We can imagine . . . that happiness is real and that the sorrows and suffering of the past have been forgotten. Such a condition can be imagined, but it has never been seen. It has never been seen. — Leszek Kolakowski
I don’t own any firearms. Until last year I had never fired one. Two of my co-workers are enthusiasts who attend gun shows in Virginia and Pennsylvania. They have invited me to join them and I have.
At the gun shows, sellers offer more than knives, hunting bows, deer rifles, target pistols, and assault weapons. There are vendors of T-shirts, movie posters, jewelry, flags, and survival supplies. There’s plenty to buy, plenty of American cash changing hands.
I don’t need a driver’s license to buy a poster of “High Noon”; I don’t need one to buy an AR-15 from a fellow gun-show traveler. People talk on the hot dog line, their comments pro-gun, anti-president. They are fearful (I mean as fearful as gun owners can be) of any government regulation of weapons and ammunition.
Guns and rifles are beautiful, some of them. The craftsmanship of fine weapons involves so many factors: design, engineering, metalwork, woodwork, engraving, calligraphy.
A terrible beauty is born.
Months later, my co-worker friends invited me to join them at a gun range in Maryland. We stopped first at a diner for unfair-traded coffee, caged-chicken eggs, Virginia bacon, and to shoot the breeze.
We drove 40 miles as the eagle flies from the White House to rural Maryland. The men brought their guns, locked and unloaded in the trunk of Lee’s car. Lee had a Glock for me to shoot. We paid at the door. The clerk didn’t ask for anything but cash, no check of age or competency, no check of anything at all.
“I’m with him,” I said, pointing to my friend.
Inside, Lee gave me a brief but precise lesson on range etiquette and gun handling. He showed me how to load, how to aim, and which direction to fire.
He knew the employees of the range were deadly serious about the rules of the place. You must wear ear protection, so as not to hear anything loud enough to punish yourself. You may start and must stop firing at command. You must hear through earmuffs their instructions.
Each station one shoots from at the range is called a point. Two points from me, a woman was firing what my friend said was the most powerful handheld gun available in America. That gun would slaughter an elephant at a hundred paces. Our friend Dave, 10 points down, was shooting a Czech-made rifle with a Japanese sight at a distant paper target.
I am thinking of that day of shooting after hearing of the murders of children and teachers in Newtown, Conn.
I am thinking that I am nothing more than a bullet fired into the sky, my case now empty.
I believe the point next to me is empty too.
Dan Marsh, a Long Islander, contributes “Guestwords” from Garrett Park, Md.