Friday, October 23, 2015

'Gainst Guns

I'd done enough killing. It was time to sell my guns. Sure, there was the possibility of target shooting, but even that was always dangerous. (A .303 bullet can travel unhindered for over two miles; unless absolutely sure of where the bullet will stop, why fire it?) Besides, guns, no matter how beautiful or rare or privileged to own, were made for the express purpose of killing something. Yes, much is made of the need for self protection. Even target shooting was designed to hone one's kill-skills. Robin Hood knew that much. So did the Sheriff of Nottingham. And I'd done enough killing.

My first rifle in Canada was a pellet gun, 1976. Asked to get rid of the pesky starlings I'd eventually returned with a bushel of them in hand. The farmer's wife looked at me, astounded. "My husband just used to scare them off," she said. But it was not a lust for killing that led me to collect other rifles; it was by dint of circumstance. As an African I'd been taught to shoot before I was yet ten years old. And so, over the next five years, I'd actually collected seven rifles, each a piece of art or history in its own right. But it is the stories that went with them that now matters. Especially at the end.

Soon after the pellet gun I acquired a Russian made .22. It was for the purpose of getting rid of gophers (another temporary farm-related job). It was deceptively dangerous. The bullet is small and thin, but the range is sufficient to kill a running man at a 100 yards. Along with those two came a .410, which is a single barrelled shot gun, good for grouse. (That gun was really owned by my wife at the time; I used the .22.) We were privileged to know Russel Fex, the caretaker of the multi-acres of the defunct Anaconda Iron and Ore Mine, near Nakina, Northern Ontario, and for awhile hunting and fishing were part of our concept of 'paradise'. Moose; deer; beaver; elk; and especially the partridges; all were fair game. In those days we'd park the powerboat in a special spot and literally pluck the pickerel out of the water, like shooting fish in a... Well, you get the idea. Thing is, by the time I had to shoot the bear on the shore of Cordingly Lake (since it three times threatened to break into our little cabin for food) I'd acquired a WW2 Lee Enfield, which was a beautifully balanced and deadly accurate point 303, somewhat similar in power and range to the R1 automatic I'd used as a trained sniper in the SA Army, 1971 to '75. (Conscription had given me few options.) Yes, I knew that guns were made to kill. Isn't that why I'd escaped Africa? (And yes, this story is leading to an unhappy ending.)

By the time I'd finished my studies and become a teacher, based in Calgary, I had a gun rack with the twelve gauge double barrelled shotgun, the old Lee Enfield, the Russian .22, the old pellet gun, my wife's .410, and a German Mauser rifle from WW1. Yet I'd killed with the .22 the most. Back in Thunder Bay there'd been a catastrophe of feral cats at our cottage on the outskirts of the city. In one summer some thirty or more appeared to haunt my black cat, Temba, moaning and caterwauling for him to come out and play. At night their chorus and internecine fighting kept all within earshot awake. So yes, from my second story window I put each one down, thinking I was doing the local cottage community a service. But then, when I lifted one of the dead things up from the long grass I noticed the collar, and the glistening silver tag. The tag bore a name. It bore a name! Just like I did in the army, just like... And the sobbing escaped me. I cried and cried, determining never to kill again.

But the guns still came with me to Calgary, 1981. And a fellow teacher, learning of my collection, and fed up with her husband who'd deserted her, gave me two more. They were 'his' ugly things, deadly things. I found them really beautiful. One had a scope. One sees more clearly through scopes.

And then I met Pierre Tardif. Another fellow teacher. He bought them all from me, rack and all. We each had our gun-carrying licences; it was a legal transaction. And he took them off in his big brown jeep, and he stored them in his basement suite, against the wall, perhaps for a year or so. And then they were stolen. Someone broke into his house. Someone took the lot. And to this day I feel quite sick about the idea of them. From beginning to end. But especially the end. Who uses them now? Are guns not made to kill?

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