By Paul Ruffin
What I found most amusing about my experience at Porch Court in Memphis (see last week’s column here) was that by admitting that I was a member of the NRA and in possession of a CHL (Concealed Handgun License), I was immediately assumed to be an anomaly: an English professor who was not a liberal.
The fact is that I am not a liberal and have never been one, as the term is traditionally defined in academics. I grew up with guns and have lived with them all my life. I hunted a great deal up until just a few years ago, when it got to the point that what I killed would not be consumed by the family, would simply go to waste. While I was growing up, my father and I often brought meat to table, courtesy of our guns, and that was OK.
The last animal I killed was a 250-pound aoudad (Barbary Sheep) that, but for a few pounds that went into sausage, was left for the coyotes and buzzards. It was a beautiful animal, and its head hangs on our living room wall as a reminder . . . . Unless I know that I will eat most of it or that most of me will be eaten by it, I do not intend to kill another animal.
I have enjoyed target shooting since I was old enough to lay an old Sears .22 single shot across a log and fire it. I cannot begin to calculate how many rounds of ammunition I have fired. Bottles, cans, turtle heads poking out of the river, boxes with targets drawn on them, commercial targets—all were fair game. Now I shoot nothing but fancy targets that clearly mark the bullet strike with a ring of yellow, sometimes in my back yard bullet stop, which I welded up from pieces of 3/16” steel plate, sometimes at the range. I love the smell of gunsmoke and the jolt of a rifle, shotgun, or pistol against my shoulder or hand, and I love seeing the bullet go where I was aiming. If done properly, target shooting is no different to me than shooting hoops or trying to drive a little white ball into a hole in the ground.
Believe it or not, I love cleaning guns. I like taking them apart and laying out the components and studying the skill that went into their design and manufacture. I sometimes play a game of putting them back together in the dark, the way we had to dissemble and reassemble our rifles in basic training. I admire the way they are made, and I delight in comparing pistols and rifles from different historical periods. The study of the evolution of weapons is the study of technology throughout the ages.
If you graph the growth of technology over the centuries, you will note that the line rises gradually except for precipitous leaps from time to time. Invariably those leaps are associated with wars, when countries develop and refine new weapons or perish–whenever survival is at stake, technology grows at a feverish pace. When the wars are over, the energy of the new technology is directed toward domestic demand. This is why that line never drop back down to the level where it was before the war: Technology resumes its slight but steady rise until the next war comes along.
I like having guns around for self-protection. As the old saying goes, God made men, but Sam Colt made them equal. An unarmed man may go all his life without feeling the need for having a gun in the house. An armed man will never know the feeling of wishing to hell that he did have a gun in the house.
The most passive man in the world will rise against a threat when that threat is great enough, directed at him or his family, but in order to face that threat, he must have something that will allow him to play by the rules of the game that he has suddenly found himself playing.
The man who slams through your door and steps into your house without making it very clear that he has the legal authority to do so is engaging you in a game whose rules are his to dictate, and you may be certain that those rules are in his favor. You can play the game the way he expects you to and yield to him, hoping that he lets you and your family live, or you can play by his rules and try to win the game that he has dragged you into.
Whether you own guns to hunt, target shoot, fondle and admire, or prepare yourself and your family for threats to life, limb, and/or property, you are exercising one of the oldest rights of Americans, whether liberal, socialist, conservative, moderate, or libertarian.
So when I am judged a non-liberal because I own guns, am a member of the NRA, and hold a CHL, that judgment is absurd. I am most assuredly a non-liberal, but not for those reasons.
Many years ago, when several Mississippi newspapers ran my column, the editor of one of the papers posted a piece I wrote on firing an M-1 Army carbine at a flock of high-flying geese and ran right above it a piece by the late Molly Ivins opposing gun ownership by Americans. Molly was known far and wide for her liberal views and her stance on guns, and the editor thought that it was clever to run those two pieces on the same opinion page. I did too, and I was honored to have my column in such company.
A couple of years later, at the Texas Book Festival in Austin (if I am remembering correctly), I happened to be in the company of Molly, so I just up and asked her whether she remembered our opposing columns showing up in the same paper, and naturally she said no. That didn’t surprise me, since Molly’s columns appeared all over the country.
I started ribbing her about her attitude toward guns, and she pulled me over to a corner. “This is just between you and me,” she said, patting her purse, “but I’ve got a .38 S&W snubnose in here. On account of you never know.” I figure that she borrowed that last line from Jill Conner Browne (the Sweet Potato Queens author). Maybe she was yanking me; with Molly, you never knew.
A writer friend of mine from Houston, a well-known Jewish liberal, called me a few months ago and said he was planning to go to an upcoming gun show and buy a pistol, and he wanted some advice on what might make a good concealable weapon. After I got off the floor and resumed normal breathing, I ran over a list of new small, light-weight .38 Special and .380 pistols he might consider. Another liberal on the way to gun ownership . . . .
So, y’all, the next time you hear about someone who owns guns, is a member of the NRA, has a CHL, or is guilty of all three, don’t be too hasty to assume that he’s not a liberal sheep in a conservative wolf’s clothing.
Paul Ruffin is a Texas State University System Regents’ Professor and Distinguished Professor of English at SHSU.