Friday, February 23, 2018

David Graber

Carnage and community healing

Guest column
The shock and outrage of Las Vegas is simmering down to a useful conversation in Montana, even in Big Horn County. If any regulation of military weaponry happens, it will be accompanied by the recovery of an old civics class concept I learned in my one-room country school in the early 50s: “…That government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” 
The rise of military weaponry in the hands of U.S. citizens has been accompanied by a morphing of our nation’s proud principle into something sinister: our government gone awry. With an alarming increase in mass shootings nationwide, our collective awareness has grown to realize we have a government out of our control. Control of our government is important to many of us who would love to see America great again. What’s getting in the way?
I remember a hunting season in the 50s when my father used proceeds from our custom sheep shearing to buy a lifetime membership in a national citizen gun-owner group. My brothers and I received benefits: discount coupons for ammo, mailings on gun safety promotion, a subscription to the American Rifleman magazine and (get this) piles of targets on paper. I quickly graduated from a Benjamin BB gun to a single shot .22, and practiced as much as my dad’s dribble of coins allowed me to buy .22 shorts at the Trenton General Store. 
A few years later, Dad revoked his lifetime membership. It happened like this: One snow-bright December Sunday morning on the way to church, he had stopped our Studebaker at a bend in the gravel road. There, in the snow beside the road, was a large area of dark grey – a pile of dead rabbits and quail. 
“See that?” he asked. “Someone was using guns to go crazy. Guns have a purpose: to provide for the family table.” He alluded to our neighbor friend who had one of the new semi-automatic rifles and a Winchester revolver advertised in our magazine. “Guns like this lead away from God. We shouldn’t buy guns made to kill people. These guns are built not for good, but for evil.” 
He didn’t know we partially had succeeded in converting our friend’s automatic .22 to fully automatic. We had enough success to track the puffs in the snow right into a running rabbit until the gun jammed and we couldn’t fix it. This didn’t end my gun ownership, but it ended our fun shooting spree and our fascination with the citizen gun-owner group. 
That group became a guns-for-people-killing industry in our nation. Its world record rise in citizen weaponry sales revenue accompanied our nation’s rising number of mass shootings. Way back in the 50s, did my Dad know what he was talking about when ending his lifetime membership with the National Rifle Association? I suspect his only surprise would be how long it has taken to get to Las Vegas. 
When will we have the sanity to apply similarly sensible regulations for other lethal man-made materials like cars, pharmaceuticals, explosives and pocket knives to guns? A big difference is this: none of these other materials are specifically designed for mass killing of other human beings. How could our cognitive disconnect get so huge? How much money was poured into this disconnect over the last few decades and for whose profit?
What was predictable then was, and still is, preventable. But it takes all of us citizens to return to our nation’s greatness, repeating the words of Abraham Lincoln, “… government of the people, by the people and for the people.”