Edd Merritt

Happiness is a warm gun
(bang bang, shoot shoot)
When I hold you in my arms
(oh yeah)
And I feel my finger on your trigger
(oh yeah)
I know nobody can do me no harm
(oh yeah)
   ~ Happiness is a Warm Gun, The Beatles

Strange memories drive your mind, don’t they? My wife, Beth, has been going through items from my parents’ house in order to figure out what she might want to sell in her antique booth in Burlington. Today’s items are pictures that covered the walls of many rooms there. A good number of them are pictures of ducks and other game. They are usually groups of fowl setting their wings to land or flying over a blind, settling in a marsh, reminding me once again that my dad’s major sideline was hunting and our neighbor was a duck-stamp artist. When the duck, goose and pheasant seasons ended, Dad turned to trap and skeet. Guns ended up being year-round features in our house.

The gun cabinet was next to our main living room. It was locked but had glass windows that showed the world an array of shotguns, a twenty-two rifle and a German Mauser my uncle brought back from World War II. It was a prominent part of our first floor. A seldom-used broom closet stood across from it, but the closet door seldom opened. Most of the action in that area went through the gun cabinet—guns above, boxes of shells in drawers below. Pick them out as you needed them, making sure they were clean and in good operating condition, or, in the shell’s case, they had not deteriorated from disuse.

Periodically, we had out-of-towners for dinner, and Dad always had to show off his guns. My Browning 20-gauge over-and-under shotgun that my grandfather gave me as a high school graduation present stood right in middle of the case, its finely finished wooden (probably walnut) stock and its polished brass above the trigger with two shiny barrels made it look like something other than simply a hunting gun. It was a work of art.

These items make me think of the prominent place guns and hunting have played in our society. At least they certainly did (and probably still do) in the Upper Midwest where I come from and in northern New England as well. We continue to be hunters and gatherers, similar to our Native American forebears, a primary difference being that we don’t follow herds or flocks across miles of landscape.

Guns, however, have come under closer scrutiny in recent years with mass killings using weapons that have nothing to do with providing food—weapons only for human destruction, weapons of war.

How do we rid ourselves of them? One way is to do as Dick’s Sporting Goods has, quit selling them. I hope other stores will follow suit. Assault rifles don’t belong in the hands of the general public. Yet how an individual gets more than 20 of them up to the top floor of a hotel without being noticed says as much about the shortcomings of our surveillance systems as it does about the warped mind of the individual moving them.

It does appear, however, that a major industry is taking some positive steps forward. The steel industry is starting to collect guns and harvest their steel for commercial use, according to an article in the July 25 New York Times. A plant in St. Paul, Minnesota, will melt the weapons for free in exchange for the steel in them. For the steel company it is free metal, even though it does not contribute a large portion of the company’s yearly production. The furnace that turns the weapons into steel rods burns efficiently as well, using less electricity in an hour than houses do over a year.

Turning guns into steel sounds like a positive step. The human mind, however, that uses them to kill others is less easy to discern and often harder to identify before it perpetrates its evil.

I am also not a proponent of allowing people to keep guns individually in order to protect themselves as they see fit. Call me an anti “Second Amendmentist,” but I believe we should still turn to agencies such as state and local police to protect us. Otherwise, the danger for disaster comes at too high a risk.

Let my dad’s descendants hunt ducks and clay pigeons. I am not against individuals owning shotguns and hunting rifles. It’s the easy access to people-hunting rifles that I want to curtail.