I used to play with guns

AR-15 affordable and effective

The funny thing is, I used to play with guns.

They were toy guns, of course, but guns nevertheless. Playing “army” was my favorite thing. I remember adding the sound track for all of our battles, making noises resembling explosions or machine gun fire (my specialty). I seem to have had a vivid imagination for fighting, killing, and war.

And I have no idea why.

My parents never bought me a gun, not even a BB gun, and there were never guns around the house, except for my toy guns. My father, a World War II veteran, was not a hunter and showed no interest in weapons of any kind, and so he never taught me to shoot or thought it was his duty as a father to do so. He seemed more interested in teaching me how to throw a curveball.

But for some reason, when I was younger, I nevertheless had a fascination with guns.

I find this funny, I suppose, because I grew up to be a decidedly non-confrontational sort of person. I did play high school football, if that counts for anything, and I enjoyed the contact and the tackling, especially what my coaches liked to call “hard tackles.” And even today when I am threatened, I can easily assert myself, but the truth is that I have been more or less a pacifist. I feel somewhat odd writing those words, but most people, I have found, are content knowing that their pastor has a preference for peace not war.

I write all of this to say, I have no idea anymore what to think about the gun situation in the U.S., except that I find it deeply disturbing. With every mass shooting (the recent one in Orlando, the largest one in U.S. history, was the 133rd of the year, according to my reading), I find myself even more troubled and confused. Is it really such an important matter of personal liberty that anyone – even someone the FBI has interviewed twice for possibly radical views and violent behavior – should be able to purchase a weapon, even an AR-15 assault rifle?

As I type that question, I can think of several friends who will have their responses ready. So, before you write, you should know that I am familiar with all of the arguments. In fact, most people who follow the news know the arguments on both sides.

On one side, for example, there is Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, warning that “jack-booted government thugs” might come one day to take away the guns of decent, law-abiding citizens. This might be described as the fear of an authoritarian government.

On the other side, there is Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, a former congresswoman from New Mexico, who was shot in the head at a campaign rally in 2011, along with 12 other people, including a nine year old child and a federal judge who were both killed in the shooting. Giffords now understandably urges legislation to keep “guns out of the hands of dangerous people like criminals, terrorists, and the mentally ill.”

Maybe for obvious reasons these positions have been impossible to reconcile.

In keeping with the Swiss theme of my blog, I should mention that I have seen several Internet memes recently about the relatively high rate of gun ownership in Switzerland and the low rate of mass shootings here. The argument is that there is little correlation between gun ownership and mass shootings. However, the real story, which doesn’t fit a typical Facebook post, is a bit more complicated.

Switzerland does indeed have a high rate of gun ownership, one of the highest in the world, and though mass shootings occur, they are rare. But there is a high rate of gun ownership mainly because the vast majority of men in Switzerland are conscripted into military service and receive military training, including weapons training. Their personal weapons may be kept at home, but – and this is a fact not often reported – it is generally not permitted to keep army-issued ammunition at home. Further, there is in this country a blanket ban on automatic weapons.

To me the two situations – the U.S. and Switzerland – are not really comparable. A better example, to my mind, might be Australia, which has dramatically reduced gun violence and mass shootings through legislation. But this argument, I know, does little to persuade. Our minds on both sides are already made up.

I am weary at this point and don’t know what more to say, except this: I find it inconceivable that a follower of Jesus Christ, one who reads the gospels and attempts to apply the teachings found there, could support the situation as it exists.

(Photo: That’s the AR-15 … “effective and affordable.”)

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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10 Responses to I used to play with guns

  1. Lt. Col. Steve Stimpson, USAFR, Retired June 21, 2016 at 4:34 am #

    Good morning, Doug. You know on which side of the firearm ownership debate I am. I don’t own or have any desire for an automatic firearm. What I can’t conceive of is more legislation regarding firearms. If the FBI, with its obligations, resources, authority, efforts, etc., could not prevent the shooter from committing his atrocity at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, then what possible solution is there? This is not an original thought, but I said it to my wife before a prominent Presidential candidate, allegedly, expressed a similar idea, “If one responsible Christian had been present with a legally owned firearm, might the outcome have been different?”

