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A revelation

February 17, 2009 1 comment

“Excuse me,” I mumbled as I squeezed between two black guys, who kept staring at the ground through their sunglasses. It was 11pm and we were indoors.

As I took my place at the end of the line at the convenience store, I examined my surroundings. It was a fairly standard convenience store, with pre-printed notices about not selling tobacco to minors, and a custom-typed notice. They wouldn’t take credit cards without ID and wouldn’t take them for fungible goods like money orders and phone cards. I guess they get too many guys using stolen cards to try and convert them to untraceable currency.

Just then, the Latino kid at the front of the line put three King Cobra 40-ounces up on the counter and went for his wallet. “ID?” said the cashier. “What?” the kid said dumbly. “How old are you?” “Eighteen.” “You have to be twenty one to buy that.” “What?” The kid’s girlfriend looked crestfallen. As he turned to put the booze up, I noticed his slicked back hair and the gang ink on his cheekbone. High enough to not be covered by a bandanna, but low enough to not be hidden by sunglasses.

I thought about myself: a scrawny white kid with 80 bucks cash and a wallet full of credit cards, in a city with a reputation for relatively high crime, with only a cell phone to defend myself. If someone decided this Saturday night was a good time to stick up this gas station or rob me personally — very real, if unlikely, possibilities — I could do nothing.

At that moment, I became a rifleman.

Now, I’m not saying that I literally had a rifle with me or decided to employ a weapon in that situation. There was no need even if I had had the means.

No, I mean that I became a rifleman in the sense that Kim du Toit meant when he set as the aim of his now-concluded blogging:

Kim du Toit started a blog in 2001 and in it he wrote about his love of guns. He wasn’t an expert, or a particularly great shooter like so many others who wrote about guns, but he wrote about the love of shooting as a passionate hobby, rather than as a technician or expert marksman. This resonated with people and his blog became very popular as one of the original “gun blogs.” … Kim, if he was anything, was outspoken and plain-speaking. That, too, resonated with people.

People began writing to him to ask him questions. They wanted to know how to get started shooting, what gun to buy as their first gun, and dozens of other questions about guns and shooting.

The Nation of Riflemen, as an organization, is a non-political one. It has no exclusivity with any creed, political ideology, race, sex, religion or anything else that divides people. Its goal is to do just what Kim had been doing:

Turning America back into a Nation of Riflemen…
…one citizen at a time.

The idea has a life of its own. The only requirement to being a member of the Nation of Riflemen is to be a responsible, law-abiding gun owner… and a person who passes that knowledge on to others… one person at a time.

I’d thought about becoming a gun owner before and have recently been moving in that direction. But now, I am doing so with all deliberate speed. Not headlong abandon, but purposeful haste.

So I think I need a gun to protect myself during late night gas station stops? Why don’t I just stop doing that?

Because the true threats, the most surprising and threatening of them, are unforeseen. I didn’t have a gun in that convenience store, and I didn’t end up needing one. But the simple realization that I might — however unlikely — need it and not have it is enough. (Note: after originally writing this, I was surprised to find that there have been four robberies in the last month on the street of my dorm, within a few blocks on each side.)

But the fact of the matter is that I wasn’t the only person in that store. And it only would have taken one of us to be armed to stop a robber. I don’t expect that they be armed to protect me, but I would be willing to protect them. Put that way, it’s easy to see that this is a matter of personal responsibility: I am not going to rely on the chance of not needing to defend myself, and I’m doubly not going to rely on there being someone else there to defend me if I can’t.

I’ve already described myself as a rifleman, but another, perhaps more applicable way of putting it is sheepdog:

“Then there are the wolves,” the old war veteran said, “and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy.” Do you believe there are wolves out there that will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial.

“Then there are sheepdogs,” he went on, “and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.”

The decision to own a gun and use it for the protection of self and society is a personal and serious one. It is serious because it involves tools that are built with one purpose: taking lives. Guns aren’t toys. But just as the sheepdog and the wolf have the same fangs and the same claws, sometimes stopping a threat involves using the same tools as my aggressor. It’s my responsibility to make sure that I can stop him through superior training. After all, this isn’t really a commitment to just purchase a weapon. It’s a commitment to become utterly proficient in its employment, another task not easily done.

This is also a personal decision because I don’t expect anyone else to do the same as me: if you want to, that’s great. Most of the people I know don’t carry guns, and many of them probably dislike them: I respect that. I also respect private property. If someone doesn’t want my gun in their house, it’s still my choice whether or not to carry my weapon: either I go and don’t carry, or I stay home and do. Personal choice, personal responsibility.

But I can safely say that on the day I turn 21, the only newly-granted legal allowance I’ll be exercising is filling out paperwork at my local sheriff’s office for my concealed carry permit, to bear a weapon which — by then — I will be trained and responsible with.

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