Saturday, July 13, 2013

Guarding the Bedside Nightstand

Guarding the Nightstand drawer

Guarding the Nightstand drawer
The futile search for the extra set of car keys has boiled down to the unlikely bedroom nightstand. Sitting on the bed, the rummage begins: a half-finished paperback mystery place-marked with an old Target receipt, a fingernail clipper, an empty PEZ dispenser, a tissue – hard and crusty at one end, three Phillips triple-A batteries, a pair of ear buds for a Sony Walkman no longer in commission, a desiccated orange peel, three ball point pens – two with ink, a cat collar with a tinkle bell for a pet no longer in commission, a black comb, an errand list in pencil, dry and yellowing listing a dry cleaner long ago scraped away for a condo development, a wallet-size photo of a granddaughter in braces – she hated it, an instruction pamphlet for an electric alarm clock-radio no longer in commission, one Tic-Tac, a Smith & Wesson .38 special Chiefs Airweight  revolver with a two-inch barrel.
No car keys; scribble a note to “Self” – ‘Clean out nightstand drawer.’
The final, last straw search perimeter includes the coat pockets in the downstairs hall closet.
Summer jackets are all hung on the front pole. Hats are on the top shelf stacked to form a column of strange brims. Begin feeling outside pockets and groping inside pockets. Discover half a Wendy’s burger bun without meat wrapped in a napkin, a key to the back door that hasn’t been locked in 30 years, the other Tic-Tac, last year’s summons to have the car emissions checked by the State – approved, two ticket stubs to Iron Man III, a Petsmart fish food coupon for a goldfish no longer in commission, the box cutter that went missing last Easter, graham cracker crumbs wrapped in tinfoil, matchbook cover with penciled hospital phone number for mother – no longer in commission, a red dot laser pointer toy for de-commissioned cat, leaning against the closet wall – one .223 caliber Bushmaster assault rifle with laser night-vision sight, thirty round magazine and muzzle bipod.
As the search concludes, husband returns home from an unannounced errand to buy a part for the lawn mower, passes hall closet, pauses at the hall table and deposits car keys in the decorative ceramic key bowl brought back from Mexico. With the keys dumped, he unclips his Glock Model 17, 9mm semi-automatic pistol nestled in its Gucci spring latch holster and places it along with the matching extra 10 round magazine pouch in the hall table drawer. He waves to me and heads down the hall to the kitchen for a cold beer.
I snatch up the keys, drop them in my purse and unzip the pocket on its side. From the hall table drawer, I remove my Taurus Judge .410/45 Colt nickel-plated revolver, slide it into the concealed purse pocket, zip up and head for my book club meeting at the library to discuss Aldous Huxley’s book, Brave New World.  

Friday, June 21, 2013

Losing a Shooting Friend

I recently lost a shooting friend. He's still alive and he's still a good friend, but he had to surrender his Firearm Owners Identification Card (FOID) card, because, technically he's a felon. Caught up in the 2008 financial implosion with a family to care for, he backed the wrong horse and by the time he discovered the rotten core of the company that he had been fronting, it was too late. Now, he has to spend some time with a couple of governors of Illinois and other bag holders to pay for his sins of a lapse of judgment and a bout of denial.

One of the penalties he must endure is the loss of his FOID card and never being able to shoot in Illinois again. That's where my problem begins. Any shooter knows its hard to find other shooters to spend time with at a range, or walking a hedgerow at a farm, or busting clays to keep your eye sharp. This friend was always up for a trip to Kankakee where I dragged my rifles, pistols and shotguns out of their cement and steel alarm-fitted vault into the light of day for the long drive to the Illinois Rifle Association range.

My friend couldn't have a gun around the house because of his young children, but he loved to shoot. He was a good student and learned fast, tightening his groups and raising his score of busted clays. After a half day of blazing through boxes of bullets and shot shells, we'd head into town for a milkshake and a couple of Steakburgers. It was a long, fun day.

We still go out for cigars and a couple of beers, and can go fishing for bass at a nearby lake, at least until he has to report to his gray-bar vacation retreat, but we will miss the noise, smoke and pleasure of hammering away at the range. Like any solo sport: golf, tennis, car racing, or fishing, you can work at your skills by yourself, but having some whose company you enjoy to share the experience adds some spice to the dish.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Gun is a State of Mind

