Friday, December 24, 2010

How iLuv Got Her Gun

It began with a discussion of chickens. Uncle J and I were talking about how to turn the backyard garden into an urban farm. As a meat-eater, the conversation focused on livestock. We were talking about the benefit of chickens- the good they would do for the garden, the eggs they could provide, and, of course, the meat they would become. I had also just had rabbit at a restaurant and really liked it, so the conversation evolved into rabbit rearing.

The problem with both rabbits and chickens is that I'm gone too much to care for them. You need someone around to collect the eggs, make sure the animals have enough food and water, and to clean up their cages. The biggest problem, however, is the fact that I've never killed anything. Well, with the exception of a few fish and the occasional rodent crossing my car's path before I could avoid it.

I'm not a killer. I certainly don't believe in killing people. Although, if I'm honest, I would probably defend myself if confronted with my own potential demise. I mean, I have the will to live and all that. I've been anti-gun and anti-violence for quite a while. I'm sure some of my beliefs were forged by pop culture (anti-gang, anti-gun programs aimed at youth) and conversations with the more liberal members of my family. However, the forging of my anti-gun stance culminated in an incident that happened when I was in high school. I lived just a few blocks from a Chuck E Cheese's. For those of you who don't know, it's a pizza restaurant for kids with animatronic characters that sing. I was a fan of the former incarnation, Showbiz Pizza, and even had a birthday party at a Showbiz when I was little.

Well, a former employee was upset about being fired from the place and went postal. He killed a  teenager who went to my school as well as three other employees. One employee pretended to be dead, then escaped and went to the neighboring condos for help. It was a traumatic event. We formed a group at school called S.A.V.E., Students Advocating Violence Elimination led by one of the adult counselors. We even had an event where we made anti-violence posters and walked the streets... I don't know if you'd call it a protest, but it was the first protest type thing I had ever participated in. From then on, I supported restrictions on gun ownership, including the Brady Bill.

Coincidentally, my friend was a clerk of the court when the murderer was appealing his death penalty sentence 17 years later. I don't believe in the death penalty, even in this case. It turns out the murderer was severely abused as a child and had bipolar disorder. I strongly believe investing in good mental health care and strong gun laws would limit incidents like the Chuck E Cheese murders. Besides, life in prison seems like a more heinous punishment than death.

I'm also not a killer in the sense that I don't delight or thrill in the idea of killing animals for food. I enjoy eating meat. I really do. So, I support the killing of animals for meat, but I'm not big on trophy hunting. The problem with American consumerist society is the majority of us are completely divorced from the process of bringing meat to the table, me included. In that sense, we don't honor or respect the life that was taken in order to feed us. Instead, we cautiously select slabs of meat wrapped in plastic sans offensive, identifiable animal parts. We are removed from the violence, so we are not forced to confront it. When we travel to another country where they eat eye balls or shrimp with heads, we don't know what to do with ourselves. We prefer the sanitized version... we don't want to look our food in the eye.

Back to the garden. Uncle J suggested I raise rabbits as pets. The rabbits would feel safe and comfortable. Then, when I broke their necks or slit their throats they wouldn't be afraid. As he said this, he stroked an imaginary rabbit, then cut its throat. While I understand the logic of not making the animal afraid, the thought completely horrified me. I'm not in a place where I could do something like that. Reeling from the horror of my uncle's mock execution, I realized that hunting was my best option.

About 10 years ago, I decided hunting was okay. The movies Bambi and the Fox and the Hound certainly influenced an anti-hunting stance for me as a young person. As I became interested in the politics of food, I realized meat from a hunted animal is probably safer than meat from a factory. No steroids, no cows fed with beef, no clones or genetically modified creatures. It's astonishing how much control we've given up over our food supply. We are completely dependent on grocery stores, feed lots, commercial farms. When the shit goes down, most of us won't know how to survive. At least when you hunt, if the environment isn't completely toxic, you're getting the most natural, uncontaminated meat available. So, I believe it's hypocritical to be a locavore, organic, meat eater, but against hunting for food. I mean, if you're eating meat, you're just as guilty of violence as the person who slits the throat or pulls the trigger. You would just prefer not to think about it.

As I contemplated learning to hunt, I went through a total internal transformation. I felt a strong mix of horror, fear, and doubt. Could I really own a gun? Could I kill an animal? Could I handle gutting and skinning it? I imagined myself standing over an animal I had just killed, taking in the gore, feeling the sadness over the loss of life, and saying thanks... thanks for the sacrifice. That is the origin of saying grace before a meal. Before God with a capital G, our ancestors thanked the animal for providing for them... both recognizing the violence of the act and appreciating the sacrifice.

When I asked my dad to teach me to hunt, I think it blew his mind grapes. My grandmother's father, aka Grandpa the Great, took my dad hunting when he was a boy. They really bonded over it. I don't think hunting was the important thing- it was just the vehicle. I mean, my grandma also hunted, but I would guess my dad didn't have the same bond with her. I think the time my dad spend with my great grandpa had a huge impact on his life. He wanted to share this bond with his own kids and focused on the hunting aspect, but his three girls didn't show much interest.

I explained that I wanted to hunt small game- birds and rabbits. He said that was very survivalist of me. Exactly.

When I was a teenager visiting my Uncle J and Aunt J in Florida, my aunt was surprised that I didn't know how to make biscuits. She asked me how I was going to survive when the shit went down. That was the first time I had heard the phrase and I totally cracked up. After that, we often half-joked about what would happen when the shit went down. Growing up in the suburbs with a mom who hated to cook, it was pretty obvious I was screwed. I had no idea that almost 20 years later, I would be motivated to learn how to take care of myself to such a degree (i.e. growing, killing, and cooking my own food). Perhaps that's why I enjoy reading about the post-apocalyptic future where survival and technology are mixed (see the Hunger Games trilogy and The Windup Girl).

In any case, my dad gave me Grandpa the Great's rifle. My dad mentioned multiple times that it's only good for hunting small game. It doesn't have the power to get a bullet to a deer, let's say, from a distance where you could actually get close enough to shoot. For my birthday, he bought me a beautiful 20 gauge shot gun. Beautiful, because it is made with engraved wood. He made the right choice for me- no plastic camo parts and very little kick.

I wanted my dad to teach me to shoot because, well, he likes guns, but also because he's the Chief of Police of the town he lives in and I knew he would teach me the safe way to shoot. Safety first! I'm afraid of my gun, still. I think it's healthy to fear something so dangerous, to not become intoxicated with its power. Like Galadriel, the elf queen, in Lord of the Rings when she puts on Frodo's ring... or something. Uh-hem.

Anyway, dad and I went to a shooting range in the Denver suburbs. He threw the clay pigeons (they had a hand pull machine thing) and I occasionally hit them. In fact, a few times, I hit three or four in a row and I managed to hit the last five in a row. I shot a hundred shells and hit about thirty clay pigeons. Not bad for the first time out. Hopefully, with practice, I can improve on that.

Next, we went to the target range where I shot Grandpa the Great's rifle. I blew the bull's eye out at 12 feet and didn't shoot outside of the first black circle of the target. All that to say, I had a successful first day at the range, which has only encouraged me.

In conclusion, I refuse to join the NRA, I still support the Brady Bill, and I dislike Sarah Palin with a passion that is probably unhealthy. I plan to learn how to hunt ethically and with integrity, avoiding the poisonous lead shot commonly used by hunters.

And, there it is. That's how this lefty-liberal came to terms with gun ownership and hunting.