Tuesday, 25 December 2012

essay-guns-part II

Canadian children don't really have the experience of growing up with firearms the same way American children do.Guns,or at least handguns are not such a big part of our culture.None of our founding fathers saw fit to enshrine the right of gun ownership into our constitution,so there is no real sense of entitlement when it comes to firearms.And for that I thank God.Because,through over fifty years of living,I've never been shot,or even shot at.I don't know anyone who has been shot or shot at either,and,in fact I've only ever heard gunshots a few times in my life.As for handguns,I've only ever seen one once or twice.I wonder if they become a weapon of choice where they are available in great numbers.

Here in Canada,I can confidently walk around in even the seediest areas of our large cities with very little fear of ever being shot at.Could I say the same if I lived in Oakland,Bridgeport,Little Havana,Newark or East St.Louis?Still,we do have some gun violence.It's not completely absent.Just before I left Toronto last spring there were a couple of high profile shootings.One involved a Rap musician going into a recording studio.In the other,just a few days later,someone entered a barbershop,murdered the barber as he was cutting hair,then left the shop on foot.

Still,having grown up in Atlantic Canada during the 1960's and 1970's,there was no real way to be ignorant of guns.But guns in that cultural sense normally meant hunting rifles and shot guns.Police,of course wore guns,in most cities then,but in one or two of the areas larger cities,even they were yet to take up arms.You couldn't find a handgun in most homes though.

Everyone,or almost everyone hunted.If you were to take one look at the land that my grandparents called home,near where New Brunswick meets the state of Maine,it would be immediately obvious that perdition was a fact of life.Guns were needed to protect property and perhaps even life.Foxes raided the chicken coops and there were bears and even wolves about.Some people worried about mad dogs back then too.And the nearest police station was miles away.Most people were quite poor and would take at least a portion of their meat off the land,so having a rifle was to a certain extent a matter of survival.Today,when I go just a few miles north of Moncton,one of the regions largest cities,I can hear coyotes just off the road,in the nearby bushes.There was a fatal coyote attack while I was down east the last time too,so,for rural people,not much has changed over the decades.

From a very early age I knew about guns.Well,I knew some things about them,that is,but not really the right things.Not very much that I knew would carry forward in time to last week's horror at Sandy Hook School.Essentially it was a Hollywood,pop culture kind of a knowledge,complete with a lot of other messages Hollywood was putting out at the time.Afternoon movies  would feature John Wayne in pursuit of murderous red skinned savages,Nazis or desperadoes across the television screen.After a final,climatic shoot out,all would end well,with all the proper people being dead.For me though,I was just a child,so I was not tuned into all of the political, cultural,racial or moral aspects of the show.For me it was just a matter of excitement and of knowing that all the bad people would be killed at the end of it all.I knew very little about virtue,but I could not miss the message that it came out of the barrel of a gun.

Gun death on television,in those days was very sanitary compared to today.The censors of the day,I'm certain would not allow you to see the reality of a man being shot in the chest with a .38 or a shotgun.If they had,it wouldn't have seemed nearly as virtuous.So there was just some smoke,a loud bang and some actors falling away in overly dramatic fashion.Not one drop of blood could be seen for the most part.It was a far cry from what would be shown today.And that is both good and bad.Bad because I could do without the graphics of such movies today.But good because such movies often have a political activism and a social conscience that was lacking back then.In short,they are a bit less likely to be propaganda now as opposed to then.Movies back then usually portrayed the justness of the historic American Cause.

There were always guns in our house.Again,by guns I mean guns for hunting,not handguns.They were stored in a closet just inside our front door,where they were propped up in a corner among our rain boots,with our coats and jackets hanging down from hangers just above them.They were not locked away,and though they were for hunting,if we were threatened,I suppose they could have been easily accessed.My father owned a twelve gauge,a .22,a.270 and a four ten shotgun.Once,when I was three or four,I even found a bullet in the basement and was playing with it until my mother came and took it away.I had no idea what it was.

With the idea of guns planted firmly in our minds from early childhood,we incorporated the idea into endless hours of play.Most of us,all of the male kids in my neighborhood,had toy guns of all varieties.I myself had a pair of six guns that could fire caps,and a toy Thompson machine gun that sounded quite real.Lots of kids had toy rifles too.So we would play war,or cops and robbers or Cowboys and Indians.

Cowboys and Indians was very much the same as on television.At least the outcome was the same.Dead Indians!Dead Germans!

To play any of these games required quite a few children.At least six most of the time.Two teams would be formed,and they would consist of "good guys"and "bad guys",with the bigger,older kids getting to decide who was who.The older kids didn't use the term "good guys"and "bad guys"though.If you played war in my neighborhood,you either got to be an American,or a "Kraut" if we were playing war.or a "Cowboy"or an "Injun"if the game was Cowboys and Indians.Sometime the "Krauts"would be "Japs".You didn't want to be an Indian or a "Kraut."Nobody did,because you always lost.You see,the game was rigged from the start with the older kids,or the in crowd,or the kids who could and would fight laying claim to all the spots on the team of "Americans."Or Cowboys.

Sometimes a girl would come by and want to play.If a girl was allowed to play at all,she had to be and Indian or a "Kraut."Without question,she would be lying dead at the end of each round of the game.There was the odd kid with mental disabilities who would come by and want to play too,and,of course,they always had to be on the team of bad guys.While the girls usually tired of the nonsense after a couple of rounds and went elsewhere,the kids with disabilities would play all day,thinking they were being included.But often it wasn't a welcoming kind of inclusion.

The way the game was supposed to work was that everyone would run and hide while someone counted to ten.When the count ended,you would all start looking for soldiers from the opposing team.When you saw one,you pointed your gun and shot.If you didn't have a gun,and often we didn't,we would just use sticks.If you fired your gun first,the other soldier was supposed to fall down dead.Except that the "Americans"usually wouldn't fall,saying that they shot first,of that the "Krauts" missed.Sometimes,though,these "Americans"would allow a token dead guy to come from their numbers,and sometimes a "Kraut"would be allowed to become a prisoner,but the "Americans"always won.And you would really rather be dead than be taken prisoner anyhow,because when you were taken prisoner,the older boys,the "Americans"got to execute you.And even though that was not real,it could still be humiliating.You'd be pulled to the side,and sometimes the "Americans"who were going to execute you  would poke you in the back with there guns,or even poke you in the crotch.And they would say things like"Damn Kraut" or"The only good Indian is a dead Indian"The toy gun would then be placed to the back of your head and fired,at which point you were dead.Game over!The "Americans"win again.And,if you didn't like the outcome,well,too bad.You'd not be allowed back in the game,and the older kids,the "Americans"could,and would enforce the rules.Usually that would involve pointing out to us that that was the way it really happened.We really couldn't argue with that.But sometimes there would be fights too.Such was just the way that young lions played back then.

We'd never heard the words racism,xenophobia or mysogeny back then,but whenever toy guns were around,these things seemed to surface on their own.I also find it odd how the "Good guys"were always "Americans"rather than Canadians.Sure,they were always the virtuous ones,but the way the game played out,it was not very complimentary towards Americans.

Back then,guns were just child's play.But,in thinking back,I really have to wonder about the hand that was holding the weapon.

                           TO BE CONTINUED.

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