Guns, Guns & GunsWednesday, March 31, 2010
In my trip to Austin, Texas last June to a high school reunion (all classes from 1872 to 1967, and few if any showed up from the classes of the 19th Century) I quickly realized that my classmates were not the ones I had shared a dormitory, room and classroom and playing fields for four years. I quickly understood I could not bring up the subject of Obama, the Canadian health system and gun control. My former classmates all either carried concealed handguns (at the very least they had them in their cars) and many thought it was their God-given right to carry an unconcealed one. They wanted to go back to the time of Wyatt Earp in Tombstone and Dodge City. I was shocked and never more so when traveling with my schoolmate John Arnold to visit our friend Michael East in his ranch in South Texas. Between John Arnold (a former member of the US Marine Corps) us under the arm rest of his F-15 Twin Cab I could discern the grip of his .45 caliber semi-automatic equipped with laser sites.
My attraction and subsequent feeling of a paradoxical tug of war between an obsession to own a gun and then be repelled by the very idea, began in 1949 when my mother gave me an official Gen Autrey cap gun, complete with holster and Western shirt. I was the king of Melián Street in Buenos Aires as none of my friends had access to American goods. My mother had friends at the US Embassy.
It was around 1959 that my mother and grandmother moved to an apartment on Avenida Insurgentes Sur in Mexico City. Below us was an armería (gun store) owned by our retired Basque pelotari (Jai-alai player) Daniel Guridi. I would often visit his shop so I could look at his collection of Breda shotguns but my real interest lay in the Beretta pistols he had. Once, as far as I can remember I was able to get enough nerve and I asked Guridi if he would allow me to hold one. For weeks and months I nagged my mother that I wanted a gun. She finally relented and Guridi gave me an extremely realistic .22 revolver that could only handle blank cartridges.
In the Argentine Navy I quickly passed all the tests for shooting the Mauser rifle, the US issue grease gun and the Llama .45 semi automatic.
Around 1973 I had a student (see, below, left) in Mexico who was in my English class at Colgate Palmolive. He told me (since he was blonde) that he was a descendant of Pancho Villa and an Irish/American woman he had wooed. I now forget the name of the pleasant man who had a sweet and steady personality. He told me that he was so because he went target shooting every weekend. He invited me a couple of times. I must say that the noise and kick of a Colt 0.45 semi automatic pistol is one of those noises that I place with others that are my favourite like that of the de Havilland Beaver’s radial Pratt & Whitney engine. And I must also admit that I would go home feeling relaxed after those sessions at the gun range.
But I never after that ever wanted to own a gun. I think I have a quick temper and I would never want a gun in the house. Around 1990 in my early years of gardening I was furious that squirrels would munch on our garden bulbs. I went to The Three Vets and purchased a replica of the .357 Magnum (complete with long and short barrels). It was an air gun that fired BBs.
I meant to shoot the squirrels. I decided I was going to give them a sporting chance so I would not wear my glasses. I would suddenly open the kitchen door (overlooking the garden) and the squirrels would scurry away. Just once I hit one mid air and it plummeted to the ground. It was not quite dead so I had to shoot it in close quarters. This was tough. When my daughter Hilary found out she told me she was going to report me to the S.P.C.A. if I shot and killed one more squirrel.
It all became moot as weeks later a burglar walked into our house in the middle of the night (at the time I did not lock the front door) and the thief went away with my word processor, my CDs and my stereo. It took me some days to find out that he had also taken the gun. I never claimed the gun with the insurance and left it at that. I would never ever want to own any kind of gun.
In 1996 I received call from a young man called T’ai Erasmus. He wanted me to photograph him with his Olympic air rifle (he competed for Canada as an Olympic Target Shooter for 16 years).
The man who faced me in the studio had complete confidence. He told me he was going to become an Olympic champion. I am not sure he ever did but he did go to become a prominent and well known fitness instructor.
What especially impressed me about this confident young man was the equanimity he projected when he posed with his rifle.
When I spotted some vicious looking knives framed on the wall of John Arnold’s home in Austin I realized that my rough and ready friend, who had perhaps killed while in Viet Nam (he also saved many a downed pilot by climbing down ropes from overhead hovering helicopters to pick them up), had the same confidence, equanimity and serenity of T’Ai Erasmus.
When Arnold and I visited Mike East at his ranch we saw guns displayed on the walls. I was told to watch out for rattlesnakes and not to put my hands into anything in the bush without first looking first. I had not doubt that East carried a gun in the glove compartment of his truck. I asked East to hold his father’s gun for me. He reverently picked it up. I watched his face and I saw that serenity.
I will never need it because I will never own a gun.