I read an interesting quote today in the local newspaper: "A gun is not a gun, it is a mental state." This is the most succinct description of the act of carrying a loaded handgun in public that I can remember seeing. All these he-men whining about not being able to carry their Desert Eagle to the corner store for a loaf of bread, or feeling helpless walking Fluffy in the park early in the evening, or even rolling down your window on the jerk who cut you off in heavy traffic. It is the idea of packing a gun that excites most of these True Believers. It is pretty much accepted that the people with the most guns have the least training -- particularly handgun training and especially "concealable handgun" training. The time it takes to recognize a serious threat, decide to unlimber your weapon, grab it and manage to free it from wherever you've concealed it, prepare it for firing (push off safety, rack slide, cock hammer, whatever must be overcome that provides a safe carrying situation, point it and make a conscious decision to put a slug into the threat's boiler room -- much time has passed. The concluding "Bang" is surprisingly loud without ear protection. If you've missed -- and at any range over 20-30 feet, chances are you will miss with a 2" - 4" long concealable barrel, while you try to see around the blue spot where the muzzle flash once was to reacquire your threat target, the threat now has the psychological edge. Remember, the threat had already decided to do harm to you before the encounter began. Only in the movies has the victim read the script and is mentally prepared. Fear leaves you one option. You keep squeezing the trigger, shooting and shooting and shooting in the general direction of the threat until the gun clicks empty.

You may have stopped the threat, or at least chased the threat away. Now, where did all those bullets go? Where's the kid who was riding his bike a block away? Did the mother three blocks away get home okay with her arms full of groceries?

You just have to remember, everything in front of your muzzle is your responsibility.

Concealed Carry is virtually an oxymoron. I lived and worked in Arizona for a few years, a state that has very liberal carry laws. I carried a .38 Special Smith & Wesson Chiefs Airweight revolver with a 2 1/2 inch barrel. I also carried a badge. Every opportunity I had, I trooped out into the desert with fellow officers and we ran boxes of bullets through our guns. Even with cranking away on a regular basis, I was very happy that I never had to make a life or death decision. I also never met anyone who regularly conceal-carried a handgun, who didn't want other people to know about it. Carrying a gun is a state of mind, a state that embraces everyone in front of your muzzle when you squeeze the trigger.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Bunker Summer Ahead?

Teaching civilians the skill of marksmanship as a sport will encourage them to train in the safe use of firearms from the perspective of a praiseworthy result. Spectator-friendly marksmanship competition should be restored to the public sector to encourage familiarity with this traditional pastime to the level of golf, tennis, or any other solo skill endeavor. Until people lose their fear of firearms through familiarity, fear will always be attached to guns and can be used as a tool by the extremists on both sides of the issue.

What with the NRA and Gun Control Ideologues at each other seeing who can deliver the most improbable scenarios for an apocalyptic collision of good and evil -- and a do-nothing Congress mired in self-serving political back-biting, that old 1950s idea of a back yard bunker takes on new appeal.

Instead of fearing a nuclear blast, the average tax-paying working stiff looking for his or her share of the American Dream can fort up in some modest concrete construction like an old missile silo and peer out at the rest of this self-destructive world through a periscope, and Comcast cable. If you can develop a taste for indestructible garbanzo beans and a 55 gallon drum of Tobasco Sauce, you can watch the world beat on itself with a computer tablet and keep up with Game of Thrones on HBO for an eternity.

Or you can sit in your office, pick a particularly grating issue and Blog. You can buy a battery-powered megaphone and stand on a street corner, hopping from one foot to the other excoriating, bloviating and expostulating the diminishing respect for a sport that was once an American tradition. You can watch the NRA further destroy its credibility by drumming up greater levels of  "Stand Up and Fight" violent over-reaction by members and supporters who have no regard for anything but their personal agendas of power, greed and a messianic spread of fear and distrust.

The extreme gun control advocates are no less culpable in their brilliantly blazing ignorance advanced as though it was holy writ. They peer at fleas with magnifying glasses and then recoil in fear at the monsters they discover.

It's like neither of these sides of the issue of firearms ownership actually hear themselves, nor do they have any respect for the intelligence of the American people to sort out the exaggerations and support the simple realities.

Marksmanship is a sport that requires practice, skill and a certain dedication to maintain a competitive --- or at least a self-satisfactory result. From entertainment, the media and the military, today's public makes little distinction between the sport of marksmanship and killing our fellow man. Far too much emphasis has been placed on the firearm as strictly a weapon. Since a weapon conveys to its owner a sense of power, that domination becomes an addiction. Sport shooting is a discipline, wielding a weapon in an execution is subject to the emotion of the moment and results often in random bloodshed. Weapons are for the police and military who understand the expectations and are trained to use their weapons in defense of their objectives.

I'm not ready to pour concrete yet, but my respect for my fellow man is teetering as long as we let issues such as gun control be dictated by deep pockets, big mouths and small brains. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

It seems we are no longer electing the best and the brightest to public office if the public statements made by our representatives are any measure of their competence. Humble origins are not a benchmark for wisdom, nor do grassroots anchor common sense intelligence. Our short attention span, quick-fix, media driven, cheer-for-the-biggest-noise culture are  reaping the ignorance of narrow-minded ideologues resembling the "Know-Nothing" party of the 1850s who were against immigration (we had enough foreigners) and Catholics (Keep the Pope out of America). Sadly, these dopes are a non-partisan disease, but seem to have flocked more intensely to the Republican banner.

