Different Calibers

Best caricature of American character? Our gun fetish. It makes us look like cartoons to the rest of the world. Immature cartoons at that.

Americans don’t see this because guns are so knitted into our culture. Particularly when we focus on the West.

And the reason of emphasis west of the Mississippi to the Pacific emerges from development and promotion of the frontier. Manifest Destiny at its most bombastic.

Where pistols have always been far more for personal protection, west of the Mississippi River, distant from “settled America,” rifles mainly availed themselves to supplying game to fill diets. Oh, and extermination of the indigenous populations.

Animal heads mounted on walls as trophies were interesting interior design motifs but providing game and wantonly killing the natives the main purposes behind owning long barrel weapons.

Rifles in the Old West shared two purposes. The weapons and the marksmanship necessary kept multitudes fed, they also helped cull the indigenous populations. Not control. But slaughter.

Americans are fortunate no international courts of justice existed during our Gold Rush/Homestead Act eras. Had there been, a good number of our forebearers would’ve been in the dock for genocide. Having arbitrarily killed Indians based on crackpot racial theories then concentrating the survivors on wasteland, or as they’re better known, reservations, we created a template for the national socialists who eventually came to power in 1930s Germany.

Except the Nazis called their reservations concentration camps.

Not an American export much discussed in history or business classes.

Thanks to gun organizations who’ve aligned with weapons manufacturers who’ve both thrown all responsibility to the wind through tacit linkage with groups which promote all kinds of baseless fears that increase sales while thwarting public safety measures, the United States now drowns in guns. Our nation has more guns than people. The vast majority of these implements are absolutely unnecessary.

More guns do not make us safer. But more guns in the itchy fingers of a minor segment mostly comprised of insecure men desperately seeking to mask their weaknesses threatens every American. See, guns validate their fragile manhoods.

When we discuss permissiveness in America, the usual contentions are cultural or sexual. Amazing how individuals’ personal pleasure preferences frighten us more than the possibility of cordite polluting the air as projectiles rip our flesh.

Provocative art or controversial performances should stimulate us. What couples or however many privately engage in consensually really shouldn’t incite our favor or disfavor – unless they seek to share it and by that shocks us. Or maybe after consideration intrigues us.

Yet as is often demonstrated in our nation all it takes to squeeze society’s openness and accessibility is the squeaky wheezing of the relative few among us. These are people who are narrowminded, intolerant, and simply scared of avenues they’d never venture down. Nonetheless they are somehow enraged that strangers they’ll never meet will take those strolls.

Don’t these responses emerge from people who believe whatever had been “control” is lost? Or better regarded, nearly abject refusals to accept the world does not remain fixed in previous conceptualizations.

“Our heads are round so we can change our thoughts.” One of the simplest distillations of active intellect. It was rendered by artist Francis Picabia. The vast majority of humanity is fortunate we can take advantage of this human development.

In America, though, we are beset by groups whose interior craniums must consist of corners. Rather than have curvature allowing thoughts circulate theirs careen, carom, then crash into cerebral immobilization.

We see it with women’s availability to full-range gynecological services. We see it with what’s permissible to read, watch, listen, and create. We see it in how we’re able to comport ourselves or how others may comport themselves. We see it most pronounced with guns in our public sphere.

Before relocating to Nevada, I spent plenty of time in Arizona. Weeks into months amounted to years there. Wild Wild West as the Copper State resides in popular imagination, it’s Old West readiness for incipient, anticipated, hoped-for, sought-out gunslinging pales against Nevada’s. Not saying weaponry and ammo can be purchased on every Silver State street corner, but gun shops do challenge convenience stores for ubiquity.

Las Vegas reflects this proliferation of armament daily. Not so much in the tourist zones, though it certainly prevails in residential areas. For the longest it’s been nothing seeing men, overwhelmingly Anglos, pursuing life’s everyday activities with pistols adhered to their waists or in more acute cases having assault rifles slung over shoulders.

Sure. All hell could break loose retrieving that quart of milk from the store or during the rinse cycle at the laundry. Really. Is there any sight more laugh-provoking than seeing some jiggling sack of pasty suet whose overflowing bulk strains a two-stroke scooter’s motor bearing a sidearm powerful enough to pierce an engine block?

Even few of the knuckleheads sporting motorcycle club insignia are nowhere near as conspicuous. But of course, carrying heavy metal or not, if he’s wearing gang colors who’s going to be dumb enough to fuck with him?

No, it’s the posers strapped for World War III. Or a terrorist attack. And if either erupts, be assured they’ll be among the first running for the hills anyway.

Now, yes. I grew up in Metropolitan New York. Hearing this, a lot of long-time Nevada residents smugly opine as fact about crime levels back in civilization. That if more New Yorkers carried, crime would be lower.

New Yorkers have wisely decided they don’t want a profusion of weapons flowing among them. They instinctively know more guns invite more danger. Theirs is a view that confounds rustics from states where gun regulations and possession are supine. In New York, these visitors either just can’t or refuse to grasp such contrariness.
New Yorkers are grateful such people don’t live in New York.

Actually, the region comprising the Metropolitan Area is among the safest in America. And while there are more incidents of criminality, these stem from more people. Newsflash – more people, more anything, more everything. However, the percentage of crime is far lower than that of gun-toting, gun-loving America.

Probably because where there are more guns, there are more reasons invented to use them.

In this case, I again like to use my father and his cohort as examples. He and pretty much of all the men forming his circle grew up in the rural South. Many were the times during their boyhoods they accompanied their fathers into the woods in order to stalk and shoot dinner. My father and those same men served in and survived World War II. I’m guessing guns were part of their everyday then as well.

