Submitted by Jim Scripps | Feature image: Trevor Bexon
It’s been seven years since my dad passed, and to this day when I think about him I think about guns.
He was a wisecracker, sometimes to a frustrating degree, and unserious about a lot of things, but during our regular trips to the shooting range during my childhood he turned earnest, as if we were partaking in a sacred ancient tradition of father-son bonding, as he had done with his father.
He approached those Saturday experiences as a sort of ritual, and conferred on them a gravity that invoked a sense of connection to our family history and our Americanness, because the freedom for citizens to own, carry and use a weapon in a virtually unrestricted way, is uniquely American.
At the range my dad would show me his guns, explain their purpose and history. Some were relics form World War II, others were family heirlooms. There’s an old Henry repeater, the kind you see in black-and-white Westerns, and a .38 Special, standard issue for beat cops back in the day. There were shotguns and even a black powder Navy pistol that coughed pungent smoke along with a satisfying “crack” as the load discharged.
Each time, we went through the motions of safe handling, and he would reiterate the old cliché, “The gun is always loaded.” After shooting, we’d sit down at the kitchen table, disassemble and thoroughly clean each one, and talk. He was strident that a gun, even a child’s toy gun, should never be pointed at another person, and they should be oiled and stored safely, locked away when not in use.
So it’s through this lens that I interpret this disturbing American moment, as armed protestors stage marches in the state capitals of our country, disgruntled by governors’ corona virus stay-at-home orders. Disturbing because the implication of a protestor dressed in tactical gear, holding an AR-15, is violence. That if we don’t get what we want, we’ll take it by force.
Such was the case in our home state of Nevada, where protestors put themselves on display on the sidewalk in front of the governor’s mansion in Carson City, dressed like cartoon versions of actors in a cheesy cable TV swat team drama, but this deranged performative patriotism came with extra flags.
While the subject of these protests may have merit, for citizens to denigrate the solemn American tradition of gun ownership by playing dress-up and treating weapons like toys, belies a real disconnect between the reality of our politicized culture and what should be a reciprocal expression of Americanness: the idea that the right to own guns is tempered by a duty to respect their power.
Maybe we’ve arrived at this point as a byproduct of two decades of continuous war, the infiltration of militarization into civil society through osmosis, where the idea of violence has become disembodied from the warriors who are trained to understand it. Or maybe it’s because we don’t have enough dads (or moms) taking the time to explain why the respect we have for guns should be absolute.
Whatever it is, in America guns have become emblems of faux masculinity and political symbolism. If our relationship with them doesn’t change, it could be our undoing.
Jim Scripps is a Nevada resident, writer and director of the journalism and communications program at Sierra Nevada University.
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