trying to figure out the psyches of killers, we ought to control their tools of destruction immediately. The gun dealers, like so many others these days, will have to come up with another way of earning a living, and I, for one, can’t feel sorry for them.

The New York Times reported after the Sutherland Springs, Texas, shooting that the U.S. has 270 million guns that resulted in 90 mass shootings from 1966 until 2012. No other country has had more than 18 mass shootings in that period. In our country, statistics say there are 88.8 guns per 100 people. Switzerland is the next highest nation with half the number of guns per 100.

I’m also interested in learning how the law treats gun sellers. Families of the Sandy Hook, Connecticut, massacre of young children are appealing a court ruling that said they could not hold companies responsible for weapons used by the killer. The Times reported that the complainants said that in their case the weapon was specifically marketed as a weapon of war, that it was advertised through video games and slogans promoting its use in combat. Hyper-masculinity came into play as well with an ad line for assault rifles reading, “Consider your man-card reissued.” The suit says that such lines appeal specifically to disturbed men such as Adam Lanza.

Keep the weapons of war only in the hands of the people of war. That, in itself, is bad enough, but slightly better than giving anyone who wants access to these guns that have a single purpose, to kill humans. If we can’t do that, we’re worse off than imagined. Today’s science fiction may become reality—we may, in fact, need a “hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy.”