As a kid from 4 to 10 years of age, I was Gene Autrey, Roy Rogers, Lash Larue, Daniel Boone, Davey Crockett, and Hop-Along-Cassidy. Jeff was always Cochise, Red Cloud or Sitting Bull because of his black hair and darker skin. After playing Cowboys & Indians three times a week for 7 years, Jeff always died.
My six-guns could always beat a bow and arrow. And I learned to be fast on the draw too, and how to twirl my pistol around my finger right into its holster. The girls on our street loved it. Especially when I could fend off six Indians circling around my cardboard wagon. Life was nasty, brutish, and short for Jeff, Larry, Jan Eric and Danny who wore eagle (chicken) feathers in their hair. They were no match for my twin and studded black leather holster set -the best that $8.95 could buy in 1953.
My father and his two brothers were of course, avid hunters. That’s what many post-war husbands and fathers did to be able to put extra food on the table, besides building their own houses. Dad, his friends and my uncles, always set out in the Fall to hunt deer up near Algonquin Park. Most of the time they brought home enough venison for all the families to share.
But Dad taught me and my brother to shoot a real rifle at an early age. I was 13 when I bagged my first rabbit with a Coey .22. Then we got our own air-rifles, .177 calibre, and for the next 2 years my brother and I hunted starlings just for ‘fun’. We also shot (or at) other unwanted creatures, like squirels and skunks.
However, when I was 15 I went to Army Cadet Camp at Ipperwash, Ontario, for 3 months in the summer of 1959. All boys at our high school had to attend regular military drill practice (Lorne Scots) during the years preceeding 1961, after which high school cadets was abolished. At Camp Ipperwash, along with about 800 other cadets from across Ontario, I got to shoot the Lee Enfield Mark IV, Sten Gun, Bren Gun, 3.5 Rocket Launcher (“Bazooka”), and to throw grenades. Really. At age 16 (I had lied about my age so I could go).
In 1960 to 1962 I joined the Argyle & Sutherland Scottish Regiment (Reserves) in Brampton, and got to not only march my boots off again but also fire the Belgian FN gas operated semi-automatic assault rifle. At the butts, in Winona. Wow! What a treat that was! I earned my cross-rifle badge for marksmanship at 200 yards.
So with all that behind me, I joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1964, and learned again how to kill people, but with an Officer’s Browning automatic pistol; plus, later, with rockets and wing-mounted machine guns.
From a 5 year-old cowboy to a 19 year-old pilot, guns were normal for me. I realize now how normal it was – and still is – for average people or families in North America, and soldiers, and TV stars, to live and work with guns. I still have a rifle I never use, and most of my country neighbours all have one or more guns in their homes. Some of them use them for moose hunting but mostly they collect closet dust.
These days, the normalization of carrying or owning guns has made the United States for example, one of the most dangerous countries in which to live. “The rate for gun deaths in the United States is 14.24 per 100,000 people, compared to Japan at 0.05 deaths per 100,000. Canada ranked around the middle of the pack at 4.31 gun deaths per 100,000, while England/Wales bottomed out at 0.41 per 100,000.” (Fleuras, p.140) How stupidly normal is this US statistic in comparison. How sadly, stupidly normal.
There appears to be weak correlation between adult homicides and being brought up in a household in which gun safety was stressed and practised. There is a strong correlation however, between povety and guns and homicide, and apparently between untrained police officers and guns and ethnicity (race) and homicide. Guns aren’t stupid. Gun laws may be stupid, and gun owners with drug addictions especially may be really stupid, and trigger-happy police officers who fire on unarmed victims may be really really stupid. You get the idea here.
How does the media play along with this picture? As Fleuras (2001:218) has pointed out, “Violence for the sake of violence no longer has shock value, but simply encourages people to see more without experiencing more…Thus, violence what would by all accounts be a sordid and grisly event is transformed into something relatively painless or of little consequence, even ennobling, thus promoting its usefulness for solving interpersonal problems. Negotiation and compromise tend to be time-consuming and inconclusive; by contrast, violent solutions are clear-cut and unambiguous.” People flock to the cinema or buys DVDs to see violence, mostly of the guns, knives and bombs types. It is ‘normal’ to watch this; it is ‘normal’ to virtually experience death and dying; it is ‘normal’ to kill others for no valid reason. Life is cheap. Gun ownership is obviously cheap.