Saturday, January 5, 2008

Guns and the Dumb

Since I was raised with firearms, I've never been afraid of them. They're just tools to me, not much different than a hammer or a saw. I do, however, to use a phrase told to me by an electrician about electricity, respect the hell out of them.

I'm more afraid of a power saw or a nail gun than I am of any firearm. Actually, I'm a lot afraid of power saws. Actually, I dislike them a lot and never use them. I used to be a carpenter and have seen people run power saws over their hands. One guy accidentally nail-gunned his boot to a plywood deck. Twice. Each time the nail went in between his toes, which relieved him greatly after we pried his shoe from the deck with a crowbar and he developed the courage to take off his boot and look at his foot. ("I don't want to look! I know it went through my foot!")

I got very good at putting Band-Aids on wounded carpenters.

When I was 12, my neighbor next door took me skeet-shooting, which was the first time I fired a shotgun. It wasn't a big one, just a 20-gauge that I used to blow up a bunch of clay pigeons. None of the men there gave a thought to a 12-year-old blasting away with a shotgun. At that age, I thought it was about the coolest thing I had ever done, even if the kick did hurt my shoulder.

When I was 13, my father bought me a single-shot .22 rifle with a telescopic sight. I would have preferred a semi-automatic with high-capacity magazine, but he wouldn't spring for one because of the cost, which would have been a lot more than the $15 for that boring bolt-action he did buy me.

One of my friends and I used to walk across the field near my house, carrying the rifle, a box of ammo, and a bunch of empty milk jugs. We'd fill the jugs with scummy green water from a pond, then sight in on them from 100 feet away, and blow with up with .22 hollow-point slugs.

We didn't shoot each other, or anyone else. We just blew up a lot of water-filled jugs that probably had some innocent bugs in them. There were no accidents with the rifle, or anything close to an accident. We didn't shoot ourselves in the feet or hands. That rifle was a lot safer than the power saws and nail guns I came to despise a few years later.

My friend and I were very, very careful. We respected that rifle. And we never thought a thing about carrying it in public. The police never bothered us, either.

I've known exactly one person wounded by a firearm, unlike the 20 I've known hurt by flying nails that bounced off hammer heads. I saw one guy get a flying nail stuck in his chest. When he pulled it out, a thin stream of blood jetted out about a foot every time his heart beat. My father stuck the tip of his index finger on the hole for a minute, until it clotted.

Another time I found the tip of guy's finger, when he fell off of a ladder and grabbed some metal flashing. I buried it in the back yard of house we were working on.

I've never personally known anyone killed by a firearm. That one guy I know who was wounded was what I will politely refer to as a "career security guard." He had a drunk in a headlock and was beating him over the head with the butt of his .38 pistol when it fired, sending the bullet into his forearm (the fight instantly stopped). He has a heck of a scar, about six inches long, on the inside of his left forearm. I'm sure he learned that pistols are not billy clubs. He was a dumb guy, one who is now a little smarter.

I have known two people killed when they fell off of tractors, one who drowned when he waded into a lake wearing heavy boots which filled with water and pulled him under, and one who got hit by a car while changing a tire on an interstate. Each one of them died because they did something stupid, just like the security guard did something stupid. Fortunately, he lived. The others weren't so lucky.

Those uninitiated into human nature think the way to stop accidents with guns is to remove guns from people's possession. Since guns will never be gotten rid of (everything you need to make a machine-gun can be stored on a closet shelf), it'd be better to teach people, as children, to use firearms properly. Just the way I was taught. It's a lot easier to minimize stupidity (possible) than ban firearms (impossible).

I've known several adults who were not raised with firearms as children. When they became adults and bought guns, some of them didn't understand how dangerous they were. Their ignorance caused problems that were scary at the time, but can be laughed at in retrospect. At least most of the time.

I remember one of my friends showed me a 9mm pistol that was given to him to clear a debt that he was owed. He was in his 40s, and it was the first pistol he had ever owned. He informed me that he was told it was worth $600. I was skeptical that anyone would give him a $600 pistol for a $100 debt. I wondered what it was. A high-quality pistol like a Glock or a Sig Sauer?

What he showed me was one of the most beat-up pistols I've ever seen. Even from across the room I could see that it had been banged around a lot.

I asked him to do what I always ask people to do when I'm around firearms: take the magazine out and rack the slide back so I would know the pistol was empty It was, but I wasn't going to trust his word. I never trust anyone's word about a gun being empty until I see it with my eyes. People have been killed by guns the shooters were convinced were empty.

I had a woman tell me one of his son's friends was killed when a grown man bought a pistol, took the magazine out, pointed it at a teenager's head, and pulled the trigger. He later told police he didn't know there was a round in the chamber. I'm sure this was no consolation whatsoever to the boy's brother, who was in the room when the shooting occurred. This man had never handled a gun before in his life. That one wasn't funny in retrospect. It never will be.

When my friend handed the pistol to me, I looked at the manufacturer's name stamped on the side. It was one of the worst guns manufactured in the US, and possibly the worst in the world. I've read cases where they blew up in people's hands. Brand-new, they cost $125. Used, they're worthless.

Once I saw a brand-new one at a gun shop. When I asked the owner why he was selling such a piece of junk, he answered that he knew only 100 rounds would go through the barrel before the pistol was worthless, but "poor people need self-defense."

I've seen Glocks that had 100,000 rounds put through them, and this guy was selling a shiny chrome-plated piece of garbage that you probably couldn't put a magazine through it without it jamming.

If anyone tried to give me one, I wouldn't take it. Even brand-new.

When I told my na�ve friend that his $600 pistol was worth exactly nothing, that he couldn't pawn it even for $5, and that worst of all it was a very dangerous gun, he got mad at me. He didn't believe me.

When I saw him a few weeks later, he sheepishly told me he had gotten rid of it. He said when he put the magazine in, the pistol fired. In his apartment. He didn't pull the trigger; the pistol fired when he gently inserted the magazine. It blasted a neat little hole in his wall, which we spackled. The round is still in the wall. He told me he had no idea there was a bullet in the chamber.

Dumb? Dumb. Very, very dumb.

Later, I met another man, in his 30s, who knew exactly nothing about firearms. I saw him raise a .44 Magnum over his head, cock it, and when he was lowering it the weight of the pistol moved it slightly forward in his hand, causing the trigger to pull against his finger. The pistol fired upward at a 45-degree angle. Since we were in the woods, the bullet landed harmlessly, unless it plonked down on some poor unsuspecting rabbit or squirrel.

The look of shock on his guy's face was priceless. Too bad I didn't have a camera. He swore he didn't pull the trigger. I knew he didn't. But in his ignorance he made one of the cardinal mistakes: he cocked the pistol when it was over his head, then lowered it.

At least none of the guys out there were a whoopin' and a hollerin' and guzzling beer. I would have been gone in a second.

None of these people were raised with firearms. They didn't encounter them until they were adults. As a result, they made mistakes that could have been tragic.

I will, guaranteed, trust a 13-year-old raised with firearms over a 40-year-old who wasn't.

No comments: