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Chandice M. Johnson Jr., Published February 02 2013

Letter: Maybe not the best time to talk about gun rights

I confess: I love guns. Had I not spent my career in near-poverty, first as a clergyman and then as a university lecturer, I might have owned a collection of guns to match my father’s or my middle brother’s, both card-carrying NRA members.

I grew up waiting for the next edition of The Rifleman magazine so I could check the featured column “The Armed Citizen” and read about how some gun owner saved his wife, his home and maybe a domestic cat or two by blowing away an intruder. The high point of the year was when, along with the Montgomery Ward and the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalogs, the Stoeger’s Shooter’s Bible arrived. Unlike the first two catalogs, the Shooters’ Bible held an honored place and was never recycled to the old WPA privy in lieu of war-rationed toilet tissue. It wasn’t as honored as our other Bible, but very nearly.

There were guns, too. Many guns. In 1939, when the Great Depression was at its fiercest in southwestern Oklahoma and no one was hiring carpenters, my father kept the wolf away from the door by buying and selling guns.

For many years, my mother carried in her purse a pistol loaded with tear gas cartridges. She acquired the gun in the 1930s, when Bonnie and Clyde were afoot and the national pastime was kidnapping. I don’t know what happened to that old gun, but I do know Mom was never kidnapped.

My first gun was a Red Ryder BB gun. When I was about 11 years old, I killed my first squirrel, a significant rite of passage for a descendent of old Ozarks hunters with Appalachian roots. Over the years, I have owned or used shotguns, pistols and a variety of rifles, from simple .22s to big-caliber hunting rifles. I have never injured myself or someone else, although I once came close to wounding a preacher who showed up at our isolated rural pastorium pretending to be a drunk demanding entrance. No one was hurt, but the preacher learned something about the protocol of visiting rural farmhouses late at night.

I don’t hunt anymore, and the guns have been in storage for lo these many years. I might still enjoying browsing the latest Stoeger catalog, but the old love for guns has been tempered by too many personal experiences with the bad side of gun ownership. Who could forget the church deacon still grieving for a brother killed at a shivaree on his wedding night? Or the young wife who sat up all night waiting for her husband only to learn he had been shot on his way home from his Memphis job? Or the mother who, awakened by the noise, found her troubled son dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound?

Tough funerals to conduct. Not a time to talk about the Second Amendment or gun owners’ rights.

Johnson, Fargo, is a former Forum Readers Board member and retired founding director of the North Dakota State University Center for Writers.