Looking Down the Barrel
First, I’ll get my biases on the table and tell you I don’t like guns. Despite this, I am actually undecided about where I stand on the issue of gun control. I feel uncomfortable when talking about sensitive topics. I always worry I will say something I consider harmless that will really piss someone else off, which will then make that person punch me in the face and cause everyone to laugh at me because I’m crying. To make my gun fear worse, everyone who knows anything about guns seems to be “manlier” than I and I get even more uncomfortable hanging around people who are that manly. That is why I don’t like guns.
Nevertheless, my pet peeves can sometimes supercede my fears and dislikes. I occasionally get pissed off at the Colorado College student body’s dismissive and hostile attitude toward people with whom they disagree. Sometimes I get pissed off enough to do something as stupid as write this piece. So, I emailed some local gun rights advocacy groups for interviews and went to Google to search for some articles in the hope they might spark ideas.
Maybe I worded my searches poorly, but the first results were all news articles about crazy people attempting to stockpile guns or form militias to defend America from a United Nations invasion. However, after a bunch of links to articles about the same four or five crazy people, I stumbled upon legitimate opinion pieces. I began to read and build a pile of statistics and evidence for my piece. “Oh boy, I am going to knock CC’s socks off with my piece,” I thought. “I bet they didn’t know there were instances in the 1970s when gun control legislation was used to subdue racial minorities and stop them from fighting back against the surrounding aggressive neighborhoods.”
Soon, I got an email back from the Pikes Peak Firearm Coalition saying that it could set me up with its president, Mr. Paul Paradis. I said yes and then I began emailing back and forth with Paul. He invited me to one of his member meetings and linked me to some Youtube videos of him debating retired CC Professor Bill Hochman about gun rights. This was too good to be true. Not only did I have saucy facts that might ruffle liberal feathers, but I was also getting an interview that would humanize the other side. I watched the videos of Paul and Bill, if only to see what Paul looked like. He was an older man, maybe in his fifties, with a large build and an impressive mustache. He looked very manly. I wasn’t worried though, because he also looked very friendly; he smiled and joked a lot with Bill. I was looking forward to this interview.
The Pikes Peak Firearm coalition meeting took place in a Veteran of Foreign Wars post with about thirty to forty people sitting, facing a stage. I was easily the youngest person there. I sat down with my notepad and pen and jotted down anything that might be relevant. Then, Mr. Paradis walked to the front and stood behind the podium. The next three and a half hours shattered my preconceptions. He was even more manly than I remembered from the videos. He looked older, but in a tough, powerful way. I swear his mustache was twice as large.
The meeting itself was tragically boring for someone like me. Most of the two hours were spent on the legal paperwork required to purchase and register a fully automatic weapon. I learned that the only recorded act of violence nationwide from a registered automatic weapon was from a cop. I am not interested in buying a fully automatic weapon, so I spent most of the meeting looking at the people in the room. What I saw around me was the stereotype of gun advocates, a room full of Charlton Hestons.
After the meeting finished, I walked over to talk with Paul. He was tired from the meeting and didn’t seem as friendly anymore. We shook hands and I introduced myself. Judging by his reaction I think he had forgotten I was coming. He quickly wrapped up a couple things related to the meeting before turning back to me. “What kind of story is this?” he asked.
“It’s a piece about gun rights. I’m writing it in a comedic fashion, but I’m mostly making fun of myself.”
“I don’t think that it’s a funny topic,” Paul said.
He wanted to do the interview in his car because it was late, so I agreed. He already seemed inconvenienced; I wasn’t going to push my luck with anything. His mustache wouldn’t stop growing.
We sat in his truck, windows down, so he could smoke. It was cold outside. I felt if I coughed because of the cigarette smoke, I would appear weak. Thankfully, the cigarette seemed to help him relax. “When they told me about the email from you, they said, ‘Are you really going to talk to that kid from Colorado College?’” he told me. I laughed nervously, as I knew he had interacted with representatives from our school before. “What do you want to know?” he asked me in his deep, American voice, after we settled in.
