For the week of August 12 thru August 18, 1998  

Guns and the man/child: a personal reflection

Commentary by Dick Dorworth

To most people (I hope), the thought of school children carrying firearms to school is difficult to take in, like trying to breathe after having the wind knocked out.

To most people (I believe), the realization that an appreciable number of children in our society view firearms as a tool of personal conflict resolution is cause for personal and social reflection.

Like most people, I tend to think about the incomprehensible (in this case, school children opening fire on their school mates and teachers) in terms of my own life experience.

I grew up with guns and learned early on that the only purpose of a firearm is to kill. We were hunters in my family, and we hunted for food, not sport, killing duck, goose, dove, pheasant, deer, antelope and even the lowly (in terms of food) rabbit. There were no elk in that part of Nevada or we would have killed elk as well.

During a few financially lean years of my childhood, what we hunted and killed provided a significant portion of the family diet.

Hunting is invariably an adventure, but killing for sport, pastime, trophy or thrill was then and now distasteful and suspect, though I was as naturally thrilled and proud as any boy could be when I killed my first deer.

It was impressed on my young mind that a firearm was a tool, a superior tool of hunting, and it was never pointed at a human being and never fired without a clear line of sight at the target.

As a boy I was involved in the rescue of a man, who was shot through the thigh by his hunting partner who somehow mistook him for a deer. I remember lots of blood and the man’s shattered leg and his pain. And I remember the adults’ expressions of disgust at the partner’s stupidity.

A high school friend accidentally shot his father and brother in the back while climbing through a barbwire fence with a loaded shotgun. Neither was seriously injured, though both carried buckshot souvenirs in their bodies the rest of their lives.

A similar accident happened to the great bicycle racer Greg LeMond many years later.

Such mishaps are indications of disrespect, on a personal level akin to letting go of the steering wheel while driving 70 mph to attend to some other matter beside the one, literally, at hand.

Years after high school, another high school friend was shot and killed while sitting on his horse next to his son on opening day of hunting season. A few minutes later his accidental killer came running up looking for the deer he thought he had seen and shot.

Guns are intolerant of careless idiocy.

I drifted away from hunting and guns until the late 1960s when I bought a shotgun and hunted chukkar a few times in the Nevada desert. I soon decided I no longer needed hunting in my life, and gave the shotgun away to a friend who needed it.

Still, there were certain paranoias rampant in my life in the late ‘60s, and I carried a loaded pistol under the front seat of my car at all times.

Then, a trip to Canada provided a watershed event in my life.

When I got to the Canadian border, the custom agent asked me if I had any weapons in my car. I did. He said he couldn’t allow me to take my pistol into Canada, but that I could leave it and collect it upon my return. I left my pistol at the border. When I returned to the U.S. a month later, I bequeathed it to Canadian customs.

I had taken to heart the childhood lesson that the only purpose of a firearm is to kill. The pistol, an inferior hunting tool, is useful only to kill another human being, and I did not want to do that, to carry that sort of weight around on my mind and in my life. I’ve not owned a gun since.

A few years later my old friend Spider Sabich was killed in his own home with his own pistol by his infamous ex-girl friend in a well-reported incident of tragic, obstinate folly.

The first week my youngest son was on the job as a paramedic he was called to pick up a five-year-old boy who had been accidentally killed by his seven-year-old brother. They had been playing with their father’s pistol found in the closet.

So, the use of firearms by children in schoolyards, the use of weapons as a tool of conflict resolution, is dumbfounding. Where, except in the adult world they live within, would children learn such a concept?

I am reminded of India and Pakistan, two of the world’s most poverty-bound societies, lacking the most basic water, sewage, health, electrical, education, economic, communication and transportation facilities, spending billions of dollars to build nuclear weapons with which to threaten each other.

Where in the world would these two poverty-bound developing nations get the idea to put their energies into such debilitating, obstinate, tragic folly?


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