A word on the “Arming of America”

“A lot of the people who keep a gun at home for safety are the same ones who refuse to wear a seat belt” – George Carlin.

Even after over a decade in America I am still amazed by what I find. It really is the most amazing country! For example, I would humbly submit an experience I had recently visiting a store of some worth here in the “land of the free”, Cabelas.

For the uninitiated, Cabelas is an outdoor sportsman’s superstore, and by outdoor sportsman I don’t mean a rock-climber, kayaker, hiker or a cross country skier.  Outdoor sportsman in America means hunter, fisherman, cooker of large amounts of wild game, buyer of camouflage, heavy car camper, archer, sub machine gun buyer, Amish or Mennonite (I saw a whole family in the store), civil war re-enactor or meat dehydrator.  And in respectable American fashion all visitors to this store are divesting themselves of large amounts of cash in a truly staggering fashion.  Most everyone is pushing shopping trolleys around with piles of camouflaged jackets, fishing rods, meat slicers, huge coolers, bows and ammunition.  Oh, and the guns… nothing can really prepare you for the way in which many Americans approach firearms.  The section of this store that deals exclusively with firearms and their accouterments took me ten minutes to walk through.  Safety, of course, is first and foremost.  I did see a sign requesting that firearms only be held by persons over the age of eighteen… yes, you can just walk right up to a shelf and “try on” an automatic weapon (I did).  And for the ladies there were several nice options in pretty pink stained woods.

Hunting is a national pastime here in America and people react with all seriousness when questioned as to why they hunt. ”Because it’s my God given right” is a common answer to the question, as it is to why many people insist on keeping a weapon in their home, even if they do not hunt, and never plan to.  One of my close friends is a hunter, and has taken me turkey hunting on a few occasions.  As far as I am concerned, if hunting for sport is to be condoned in any society then my buddy does it right.  He hunts only with a bow, sitting quietly out in the woods for seemingly weeks on end. Each season he “harvests” several deer, all of which are butchered and processed into venison steaks, kielbasa, sausage and tenderloins for himself and friends.  I have been the beneficiary of some of this wonderful meat and I can see the pride in his face when he brings meat around to share over a beer or for us to put in our freezer for wintertime.  There is something satisfying in providing food to those you care for, such as when vegetables from our garden are harvested. As a meat eater, who am I to fault the hunters who follow the laws and conventions that guide their pastime?

But the prevalence of firearms in this society for reasons other than hunting is more breathtaking still.  Many people own weapons that have no practical hunting application – What ever do you mean? I use this automatic rifle with the 30 round magazine to keep the squirrels off my back porch – and when I ask why weapons of this magnitude are necessary, I get the old fashioned “because the 2nd amendment says I can” line. That, or the one that sends a chill throughout my body, “in case anyone tries to rob my home”. Great, that’s all we need, someone with a itchy trigger finger in the suburbs with a sawed-off shotgun under his bed.  A poll taken in 2005 found that 42% of American households claimed to possess a firearm, and of that 42% said that it was specifically for protection against crime. I have a perfectly good cricket bat beside my bed… I pity the poor bastard that sneaks into my home in the middle of the night and sees a pale apparition clad only in boxers coming down the stairs with a piece of willow cocked and ready for brain smashing.  I’m not sure that gun ownership is ever something that I will get used to over here and one of the reasons that I continue to feel like a foreigner, even after all these years.  And with that, if you will excuse me, I am going to cook up some venison kielbasa.

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