Ammo, amas, amat: A liberal loves guns
My Big Plans for SHTF Day, Or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Glock Model 17 Nine-Millimetre Semi-Automatic with Trijicon Night Sights, Maritime Spring Cups and a Wolff Competition Trigger Kit.
I have an office downtown in a major Canadian city. I have a few eclectic items strung around it – a collection of hats, an electric guitar in a lovely tobacco burl, a couple of lifelike mannequin heads that serve as hat stands but which most visitors find macabre, or at least unnerving.
But usually, visitors’ initial attention to the decor fixes on the gunrack on my wall, or rather, at the rifles and shotguns that I rotate through it. At this moment, it displays a Winchester Model 1897 12-gauge pump-action shotgun with the short “riot gun” barrel (you might remember Kevin Costner firing an identical weapon one-handed in the famous “staircase shootout” scene of The Untouchables. Before that it was a Canadian-made Lee Enfield .303 “Jungle Carbine”, a Russian Mosin-Nagant from the Second World War and a Chinese replica of a First World War “Trench Broom”, a particularly nasty shotgun with an 18-inch bayonet attached. As one remarkably un-rattled guest commented, “you don’t often see a shotgun with a bayonet…” That’s true, you don’t.
That I can display these fully-functional military firearms on my wall, with a trigger lock in place of course, speaks to one of the quirkier aspects of Canadian life, or at least my Canadian life. Most people are surprised to know that Canada’s gun control laws, designed with rural life in
mind, place very few restrictions on non-restricted firearms such as shotguns and rifles. Provided it wasn’t loaded and provided I wasn’t heading to a public gathering, I could march down Main Street with my riot gun, without even a lock on it (my municipality has no firearms bylaw).
No, I haven’t tried it, because I’m not stupid. It would only be a matter of time before some policeman, well meaning but lacking my nuanced understanding of Canada’s byzantine gun laws, decided to Taser me. And of course, when the present federal government has its way, my long guns (some of which are quite short, like the riot gun), won’t even have to be accompanied by a registration certificate (presently, I tape the damn certificate to the gun itself because if I forget it at home I’m a felon).
I haven’t always owned guns. I grew up shooting a .177-calibre pellet gun, a Czech-made treasure that became the basement scourge of toy soldiers and all variety of toys and model kits that had passed their plaything prime. You had to stand up and reload by ‘breaking’ the barrel to pump in air, then manually insert a single pellet before resuming firing position. Nevertheless, the concrete wall became a mass of squashed lead, one laborious pump at a time. Later I joined the Cadets, where I got to shoot a Lee Enfield converted to .22-calibre, and then the Army Reserves, where I took to the serious hardware: assault rifles and machine guns of all descriptions, and I became, if I might say so, an exceptionally good shot.
But I had never considered privately owning a gun. I was a decent liberal professional in the suburbs, and no reasonably-foreseeable scenario would have me shooting anything. I believed in strict gun control. I still do.
But then a few years back a colleague mentioned that he’d taken the government mandated PAL and RPAL courses (the former lets you have long guns, the latter permits restricted weapons like pistols and some shorter-barrel semi-automatics), passed the tests, and could now purchase and possess guns. I remembered how much I enjoyed shooting as a child and in the army, and I resolved to broach the idea with my wife. I approached that discussion with some trepidation – the love of my life is a small, kind, kindergarten teacher. Would she mind very much, I ventured over dinner one night, if I got my license and bought a gun for target practice?
As it turned out, not only did she not mind, but she too had fond memories of shooting as a youngster (a .22 with the Girl Guides – she’d kept the paper targets for 25 years, stuffed among the photos and other documentation of her youth).
Within a few months, we both had our licences, a fridge-shaped gun safe, and a burgeoning collection of weaponry. The firing range became, believe it or not, the only hobby we had in common, and a great excuse to hang out with each other after years of children, work, and diverse interests had calcified into often very separate lives.
The intricate engineering of the firearms themselves appealed to my mechanical inclinations, and shooting itself had the same appeal it always did. I don’t play golf, but I understand the draw of an activity that is both physical and mental, and imbued with a philosophy, an unconscious precision. I loved the zen pursuit of the long-distance rifle, the sheer power of the 12-gauge shotgun, the ad hoc urgency of the semi-automatic pistol.
The real surprise, though, was my wife, who took to handguns like I’d always hoped she’d take to cooking. Together we attended a police tactical pistol course, and she got a gold medal as best student. She was a natural, a hundred-pound schoolteacher and mother of two transformed into Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft (the tank top helped with my imagery, I confess). One day we went to our local gun club only to find the pistol range occupied by RCMP officers doing their six-month qualifying shoot (10 metres rapid fire with man-shaped silhouette). She located an empty station on the firing line, carefully loaded her Sig Sauer 9mm, and proceeded to humiliate them. Tap-tap-tap: two to the body and one to the head. Ouch. Did I mention that she teaches kindergarten? Sigh.
Do we have an obligation to rationalize it? I can’t. I have a Mossberg 12-gauge with an extra-heavy barrel, tested to fire 2,000 rounds of double-0 buck without pause or cleaning (I haven’t fired 2,000 shotgun rounds in my life, and likely won’t). It was made for the U.S. Marines. My Glock 17, the legendary ‘plastic pistol’ from Austria, can shoot underwater; this was sufficiently important to me that I purchased and installed a pair of “maritime spring cups” to enable this function.
Now surely, if aquatic survival were really my goal, I’d take some swimming lessons, because if you want to kill me in the ocean, just drop me off there and wait a few minutes. The few metal parts on the Glock would only weigh me down. But then, I also have an Omega wristwatch that NASA has certified for moon missions and spacewalks. Not going to need it, but part of me is reassured that if I were ever taken out of the atmosphere and ordered to leave the spacecraft, my watch, at least, would be up to the job. I wonder if the Glock would work in that environment too – at least I could shoot the bastard who sent me outside.
And it’s not just us. Since we started our new hobby, a number of friends – male and female – have gone through the hoops of getting their own licenses – a university prof, a bank official, a clothier, good leftish liberals all. Many others have declared their ambitions to follow.
I’m not sure I fully understand why we are so drawn to it – perhaps it is the anticipated thrill of the implied violence of the act, or the lingering romance of the gun from all those action movies we grew up with. Perhaps there is a more sinister – or at least troubling – motivation, something to do with recent global economic crises which for the first time might have ordinary folk imagining the possibility, even a remote possibility, of a post-civilization existence.
Maybe something in our lizard brain is sensing the unease in the air. I mean, think about it, on SHTF Day (gun-nut-speak for Shit Hits The Fan Day, if I need to explain), do you really want conservatives to be the only ones with guns?
Contrarian lives in a small town by a big city in North America, but will not say where because, if the shit hits the fan, he wants to take the zombies by surprise.