“In reading The History of Nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities, their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.”
― Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
I was seventeen on April 23rd 1972 when I enlisted in the Delayed Entry Program for the United States Navy.
I turned eighteen when they put me on a plane bound for boot camp. Since the time that I was very young, I had wanted to be a sailor and even the long drawn out years of the Vietnam War had not dissuaded me from my calling. To be honest, I just wanted to find my place in the world.
In Boot Camp, they issued us all new clothes to go with our spiffy haircuts. We quickly learned the fine art of shining your boondockers to a perfect shine, how to wash clothes in a long sink and dry them on a line and oh by the way, they issues us all rifles.
Now to be fair, the rifles they gave us had no firing pins. They were surplus 1903 A3 Springfield Rifles and at the end of each drill we put them back in their racks. The purpose was to teach us responsibility, strengthen our arm muscles and teach us a little bit about discipline. It worked too. You learned quickly that even an inert weapon could get you in a lot of trouble if you neglected it. The manual of arms indeed toughened you up and on the very rare occasion you had to hold in in front of you or over your head while running, you discovered what true discipline meant.
We did practice with actual weapons too. But since it was the Navy, nothing automatic and nothing that would get you in much trouble. That would come later when we went to our various assignments. I was still eighteen when I graduated from Boot Camp along with hundreds of other young men in Great Lakes, Orlando and San Diego. Many of them would go to ships and boats that still plied the waters off of Vietnam. Many of those would be issued weapons or be part of a gun crew. In 1972, eighteen year olds were still being called upon to fight wars. Come to think of it, that’s still true today. More on that later.
We didn’t have the internet back then but I was a pretty avid reader. My memory is a little hazy from that time, but I don’t ever remember hearing about any mass killings stateside. Despite the fact that we had all these trained eighteen year olds running around with Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force Training, there just weren’t that many mass killings. Come to think of it, there weren’t any Coasties shooting up towns either.
I was nineteen the first time I fired a machine gun. It was an old Thompson .45 and I only got to fire it a few times. Same with the shotguns, Colt 45 pistols, and later the M-14 and M-16. To be accurate, I didn’t get my first crack at an M-16 until I was in my twenties. But I made up for it later in life when I purchased a civilian version of the M-4. Maybe I shouldn’t say this since it might scare some people, but I knew a lot of nineteen and twenty year olds that worked on missiles and torpedoes. I won’t tell you what kind of missiles but you can look them up. Some of them had names like Polaris, Poseidon and Trident. To the best of my knowledge, no one ever used one of those weapons in any way that wasn’t planned.
In all those years since I was seventeen, neither I nor any of the weapons I handled ever killed a single thing. Not one. I was an armed watchstander on many submarines and a few ships and carried pistols and shotguns fairly regularly. I just never had to use them. Since I retired, one of my hobbies is target shooting. I’m probably not as good as others I know but I still enjoy the sport. It’s not a cheap hobby by any means. But it’s one that I enjoy. I also enjoy knowing that I am part of a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. The tradition of freedom and supporting the laws that have kept this country strong.
This week, people are reacting with emotion and fear to a horrible tragedy. It’s one of a few that have happened over the past ten years and the press and anti-gun people are throwing around the usual words they use when they want to ban freedom. “Sensible” and “Common Sense” laws are always a bit disingenuous to me because they are typically driven by emotional responses to symptoms and not the root cause. “Why does anyone need an AR?” is the latest battle cry of the left. They don’t own them, most have probably never shot one, so they can’t understand why so many people want to own them. Maybe that’s a fair question.
The fear of the weapon is deeply ingrained in some. It’s scary looking to the uninitiated. Black and sleek, this weapon can hold a magazine that often carries thirty rounds. It looks just like those assault rifles (whatever the hell that is) they see on their police shows where large men with SWAT vests come charging around the corner. But knowing modern weaponry like I do, the AR is just the scary public face of an entire class of guns that hold multiple rounds. Most are used for hunting or ranching out west and don’t have the look of a “weapon of war” as I heard one child say today. But they have the exact same capacity for destruction in the wrong hands.
In all of the years that many of us have owned multiple round weapons, none of the people I know have ever gone on a rampage. Not one. There are millions of these rifles and rifles similar to them in circulation today. But the only time we hear of shootings like this are when people with mental issues break the laws and obtain them to use for evil. No gun law ever developed will stop a mentally deranged individual from killing innocent people. Because even with the incredibly strict laws we have now, none ever has. The key word here is “Individual”.
The talk today turned to trying to limit the age of who can buy a gun. I have heard people say a few times on the news that no eighteen year old should be able to buy a rifle. Seriously??? This is the solution? Maybe we should also not send any more boys off to fight for our country either. But you would have to go back to wipe history from the pages of our freedom. Those boys landed on Omaha Beach and freed Europe. Those boys stopped the Japanese from driving their ships into San Francisco Harbor. And for the forty five years of the Cold War they protected this country from all manner of threats. They have sacrificed themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan and so many other countries around the world for freedom sake.
I cannot stand idly by while politicians and pundits wash away our rights. As horrible as the recent tragedies have been, they are not addressing the root cause. We have allowed parents to not parent, kids to run absolutely wild while society tears itself apart. We have allowed the fabric of society to be torn apart with so much lack of discipline that it is little wonder that mental cases like that idiot who shot up the latest school have been allowed to slip through the cracks. Let’s work on that before we go down a path of destroying the legitimate rights of law abiding citizens.
But I fear this time we won’t.
We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. We don’t want to hold anybody accountable. We want to show how progressive we are and that society is better than what we actually are. We won’t stand up because we are afraid to get shouted down by the hysterical people who don’t want to admit that not every child deserves a trophy and some of them are seriously flawed. The NRA is an easy target and so are the rights of people you don’t agree with. But once we have gone down that road, there will be no return. The slippery slope will be a raging torrent of destruction to all of your rights. The only difference this time is that you won’t have a gun to stop an oppressive force.
America’s strength does not lie alone in the fact that we have the ability to defend ourselves. America’s strength is based on the strength of individuals who have banded together for the common pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of justice. Individuals who get up every morning and take responsibility for their own actions. Individuals who have the ability to contribute to the common defense of what makes us strongest – Our Freedoms. There is no age limit on that desire for freedom.