Guns as Stupidly Normal

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Happiness Within Strife

My, how the world has changed.

After World War II, Southern Ontario became a hub of social change and economic prosperity well into the ’60s. Baby Boomers were born to parents who had more disposable income, and access to capital accumulation, than parents today. On one blue collar salary for example, my parents managed to build a new home, buy a cottage, buy a boat, buy a country acreage, buy a new car every five years, and raise two boys – all within two decades. Times were good. School spirit was high and everywhere. Students wore school beanies, and streamers, and jackets, and packed the stands at football games. School dances (Sock Hops, Sadie Hawkins) were every month, with a final Graduation Ball in May. It seamed like Mom and Dad were out three nights a week or so, doing volunteer work or partying. Many boys in grades 11, 12 and 13, drove their own cars to school, and impressed the girls with how well they could modify them with ‘Continental’ kits, overdrive, dual mufflers, and juiced up carbs. Straight out of American Graffiti.
So you get the picture. Add on the Cowboy and Indian movies, and TV shows like “Father Knows Best”, Bugs Bunny, Jack Benny, The Bob Cummings show, The Life of Riley, The Three stooges, and I Love Lucy, etc., and that was Port Credit from 1944 to 1964. Plus, as kids we could stay out and play on our street well after dark, girls too. And build forts in the bush, skate on the river doing ‘crack the whip’, and spend hours at the Port Credit Dairy talking and having a milkshake with one egg in it.

Our town then was 90% White-Anglo-Saxon Protestant and Catholic. English, Irish, Scottish, and some Italians, Polish and Ukrainians made up most of the mix. There were no Blacks, no Muslims, no French, no Hindus, and no Atheists. Girls were expected to become housewives and raise kids. Boys were expected to get a job after grade 12, or better yet, go on to university (there were no ‘colleges’ then) after grade 13. No mothers on my street, nor in the surroundings streets, worked outside the home. Most men had served in WWII in some capacity, and brought home a military style of family and corporate management.

But it was a peaceful time across the province. There were no demonstrations, few strikes, high employment, construction everywhere, and no ethnic conflicts. Sports heros captured much of the press. Police officers were respected. Crime was low, and there were no child abductions, sexual assaults, homicides, suicides, and break & enters, as far back as I could remember. Being drunk or street-fighting in public were the biggest sins.

Times have changed. Today, in 2015, the image of small town and city life in Southern Ontario contains none of the above characteristics, quite the opposite. That, tied in with constant media images of beheadings, suicide bombings, terrorist threats, rocket attacks, and even ‘honour killings’ – has made optimism a scarce emotion. Strife it seems, is everywhere, including within Canadian families, if rates of separation and divorce are accurate indications. Poverty levels are the same as they were 30 years ago. The middle class is shrinking rapidly. Full-time jobs are very scarce. Mental health professionals have never been more engaged. TV is full of violent shows. Violent video games are selling at an all-time high. School bullying is rampant. College and university graduates can’t find meaningful jobs. Hospitals are overflowing, often in ‘gridlock’, and finding long-term care for seniors is a major issue in Canada currently. Most younger people have lost touch with nature. Farm and small business bankruptcies are increasing monthly. Politicians apparently can’t be trusted, and home security looms large on all fronts.

So what is there to be happy or optimistic about? Will Humankind survive the next hundred years? What are the new and hopeful ‘frontiers’? Is democracy in danger? How will young people find self-validation and a positive self-concept? How is heroism defined and written about today? And what about the increasing sector in society of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of homeless people?

Where, and how, can we find happiness?

Write and give me your views and solutions.

Thank you.

TL Hill
February 23, 2015