325 – The Gun

Today I’m sticking my fingers up at you.

Actually I’m sticking them out, index and middle finger, my thumb cocked back, fingers pointing at your head.

Do you know what I’m doing? You know what I’m doing.

I’ve got a finger-gun and I’m not afraid to use it. Pull the trigger, drop that thumb and your imaginary brains will be scattered all over Christendom.

Guns are the closest things we have to magic in this world. Sure, we can fly, communicate across great distances, trap people’s faces in photographs then manipulate them to look like someone else entirely. Sure, there are a lot of things you might consider magical in the world that are quite commonplace, to the point in being mundane.

But guns, ah, guns.

Guns are unmaking. They’re eternal rest, avada kedavra, a one-way ticket to paradise: they’re an off switch for human beings that you point and depress with all the ease of tying your shoes. You don’t dial a number. You don’t earn a license. You point and click and snuff out a person’s life.

If I sound reverent, well, you might wonder if I’ve gone native. I haven’t, and even if I hadn’t, in my new neck of the woods guns–rare or otherwise–aren’t exactly waved on the streets in high noon showdowns. To the best of my knowledge nobody I know owns a gun.

But they’re available–and locally, too.

Last week we bought a newspaper for coupons, those weekly vouchers that can make a thrifty supermarket shopping trip quite bountiful. It’s Thanksgiving on Thursday, shops and now houses are putting up decorations, and the paper was filled with advertisements for impending Christmas deals. Among the circulars was one for Dick’s, a sporting goods store, which just happened to advertise bargain prices on hunting rifles.

Right there, between Macey’s reduced fashions and ShopRite’s three for two Tropicana offer: guns, lots of guns.

I was taken aback in a way I wouldn’t have been looking at the Toys ‘R’ Us catalogue and I had to double check to make sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. Sporting goods–maybe they were hockey sticks or lacrosse nets, or something–anything–other than what they actually were.

Most of the time I assume I’m in another part of the UK where things are slightly different–like when we used to holiday far away from Devon and would buy milk and eggs from Budgeons or Londis rather than our customary Plymco. This moment–seeing guns sold as if they weren’t wands of death–brought it back to me: I was in America, and they do things differently over here.

“They’re not guns,” said my wife, with the same vehemence with which she insists potatoes aren’t vegetables (“It’s a starch!”). “They’re hunting rifles. They’re not the same thing.”

They looked the same to me. You point, you fire, stuff flies out the end and carves a tunnel in whatever you’re pointing it at.

Then, as if to placate me, she said: “Would you like one for Christmas?”

What?

“A gun. We could get you a gun for Christmas. Would you like one?”

Part of me–the part that’s slowly spending our entire food budget on candy corn–wanted a gun. I’d never considered owning one before, not in the UK and not over here. What would I do with a gun? Blow my own face off, probably. I don’t need a gun and I don’t need a hunting rifle–whatever you call it, I don’t need it.

And yet . . .

I’ve never had the inclination to own a gun it’s true, but neither have I had the opportunity to own one. Now I’m a US resident, the opportunity has presented itself. Though I wouldn’t use it for anything other than a Russian Roulette back scratcher, I could own a gun. Which kinds of gun? Does it matter? It’s terrifying that I could own a gun–maybe as soon as tomorrow, if I wanted it.

Yet for all its organised crime past–up to and including The Sopranos–guns don’t seem to be a big deal in New Jersey. They’re relegated to hunting purposes, with enthusiasts confined either to ranges or the forests and mountains, bagging bucks with buckshot. I haven’t seen guns for sale in the flesh but I haven’t exactly been looking for them, either. Lindsay hates shopping and is forever rushing me past aisles we don’t need specific items from–could one of those conceal guns stacked like Slim Jims?

America might be a gun culture, but let’s not pretend we didn’t play cops and robbers as kids, having shoot-outs in the playground, using Fatty Gavin for cover. I spent more time using LEGO to build guns than I did for any more constructive purposes; likewise I lusted after Super Soakers and might have flipped if I’d known such a thing as Nerf weaponry existed. There is no abacus on God’s green Earth that could have counted the number of sticks and cardboard tubes I’d transformed into guns by holding them just so and providing sound effects with my voice. Like Michael Wilmslow meets Rambo, no bad guy stood against me and my trusty kitchen role.

My nephew’s exactly the same–as are all small boys, I imagine. When my wife played Skyrim today (acting the pacifist, picking flowers and running from wolves) he kept asking when she was going to shoot the bad guys, despite there being no bad guys at the time and her not having any weaponry suitable for firing in her inventory. He’s gun-happy, raised as I was on a diet of robots and soldiers shooting each other with lasers. There are no real casualties in his fantasy land, and if we were to show him one of the gory bullet-time executions from Fallout 3 (which we won’t. Give us some credit, won’t you?) he’d have nightmares about flying eyeballs for weeks.

Thirteen years from now this little boy will have access to a gun of his own. If it’s bad enough they’ll give a gun to me, it’s even worse knowing he’ll get one, especially when he mutters darkly that I need to learn my lessons when I take the Xbox controller away from him. Hopefully he’ll mature a little between now and then, but when I think back to my teenaged years and what I’d have done if I had a gun, I worry about his future.

I probably shouldn’t. Guns are far less prevalant here than baseball, pee-wee football, coffee, donuts and a hundred different ways to fry cheese. There might be flags hung across every stoop but in spite of being commonplace guns seem in short supply: they’re still things for people on TV to threaten criminals with rather than things to be threatened by.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t bad guys out there who have guns, who’re waving them in a threatening manner–even firing them–as I type. We all know there are. But even with flyers arriving in the mail advertising Dick’s festive firearm sale, I feel quite safe here in suburbia, even without a gun.

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