The origins of American death

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Amazing. This didn’t use to happen . . . until it did. An old, totally innocuous, white fart stocks up enough guns for the shoot out at the Ok Corral and takes down 500 people from a well chosen location. Ordinary, old, accountant, no record of violence, white, no terrorist connections. We’re shocked, shocked I say. No one to blame. It must have been those others, somehow.

America has been carrying a gun since I was a kid. We were trained: Wyatt Earp, Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, Rawhide, John Wayne who played no one but himself for the last thirty years of his life. Even if he was a shoe salesman from New Jersey. It wasn’t a size 6 black pump that he pulled out when things got tight. It had to be a Colt .45. As a kid in middle America in the 1950s America was defined by gunsmoke, the fast draw, the dead bad guy who was never as fast as the good guy. The show wasn’t over until someone walked out into the street to die. The pleasures of Saturday night. We learned to take great pride in our killings.

At the same time I grew up on a farm and we had guns for hunting. I went hunting with my father and learned to shoot rabbits but never did. Shot a bird once. That was enough. But I had a gun. In October and November the farmer’s groups, hunting clubs, had turkey shoots. No, we didn’t shoot turkeys but simple targets and the winners took home a turkey. Frozen. No blood anywhere. The NRA magazine was in the barbershop and it was about hunting and gun safety and how to store your gun at home on the farm. No silencers or even Thompson submachine guns. No carrying guns around to show off like a TV cowboy. But the fixings were all there. It needed to stew with Sergio Leone and the dark, cheap westerns that made no pretense of good. Only varying shades of bad. Maybe the not quite so bad walked away at the end. Always a bunch of dead bodies in the street.

Vietnam added a brutal spice. Many of us were caught up and learned to kill brown people unless they killed us first. And they often did. What the fuck was that? Then we killed our own but that wasn’t talked about. Friendly fire. Bodies, but the story never ended.

The damage done to my generation and the following generations made it very complicated but America had a gun. And we knew how to use it. The memories were hard and dark but there was power and that was passed on to people who didn’t kill but got some of the thrill. Because it was who and what we were. Our children grew up with it but went there own ways and ignored the silly old war stories. But some didn’t. Guns were what America was about. Our cities were battlefields but you stayed away from those areas. Our houses were the main battlefields with our minds the bloody ground. Early in the morning in the garage with a shotgun barrel in your mouth and push the trigger with your toe. The garage was not the dusty street with the folks watching your bravery but it was all that was left. Anger was always better with a gun. Dead wives, dead children, dead neighbors. Such a shame. No one knew such a thing could happen. But we had dreamed about it every night when America was great.

We’ve trained for a hundred years. It’s always better when the bodies are in the street where they belong. Then we know the stories over. And we can go to bed.

Educator, CIO, retired entrepreneur, grandfather with occasional fits of humor in the midst of disaster. . .

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