A majority of my family members, including many cousins and their families, own guns. As far as I know, none of us have been charged with a gun-related crime. Both my parents came from large farm families in Chester County, where they used their guns to hunt small game when in season. They used that harvested wild game for food on their tables.
I was in first grade at the one-room Sconnelltown School in Chester County when World War II broke out in December 1941. We had one teacher, Mrs. Bush, for all 10 grades. When it rained during our recess periods, we students went down into the school basement where we played “war.” We turned wooden tables on their sides, and we hid behind our tables and stood up only to shoot at the so-called enemy. I remember venturing out into no-man’s land and getting shot. I fell to the basement floor while doctors and Red Cross nurses came and carried me back behind our tables. We took our pretend war games seriously, so much so that some of the older boys made their own detailed wooden guns with belt leather slings. A few of those wooden guns were nicely finished with lacquer or varnish. Nearly every student in that school had a family member fighting in the real war. My cousin, U.S. Army Private Earle Ross Terry, was killed in that real war. Earle was only 10 years older than me. Earle’s brother, George V. Terry Jr., also served in the Army.
Apart from that war, a couple members of our family were excellent gunsmiths, who reloaded their own ammunition. They disassembled, repaired and reassembled guns for themselves and for friends. My uncles, Joseph P. Williamson Sr. and Clyde D. McCardle, were amateur gunsmiths; they both were members of the West Chester Gun Club. Uncle Clyde had a shooting range on his farm where his friends came to sight — in their big game rifles. Some of his gun-owner friends were police officers, military members and ordinary gun enthusiasts who, with Uncle Clyde, used his handmade heavy-duty shooting table, which was located at the end of his porch facing several targets on an earthen bank 100 yards away.
My mother, Lena, taught me to quietly walk with her into the woods where she used her 12-gauge shotgun to kill squirrels. I accompanied my dad, Clarence, he with his shotgun and I with my shotgun, to our fields to shoot rabbits and pheasants. I have memories of helping Dad remove the hides of many rabbits and squirrels as well as pick the feathers from dead pheasants. Those cooked rabbits tasted good, while there was not much squirrel meat to taste. When I was 12 or 13 years old, I asked Dad if I may shoot the 30.06 hunting rifle. He taught me to correctly hold it, aim at a distant woodlot and pull the trigger — POW! The kickback nearly knocked me onto the ground. I still remember that rifling sound echoing through those trees.
Dad later used that rifle to kill a six-point buck deer, which he brought home and hung from a tree to drain when we lived at Radley Run outside West Chester. That delicious-tasting venison was shared with his deer hunting friends — George Steele, Harvey Worthington, Bob Wylie and Bob Powers. All those good people are now deceased. Today, my Winchester 12-gauge pump action shotgun is 110 years old. I retired it decades ago when Mill Hall gunsmith Phil Miller recommended I not shoot it anymore. I gave my last shotgun shells to a friend.
Today, America’s hot button debate about gun control concerns the thousands of American citizens, including hundreds of school students, who are murdered with guns every year. Though we pray and hope the killing and the murders will soon stop, our hope seems empty and hopeless. I read a robust dialogue on Facebook about gun control. I interjected, “Whatever happened to old fashioned self-control?” One of the debaters replied that people today don’t value life like we did back in the old days and that self-control is so 1950s.
The truth is, the gun-control debate, at its core, is not about guns but self-control; that is, teaching children and families to learn to control their anger when faced with life’s inevitable unfairness. Far too many people find it easy to transfer the responsibility for their own anger to other people. They find it easy to then kill those people, which results in a temporary relief from that anger. But their anger and self-hatred soon resurface to haunt them. And often they end up committing suicide.
We The People must find a way to better teach our young people and all people how to negotiate with our everyday enemies, be they human enemies or emotional/mental ills. This kind of teaching is not something that governments and politicians do well. However, this is something that most families do every day; it is something that our schools and our teachers do most every day; it is something many religions teach week after week; it is something that police officers deal with every day — citizens who are not in control of their anger. And so, it is very appropriate to give thanks to you adults who show us the way of self-control, of self-restraint and reconciliation by the way you thoughtfully live your everyday life. Without your good and persuasive examples of self-control, our citizenry would long ago have plunged itself into regional civil wars within our nation.
As nice as self-control is; as good as conflict resolution sounds; as great as anger management is, we humans still have a deep-rooted instinct to kill whomever interferes with our xenophobic ways or weakens our beloved Constitutional Rights. We can thank the National Rifle Association for protecting our U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment right — “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The paradox is that when the killer side of human nature looks for a political ally, it finds that the NRA is the best friend a killer’s instinct ever had. Guns galore; whether legal or illegal, are plentiful and available to a cunning, wannabe killer. Of course the NRA teaches responsible gun use. But wannabe killers are oblivious to that.
Philosophers and theologians have asked, “Is humankind basically good or basically evil?” There seems to be enough evidence in today’s newspaper crime reports to answer that question. Added to that is the notion that Christian churches have for the most part set aside that theological debate of whether we are capable of doing evil deeds; today we prefer a practical theology of fun and the good life. Our failure to deal with the evil instinct within us has led to several results:
One result is that We The People have lost the moral high ground in the battle for authentic, deep-rooted peace; for example, more than 41,000 people committed suicide in 2013 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That amounts to one suicide every 12 minutes, and many take place via a self-inflicted gunshot.
A second result is that religion no longer plays a prominent part in our national consciousness; for example, the presidential candidates very rarely mention the biblical commandments of God as in “Do not murder.” A third result is the collision of people who live in great financial poverty against the people who live in great financial wealth — the haves versus the have-nots. No doubt some people may use their readily available guns to try to resolve that war.
A fourth result is that God-fearing people may now benefit from the increase of gun-related murders by investing their money in companies that manufacture those same firearms, while ignoring this spiritual truth: We who live by and invest in the gun, shall die by the gun. And so this spiritual truth is now made real before our very eyes as innocent school children and others are murdered; and we passively wring our hands and watch the heart-rending replays on our television sets.
We need a spiritual/moral rearmament in America to encourage us to regain the important role of self-restraint and self-control in our daily lives.