The Shooting Gallery

Once again in the New York Times Happy Days blog, I’m testing myself. Last time, I was testing my faith. This time, it’s my trigger finger:

I’ve always really liked guns. Growing up, I fantasized about them endlessly, though my parents discouraged it every way they could. I came to agree with them in principle — that violence doesn’t solve much of anything, that the world would be better without weapons — though it didn’t keep me from stockpiling toy armaments. In the years since, I’ve become a partisan in pacifist causes, around which congregates a community that has no patience for packing heat. But I continue to feel that old attraction. I can still get swept away in fantasies of firepower. So nearly a decade into legal age with nary a shot fired, I decided it was time to test my reveries against the real thing: would a gun really satisfy them or cause me to recoil in horror?

It was with this purpose that, together with my indulgent friend, Rachel, I set out for a nearby shooting center, an unmarked building hiding in a quiet Long Island neighborhood, around the corner from a front-yard shrine to the bravery of firemen.

Read the rest of “Warm Gun” over at Happy Days.





5 responses to “The Shooting Gallery”

  1. Dan Moerman

    Dear Mr Schneider

    Your account of your trip to the shooting gallery reminded me of an essay of sorts I wrote several years ago (2006, I think). It was in response to a series of items in an on-campus forum which was often monopolized by my colleague “Bill” — see below — who wanted some magical changes in the middle east that would bring “peace.” Tired by his simplicity, I wrote “my little gun,” a story similar to yours. I hope it’s not too long for the format here.

    best, dm

    I have been watching this discussion for some time, generally from the side, without saying much. In large part that was because I see nothing that can be said that will resolve anything here, or at least anything that’s on the table.

    It has occurred to me recently that one reason for this is that the implicit goal is an impossible and implausible one. Bill signs most of his postings with the simple and elegant


    This, I think, is part of the problem. Bill, of course, is hardly alone in this. There are constant references to “peace” in diplomacy: “the Peace Process,” “the Roadmap to Peace,” etc. But seeking “peace” in the Middle East, or in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, seems to me rather like seeking the Rocky Mountains, or the Caribbean Sea, in Michigan. Several years ago I read a wonderful work of fiction ­ the Jerusalem Quartet, a series of 4 novels (Sinai Tapestry, Jericho Mosaic, Nile Shadows,Jerusalem Poker) by Edward Whittemore. The series is a mixture of Marquez-like magical realism plus a healthy dose of Kissengeresque real-politik (the author was for many years a CIA agent); it was wonderful. One character who more or less runs an antique shop in Jerusalem is approximately 3000 years old. He has seen Jerusalem invaded by just about everyone ­ the Romans, the Turks, the British, the Jews, the Arabs ­ all of them and many more fighting and killing and passing on to the next. This fictional palate gave room for much of the absurdity of such life at the same time as it meditated on the violence and turmoil. What it didn’t do was leave one with the expectation of anything much like “peace.”

    What’s most important about this observation is that the Middle East, of course, has no monopoly on violence and warfare. In my own brief adult life, I have lived through more wars than I can count or even remember: the cold war, the Vietnam war, conflicts from Grenada to Afghanistan, from Mogadishu to Baghdad. Then there is Northern Ireland, Nepal, Pakistan and India, plus the whole continent of Africa ­ Rwanda, Congo, Liberia, etc., etc. Who do you prefer as the number one murderer-president, Charles Taylor or Idi Amin?

    Today in the New York Times, there’s a very interesting column by Bob Herbert on “Violence” titled “An American Obsession,” reflecting on recent Martin Luther King celebrations. “We’ve honored the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but we’ve never listened to him. Our addiction to the joy of violence is far too strong.” He doesn’t mention the latest wrinkle in the national glorification of violence ­ the “War on Terrorism” ­ but he well might. This has at least as much promise as did the “war on Communism” which involved beating one big country. There are always likely to be some malcontents somewhere taking up arms in pursuit of justice. As we learned in the maelstrom of Nicaragua, “One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist.” So this current war, and the violence it entails, should be good nearly forever.

    Given this, our own militant commitment to violence (just reflect on 30 years of our relationship to sad little Cuba for another example), why should we anticipate that anything we do will lead in the Middle East to “peace?”

    Indeed, in that holy and hellish place, I’m not even sure we can ever anticipate “co-existence,” let along “peaceful coexistence.” There’s an interesting profile in the current New Yorker of Ariel Sharon by an Israeli reporter; Sharon, it turns out, is a surprisingly complex character. Most interesting perhaps to me was his hatred, but moreso his admiration for “Arabs.” They never give in, they never change their position, he said, or words to that effect: they are strong. Well, it’s probably true of some Arabs. Certainly it’s true of some Israelis (although not, it seems, Sharon).

    What is the best that we can ever achieve in the Middle-Eastern conflict? I don’t know. But whatever it is, it’s not seemly for us Americans, perhaps the most warlike people since the Romans, or the Nazis, to pontificate about it.

