I still remember the first time I fired a gun. Well, I didn’t really shoot it. I was the trigger man, but I just helped and encouraged.

I was probably 4 years old and my grandfather was crouched behind me in an old farm on a hill. He held his .22 single-shot rifle pointed at a 55-gallon drum the color of the steelworks around Scranton-Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. This was where Grandma and Grandpa burned the trash of which there was little because most of the groceries came from vines and stems in their garden.

When he thought he had pointed it at that rusty barrel, he told me to pull the trigger. I did it. There was a pop, and we walked over to the barrel and he showed me the hole I had made.

I was a teenager when he loaded his double-barreled 12-gauge Stevens shotgun and let me shoot unsuspecting birds over a field of cut millet. Frightened, these innocent doves flew away and later died, probably of natural causes.

I had gone on hunting trips most Thanksgiving afternoons with my dad, uncles, and cousins. I don’t know why all these memories seem to be under cloudy skies.

Our neighbor Dale Smith came by once and wanted to try his new pointer on quail in a field behind my grandmother’s house, my grandfather having passed away. Dale didn’t shoot once, but I learned how to properly insult a disinterested dog.

I was still fairly indifferent to guns until Richard Nixon made me an offer I couldn’t refuse without accepting food and shelter at a US Bureau of Prisons facility. So the tools of my trade became an M16 rifle, .45 pistol, frag grenades and claymore mines. I fired .50 caliber machine guns and shoulder fired a 90mm recoilless rifle. I don’t know for sure, but maybe that’s why I have this ringing in my ears.

Gun control advocates say no 18-year-old should be able to own a “gun of war”. Still, you can join the army and marines at 18 and be handed a fully automatic rifle in boot camp. Changing the enlistment age to 21 would cripple the military, which some liberals favor anyway, as well as some career plans.

Luckily for me, I loved the spicy smell of burning gunpowder, which I noticed quite early on the Fort Jackson firing ranges.

My grandfather never told me that I would consider shooting anyone, and he never bragged, “If anyone fucks with me, I’ll give them both shots.”

His shotgun rarely came off the wall except when two convicts had escaped from the county jail, and he propped it up near the front door until they were caught.

But he didn’t live long enough to see the 1990s and the dawn of “disrespect” when even the most innocent slight was considered a serious offense for which someone had to pay. Now drive-by shooters are killing innocent children sleeping in their beds or playing in the yard. If a driver accidentally cuts you off, you fire warning shots at them. Does anyone have a middle finger that works?

There was a time when you really had to do something to get people to resort to guns. I remember a camp meeting sermon by Pentecostal Holiness preacher Leroy Baker, who also served as president of what is now Southwestern Christian University in Oklahoma City.

He used theological terms to say what he would do if someone tried to come through the window “to hurt my wife and my babies”.

“I will get my gun and stop this man from committing this terrible sin,” he said.

Now, it doesn’t take much to get shot.

We used to say, “He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. How on earth did an elementary school, grocery store, church, or playground become bad places? There is no good time for such madness as we have seen recently in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York.

Sometimes schools and homes are not safe from tornadoes, lightning and flooding. We call these acts of God. Shootings in these once safe places are acts of the devil.

This is all so heartbreaking and alarming, but we should also be alarmed by the murders that are happening every day.

Despite the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, Chicago has recorded 971 shootings so far this year. The city recorded 241 murders in 2020 and 259 in 2021. And it’s not just Chicago. Choose any city.

Roseanna Ander, former director of the University of Chicago’s crime lab, noted murders were down but said the rate was “still too high by any rational standard.”

She’s an expert. I’m not, but I think even one homicide or shooting is too much and irrational.

I know people are entitled to own guns, and it’s almost reckless not to have one if you’re forced to go to one of those places where the time is always wrong.

I don’t understand, however, why the average law-abiding citizen needs an assault rifle or high-volume magazines. Gun control supporters want to ban both. I once slept safer every night because I had an M16 under my left leg loaded with a 30+ round magazine nearby. I didn’t have that stuff in the States, but it was a better time.

You don’t want these guns in the hands of unstable people, but they can get them legally, and we’ve seen the results.

This may be out of context, but I remember Hillary Clinton saying in an interview during her unsuccessful presidential campaign: “I don’t believe you change hearts. I believe you are changing the laws…”

I disagree because I have seen changed hearts.

My memory tells me that hearts were better when my grandfather and I fired at his trash can. The collective heart of our country has since changed, mostly for the worse. Changing cores is the only thing we haven’t tried.

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