By Philip E. Jenks
January 7, 2018 – Less than a week into his term as Westchester, N.Y., County Executive, George Latimer issued an executive order banning gun shows in government buildings in the county.
Almost immediately one of Latimer’s Facebook trolls called him a hypocrite for claiming to support the Second Amendment while opposing the public display and sale of guns. Unperturbed, Latimer replied, “The right to own a gun is protected. The right to have a gun show in a public building is not.”
Probably Latimer’s decision is supported by the majority of his constituents, many of whom are appalled by the extremes the gun lobby will go to make automatic rifles and concealed weapons available to all.
Most Americans believe stricter controls should be placed on guns and gun ownership but these proposals have been consistently blocked by Republicans in Congress. Recent gun-related tragedies have been ignored by politicians except to express prayers and sympathy for the victims. it is a wonderment that Senate Republicans feel entitled to defy the wishes of the people they are supposed to represent. In my opinion, they are underestimating their presumed base, the Yahootude, into which I was born seven decades ago.
And I have no doubt that my fellow Yahootudians think allowing terrorists, the mentally ill, and domestic abusers to buy guns is a dumb ass idea. And so is the idea of selling guns to anyone who wanders into a gun show.
The Yahootude is a distinct sociological group identified by Garrison Keillor, and I’d like to think most Americans – in red states and blue states – are as proud of their Yahootudinal roots as I am.
I’d like to offer a friendly word of advice to Republicans who think they can take us for granted. Despite what you think, we can tell the difference between responsible gun use and dumb ass ideas, and someday we are going to clarify the differences at the polls.
My family has been prominent in the Yahootude since Colonial days in the U.S., and my ancestors have included politicians, soldiers, sailors, farmers, merchants, and teachers. My antecedents – women and men – could quickly prime, load, and discharge a musket when a turkey dinner winged overhead or a fox approached the henhouse.
But despite the family familiarity with firearms, I should disclose that my Dad – a WWII infantry lieutenant with an Army marksman’s badge – was ambivalent about guns.
A veteran of the bloody Buna campaign in Papua New Guinea, Dad had little patience with gunplay, imaginary or real. One Christmas when my brother Larry and I were very young, he bought us cowboy hats and Roy Rogers cap pistols, but he insisted that we not point them at each other. Larry and I exchanged conspiratorial glances and shoved the muzzles into each other’s noses.
As I grew into early teenage, Dad and I had our share of Oedipal disagreements, but the only thing he absolutely forbade was my participation in an organized war game in the woods between Cedar and North streets. (There were a lot of trees and few streets in Morrisville, N.Y.)
The game was harmless enough, actually a 1950s precursor to paintball without the paintballs. About 20 of us would divide into two warring teams. You knew you were dead when a soldier on the opposing team saw you hiding in the trees and shouted,“Pow! Phil!” and the rules required that you lay in the pine needles until the war was over. For some reason that eludes me now, I thought it was a lot of fun. But the very idea of a war game gave Dad a chill, and in unequivocal terms he declared me a conscientious objector.
Later, when I learned some of the details of his combat experience in the New Guinea jungle, I understood, but at the time I thought he was being arbitrary and reactionary.
Even so, guns were not a problem per se to Dad’s way of thinking – only the frivolous and stupid use of them.
When I turned 14 and expressed an interest in hunting, he didn’t flinch. He pulled out the .22 rifle his father had given him and said it would be perfect for target practice and small game. Then he went to the local chapter of the National Rifle Association and got himself credentialed as a gun safety instructor. He took me up to the woods and set up paper targets, all of them mounted on trees so thick the rounds could not penetrate them. Then, before he gave me the rifle, he presented me with my first NRA card and told me to read the gun safety instructions on the back. The rules included logical precautions like keeping the gun unloaded when it wasn’t in use, and – loaded or unloaded – never pointing it at anything you did not intend to shoot. The NRA also insisted that you keep your finger off the trigger when you weren’t about to shoot, to know your target and what was beyond it, and – important in our neck of the woods –never climb a fence with the gun in your arms. Modern updates to the rules include wearing goggles and ear protection when you fire a gun, but that never occurred to us in 1960.
As time went on, Dad offered the same training to all my brothers and to my sister. I took the .22, and later a 20-gauge shotgun, into the woods a few times before my interests turned to more effete pursuits. I rarely shot an animal, not because I didn’t shoot at them but because rabbits and pheasants (and rats at the dump) are artful dodgers. On the rare occasion that I shot something, even a rat, I found it a nauseating experience and I quickly lost interest in the whole gun thing.
Looking back, I’m struck by Dad’s haunted expression in a photo that was taken when he bagged a deer during a hunt with his principal and fellow teachers. Dad had just mustered out of the army and was readjusting to civilian life. He had no interest in shooting a living creature, but his instincts as a sharp shooter must have taken over. God knows what terrible memories it brought back.
