I bought myself a rifle recently so I could go hunting for larger mammals, a spiffy little Marlin in the Winchester .270 caliber. I was inspired by Hank Shaw's blog and a couple of others; I'm at an age where I'm looking back on the things I really liked to do when I was younger, the things that didn't involve sitting in a bar arguing Foucault, and wondering why it is that I stopped doing them. In an earlier age that might have driven men like me to buy a Porsche and a pretty young girlfriend. But practically, as Plato once noted, you don't really become a man until your forties. The "mid-life crisis" was always more about marketing lifestyle shifts, sub-dividing consumer categories to make it easier to slot people in and sell them stuff, and it was a co-optation of an actual, honest-to-god milestone in one's life. So now, having spent far more of my time arguing Foucault in bars than I'd really have liked to, I'm beginning to do the things I like. Like go trail-running, and hunt, and play music. This is good for my mental health - building new skills keeps the brain humming along - and my physical health, and my family, and if we ignore all the mass-market bourgeoisie bubble culture built up since the 30s, a necessary part of what it is to be a round, solid, useful human being.
I bought the particular rifle I bought because I am frugal, the grandchild of Highlanders and depression-era farmers, a man who was poor in grad school, recently unemployed, possessed of an even-handedness that makes it difficult not to credit my wife's skepticism about frivolous purchases. (She comes from a similar background.) My frugality is based not, however, on the desire for the cheap. Its the desire for value. So I bought the best rifle I could find, a value rifle, something people would look at and say "that shoots as well as something three times the price."
I did the same thing when I started playing guitar a few years ago: bought the guitars everyone said were the best values. Not for me the marquee brand, or even necessarily the marquee look; no, I force myself to buy value, even when everyone else is out there dropping twice what I spent on their MIM Fender Tele, because they want the brand. So I don't have an actual Fender Telecaster, but I have something better, something worth three times as much if it had the Fender label on it.
And despite my desire for value, I still now have something like nine guitars in the house: two for my wife, one each for my daughters, and then a few additional for myself. Far more than I can play at any one time. But they're all good values, mind you, so its not like... well its not like I wasted the money. I certainly didn't give into the brand, even if I've got more guitars than I can play.
I got the rifle a while ago and have failed to find the time to sight it in, a process that involves getting the scope and the rifle itself in alignment. I haven't done this in quite some time, probably more than two decades, and there's a series of things involved in getting to the shooting range and bringing the right equipment that challenge a logical and ordered mind such as mine. Moreover its hard to do things you haven't done in a long time, or ever; the nerves that knew how to do that set of things are long gone, lost to age or gin or some other form of negligence. It wasn't my first time at the range; I'd bought a shotgun in the fall so I could hunt pheasants, a good preparatory activity to decide if this was something I was going to like, and that required re-learning how to shoot it. (The shotgun: Also cheap, also a great value.)
But I was unprepared for the range. I had thought they had a certain kind of target, which they'd run out of; I also needed a better spotting scope than they had available. So I ended up taking two shots at a target I couldn't see through the spotting scope and going home.
But not before I'd spent a full hour or more waiting for a bench to shoot from. The range was full Sunday morning, and everyone - all ten benches - were occupied with people shooting AR-15 copies, what are referred to as MSRs. Giant booms of semi-auto shots - the range rules prohibit more than one shot every second, but there were ten people shooting their military assault rifles at targets twenty-five and fifty yards away. No one was sighting-in a hunting rifle, or even practicing for hunting, or even practicing their shooting. They were banging away clip after 30-round clip. For hours. Not preparing for hunting, but pretending to be a soldier.
I've been meaning to write something more thoughtful about gun control. Part of my quandary is that I have five guitars, plus four others I could play. I'm not a musician, by any stretch of the imagination; I don't even play every day, although I go for long stretches where I do, and I own many interesting and helpful music books in a wide range of styles, and a lot of music too, and I can pretty passably play you some jazz or blues or rock music if you should be so inclined. No one ever is inclined to listen to me play, because of course the guy at the party with the guitar is as welcome as the girl who wants to play strip poker or the couple with the bong who want to talk philosophy, like really heavy stuff like "can mushrooms think?" But that doesn't particularly matter to me: I'm not hurting anyone, I haven't spent excessively, I haven't wasted money I don't have, and I enjoy noodling around in front of the TV learning new things. And so what is the difference between me and the guy who wants to see what its like to shoot an AR-15, who has neighbors deployed into Iraq for years, who wants to know even marginally what the experience is like? He's not doing it in his backyard; he's not threatening anyone. Granted its a deadly weapon in the way that a guitar isn't, but if the weapon is in a safe what's the big deal?
But it feels like there is a difference. It feels like me wanting to sight-in a rifle so I can go hunting should take precedence over some yahoo's desire to play soldier for a couple of hours.
I don't know how to justify that feeling, however, and in the America we live in that basic sense of moral superiority is just another commercial commodity - the kind of thing an enterprising entrepreneur might cater to, with something like a Whole Foods-like shooting range for people who prefer just to shoot for hunting. (Oddly enough the tacticool people complain about "range nazis" who harsh their good time shooting off an entire clip, and there's ranges that allow them to do just that, so they've already found their enterprising entrepreneur.) Its true that most new hunters - people like me - are both more liberal and more interested in food hunting than trophy hunting.
But its not clear, yet, why these tactical people irritate me.