The coastal elites are all abuzz over Walter Kirn’s latest meditative essay on what it really means to be a gun owner–something, according to Walter, that can only be truly understood on a visceral level by those who have handled and shot guns. He comes down on the side of an assault weapons ban but the way he gets there is buswah mysticism at best. Kirn on Aurora:
The shooter (I dislike this term; it seems too procedural, too flavorless; I still prefer the harsh, judgmental “killer”) had been armed with a shotgun, a pistol, and a rifle. He’d used all three, according to reports, firing into the crowd of moviegoers from a position near the screen. The casualties would have been greater, experts speculated, had the rifle—a semi-automatic model based on the Army’s M-16—not jammed (a sensation that gun owners know inside their muscles and at which others have to guess).
Guns alter your reflexes, your neural pathways. The changes are subtle at first, and welcome, like the heightened awareness that posture golf clubs bring. Later, if you’re an imaginative type, the changes can grow more pronounced, more conscious. You start to entertain scenarios that might not occur to you if you didn’t shoot.
I’m a year younger than Kirn, we grew up in similar places (he’s from rural Minnesota, I’m from rural South Dakota), and we’ve both shot guns, but we came away from our childhoods with two different attitudes towards them. When he fired a gun, he found “the urge becomes part of your body, your nervous system. It feels as though it was always there, this appetite, this desire for a small, acute struggle that you can win. Win consistently. Repeatedly.” Perhaps I am a less sensitive and enlightened soul than Kirn, but I did not gain that appetite and I don’t really believe that having grown up around guns, shot them, and owned them endows me with any special muscle memories, urges or, more importantly, privilege to say how guns should be used in this society:
The divide is phenomenological, not political (or not political until it gets to be), like the gulf between those who’ve had sex and those who haven’t or those who smoke and those who’ve never lit up.
Take it from someone who’s shot, fucked and smoked: of those three things, shooting is the one that you need the least amount of experience to understand. Kirn’s desire to elevate his gun handling history to some ethereal plane says a hell of a lot more about whatever ghosts haunt him than it does about shooting.