Dad’s training did serve me well when I joined the Air Force. I was comfortable around the M-1 carbine and could shoot it accurately enough to earn the Air Force expert marksmen’s ribbon – the only decoration I earned for doing something other than showing up. But by the time I had spent hundreds of cold hours on guard duty on a USAFE base in England, my interest in firearms began to ebb.
Finally, one incident turned me into an anti-gun person.
When I was 19 I used to sit next to a major’s wife on bus trips to London. At the time I regarded officers’ wives as an untouchable and certainly unattainable species, but she was young, beautiful, and spoke softly with a seductive Alabama accent. She may have sensed the crush I had on her because she talked constantly about her husband, an F4C fighter pilot. “He’s just mah AH-ll,” she’d say, batting her eyelashes, and I’d try not to look jealous. She was openly flirtatious with other airman, too, and it crossed my mind to wonder what her husband thought about that. A few weeks later, the major reported he accidentally shot and killed her while cleaning his pistol. I don’t know how you could accidentally discharge a revolver if the cylinder is open for cleaning, but the brass dismissed the event as a tragic mishap. Even then, I didn’t blame the gun. I blamed the damn fool who didn’t follow simple NRA guidelines.
Growing up in Madison County, N.Y., was certainly a gun-intensive experience. In the 18 years I spent there, I learned that guns were fun when used right, and bad when used stupidly. And they were used stupidly at times. During hunting season, we’d hear stories of errant rounds whizzing past people’s heads or into their laundry because distant hunters weren’t following NRA rules. And Uncle Bob (the deer hunter in my family) would warn us with widening eyes not to shoot a gun straight into the air no matter what we were celebrating, because the damn bullets would come right back at you with the same velocity. He never told us how he knew that.
As a senior member of the Yahootude, I’d like to lay out some views I think all Yahootudians have in common. We don’t think everyone should be allowed to have a gun. We think persons who buy guns should be able to prove their mental stability, no matter how long a background check may take. We don’t think anyone should own an assault weapon so powerful that, even if it were used to defend a home, the bullet could pass through the home invader, the living room wall, the house next door, and kill any living creature in its path. And we don’t think any one person should accumulate enough guns to attack a small army, because that’s what they may end up doing.
We hold these views as self-evident because, unlike the NRA-owned members of the Senate, we have been keeping an eye on the toll guns have taken in our country.
And we’re not the only ones. Even before recent gun rampages, millions of non-Yahoo Americans favored more effective control of guns.
According to the Pew Research Center, 79 percent of Republicans and 88 percent of Democrats favor background checks for gun shows and private gun sales.
Seventy percent want a federal database to track gun sales, and 57 percent want a ban on assault style weapons.
Almost no one thinks it’s a good idea to allow terror suspects to buy guns.
There are reasons to be angry at Republicans who think they can defy public opinion with impunity and among the most important are the 58 persons killed and 546 injured last October when a gunman opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas. Also the 49 LGBT people who were shot dead in Orlando by a deranged man who had no difficulty purchasing a Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle.
The Las Vegas and Orlando massacres, which took place months after 9 members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were shot in Charleston, S.C., are not isolated events. According to a count by the Washington Post, 869 people have been killed in 126 mass shootings since Aug. 1, 1966, when ex-Marine sniper Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother, then climbed a 27-story tower at the University of Texas and killed 14 more people before police shot him to death.
But even these events pale in comparison to how guns are used every day in America.
Every day, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 297 people in the U.S. are shot in murders, assaults, suicides, suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention. Every day, 89 of those people die from their wounds.
Every year, according to the Brady Campaign, 108,000 people are shot in America in murders, assaults, domestic violence, accidental shooting, and police actions. Some 32,500 die, and 75,960 survive their wounds.
The rate of murder with guns is 25 percent higher in the U.S. than in other developed countries, according to the American Journal of Medicine. An American is ten times more likely to be killed by guns than persons living in other developed countries.
But those of us who grew up in the sticks – in the Yahootude –understand that guns were an essential tool in the building of the nation, and guns continue to be a wholesome and enjoyable instrument for recreational activities like hunting, skeet shooting and target practice.
We may even try to argue the legal nuances of the Second Amendment with each other, although most of us understand that when Mr. Madison wrote it he was thinking about state militias, not hunters.
But don’t be fooled by the way we wear our baseball caps backward or smear oil on our foreheads when we lube our cars. We’re not dumb.
And most Yahootudians I know will tell you to your face: allowing any damn fool who walks into a gun shop to buy concealed weapons and assault rifles with little or no background is a dumb ass idea.
So stop writing us off. We know dumb ass when we see it. And the time may come when we’ll start expressing our views with our votes.
The author is a resident of Port Chester, N.Y.