On occasion, I’ll bring Dad’s remaining guns out of my closet and look at them, hold them. (I moved back to San Francisco in 2004 and have lived in the same apartment ever since, by far the longest period of stability in my life.) Really, the guns feel more like artifacts than tools or weapons. They’re more historical documents than real-life firearms. I guess it somehow makes sense. Isn’t every American born with a gun in his or her hand? Isn’t this what we need when the pursuit of happiness has failed? In which direction will you point your birthright?
I get very different feelings when I hold the various types of guns. When I hold one of the rifles, it feels like hunting animals. I’m not a hunter, but I’m a meat eater. I can imagine hunting for food, shooting what I will later eat. This doesn’t bother me. I’m indifferent, just as I was when Dad gave me the .22 for Christmas back in 1985. With a shotgun, there’s something about holding one that makes you feel safe, like you can protect yourself or loved ones from people who mean you harm. From someone invading your home. As a friend points out, where the simple “shlick-shlock” of putting a cartridge in the chamber is persuasion enough for an intruder to reconsider his intentions. Handguns, however, are a different story. I hate handguns. They are sinister. I do not understand how people—including Dad—could cherish, even love a handgun. Obviously there is some deep affirming symbolism I cannot appreciate, that I do not respect, because when I see a handgun, I involuntary scowl. My blood pressure rises. I get angry. For me, a handgun tells the story of crime, misery, tragedy—not strength or manliness, not defense of self or loved ones, but a death wish. Above all, loudly, the story of crime, with peals of wicked laughter. “This, here, is how I will force you to submit. This is how I will fucking kill you.”
I unloaded the bullets from these guns in Big Bear years ago, and have never since replenished them—ammo in general is difficult to buy in San Francisco. Still, every time I pick up one of Dad’s guns, I have the irrepressible urge to make sure it’s not loaded.