“I was hoping you could tell me, um, about the importance of gun rights, in relation to, um, protecting ourselves from the, um, government.” I didn’t realize how loaded that question was. I was making it really hard for us both to not sound like a crazy people calling for rebellion. My wording made me sound stupid and amateur.
Paul paused a moment, took a deep breath and asked me a question. “What would cause you to take up arms against your government?” I stammered for a moment, taken off guard, because I actually hadn’t considered that.
“Well, I guess if there was some sort of oppression of—” he cut me off, because he knew I would say something stupid.
“You don’t have to answer now, just think about it.” He took a drag from his cigarette, which made his sentences sound more thought-out and dramatic. He timed his drags well. Maybe he expected me to start talking whenever he took a puff, but I interpreted them as pauses before he went on. I sat in silence.
He started off describing his life. He grew up in a gun family. He was drawn to guns because of the rich history they offer. Paul said his family stood against segregation because his father served in the desegregated military. “He told me ‘we are all one color: green.’” Now Paul is a criminalist—someone who collects and examines physical evidence from crime scenes—and a gun store owner.
“Do I think that a large-scale armed revolt will happen today? No.” I didn’t think he would say yes. “I don’t like this Obama guy, but I don’t think—Look, you have to look at the evidence. There was a woman who came in to the meeting today, an older woman. She wanted me to talk about how Obama was in league with Muslim terrorists and was going to hand the country over. All I asked her was ‘Do you have any evidence for this?’ She couldn’t answer me. I’m saying you have to look at the facts.”
I tried to talk several times but his mustache kept lunging forward, as if it were shushing me. I didn’t need to ask questions though, because he already covered just about everything I could think to ask.
“I believe that I have the basic human right to live. I also believe I have the right to defend that life from other people.” He kept throwing gems like that at me, but I was still contemplating what would cause me to take up arms against my government.
“You might not be now, but what if you were under attack from the government? What if a majority of people voted and decided that you have no rights? Would you fight back? If that happened to me, I would sure as hell want the best tools available to me.” I couldn’t keep up—he kept saying things that sounded right. He wasn’t talking fast, but he was talking sure.
By the time the “interview” finally wound down, he had talked for over an hour and a half. He told me so much that I forgot what I was supposed to write about. I thanked him and hinted that I was going to go.
By this time he was finishing up his third cigarette. He thanked me, too, and offered to drive me home. I told him no thanks and closed my notebook. Before I opened the door, he started to talk again. “Owning a gun is a personal decision,” he said. “I don’t think that everyone should own a gun, some people just aren’t ready for it.” I froze where I was, trying to look cool and collected. “I’m concerned about you writing this as a funny story. Guns are not funny. A gun can really escalate a situation if the owner is not ready.” I told him that I was mostly making fun of myself but I would consider changing my story. Right before I opened the door and left, his mustache reached into my soul and gifted me a hairy seed of manliness and wisdom.
I’m worried about being clichéd, but I left that interview looking at the world through different eyes. I’m not about to go take up arms and try to overthrow the government. Realistically, I don’t think it will ever come to that in my lifetime, and if it did I would just hide under a desk because loud noises frighten me. Instead, I look at America as a nation experiencing good times. We are not so different from any other country, and it is easy to think of other countries collapsing into dictatorship or decline. We may have first-world financial troubles, but there are no mass genocides going on. I don’t need a gun now, but my descendants might. Then again, if they are my descendants they will be afraid of loud noises and manly mustaches, too.
I can see the government as something you should probably distrust, even if your party is in power. I don’t always know if I should follow this ideology, but I can see the reasoning behind this point of view.
In my interview with him, Paul said things that I disagree with, things that made sense and things I didn’t understand. I left the article-writing process more confused than when I went into it.
I will leave you with a quote from Charlton Heston that I believe summarizes the argument against gun control the best: “The right to keep and bear arms is the one right that allows rights to exist at all.”