If you’re reading this, it’s probably safe to assume that, despite what the Mayan calendar might have predicted, the world has not yet ended. But the world as I once knew it surely has come to an end, a while ago, which the latest school shooting in Connecticut only confirms.
Growing up in neighboring Fauquier County – then just about as rural as Rappahannock is today – I learned about guns at an early age. I collected old muskets and flintlocks. Together with friends, I went target-shooting on the banks of the Rappahannock River, first with a BB gun, later a .22 rifle, riddling tin cans with holes as they floated by until they sank. (Biodegradable consequences were outside my ken.) Grownups loaned me fancy shotguns and took me dove hunting.
This familiarity served me well as a reluctant recruit in the Vietnam-era Army, where I quickly earned a Sharpshooter’s ribbon. Almost everybody else in my platoon, from places like New York City, hardly knew which end of a rifle was which. We used M-16s, a type of weapon now commonly called “assault weapons.” It was unthinkable that civilians would ever use such rifles.
Today everybody, even in the New York City exurbs of Connecticut, is familiar with guns. And assault weapons have become a pervasive part of American culture. Every five years more Americans die from gun violence than were killed in all of the Vietnam War.
The rest of the world can’t understand how we allow assault weapons – and their high-capacity magazine clips – to be traded as if they’re baseball cards. Nor can people like myself, people who grew up with guns and understand their place in rural America.
And it is doubtful the founding fathers, whose ideas of modern weaponry meant black-powder muzzle-loaders, would understand either. Yet it is their words in the Second Amendment that provide rationalization for the end of civilization as they would have known it.
Simply put, the people in Congress, including our own representative, seem even more afraid of the NRA gun lobby than they are of the well-financed lobbying of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist. That’s scary. But to experience true fear, I can only imagine, is to stare down the barrel of an assault weapon with so many rounds of ammunition that you and all around you will be shot in the time it takes you to stammer, “Oh, my God, no!”