All the Kewl Kidz

ARE ANSWERING Jennifer’s question, How did you become a gunny? and far be it from me to march to a different drummer…

You? Conformist! It is to laugh!

Stifle, Missy!

::thpbthpbthpbthpbthpbthpb!::

Lord, deliver me from this obstreperous girl-child!

That was yer daily sass. Want some ass? ::moons Alger::

::shakes head slowly:: Can we get back to the topic at hand?

::butter wouldn’t melt:: By all means!

You really are a piece of work!

A piece, alright. But I’m your work!

Please don’t remind me.

ANY. Waaayyy…

My answer: as much as I enjoy their company, their honesty, kindness, charity, their straight-arrow nature, I’m not a gunny.

That is, firearms aren’t my hobby. I don’t go to the range every weekend and shoot several hundred dollars’-worth of ammo at paper targets — or go hunting wild tin cans in some riverbed with a gravel backstop.

And, really, the notion of “gunny” is kinda-sorta alien to me. Do you identify yourself by a single tool in your toolbox? Are you a knifey? A screwdriverie? A sawie? To me, “gunny” is a rank in the Marines — Gunnery Sergeant — three up, two down, right there between Staff Sergeant and Master Sergeant.

A firearms enthusiast, maybe. But not so damned shaggy, as the ’60s-era joke went.

When I was a kid — the same nine-or-ten as in the fear of flying post below — I had this really neat toy rifle. It was by Mattel, I think, and was a merchandise tie-in to some TV western, though I don’t remember which one (they were legion in the early ’60s).

But its chief virtue was that it actually shot bullets. (!) Not real lead bullets, mind, but still … The rifle came with six or seven heavy brass cartridges that had springs set in them. The bullets were gray plastic things with snap tabs on the sides. You’d push the bullet into a cartridge, load it in the gun, cock it, and pull the trigger. And that gray plastic slug would go downrange, powered by that spring in the cartridge, toward whatever a young lad pointed it at. Miniature soldiers. Matchbox cars. My Black Watch regimental band set of twenty-four (give or take) pipers. And drummers.

When I first came under the influence of the Colonel (who, if I haven’t mentioned it, was my stepfather), he was at some pains to make observations about this toy. First, he made no bones about how it WAS a toy, but nevertheless, I was in violation of several firearms protocols. And I started learning the Four Rules.

The first sort of tickle of mental disonnance — the kind that signifies you’ve learned a major cosmic concept — was the one about “A gun is always loaded.” Note that the rule, as taught to me was NOT, “Treat a gun at all times as though it were loaded,” the subjunctive allowing far too much wiggle room for weaselling a rule that — for all good sense — MUST be absolute. No. Only “A gun is always loaded” will suffice. On further, more adult consideration, the reasons for this become clear. One must have that automatic reflex trained into one, for the sake of the safety not only of one’s self, but — more importantly — that of those around one.

The second tickle was the massive responsibility that comes with having a firearm in one’s hands. Once that first rule penetrated, the chuckles over the disonnance died away, and the lesson was absorbed, there were further lessons: “Never point the gun at anything you don’t intend to kill”; “Never point the gun at something you cannot positively identify”; “Make sure of your backstop — know where your round is going to go downrange and DO NOT FIRE if you have any doubts”.

(Funnily enough, I don’t recall being taught — as a matter of catechism — the “keep your booger hook off the bang switch,” although I do remember getting Gibbs-slapped any number of times for curling my trigger finger through the guard before I was really ready to shoot, so the lesson was there, even if the rule wasn’t a part of the textual protocol.)

At the time, we lived in an urban neighborhood. This was before Kennedy’s assassination, mind, and the civil rights struggle had not yet ignited America’s inner cities. Attitudes about guns were light years distant from even a couple of years later.

Our back yard was opposed on the other side of the property line by the cinderblock wall of a clothing factory. The yard was about fifty feet wide and the houses were easily thirty feet apart. In other words, the neighborhood was fairly open, even for a city hood of the time. There was a locust tree in the back yard and a modified A-frame tool shed Aunt Chris had designed and built. And there was a wood pile that was there to feed the back yard fire pit, which was a center of family and social life.

And we had rats in that wood pile. Big gray Norway rats, mean and unafraid.

So, evenings in warm weather, the Colonel would sit upstairs in our second floor kitchen with a Colt Woodsman and a six-cell flashlight (that could illuminate the top of the Symmes Street Tower, two blocks to the south and (then) a thousand feet up), plinking at the rats. Just to put a little Fear of God into them, mind you.

He’d done the like as a boy in the woods of Webster County in Western Kentucky* where, as legend had it, he and his brother would “bark” squirrels with that Woodsman — hitting a tree branch just under the squirrel’s feet, stunning it out of its tree, so it could be taken and killed without harming pelt or meat.

Also in the back yard was a wheelbarrow. Your stock Sears wheelbarrow: pneumatic tire, steel body and tubular-steel handles with the rubber grips. One morning, I was taken down and shown the wheelbarrow, the rim of which had a new hole about a half-inch in diameter, with a neat curl of steel peeled back from the hole. A strike from a .22 long-rifle slug. The lesson: beware the awesome power of the gun. It sunk home. Obviously: I still remember it, now almost fifty years later.

Another observation the Colonel made was that I was firing the toy rifle left-handed, while I write and draw right-handed. Since then I have learned (or it has been learned by science in general — the timing isn’t obvious to me) that different individuals can be less “handed” than others, and that it’s not at all unusual for someone to write righty but shoot lefty. However, the point was made to me that most guns (then) favor righties and that I would be better served to become accustomed to shooting righty.

In aid of which, I was enrolled at the local YMCA for a summer program, which included marksmanship — shooting BB rifles in the Y’s basement.

(Strange how times have changed. Also at that time, the YWCA hosted the Cincinnati Fencing Club, of which the Colonel, Uncle Cliff, and assorted others among family friends were members. Not any more. The Y’s having been infiltrated by commies and perverted to their socialist ends.)

Once I’d earned some stripes at shooting at the Y, I was gifted with a hand-me-down Winchester single-shot .22 LR rifle — called a “boy’s gun.” I recall that there were strict rules about when, where, and how it was to be fired, (which — being a boy — I disregarded upon occasion).

But even stronger rules involved such notions of property rights, parental privacy and primacy, and the threat of lethal or near-lethal punishment were The Rules to be violated.

Except for that single-shot, the guns were kept in the parents’ bedroom. There was an 8mm Mauser, a Springfield A3 ’03, assorted 1911’s in .38 and .45 calibre, all manner of ammunition, and occasionally guests such as shotguns and borrowed rifles.

And that Woodsman — which my young boy’s mind saw as just the Coolest Gun Ever, with it’s 7″ barrel, rifle sights, forward-leaning grace and elegance. Even then it was a collectible — dating as it did back to the ’30s — but I didn’t know that.

I was familiarized with the weapons, and, as I got older, allowed to shoot them under carefully controlled conditions. But:

That bedroom was Off Limits to Children. Period. End of discussion. It was worth our lives to step across the threshold uninvited, and we were dead certain we’d get caught if we tried. That whole eyes-in-the-back-of-the-head thing.

The Bible says somewhere, when he is young, train a child into the way he is to grow, and when he is old, he will not depart from it. All my early training and discipline, revolving around firearms, was a major force that eventually made me into a property-respecting, rights-respecting libertarian.

But a gunny? No.

*Down by the Green River, where Paradise lay.

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