We all have to deal with really stupid people in our day to day lives. And it's not their fault that somewhere in their upbringing, certain bricks were not mortared into place and now their walls sag in critical social, moral and intellectual areas. Our problem is with these cripples who walk among us behind a facade that masks the missing bricks and rot. It's only after achieving public office, that their sphincters relax and their inner zombies emerge through media utterances and voting patterns. They are unmasked, but its too late. Like strangling ivy, they coil around their favorite lobbyists and live the dream until they can pass around enough patronage to constituents to merit another term regardless of the damage they create.

Gun control fantasies vs Gun rights bullying are issues perpetuated by the above mentioned trolls. There are too many bricks missing from the wheelhouses of these hard core factions. Each group reads the history of our country through the spectacles of their own agendas, skewing what they find to reflect their own self-serving revision. The most feared concealed weapon of the mid -19th century was the Bowie knife, not the pistol. Most cow towns of the west had gun laws more strict than New York's or Chicago's draconian rules. Newspapers in Elsworth, Kansas decried local law officers for carrying more than one pistol, because they displayed excessive force. The Minute Men and other scrambled-together musket-wielding militias of the late 18th century were unfit for combat and could not hit the ground with their hat. Almost everything the average person has absorbed about the history of firearms is wrong. Most are myths perpetuated by either pro or anti-gun paranoids and romantics.

Until gun rights demanding, over-heated second amendment shouters and the NRA/gun manufacturers PAC/lobby put the country  ahead of their  own self-serving rhetoric -- and the hand-wringing anti-gun  ideologues realize that 300,000,000 guns aren't going anyplace, but under people's beds if the crazies have their way, the next thing to circle the drain will be the Constitution, which is the frail fragment of honor and law that is binding this country together.
My wife, Janet and I are authors of 51 non-fiction books for traditional publishers since 1997. The titles include U.S. history, biography, fine arts, military history, weapons, young adult and memoir. We just finished writing The Constitution, a history of that document and how we have adapted it -- and adapted to it -- since it was penned in 1787 for our London publisher to be released in the U.S. this spring and early summer. We learned a lot during our months of work on that book - especially about the caliber of men and women who used the Constitution and shaped its interpretations to achieve what we have today, what is in danger of loss if the aluminum foil hat people are not turned out and replaced with actual legislators of ability.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Wayne LaPierre's World

At his December 21 "press conference," Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the NRA failed to understand he is not speaking to NRA acolytes whose hands all shoot into the air when he pulls the lever at the side of the podium. He is also repeating history. In the September, 1941 issue of American Rifleman Magazine, associate editor Raymond J. Stan suggested the wartime NRA could provide, “...rifle clubs…to build up community leadership that will carry over even when security is again established.” He claimed further, “Operating as a unit, the coordination, enthusiasm, morale, and discipline of a band of civilian riflemen would be of the highest order…The coolness of an experienced rifle or pistol shooter under the heat of excitement and his confidence to do the right thing at the right moment is obvious…”  Would Wayne's armed volunteers in the public schools all wear the same color shirts with NRA armbands? Does the shoe industry still make jack boots? No wonder Wayne didn’t take questions.

Shooters Tired of Wearing the Scarlet "G"

If you mention you are an NRA member, do people in the conversation edge away? Do they scrutinize your clothing to try and spot where you are concealing your gun? Do they check the exit signs in the room or count the number of drink rings are on the bar next to your beer bottle? Have you become the neighborhood gun whacko? Nobody shuffles their kids across the street from the house where the "golf player" lives or sneaks a peak between the curtains as the "tennis player" loads rackets into the trunk of his car. Firearms owners who enjoy the sport are tired of wearing the "Scarlet G" for "Gun Nut."  Our sports of hunting and various target competitions go back to the first colonist who strolled off the boat and impressed the neighborhood greeters by knocking down a pheasant with his thunder stick. We have a long history rich with marksmanship traditions that span age and gender.

Our problem is a bowling ball, golf club or tennis racket will never effectively stop an enemy bayonet charge. Firearms have come down through the centuries along two paths: sports and weapons. Often the line separating those functions is blurred. Once the industrial revolution gave us mass production, manufacturers discovered military contracts for lots and lots of cheaply produced weapons offered more revenue than the fine instruments required by hunters and competition shooters. The manufacturers purchased the aid of the NRA, who wrap themselves in evangelical patriotism, with pages of advertising and sponsorships of gun shows and donations to foundations. Today, weapons drive the firearms market and fuel the anti-government frenzy to "protect" our Second Amendment rights. The NRA has assumed a messianic role as defender of the Constitution even as they act as procurers, pimping the weapons makers and intimidating legislators.

