Sunday, March 05, 2006


My loud friend Alex has a father who served in Vietnam. His father has a pretty serious gun collection. Alex put it to me months ago that I should go out to the range with he and his father and his live in exchange student named Tim and fire some rounds. We set it up for March the 4th. That was yesterday. But in order to put my trepidation with guns into order, I need to tell you a story of self forgiveness and woe.

Years ago, when I lived in the dirty south, I had a work truck which was a '67 Chevy pickup. In the back, behind the seat was a .22 rifle which I was to use on varmits and stray dogs. The reason I was to use it on stray dogs was because the ranch that I worked had a lot of purebred bitches. The strays would smell the collective heat of the bitches and come around. We would lose if we found one of these mutts tied to one of the purebreeds. It was that simple. Fortunately, it was just dog logic, because if the logic was human, I probably shoulda blasted my own damn self.

I struggled with it. So much so, that my hands shook every time I put a dog down. I would rationalize the whole thing. I hadn't gotten up on the animal and yanked its throat out. No, I had shot it at a distance. There had been an explosion within the gun and a projectile had launched and done the deed. My hands were more or less clean of the crime.

I wrestled with this stuff. I had to overcome it. In the process, I became a pretty damn good shot with that .22. I could hit a running dog at a good distance. I couldn't hit him from a moving vehicle as my boss could, but I was coming up. My hands still shook however. This rifle only held one shot at a time, so that shot needed to count. You were given one shot and one shot only to handle your business. The target was too far out if you missed.

In order to triumph over it all, I did a variety of different things. One of the most morbid was to jump onto the corpse of a fresh kill and pull its upper fang out with a pair of pliers. The first fang shattered under the pressure of the pliers, enamel and nerve was all that the plier grips held. The other fang came out with some persuasion, and I drilled a hole into it, and hung it on a hoop earring. I wore that thing for a few years. People would ask me what it was, and when I told them, they would wrinkle their noses in disgust.

One day, there was a dog running full tilt into the area with the penned bitches. I fired the gun in the air and stomped the gas, attempting to intercept. This guy wasn't stopping. He was focused on his goal, and I was focused on mine. I swerved the truck to the side in the dirt and jumped out with the rifle and sighted the dog up on the front hood. I squeezed the shot off and tagged him. He bucked and yelped and changed directions, squealing as he bolted. I got behind the wheel and tore after him. I am not into the suffrage of animals. He led me to a barbed wire fence on one side of the property. He blasted through and I was stuck. I knew he was going somewhere to suffer and die. Case closed.

Not quite.

The next day, some people who I had never seen before came to the property. They were looking for their family dog. I was in the vicinity when they described the dog. Then and there I realized exactly what I had shot the day before. I told my boss after they had left. He told me that because I had voiced this, it was now my responsibility to handle this. I had to man up.

And I did.

I found the property where these people lived, I knocked on their door, and I told them the story. The kid and the mother cried on the spot. The father was weakened and more pissed than anything. They had demands, they had issues. I let them spout off. I asked for their forgiveness. I took half of the day off at work to drag the area and find their dog. I found him dead by a stream, the internal bleeding had caused a serious bloating where the bullet had entered in his stomach. He had a subtle collar, with a tag explaining where he lived. These were things that I couldn't see while he was running his horny clip at the bitches. I pulled him into the back of the truck and went back to the owners.

They told me where they wanted him buried and I dug the deepest grave I have ever dug in my life and dumped the body in. I buried it and left them to do whatever they needed to do.

Part of my processing of all of this stuff was the swearing off of guns. I knew that I was the wrong person to handle weapons. I beat myself up for it. I requested formally that I not be required to use guns on the job anymore. I distanced myself from the handling of guns. On some levels, I thought I would never forgive myself for the deaths of those dogs, or the affect that I had on that poor family. I resigned myself to watching them in movies with a morbid fascination, knowing that they weren't for me.

I don't tell my dog shooting story much, but with the Alex firing range episode looming, I have been thinking of it more and more.

So I went out yesterday. I took my eldest son. We fired a .45 automatic. We fired a .38 revolver. We fired a .44 Magnum (that thing is a fakking CANNON) and also the smaller .22 Woodsman pistol and a .25. It was all a fascinating experience. My Time Crisis skills paid off let me tell you. But all the while there, I wrestled with the thoughts of the thing that had made me swear off gunfire almost twenty years prior.

There is no pleasant way to end this other than to say that I was glad I was in a controlled firing range and not out shooting something live. Furthermore, it was a good thing I believe to dispel the mythology of the magic of guns with my son. There was one point when the .25 jammed and he turned with the barrel aimed at Tim's head asking what the problem was. These are gun safety issues that should be addressed at an early age.

The entire session was somber for me. I did my best not to revel in the testosterone of it all. I had to remain cool and sane about the whole thing. Yes, it is fun to watch things explode, and there is an exhilaration that comes when you blow the bullseye off of the target with the Dirty Harry gun, but overall it was sobering.

I suppose that if there was a way for me to spend time with guns, yesterday was it. I suppose that if I could go back in time and have a talk with myself after I had gone through that hellish grave-digging afternoon; I would have understood. I think that I would have placed my blessing on the respectful way I handled the artillery yesterday. After all of this time, I think I can safely say that I have forgiven myself for that gunfire so long ago. I think that after all of this time, I have finally come to some form of closure in regards to that episode way back then in Lindale Texas.