ZEN AND THE ART OF MACHINEGUN MAINTENANCE

Can we have a reasonable discussion about guns? Say yes, or I’ll have to scrap this post altogether. Gun guys..? I totally get it. I used to be one of you; and perhaps I still am, in spirit, at least. When I was a much younger man, I was a martial artist, and was on the editorial staff of some martial arts publications. One of these, called Warriors, covered the entire spectrum of the fighting “arts,” unarmed and armed, including firearms. Through my association with this publication I met and interviewed dozens of people to whom guns were an integral part of their lives: law enforcement personnel, military, mercenaries, gun enthusiasts, and even a few people who might be considered on the fringes of legal enterprise. Many of them qualified for carry permits and had concealed weapons on their persons, in public, most of the time.

There was one guy I would see from time to time who probably fit into the “fringe” category. He was ex-military or a retired police officer; I don’t recall which. I distinctly remember one particular visit he made to our NYC offices. When I asked what had brought him to New York, he hesitated only slightly before saying that he was there on behalf of a “client” who had expressed some interest in blowing up the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Understand that this was many years before the events of September 11, 2001 would alter the landscape of global security drastically and permanently. Were such a conversation to take place today, of course I would have contacted NYPD immediately. Back then, things were different; I was a kid trying to make my small mark on the magazine industry, and he was this shadowy but heroic figure, prone to boasting about his sometimes larger-than-life exploits.

The Waldorf event thankfully never happened. My point is simply that I have spent considerable time around guns and the people who revere them, and am well aware of the impact that they have—positive and negative—on our society. I understand the devastation they can cause, but I also have an appreciation of the fact that many people are fascinated by them, covet them, and/or have been raised in families or in certain parts of the country where they were common, even necessary, components of daily life. It is not in my nature to kill an animal for sport, but I have known, and liked, people who were raised in parts of the country where hunting is an integral element of existence. Don’t we have to respect their views, even though we may not agree with them? Isn’t that the manner in which reasonable people view disagreements with other reasonable people? I would hope so.

Unfortunately this isn’t generally the case with our national gun debate. For whatever reason, reasonable people are a scarcity when gun control becomes a topic of discussion. Radicals on both sides of this issue appear unwilling or unable to have a dialog that doesn’t end in a shouting match, or worse.

During my tenure with martial arts publications, primarily Warriors, I developed an appreciation of firearms and decided that I wanted to have one. I eventually acquired a license and became the proud owner of two guns: a Ruger.22-caliber target pistol and a Berretta .380. I took a firearms course, and discovered, to my surprise, that I possessed considerably better-than-average shooting skills. I did not have a carry permit for them, of course, but I frequently took them (unloaded, packed in their soft cases, in the trunk of my car) to a local shooting center for target practice. I greatly enjoyed these target sessions and enjoyed, perhaps as much, caring for these weapons. There was an almost Zen-like quality attached to the rituals of disassembling, cleaning, oiling and reassembling my pistols, which was, believe it or not, relaxing, calming, and oddly satisfying.

I was a gun owner for perhaps two years, but the moment that the adoption papers had been filed for our daughter-to-be, Carolyn, was the moment I decided that I didn’t want guns in my home anymore. I think I sold them the same week that the adoption process became official. The point is, while I liked guns (and enjoyed having them, using them, and caring for them), I found that I didn’t need guns. My life was on the verge of entering a new phase; one in which I felt guns had no rightful place because they would only complicate matters. My priorities had changed, and therefore my perspective had been altered as well. I sometimes feel like those people who are the most vocal proponents of unrestricted gun freedoms fail to appreciate priority or understand perspective. To them, it seems, the Second Amendment is the only thing in the Constitution that matters.

While their oft-quoted axiom, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” may be technically true, what they fail to realize, or at least refuse to admit, is that, unfortunately by their nature, guns enable some people to kill other people easily and efficiently. Especially so-called assault weapons and other guns featuring rapid fire and high-capacity ammunition capability. While statistics can be spun to reflect virtually any viewpoint, the fact remains that, though violent crime in the U.S. has actually decreased over the past dozen years or so, America still leads the world in deadly gun violence. This according to virtually every measurable statistic one can quote. And if you are an American under the age of nineteen, you are four times more likely to be killed by a gun than a peer living in Canada; seven times more likely than in Israel; and 65 times more likely than a child residing in Britain. A person under the age of 25 is killed with a gun in America every 70 minutes.

I don’t like statistics either. But my gut tells me that if our country featured fewer guns, in fewer hands–including fewer high-power, high-capacity weapons–fewer innocent people would lose their lives to gun violence. Doesn’t that make at least some sense, if you consider yourself a sensible person? Or we could take a different approach entirely; one that I think even the NRA would get behind. Suppose we passed a law that required every U.S. citizen 18-years or older to purchase and carry a firearm everywhere he or she went? Granted, we would likely have more people injured or killed by guns accidently or through crimes-of-passion each year. But such a mandate would, by its very nature, reduce the incidence of gun violence perpetrated against unarmed innocents to virtually zero.

Sensible? No. Radical? Yes. Ridiculous? Certainly. The difference is that I am not really being serious when I propose such a law. Radicals within the pro-gun lobby are deadly serious when they not only resist each and every attempt at additional controls on firearms, but also push with all their considerable weight in Washington to get more–and more potent–guns into as many desiring hands as possible. They’re not kidding. They have no sense of humor whatsoever when it comes to the Second Amendment. And while we’re at it, what exactly does the Second Amendment guarantee? As I read it, “II” concerns itself primarily with the states’ rights to form and regulate militias; though the 14th Amendment may have broadened the context into the area of individual self-defense. Even so, do you think that the Founding Fathers ever envisioned Columbine, Fort Hood, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, or any of the other more than two-dozen mass shootings in this country, just since 1999? I don’t think so; if they had had such foresight, I’m pretty sure that “II” would have been written very differently.

AR-15There is a famous saying in Zen Buddhism: “The one who is good at shooting does not hit the center of the target.” I’m not sure that the gun-guys are hitting the center of the target when it comes to what’s really important about the on-going gun debate. There is one request that I would like to make to the guys-with-guns, as a former gun-guy who understands, at least to a reasonable degree, where you’re coming from: The next time an innocent child, or schoolroom-full of children, is mowed down by some gun-nut with a Bushmaster AR-15 equipped with 30-round magazine, would you please just speak from your heart, if you must speak at all, instead of spouting the NRA company line? And those of us who may be on the other side of the gun issue should strive to keep our own rhetoric to a minimum as well.

While both sides may never agree upon exactly who or what kills people, or who should/should not be permitted to possess guns, we should agree, at least, that innocent people need not be dying at such an alarming rate. Especially not children. And that something needs to be done about it. To me, that’s the center of the target.

 

 

 

 

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