(Article changed on January 31, 2013 at 09:54)
There was a time when the NRA wasn't so weird and awful by Nikodem Nijaki, Wikimedia Commons
The man who taught me
about guns died eight years ago this month. My father was 82 years old and, up
until the last six weeks of his life, he seemed unstoppable, strong as a mule,
steady as a rock, always there if needed. Typically, whenever I called home, my
mother would say he was outside repairing a fence, tilling the garden--or, like his
very last chore, rigging up a pulley system in order to load an old clothes
dryer onto the pickup bed without any assistance. This was, I should add,
contrary to my mother's admonitions.
His name was Jesse Sublett Jr., but almost everyone knew him as Jake. In official documents and to my mother, he was J.E., which saved him the trouble of being confused with his father, Jesse Sublett Sr., and the embarrassment of being known as Junior. It's a common nickname in the South, but does anybody ever start out in life wanting to be called Junior?
Mom had quite a few health problems, and Dad doted on her. For him to precede her in death was kind of unthinkable. I always thought that he would go on caring for her as long as she was alive, not so much because of his physical condition, but out of sheer willpower.
Jake was country. Raised on a farm, sixth grade education, modest, soft-spoken. He couldn't play a lick, but he loved music and was a fan of my own creative endeavors, no matter how weird they must have seemed to him. After my wife and I moved to Los Angeles, he was always the first one to cry when our visits came to an end.
Thus the man of few words is often recalled in verbatim. His advice to me on avoiding narcotics: "Keep your nose clean, bub."
On his first trip to California, confronted by great the proliferation manicurist signs which said, simply "Nails," this native of the Texas Hill Country said, "I thought they were all hardware stores."
I also remember vividly his gentle presence, his large, scarred hands and quiet voice as he instructed my brother and me (and later, my sister, although I was on my own by then) in the arts of hunting and shooting, and everything about guns we needed to know in exchange for the privilege of using them. "Always be careful not to point your rifle in the direction of any person." "Never shoot unless you have a clear line of sight." "Squeeze the trigger, don't jerk." "Always know where the other hunters are sitting."
All guns in our house were unloaded at all times. The ammunition clips were even stored separately. On hunting trips, we'd gather our rifles and supplies and set out on foot from the camping site, never chambering a round until we had cleared the last gate or other obstacle. Even after that, a gun was kept on safety until the moment it was to be fired.
Jake was strict about all the protocols of handling guns, not only gun safety but cleaning and storing after use. No guns in the world could have been better maintained than the ones in our household. And there's something about the seriousness and care he embodied as a parent that still rings in my ears, even sends chills down my spine, as I remember his instructions. These days, in particular, I keep hearing him say "Always be careful not to point your rifle in the direction of any person."
When my wife and I first moved to Los Angeles, I remember encountering people who were offended at my gun history. Yes, I killed my first deer at age five (with my father steadying the rifle) and continued hunting into my 20s. I enjoy going to the shooting range now and then, and also take my teenage son along.
My father preached strict adherence to all game laws, although when he was young, the family observed a more relaxed approach, one best expressed by the old saying, "There are two hunting seasons: salt and pepper." A few times we went out "headlighting" (known as jacklighting in other parts of the country), which means going out with dogs and lights to kill raccoons and other "varmints" for their hides, which fetched, as I recall, between fifty cents and a little over a dollar.
My brother and I shot doves and squirrels and when we failed to harvest enough of either to make a meal, we'd shoot some of each and Mom would make stew. Sometimes I'd hike alone in the woods, shooting birds and armadillos, rocks, trees, whatever. I regret this last part, but there it is.
My son has lived in an urban environment his entire life and the notion that a young boy needed to learn to shoot because there were no grocery stores around and even if there were, buying meat every week for our family was financially impossible. It could still be a valid thing to teach a young person, but whenever it's something promoted by the NRA, it reeks like some rotten, bottom-dwelling creature born of desperation, greed and fear.
It was many years ago, but at one time the NRA wasn't just a gun lobby, a PR machine that relentless promotes guns and pushes them, beyond any logic except for that of fear and greed, and pushes far too many guns that have no reasonable civilian use. There was a time when you could say the NRA was about gun safety and outdoor recreation, but now it's more accurate to compare them to the corn syrup people hustle to inject fat in every morsel of our foods, particularly the young. Of course, it would take fewer words to compare them to crack dealers, but I'm sure that's been done before.