Sports shooters have been embarrassed and shunted aside by this partnership. We are seen as knuckle-dragging homunculus's, mouth breathing memorized patriotic mantras into battery megaphones, shouting down reason, common sense and compromise as mindless ideologues. Instead of joining the NRA hierarchy hopping from one foot to the other mouthing delusional epithets that only encourage  the equally goofy opposition who believe all 300,000,000 firearms can be taken away from Americans, firearms owners should be directing their considerable energy toward promoting positive images of the sport and inviting more Americans to participate.

Competitions such as three-gun matches are exciting and spectator friendly -- if the venue is expanded. Shooting can be made part of other sports such as cross-country running  or -- like the Winter Olympics -- skiing. Moving targets, targets that explode when hit, or cause some other visual excitement give spectators something and someone to root for. Today, a lot of kids are receiving instructions on safe handling and shooting firearms in competition, learning the rigor of practice and perfecting skill sets that will serve them later in life. Many of these programs have been created by the NRA, continuing their excellent stewardship of the sport -- work which has been so badly overshadowed by the organization's naked grab for political power.

A positive image example would be NASCAR. How many young men died on rural back roads in the South running bootleg moonshine in fast cars past and through police roadblocks in the dead of night, ending up as fireballs fueled by alcohol and gasoline? They found empty meadows, bladed an oval track in the red dirt and raced their souped up moonshine specials for entry money cash in a cigar box. People showed up to watch and those young men built rough grandstands and charged fifty cents for a seat. Today, how many engineering careers have sprouted from NASCAR ambitions in a sport that has the largest spectator draw in the country?

American sports shooters need that kind support, not fake histrionics, patriotic bullying, or paranoid "preppers" getting media attention as they squat in their bunkers waiting for a country they've given up on to fall apart in a frenzy of movie special effects tyranny. American sports shooters have worn the "Scarlet G" long enough. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gun Buyers Follow Heroes

Gun ownership in the United states is strongly influenced by "Hero Worship." This is not a bad thing, but is a thread of human nature to elmulate the lifestyle, tastes and action of people we admire. This identification extends to things as well as people. Trend setters and trend setting products affect our lives; which is also an important guide to successful advertising. Own a hot car, dress in a cutting edge fashion outfit, play tennis with a carbon racket. Race car drivers plug hot cars, sophisticated models wear sharp designer clothes and athletes get the most out of sports technology.

Gun owners are no different. We have heroes who have championed a variety of firearms depending on the media that influences us. In TV and the movies, Steve McQueen was cool with his sawed off Winchester "mare's leg." Clint Eastmood made the .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson desireable. World War II and police battling gangsters have used up arsenals of high tech weapons to great visual effect. And the latest video games offer super realistc combat and civilian warfare depictions.

Today, every time a soldier returns from Afghanistan, out come the flags, motorcycle honor guards and crowds lining the street to welcome home the young warrior. Our troops are our latest and most closely held heroes because they come directly from us, not from some author's imagination. Every night we see them on the news patroling dangerous ground in foreign lands, and we remember these are volunteer soldiers, not draftees. Our hearts go out to them. Now, look at what weapons they carry.

A story: When I was a little kid, I had no sports skills and only held my place in my neighborhood gang by being the "goofy guy" who could always make the other kids laugh: with me, at me, I didn't care. I got the laugh and was accepted. We used a lot of toy guns in our play what with WWII just ended and the Korean conflict just amping up. I wanted a machine gun. Instead, my Dad managed to get me an actual Model 1903 Springfield bolt action training rifle. The bolt worked, the trigger clicked, but the breech was welded shut. The first day I went out the door and into the park next to our apartment, chaos erupted. I was looking for my pals, walking along with this real rifle on my shoulder. I am nine years old and this rifle is almost as long as I am tall. The park is now empty except for this Park District Cop watching me from behind a tree. He is not alone. I walked over to a tree and crouched down, trying to see what they are looking at. They are all looking at me. A cop called out, "Kid! Put down the rifle!" I did and very soon thereafter I was surrounded by a forest of blue pantlegs. I was spared a savage beating or a soul-sucking prison sentence. One of the cops walked me and my rifle home.

We love to emulate our heroes and assault rifles are the latest extension of that hero worship. The
M-4 is a "weapon." Any assault-style firearm based on their respective combat version is a weapon. To me, walking around with that very real rifle gave me the self -esteem I so lacked. It was way too heavy to play with. The bolt action was clumsy for small hands -- and it was sure no machine gun. Later, when I was in a real combat zone, surrounded by lethal weapons, or when I carried a gun for a living in Arizona, I discovered how careful you have to be in life when threats are a 360 degree consideration. The sport of marksmanship is a character builder and a demanding skill, but weapons should be left to our military and police.