Monday, October 25, 2010

Gunning Scared

I had never before asked myself, “What Would Jesus Shoot?” I seem to remember from years of Catholic school that he was no big fan of swords, but Jesus is practically an American now and frankly there is nothing more American than exercising the right to bear arms and blow the shit out of targets, clay pigeons, or what-have-you. Hell, I enjoy it. 

When I was 12 or 13, I joined a group called the Explorer Scouts and their membership was comprised of both males and females. There was a weeklong trip into the woods where the group stays in cabins and it seemed like a great potential for rookie nookie.

That, my friends, is another story. It was before this weeklong trip that our extremely elderly group-leader took us down a dark staircase in a brick building, underneath which was a firing range. We didn’t bother with eye or ear protection. Many of the kids in the group were hunters and had fired a rifle countless times before; I barely understood how to hold the fucking thing. As I peered down my lane over the top of the rifle, I lined up the rudimentary sight upon the center of the target and fired.
My shoulder bore most of the kickback, but it was unexpected and immediately my right ear began to ring. 

The smell, the old man had already referred to it as “brimstone,” seemed to not only infiltrate my nostrils, but also into my eyes causing me to well up. The old man was distracted, barely paying attention, and I peered to the paper that seemed miles away from me. While the image was of four concentric black rings, the innermost of course solid, when I focused instead on the three white circles that made up the space in-between, I spied a speck of black in the center left quadrant of the middle white ring. My first shot in life was kind of on-target.

While my aim has gotten worse with time, the thrill of firing a weapon has never dulled and when I can afford it, I enjoy going to the range with friends I want around in case the Zombie Apocalypse ever goes down. During the winter months, we frequent an indoor range where it is the policy of the proprietors that no outside ammunition be used. In recent months, the price of the ammo has risen substantially. When I asked the man behind the counter about it he informed me of a startling fact.

“It’s the Ammo shortage since Obama took over,” he said shaking his head, and then with empathy,

“It drives the prices right up, especially for recreational shooting.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” I asked, ignorant to the gun community-at-large.

“Well, Obama doesn’t like guns and God knows what he’ll ban, but no one is taking chances. The military, the police, guys like you and me, have all been buying up the bullets faster than the companies can make them.” He placed another box of Winchester .380 rounds in front of me and rang them up. I handed him a twenty dollar bill, he returned a five to me.

I placed a call to the Remington ammunition and components plant in Arkansas to get to the bottom of the shortage posing as the spokesperson for a group looking to open a gun club and range. A kind woman named Patty told me that I could order as much as I wanted. She informed me that the company was doing well, despite the poor economic times they had their “best year ever.” I was informed that while it was once a three-shift operation, they were now working “around the clock,” and that by the first of the year everyone would be able to earn double-time overtime.

Federal Ammuntion told me the same thing, and a little more. A spokesperson for Federal told me that they only sell through distributors and these distributors may or may not be restricting or rationing purchase. There was no shortage of ammunition and, if anything, there are more bullets out there than ever before. I called an ammunition distributor, that will get no mention from me, that told me a different story. The man identified himself to me as Jim and exhaled with what sounded like despair when I asked about the shortage of Ammunition. “You follow politics much, son?”

“No,” I lied.

“Well, you see since Obama got elected, it is only a matter of time before he bans assault weapons again or starts banning handguns. A lot of our customers are buying as much ammo as they can and, I don’t know why, but the price is going up. We still have great deals, you want to reserve some with a credit card just in case?” The man waited in silence, a master pitchman, letting the silence build with the fear and tension that might build if I actually believed this swine. 

As any Gun enthusiast knows, what happens in the sporting goods stores and gun clubs across the country bears little effect on the Hajj like pilgrimage to the anything-goes gun show, a whirlwind of arms dealing. I walked into a sea of denim and camouflage clad people milling about tables with all sorts of weapons, ammo, and accessories. Yet it seems the shortage has stuck here as well, the boxes were not piled as high and the selection of weapons and rounds, and the amount of deals offered, were not as varied as they once had been. As I browsed the tables examining the other wares offered, I was stunned to see an SS-style knife, complete with swastika, for sale at a table. As I traced the outline of the swastika with my finger, the very fat man behind the table began telling me about the knife and his other “World War II” collectibles, mostly from the losing side though.

