Inspired by his late father's antique pistol, author, urbanite, firearm novice (and skeptic) Eli Gottlieb traveled through Colorado to figure out why guns still hold such fascination.
Eager to put as much distance as possible between myself and the first pistol shot of my life, I quickly run through the clip, firing away, after which I reload and run through another. I then try Patrick's much larger caliber .45, with its deeper roar, harsher recoil, and a blast wave you can feel on your skin. All of these shots end up spraying dirt around the target as often as they hit it. It feels like trying to paint with a garden hose. But I've got beginner's license to be a bad shot. What happens as I continue to fire, however, is that, while I'm enjoying it after a fashion, part of my brain is continuing to marvel over the violence inherent in this little piece of metal in my hand. It feels like hate. It feels like judgment rendered with biblical thunder and fire. Simply put: It frightens me.
Later that day, I wander through my chores feeling light-headed, a bit disoriented. At the gym, I'm incapable of remembering the combination of my lock. Driving to a dinner party that night, my wife tells me I seem "spacey" and points out that I've just told the same story twice. I try to laugh it off, but suddenly the symptoms of lostness and of disorderly mental function are mounting. I pull over the car and tell her, "I think I may have had a stroke." We're sitting there in our evening clothes, mulling over whether to head to the emergency room, when I suddenly realize: It's the guns! It's the blast wave of that barking .45!
Embarrassing, but true: I was cognitively degraded by firing pistols. I was made stupid through firearms. The spaceyness would linger for another dozen or so hours while I handled myself with care, and eventually it would go away. Regulation-issue ear-protection for shooters probably would have helped. Likewise, a thicker skin.
The very first gun was probably fired sometime in 13th-century China, when an enterprising alchemist put charcoal-based powder down a tube, dropped a rock in, and then lit it with a burning stick. The very first argument about gun control almost certainly followed soon after that event. Eight centuries later, the argument continues unabated, and the two sides now face off with the weary jadedness of club fighters, bloodied but still swinging. On one side are the Tom Mausers of the world. Mauser, whose involvement in the debate was lent a defining pathos by the death of his son at Columbine, has become Colorado's most famous gun-control advocate, our very own Jim Brady, and a man whose elfin, quick-to-smile face can just as quickly veil over with pain. His position is simple: Comprehensive, strictly enforced gun laws save lives by keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, psychopaths, and children.
Against this apparently common-sense view are ranged the formidable forces of both the National Rifle Association (widely considered the most powerful lobby in America and, according to some, the single most responsible factor in the arming of our country) and people like Dave Kopel. Kopel is the research director for the Independence Institute, a "free-market think tank" in Golden, who speaks with the clarity and confidence of a lawyer and scholar who's published more than a dozen books:
"The First and Second Amendments to the Constitution both protect things that are not only rights but positive goods," he says. "A society that has more bookstores and libraries, churches and synagogues, more newspapers, and yes, more responsibly armed citizens is a healthier, freer, safer, and more self-governing society than one that has fewer of these things. That's one reason that the Second Amendment is described as necessary to the security of a free state."
I find this line of argument insane. But clearly I'm in the minority. Proof of this can be found in that uniquely American looking-glass logic, whereby most public gun-related tragedies produce an uptick in gun sales. People, not to put too fine a point on it, are running scared. And scared is not cognitive. Scared is not logical or analytic. Scared is the opposite of all that. Exhibit A: Though born in Manhattan, I grew up in a fairly rural part of New Jersey where crime, in my early childhood, was nonexistent. But this didn't stop my otherwise sophisticated parents from keeping the doors and windows double bolted at all times. Clearly, they believed a bad guy was crouched perpetually outside in the bushes, waiting to enter the house and loot our precious Sears appliances. When they finally sold the house and moved to Florida, I imagined the poor burglar, now grown gray-haired and emaciated, falling from the bushes to the ground with his knees locked by 40 years of lying in wait for his main chance.