  2. Cynthia Boone June 21, 2016 at 8:14 am #

    Amen to that!

  3. Dennis Ulmer June 21, 2016 at 8:57 am #

    I’m not sure about banning riffles like the AR15. I also played with guns as a child. There was a toy factory in my home town that made a toy version of every TV Western featured gun. My neighbor worked there, so I would get as gifts toys from that factory, including toy guns.. I had the Riffleman Riffle, various Roy Rodger guns, and “Have Gun Will Travel” all of them. I too would make gun noises, or shoot caps. We had no real guns in our house. I think everyone in that era played with guns. I think it was just mimicking what we had watched on television. That being said, I fear just as much about guns or controlling gun violence as I do about the current reluctance here to talk about the act in Orlando as a terrorist act against all of us. I believe it was. Someone wanting to kill or injure can just as easily find items in the drug or hardware store and then a recipe on the internet to make such everyday items a weapon of mass destruction. After the Boston Bombing, we did not ban pressure cookers or screws. There is just so much more in dealing with terrorism then banning guns. The focus in my opinion, should be on combating terrorist acts committed with any kind of weapon I respect your view point Doug, it’s just here in the U.S. we aren’t having a proper focus on what this tragedy was. This was evident to me yesterday when initially they were editing what the shooter said to the police in the 9-1-1 transcripts.

  4. Elizabeth Brouwer June 21, 2016 at 12:26 pm #

    There are no lack of opinions on this topic, but I will add mine anyway.

    I am dedicating my life to public health research. Specifically, understanding what causes premature mortality in our country and what common-sense policy changes we can enact to prevent those deaths. I am motivated by the fact that we are all equally God’s children, and we all deserve a chance at a healthy life.

    What bothers me most about the gun debate is 1) it is currently illegal to spend our federal dollars on researching gun violence and how to prevent it, and 2) our legislature is unable to pass common sense laws regarding gun ownership due to an interest group.

    Until we understand the gun violence in America better, we cannot make common sense laws to prevent it. And until Congress can have a vote that represents their constituencies’ views and not the views of a narrow interest group, we cannot pass common sense laws to prevent gun violence. No answers will be found unless we are allowed to look for them.

    • Susan DeYoung June 21, 2016 at 3:59 pm #

      Could not agree with you more, Elzabeth.

    • Dennis Ulmer June 21, 2016 at 4:22 pm #

      Gun control and gun violence are only one component of terrorism and preventing it. Unfortunately, every time there is a terror attack, gun control is the focus. The focus should be on acts of terror and the other issues related to it. Not to highlight gun control. Remember, 9/11 did not involve guns, nor did the Boston Bombing. We are using gun violence to deflect from other issues related to terrorism that some in government do not wish to acknowledge. What happened at the club in Orlando was an act of terror. We can not focus on just the method used to inflict the terror in this event, or any act of terror.

      • Elizabeth Brouwer June 21, 2016 at 4:47 pm #

        I appreciate where you are coming from, Dennis, however I do not think our points of view are mutually exclusive. In fact, I think we have a common goal: decreasing needless violence and death.

        Conducting non-partisan research about the links (or lack thereof) between gun ownership, gun violence, and acts of terror will only illuminate ways to for us to reach that common goal. But policy discussion without evidence will hardly ever be fruitful.

