The rolling hills, wide open fields and modest forests of Prospect Park, where I grew up, offered the perfect venue in which to play “guns.” You could hide for hours in the brush or a dense cluster of trees, or use that same cover to spring a surprise attack on the enemy. Likewise, your little platoon could blitz an unsuspecting target by charging down those hills to assault a helpless foe laid bare in a grassy field.
Yes, it was fun, even if the park was a few miles away.
Most of our parents didn’t have cars back in the day, and it never occurred to those who did to drive us to the park, ball field or skating rink. Such was city life. You walked or took the bus. If something was worth doing you and your friends got there. Our parents trusted us to leave the house in the morning and get home for dinner even as we were barely pre-teens and what you would call today middle-schoolers. Guns and baseball, not necessarily in that order, were worth the effort.
“Guns” was played on the honor system. If you yelled “bang” and your target could hear and see you point your weapon, he was dead. If he had a dramatic side to him he would clutch the imagined wound and fall down, often with an acrobatic flourish. A little side note here: this was when I first learned that might makes right. It was hard to argue with the toughest kid when he responded “you missed.” Unless there was a witness, you were pretty much overruled.
We would play all day and walk home. The long trek gave us time to discuss the strategies and outcomes of our respective armies made up of anywhere from two to five a side. We viewed it as sport and fantasy. It was competition without the real danger. It was play. We were told that real guns were dangerous. For us, guns were the same thing as a Superman costume. It was fun to wear it, but we knew we would never fly.
Not one person from that group became a cop or pined to join the Army, both noble vocations. Those guys we knew who did viewed guns as the tools of their profession.
Guns have always been a part of the American culture. Our country was formed through the patriotic use of the firearm. This, as well as our healthy distrust of government, and our sacred belief in the individual, lead to the second amendment. In my view this was all good. And at the most fundamental level, a person should have the right to protect his or her self, property and family.
But something changed.
Over the years, we have lived through a cultural change during which the gun ceased to be a tool for the protection of one’s country, person and freedoms, and become, for some, an extension—indeed the symbol—of an angry, narcissist and violent presentation of the self. They have become a dangerous symbol of a dark side of our culture, which has mutated our love of liberty into a mantra of “I have got mine.” I worry that America borders on embracing the ideal that it’s every man for him or her self, through any means necessary.
We will never outlaw guns in this country. The Second Amendent will endure. But there is just cause for a sensible solution.
It is certainly true that guns in the hands of millions of people increase the statistical likelihood of an accident or even the regrettable passionate use of the weapon simply because it is available. Those who wish to outlaw guns, indeed all of us as a society, will have to begrudgingly factor in these risks with the intent of reducing them through educating the public and regulating ownership.
But it is also true, that there is no reason—ever—to sell a gun without a background check. Nor is there any justification for not registering each gun. There is also work to be done on our mental health-care system and within our culture. We must look hard at ourselves.
In the effort to speak more knowledgeably about guns on my radio show, I took the NRA course on learning how to fire pistols and rifles, along with the intense safety training that goes with it. The class was professional and the safety aspects were impeccable.
Later in the day, as the long program came to a close, most of the range regulars showed up. Within a very short time the facility was overrun with SUVs, pick-up trucks and open air jeeps, some painted in military camouflage. The people who got out of those vehicles told a story that I had hoped I would not see. Some of them, too, wore camouflage colors, these to go along with their pistols, rifles and assault weapons. There were tattoos, holsters, snarls and an odd kind of camaraderie. Their prevailing attitude was ... unhealthy.
All I could think of was Clint Eastwood movies, militias, video games and decals on the backs of trucks angrily declaring that the owner has a gun.