Gunning for America

The past doesn’t catch up with you. It turns to dust, mixes with vapors of the day and settles to the floor, not to mention the walls, the ceilings, the interior of drawers, the wooden face of kitchen cabinets, the glass of windows, the pile of carpets and the weave of curtains. Against the backdrop of such dereliction, what is there to do but load a few guns and wait for the end?

And if this sounds like some Hollywood screenwriter having a nihilistic go at life…you are not far off, just unaware of the timing. The film version would be much tauter. Tom’s later life was all plotless loose ends. Which was why by the time I entered his apartment, sneezing and coughing from 15 years of dust and tobacco smoke combined, the matter of the firearms seemed largely irrelevant. Pulmonary survival ranked much more high in my priorities. And yet there they were, one open and loaded on the sofa, one rescued from a bedside table – two pistols and one nonmatching ammunition clip. A situation that hung dramatically until one day someone whisking a hand inside a high closet shelf revealed the missing third gun, a 38 caliber revolver.

What could Tom have been thinking? Why is Tom’s thinking unthought of in these, our United States? Crime, one supposes. An elderly man alone and…what? Ready to be preyed upon by criminals? The End Times, perhaps, with Tom envisioning himself braced just inside a doorway, black helicopters circling, his handguns at the ready? Except that Tom only has two hands, or had, and even in the most feverish cowboy flick there is a simple limit to how many guns that simultaneously can blaze away. A collector? An aficionado? Somehow I can’t imagine Tom’s sitting in his apartment pawing over objects of any kind.

Perhaps he never fully thought through the provision of guns, and with the passage of time Tom forgot about their existence. And so it came to pass that on one particular afternoon several liberal types stared dumbfounded at this weaponry – and called in an expert. The latter being one of my neighbors. He may have military experience, this guy, and was certainly not intimidated by the pistols. Holding them carefully, checking the chamber. He knew what he was doing. And perhaps this was the best solution. Calling for help.

Except that in today’s America our divisions can make helping each other difficult, certainly complex. Another neighbor, let us call him Tony, offered to save the guns in his locked cabinet. Just to protect them, he told me. Why not? That’s where guns belong, locked and in a cabinet. So off they went.

Problem is, these guns comprise part of a much larger settlement. A trust, which requires that all assets, weapons include, get valued and listed. This bureaucratic step conceivably opens an estate to challenges and poses hurdles. The lawyer seems to favor my approach – hand the guns over to the Menlo Park Police for melting down. Unfortunately Tony has objected. The guns are special, he says. One no longer made. He wants them, wants to buy them. Having been so helpful, storing them and all. Not to worry, Tony added, for guns don’t kill people, people do.

Obviously, he has no idea to whom he’s talking. Is it worth having any sort of dialogue with my neighbor? Interestingly, the answer feels like a resounding no. Save one’s breath, my intuition tells me. So how do we handle this? How do we handle guns in America? Hasn’t the NRA won? Doesn’t the supposed ‘right to bear arms’ mean that anyone can have virtually any weapon in their own home? ‘Arms’ possibly extending to grenade launchers and well, you know, small nuclear arms? As dismal as it is preposterous, gun ownership in America has reached an all-time high. Practically as many weapons as citizens. Who comes closest to us in terms of gun ownership? Yemen.

I would kind of like Tony to watch the Menlo Park Police take my guns – no, they are not his – and cart them off for scrap metal. And yet I feel somehow effete, the gun ‘experts’ in the neighborhood taking over, while I sit to one side, quietly disapproving. Of course I called them in, the gun experts. Here, you handle these horrible things. Which, of course, they are only too happy to do. Taking guns out of circulation? Is this what I think I’m doing? Hardly. Futile. But at this juncture I do have a plan. Tony wants guns? Fine. Pay for them. Top dollar. He can send a check to the local high school. There seems no stopping the guns. But the kids that stop the bullets…maybe we can help a few of them.

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