  5. Mark Martillaro June 21, 2016 at 12:52 pm #

    Doug – I love you like a brother. Your blog, like many newscasts generalize some facts and sometimes ignore larger issues. First off, automatic rifles are already banned in the US. You can’t own them. Sure there are some places you can buy kits to modify a semi-automatic rifle, but they are still illegal. Much like Cochaine that people also find a way to get. I find the most disturbing story ignored everyday is Chicago. Illinois has some of the toughest gun laws in the USA. I know, because I am licensed to own and conceal carry a weapon. There was a ton of paperwork to fill out, large fees and a long waiting period to be approved. Statistics are arguable, so maybe these are a little off:

    2015 in Chicago
    Shot & Killed – 445
    Shot & Wounded – 2551
    Total Shot – 2996
    Total Homicides – 507

    2016 in Chicago YTD
    Shot & Killed – 280
    Shot & Wounded – 1530
    Total Shot – 1810
    Total Homicides – 311

    With all the gun laws on the books Federally and Locally, how many of these shootings were committed by law abiding shootings? Statistics show that the largest rise is driven by gangs in Chicago’s South and West sides. I believe I can safely say that not many of these people have registered weapons, FIOD cards, conceal carry permits, or care about any firearms laws.

    In closing, I do believe in background checks. I do believe those who demonstrate the ability to act criminally or are mentally diminished, should not be allowed to have a weapon. However, to strip me of my right to own a semi-automatic weapon, whether it looks like a musket or ray gun, I believe is wrong.

  6. Guy Edson June 25, 2016 at 4:02 pm #

    Shooting handguns – and everything associated with it: the research, maintenance, skills – is one of my favorite activities. But only recently. Three years ago this month there was another disheartening shooting of a child in Miami. I found myself saying to my wife that a handgun has one purpose — to kill another human being. Ban hand guns. If you want to protect yourself at home get a shotgun. I grew up in a rural area and learned how to shoot rifles and shotguns at an early age for the purpose of hunting which my family depended on to some degree. I was ambivalent toward handguns and never owned one or even shot one. If there had been AR-15’s I am sure Dad would have had one or two as they are excellent handling, light, customizable, and very durable hunting rifles. (Digression: AR means Armalite, not Assault Rifle. Armalite is the company that pioneered the design back in the 1950’s. Many companies now use the AR designation and some are designed for military use and have fully automatic modes. They are not available to the general public. End digression.) One month after my anti handgun rant, while on a photo excursion into a magnificent cypress dome in the middle of the Big Cypress National Forest I was knee deep in water when two Florida water moccasins decided to let me know I was not welcome. If not for my tripod and hiking stick which I used to keep pushing them away while I backed out slowly and they eventually lost interest I might have taken a hit. The thought of the $10,000 price tag for getting helicoptered out of a wilderness area, not to mention the injury and possible permanent muscle tissue loss led me to a gun shop on the next Monday. Three days later I was practicing at the range and two months later I had my concealed carry permit. Now I own 27 handguns and spend a couple hours a week at the range practicing primarily slow speed bulls-eye target shooting. Only one of my guns is my designated “snake gun” which I haven’t needed to use as such in spite of several more encounters; and the rest range from high quality target pistols, to collectors’ favorites, to just simply fun to shoot (like my 44 magnum), to, yes, self defense semi-auto weapons. I conceal carry every day. And every day i wonder, should a Christian carry a gun? And every day I pray that I never, never have to unholster it.

  7. Chris Iosso July 6, 2016 at 11:26 am #

    Doug, I was caught by this entry in your blog and then the responses. Allow me to unlurk for a moment. I also played with guns and so did my sons, almost as basic as boys throwing stones at targets, playing with knives, etc. Opposing gun violence used to be a hotter issue at our General Assemblies– it was a hot button issue kept out of the “Social Creed” that summarized our Christian social ethic in 2008. But in 2010 we did a report on how our faith interacted with the uniquely high death rate from guns in the US and made policy recommendations: https://www.pcusa.org/resource/gun-violence-gospel-values-mobilizing-response-god/ Though its a free download, we have also sold about 6000 copies, and a lot of our congregations are declaring themselves gun-free zones (except for law enforcement). I think your points about the sensible Swiss approach were important to note. The examples of other nations still have some weight, and the point about needing to free the research and info sharing is big. Blessings, even to those in disagreement, Chris

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