“But did this knife ever slay a Jew, I wonder?” I mumbled. The fat man looked at me uneasily, a question he had apparently never considered. I walked off shaking my head. The was not the last piece of Nazi paraphernalia that I would see for sale that day, nor was it the most disturbing item being sold.

I couldn’t stop shaking it because I then found a table scatted with pins, bumper stickers, and T-shirts bearing “funny” statements. The bumper stickers were ignorant, ideology and a basic grasp of the English language: “I HAD RATHER BE RIGHT, THEN POLITICALLY CORRECT [sic],” “OBAMA-OSAMA, SAME!” and a button that read, “A VILLAGE IN KENYA IS MISSING ITS IDIOT” (Although this is a bastardization of a dig on Hillary Clinton as fallout from her “it takes a village” comment). 

It was there that I laid eyes on the T-Shirt that asked the question that started this column, “What would Jesus Shoot?” The answer, on the back, is “An AR-15.” I spoke to the man selling the shirt and was amazed to discover that this shirt was designed WITHOUT irony in mind.

My friend was also wearing a t-shirt that read, “Marriage is SO gay.” For the most part of the day, most of the folks that read the shirt either didn’t get it or completely misinterpreted the meaning of the shirt. Said one mulleted man (or woman?) “Ha Marriage sure is gay. Single is where it’s at!” As I haggled with the man selling the shirt, I saw him notice her shirt and I could tell he GOT the joke: that she was wearing a pro-gay marriage t-shirt to their tea party. He chased after us to give her a free t-shirt, implying she should put it on immediately. We left the gun show with a heavy heart and no guns or ammo. Our beloved firearm pilgrimage had been taken over by extremists.

As always this troubling development in American society has roots in the conservative media web. Rush, Hannity, and all the usual suspects have hounded the President since the days of the Pennsylvania primary that he was an enemy to the 2nd Amendment and gun owners across the nation. Of course, no one does this better than the current Prima Ballerina of the movement, Glenn Beck.
In February he interviewed the President of the company that owns his favorite shooting range. So while giving the place free publicity and the promise that you might spy Beck himself there, their conversation served to scare the shit out of anyone listening. There was a brief moment when I thought Beck was going to be journalistically responsible saying that Obama was not going to “take away our guns,” but then added, “but he will make it impossible to own one.” 

The huge moustache on the other side of Glenn Beck spouts off both that “Police can’t protect you,” and that the President was going to impose a 500% excise tax on guns and ammunition, a complete lie.

There is no legislation in Congress or plans by the Obama Administration to increase the current 11% excise tax. In fact, the only moves the Administration has made was to expand the rights of gun owners. With the proper permits, it is now legal to carry a loaded weapon into a National Park. This was the results of Amendments 1067 and 1058 in HR 627, The Credit Card Holders Bill of Rights, signed into law by the very “Kenyan village idiot” that they fear so greatly. In my opinion, this is sensible. In a National Park there are no beat cops or 911, and there are many animals, human or otherwise, that could lurk in those parks.

However, the words of fear that are spewed forth by these conservatives can have a harmful effect, that only serve to fuel the arguments of those who wish to restrict responsible gun ownership. Richard Poplawski killed three Pittsburgh police officers responding to a domestic disturbance call after he violently argued with his mother about a pissing dog. He shot two officers and then shot another officer, who was off-duty, who was just trying to retrieve his comrades for treatment. 

When it was over, it was discovered that Poplawski feared that Obama was going to take his guns. He shared videos of Beck’s program talking about FEMA concentration camps, where the normally reasonable Ron Paul validated his nonsense for what is surely a political move. You can practically see him compromising his integrity by saying the concern is justified.

The segment I profiled earlier about guns and that the police weren’t protectors aired only 5 weeks before the shootings occurred.

Like all national debates where the context is derived mostly from irresponsible coverage, it has gotten into the realm of the absurd. It is impossible to reason with an argument that only speaks fear and paranoia. It poses to ignite fringe elements that instead of arming themselves with weed, bongos, and hugs actually arms themselves. Unlike some of the clashes between the red and blue crowds, this one isn’t funny; it only promises tragedy. Everyone is worried about the President, when we all know the real threat looms on the horizon: Zombie Apocalypse.

(Originally Published on Matt's Naked Word in 2009. Edited for formatting/typos 2016)
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