    I am one of the most peaceful people I know. Yet even I own a rifle. I have a beautiful little Ruger 22 caliber carbine. A few years ago, we were besieged by groundhogs. I’d tried everything the hardware store had to offer, yet the creatures continued to decimate the gardens. So I bought the gun (over in Dexter, at the gun shop where they have the infamous “buck pole” during hunting season; the store clerk was a pleasant woman who might have been selling tee shirts or cookware). I shot at the groundhogs a few times. Although I never hit one, they did seem less frequent in the subsequent months, probably due to the arrival of a pair of foxes in the neighborhood, not to my ineffective shooting. Ineffective or not, I really like that little gun. A carbine, in which firing one round produces the energy to eject the spent brass, put a new round in the chamber and to prepare the gun to fire again, is an engineering marvel. I like that little gun a lot more than I should.

    Why? Why do I like that gun so much? I think part of it goes way back. When I was in grade school, in the late 40s and early 50s, we had a strange ritual. In addition to fire drills, we had air-raid drills. At the sound of a certain siren, we all stood up and walked out of our classrooms. On the way out, we each picked up a sheet of Masonite, about a foot square, from a tidy stack by the classroom door. We filed into interior hallways, put our air-raid squares on the floor, and sat down, shielding our heads with our hands. I think it may have been the excessive tidiness of the little squares (to keep our pants clean) in the face of nuclear holocaust that probably triggered the imagination of a 9 year old, although I doubt that I could have told you that at the time. I don’t really know what the teachers and school board imagined we would do after surviving the first minutes of this catastrophe. They never said. But my friends and I considered this situation carefully, and made plans for an invasion by the Russians. One neighbor had a neat bow and arrow set. We would go up into the “mountains” ­ a small row of hills in Northern New Jersey where we had a “fort” ­ and we would watch for patrols. We would shoot a Russian with the bow and arrow, and then take his rifle and ammunition. We would be ready then to do some serious fighting. I think that might be at least part of the source of my excessive attachment to my lovely little gun.

    With that in my past and present, how can I tell little kids not to throw stones at soldiers? How can I tell soldiers not to carry out targeted killings of people who have arranged suicide bombings? How can I tell them not to attack the settlers protecting their homes in the settlements (see also today’s NYTimes). How, indeed, can I tell them not to carry out suicide bombings?

    I don’t believe that this token of my violence ­ my carbine ­ is due to anything particular in my genes (as many modern right-wing commentators would have it). But I grew up with it; I grew up with the threat of atom bombs falling on New York City (about 30 miles away). Neighbors dug fallout shelters. I was no fool.

    I believe that “peace” is a chimera, a fantasy, even a pretext for imperialism (we invaded Iraq to prevent violence ­ with weapons of mass destruction). Soon we will leave, and what violence will happen will happen. We will label it terrorism, and continue to fight it, wresting civil liberties from ourselves as we do so.

    Does that mean we should do nothing? No, of course not. But it does mean that we should be careful of our goals. “Peace” in the Middle East in our times will require someone, probably everyone there, to “lose” something considered to be of inestimable value. At least ongoing war offers the hope of possible “victory.” It offers everyone that; plus, it allows us to wreak more of the mayhem that we have come so much to love in lives filled with violence. I’ll do what I can. But I probably won’t give up my little Ruger .22 carbine.

    Daniel E. Moerman PhD
    William E Stirton Professor of Anthropology
    University of Michigan-Dearborn

  2. Dear Dan,

    Thank you for sharing your essay. I’m really enjoying it. It certainly seems that we’ve had some similar experiences—just what I’d hoped. This short essay is part of more extended memoir about my appreciation for weaponry, particularly as a child, and their purpose is precisely to speak to others who have a similar experience.

    I like what you say about signing emails “peace.” It always seems a bit odd to me. Makes me want to say, “Yeah, you think you’re so peaceful?!” It’s really easy to go around saying you’re interested in peace—as you saw in the essay, I myself am guilty of this—but much harder is actually being anything resembling a peacemaker. Often peacemaking is more powerful when the word “peace” isn’t spoken. People don’t always want peace so much as justice, dignity, and so forth, and rightfully so.

    Enjoy your gun! (Not too much.) If I weren’t in a tiny apartment in Brooklyn, I’d probably have something like that myself.

  3. Brian

    I’m far too much of a peacenick for this article. Just the sight of those pictures sends creepy sudders down my spine. I can’t stand weapons and personally find it difficult to reconcile having them with the Gospel of Jesus. I’ve always thought the position of Quaker non-violence should be the position of ALL Christians. I personally believe that unless you hold a position that requires the use of firearms, such a police, security guard or military (and then only when on duty), all firearms should be illegal.

  4. nathan,

    good piece.

    while it may be a bizarre comparison, your conversation at the end of your essay reminded me of a recent blind date. a great time, god wine and conversation, the right juju, and then he told me who he voted for…. date over.

    it’s curious how much it *appears* we can have in common with a person, even when we’ve scratched the surface and believe we’ve found common ground.

    brooklyn apartments are far too small for guns. (and republicans)

  5. that would be “good” wine. i’m an atheist