And yes, I embrace the term.
The lovely Jennifer of In Jennifer’s Head was among the many bloggers I met at the recent LuckyGunner.com machinegun shoot outside of Knoxville. In a post today, she asked a question of her readers:
The vast majority of my readers are firearms enthusiasts of some stripe. How did that happen? How did you become gunnies?
This question has inspired many long comments and blog posts, all very interesting (and one which has given me tomorrow’s Quote of the Day.) I left a link to the second post published on this blog, but after reading many of the other responses, I realized that it did not actually address her question.
Actually, I have answered this question before, but damned if I can find the post now, so here goes, in proper TSM (read: LONG) style.
I’ve always been fascinated with firearms, at least as long as I can remember. My father owned guns, a .38 revolver, a .22 bolt-action rifle, and a sporterized Lee-Enfield rifle. The revolver belonged to his father, the rifle was a gift from my mother – a relative of my father’s was a hobby-gunsmith, and he built it at her request from a rifle selected from a bunch of surplus tomato-stakes at the local hardware store some time back in the late 1950’s. The Enfield was a No. 5 Mk I Jungle Carbine that the family gunsmith put into a beautiful two-piece walnut stock with a Monte Carlo rollover cheekpiece. It didn’t carry a scope, but had the flip-up ladder rear sight.
Still, dad wasn’t a hunter, and our shooting trips were rare. I can only remember shooting that rifle once as a kid. It KICKED. The revolver was so old its timing was off and it shaved lead, so we didn’t shoot it. What we did shoot was that old .22. I honestly don’t remember the make. I think it was a Remington, but I can’t be sure. Bolt-action, tubular magazine, iron sights. That one I probably shot six times while growing up. Guns just weren’t high on the family activity list.
The guns stayed in my parent’s bedroom closet. The ammunition for them (what little there was) was on the shelf in the closet.
And we, my brother, sister and I, left them ALONE. Growing up, I know there were guns in the homes of many of my friends, but we didn’t screw with them. We certainly didn’t go shooting up our schools.
We moved to Florida when I was four years old. I know that some time between when I was six and probably ten, my brother got a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. I remember it being so hard to cock that I had to brace the buttstock against the inside of my knee to have enough mechanical advantage to work the lever, but it held a LOT of BBs. Bugs, tadpoles, frogs and other tiny creatures lived in fear of us, but it wasn’t accurate enough to hit much of anything on purpose. Still, I loved the thing.
Each summer my family would make our vacation pilgrimage to Virginia to visit relatives. Both of my parents are from the Appalachian coal-country of the western end of that state, and a majority of our relatives still live in the general vicinity. My paternal grandmother did, and we visited her once a year without fail.
But the highlight for me each year was the visit to my mother’s uncle, Uncle Billy. Billy lived in a house that had, once upon a time, been a general store and saloon. The room where he spent the majority of his time was the space that had been the saloon, and it had a very high ceilings with pressed-tin panels, darkened by decades of coal smoke from the big furnace that took up one side of the room. Billy had a huge (for the time) color TV with a remote control, so he could change the channel and adjust the volume from the comfort of his recliner on the other side of the room.
But what else was in that room was what held my fascination.
On the wall above his chair was a gun rack with two long-guns in it; a 12 gauge pump shotgun, and a rifle below. On the bookshelf next to his chair was a leather holster holding a 1911 pistol, and in the corner was a glass-faced gun case literally filled with rifles and shotguns, loose ammo laying around on the bottom of the enclosure.
But it was the rifle hanging next to his chair that got my attention.
It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. As I got older and could investigate better, I learned that it was a sporterized 1894 Swedish Mauser carbine. It had probably started out as another Five-and-Dime $5 tomato-stake, but it was that no longer. Now it sported a full-length Mannlicher stock of birdseye maple, blonde wood with beautiful intricate dark figure. It, too had a Monte Carlo cheekpiece, and a curved pistol grip. It had a hooded gold bead front sight and a micrometer adjusted rear aperture sight. It had a double-set trigger and a butterknife bolt handle. The receiver, floorplate, trigger guard and barrel were deeply blued, the bolt handle was polished, and the bolt body was machine-turned. At the forend, instead of a muzzle cap, there was a muzzle brake behind the front sight, the top of the cap being drilled out in a geometric pattern. And sitting below the rifle for all the years we visited was a five-round stripper clip loaded with round-nose 6.5×55 Mauser ball ammo, just in case he ever needed it.
By the time I was old enough to go, Billy didn’t shoot anymore other than the .22 pistol he shot into a bullet trap across the room when the mood struck him. (Never when we kids were present, though. Still, just the thought of shooting a gun in your own house was exotically cool.)
But I was in love. I might not have known much about guns, but I was in love with that Mauser.
It was a love that stayed with me as I grew older.
When I was twelve, we moved from Florida to North Carolina. In Florida, the back of the neighborhood was nothing but abandoned orange grove, so we could fart around back there with the Daisy to our heart’s content. Nobody thought twice about seeing kids riding bicycles and toting air rifles. In North Carolina, my back yard was about a half-mile of forest. The Daisy had long since stopped working. I wanted an AIR RIFLE. At about age 13, I got one, a Daisy Powerline 880 pump-pneumatic rifle that could also use pellets if single-loaded.
I learned to make that thing sing. I was the terror of the backyard squirrels, and they learned to stay the hell out of the garden. Later I bought a cheap CO2 cartridge pellet pistol, but I learned quickly that its accuracy left much to be desired. The Daisy died a tragic death when it tried to digest an oversized BB, and the barrel split at the breech end. Ah well, such is life.
