An Unprotected Courage

By Knotts, Bob | The Humanist, January 2001 | Go to article overview

An Unprotected Courage


Knotts, Bob, The Humanist


I am an unrepentant liberal, an aging anachronism in a nation where moderate conservatives now seem left wing. I take genuine pride in the train of credentials that follows me through life--a string of "formers" and "exes" mixed among more current labels: hippie, Vietnam protester and draft resister, McGovern worker, Bill Clinton defender, death penalty opponent, advocate of abortion rights and gun control. Part of me had hoped Warren Beatty would run in the 2000 presidential election. In many ways, I still view the world through granny glasses, though now their lenses are more gray than rose.

But I am aware of a lingering childhood passion not quite buried beneath the beliefs I consider enlightened and the attitudes I call common sense, a feeling that pokes through the accumulated decades of social statistics and news reports about the hazards of weapons in the home. Despite it all I somehow remain, in one recessed fold of my personality, strangely fascinated by guns.

I wonder whether it could be otherwise for any male in the United States, especially one born in the early 1950s and raised in economically comfortable, Midwestern suburbia. We never had a weapon of any kind in our house--unless my BB gun or my father's air pistol qualify.

But guns for me were something seen at a glamorous distance, wielded by decisive men in defense of great ideals. My pubescent understanding of the world was shaped partly by TV programs such as The FBI and The Man from UNCLE, Gunsmoke and Wyatt Earp, The Rat Patrol and Combat. I have vivid memories of crawling around the foxholes of my neighborhood in army fatigues, toy machine gun in hand, slaughtering invading forces.

Guns were never real to me as a child--at least not until the day a friend from across the street pounded on our front door, screaming and hemorrhaging. The boy had nearly shot off his thumb with his father's German luger. After the ambulance came for him, I watched my shaken mother try to scrub the splatter of dried blood from our green slate foyer.

For me, this was the beginning of the truth about guns. In time I saw them as I do now: as instruments of ignorance rather than tools of honor; as destroyers rather than protectors. I have always refused to own a gun of any kind, much less allow one in my home.

Still, to this day I love war movies. And if I am painfully honest with myself I must acknowledge feeling a complex stew of emotions toward men who exhibit a more frontier mentality--the fellows with a shotgun in their pickup, a .45 on their nightstand, and three rottweilers tied up outside, straining viciously toward anything that moves. Men like me perceive men like them fearfully. If my view of these gun owners generally blends a kind of pity with indignant anger and more than a touch of condescension, it also includes the sense that they are made of tougher stuff than I. They seem more simplistic and brutal, yes, but perhaps also more fiercely determined to protect their property and loved ones. Some small part of me feels a grudging admiration for such people. …

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