At 19 we moved again, this time to Arizona. My new home sat atop a hill on 3.3 acres of land, and it just so happened that the distance from directly in front of the front door to the opposite side of the driveway was 75 feet – twenty-five yards. There was nothing but desert for another hundred yards past that point. I bought a Crosman 1377 pneumatic pump-up air pistol. That thing had the worst trigger I have every experienced – pull, wait. Pull, wait some more. Pull just a bit more . . . PFFFFT! It defined “heavy” and “creepy.”
But if I did my part I could make five shots go into one ragged hole at 25 yards. It took fifteen minutes to make those five shots, but still…. I learned to shoot in the Creedmoor position with that gun. It was perfect for it. I bought a tiny set of steel silhouette targets and shot them all (including the chicken) at 25 yards.
At 21 I was ready for a real firearm. I wanted a .357 Magnum. My parent’s house had been burglarized, and among the things stolen were my father’s three guns. Dad replaced the old .38 with a new Dan Wesson Model 15 .357, and the .22 rifle with a Smith & Wesson Model 1000 12 gauge. His Dan Wesson had the 4″ barrel with the heavy shroud, and you bet your ass I shot it. But not much. Not nearly enough. I wanted one of my own. I was attending the University of Arizona at that time and living on campus. How, I said to myself, am I going to justify buying a revolver to my parents?
I got a part-time job as a rent-a-cop. I had to provide my own weapon, in either .38 or .357 (.38 ammunition only was authorized), so I got my Dan Wesson. I learned three things quickly: shooting factory ammo is expensive, it is difficult to learn to shoot a revolver well, and most security guards never bother to.
Next, so I could afford to shoot, I bought a Ruger MkII Target with the 5″ bull barrel. I had a choice – put new tires on my car, or buy the pistol. I compromised. I bought the cheapest bias-ply tires I could find, AND the pistol. The tires sucked, but held air. The pistol worked flawlessly.
I graduated from college and moved out on my own. When I finally started earning enough money that I could get off the Beanie-Weenie diet, I bought a cheap Lee reloading press kit and started reloading for .357. That pistol was a tack-driver. It preferred 110 grain bullets, and it liked them as fast as I could push them safely, but it was one of those early Dan Wessons with quality control problems, and it died an early death. I actually still have the frame in the back of the safe, but it’s not worth shooting anymore.
With a little more income, I bought a tomato-stake of my own, a No. 4 Mk I Lee-Enfield. I’ve been convinced from my youth that the proper way for a bolt-action rifle to work is cock-on-close, and I wasn’t about to change. Unfortunately, I should have left that particular tomato-stake at the gun shop. The barrel was bulged about halfway down, and I learned (much to my chagrin after owning it for several years) that it tended to throw bullets sideways.
I bought a couple more guns as I could afford them, an 1896 Swede milsurp, a Springfield Armory P9, a Mossberg 590 riot gun, and one of the first Chicom-import folding-stock AKs when they came on the market in the late 80’s. After the Stockton massacre, I decided I really didn’t want it that bad anymore, so I sold it (for three times what I’d paid for it) and bought a Ruger M77 .308 rifle and a scope. I think this was really the first time it became apparent to me that there were people out there who wanted to disarm the law-abiding public. Prior to this, “common-sense gun control” to me was just an understandable knee-jerk reaction that wouldn’t solve anything, but it made people feel better. As Uncle puts it, Gun Control: What Politicians Do Instead of Something. But the hysterical calls for bans on “assault weapons” got my attention, at least a little. I’m not sure, but I think I might have joined the NRA about that time.
In 1993 I met my wife-to-be. The day we met my family had driven down to Benson, Arizona for one of our rare group shooting outings on the property of some friends of ours. We brought pretty much everything we owned, and we joked on the way down that if we were pulled over, we’d have a hard time explaining to the State Trooper why we had enough firepower to overthrow a small country. Looking back, we really didn’t have that much, probably nine or ten firearms for the five of us, and a few hundred rounds of ammo, but it was a lot to us at the time. That evening when I met Kaoru for the first time, I told her that I was a shooter, and that if that was going to be a problem we should probably move on. It wasn’t, but all she really knew about guns she’d gotten from the media: movies, TV shows and news, newspapers and magazines. She wasn’t put off, but she wasn’t particularly enthusiastic, either. I could deal with that, though.
In 1994 Congress passed the
scary-looking gun Assault Weapon (non-)Ban.
And I got pissed.
Two years to the day after we met, we married, and on the following Father’s Day (she has a daughter by a previous marriage) she gave me a Ruger 10/22. “Oh, Love,” I told her, “you have no idea what you just started.”
Within a week that 10/22 went from this:
“That’s the cute little rifle I bought you?!?” she exclaimed, “It’s technologically barbaric!”
“Meet Conan the Borg,” said I.
The rest, as they say, is history. Because my wife had only her skewed view of guns and gun owners prior to meeting me, I learned that a lot of people believed a lot of bullshit. The internet was around by then, and I was on it – first in the mosh pits of talk.politics.guns, and later gun boards, other message boards and blogs. I read books. I read op-eds. I read what were supposedly “news stories” that sounded like anti-gun organization press releases (because they were). I read laughably error-filled crime report stories involving .9mm service revolvers and 40mm fully-automatic pistols. I watched the news closely.
I got really pissed off about being lied to, and I started studying.
Now I have a safe full of guns, a couple of nice progressive presses, a LOT of loaded ammo, a lot MORE components, an eight year old gunblog, and enough knowledge that I could do a PhD thesis on what I’ve learned. I’m even more pissed off now, but on a larger scale and about more important things. I’ve been to numerous events, met dozens of gunbloggers, and I truly believe that we’re winning on the topic of the Second Amendment.
But I’m afraid it’s too little, too late.
I’m still married, coming up on sixteen years now.
And my wife is now willing to carry a .38 in her purse.