Upon returning to civilian streets, one would’ve been hard-pressed to find any who owned a weapon. Unless he was a hunter. And if he hunted, having a rifle was a strict responsibility. Among the strictest that defined a man. Otherwise, the notion of owning a gun for “protection” never would’ve occurred to them. I once asked father about it. He replied in the same general tenor as did fathers of other friends:

“A gun is unnecessary. Too much can go wrong.” Hearing that from voices of experience marked their sons. Unfortunately, my generation lacked the same vantage to have passed down this wisdom.

Despite the preceding paragraphs, guns in the right hands whose owners are in their right minds do have value. Hunters, naturally. Don’t let Elmer Fudd fool you. One just can’t slap on a cap, lace up a pair of clodhoppers, then tramp into the forest primeval and hunt “wabbits.” Especially if it’s duck season.

Stalking game takes skills. The nuances of which are only learned over time. Doubtlessly there are tomes on how to hunt. Nothing improves aim better than patience, an inconspicuous presence, proper range, and sharp sighting.

Television makes the pursuit look easy. What doesn’t TV render simple?

In Las Vegas there are numerous indoor shooting ranges. Inside them are arsenals for rent. Visitors more so than locals crowd these sites. If you live here, why pay to shoot in confined spaces when one can blast away gratis minus care in the Mojave Desert?

American visitors seem to enjoy the more visceral thrills of pulling triggers than residents. If the out-of-towners are here from big cities, then firing weapons are a forbidden fruit to be devoured. I’ve spoken to several of them after they’ve communed loudly with revolvers and machine guns. Reportedly the jolts received border on orgasmic. And afterwards they get the targets as souvenirs to show friends.

International visitors are generally more respectful and in awe of weapons. Unlike the United States, most foreign countries severely limit who can possess and what can be possessed regarding weapons. You know. All those countries with drastically low murder rates.

So, coming across the Atlantic, to Las Vegas in particular, and living out their Arnold, Clint, Sly, Bruce fantasies are indeed unique American experiences. Some even manage to immerse themselves deeper.

Perhaps a year before Covid, Las Vegas entertained a Polish visitor. He was the sort who bore himself regally. After returning from a shooting range and being asked what he shot, his impressions, he nearly waxed rhapsodic about two rifles. The British Lee-Enfield and the M1 Garand.

Both World War II standard service rifles appealed to the Pole’s aesthetics. To hear him speak a listener unaware of his topic might’ve mistaken his soliloquy as describing art pieces.

Of course, range technicians kept both weapons in excellent condition. The Pole adored the guns’ contours. And in hand, in firing position, these weapons designed before ergonomics became a thing, eased themselves into the shooter’s comfort dimensions. For him it was a joy to have pulled their triggers.

One should wonder if any of the World War II servicemen shouldering either rifle ever felt the same adoration.
Indeed, guns can be art. Even have historical value.

In 2014, National Parks Service personnel tromping around the Snake Range of the Great Basin National Park discovered a corroded 1873 Model Winchester rifle. The grail leaned against a tree.

A new purchase in its time, researchers determined the 132-year-old rifle had been orphaned since 1882. Speculation about its provenance, how it came to be there, its unknown owner, his fate, was rife. This being Nevada, the same mental effort will never be exercised on any meaningful topic relating to the present.

For my two cents, the anonymous owner was out hunting. The forgotten man stopped to take a dump. Unfortunately, he placed his Winchester beyond reach. During his squat, a mountain lion or wolf caught him at his most vulnerable. Let’s say the attack so sudden, so ferocious he was incapable of repelling it. The animal ate its fill of him then padded off leaving remnants to scavengers. They would’ve fought over the remains. In doing so, flesh bearing bones would’ve been scattered. Dragged to safer spots, these meals could’ve been devoured with less vigilance.

What scraps of the gunowner remained undevoured decomposed. His bones have been strewn across who knows how vast an area. The elements eventually would’ve rendered his shredded garments unrecognizable.

The beasts left his rifle undisturbed. The area so remote and trackless none of his contemporaries knew where to search for him. That is if any of them cared. The sole sign of his ever having been? A weathered rifle. Not even enough there for an epitaph.

Given its friendliness towards weaponry, Las Vegas is a Mecca for gun shows. Not too many weeks pass until another exhibition of deadly iron arrives to beguile locals and collectors.

Attending these events with any frequency must be an acquired taste. But last spring one actually piqued my interest. Well, one of the attendees did.

Like car shows, there are myriad gun shows. Some attended by multitudes, others drawing attention from aficionados. Therefore, general and specific. The one that drew me was of the latter. It was quite specific. Obscure, too. One that could only thrill diehards.

American military weaponry from The War of 1812.

The fellow I met attended with the intent of purchasing a brace of Model 1805 Navy pistols of the era. He already owned half a dozen. Buying another pair could’ve fulfilled him further.

That war captivated him. While the Revolution established the United States, The War of 1812, in his view, solidified the idea of America. And let’s remember at her best, at her most attractive, America is an idea. And of course, let’s also recall what ignited that conflict.

At the time, the Royal Navy impressed American seamen into its own naval services. The Brits just waylaid American-flagged ships on the high seas; they selected crewmen then dragooned them. Not only did this ignore the young nation’s sovereignty, but also questioned whether the United States possessed sufficient strength and resolve to protect and defend its citizens against foreign predators.

One doesn’t meet many people who can summarize the reasons leading to The War of 1812. Yet the weapons.

To the visitor I wondered whether the set of pistols he sought acquiring might’ve been issued to any of Bainbridge’s officers. His astonishment pleased me. Undoubtedly, he didn’t expect to meet a stranger outside his event who knew of Bainbridge. Particularly in the Mojave.

William Bainbridge skippered the USS Constitution during The War of 1812. Today moored in Boston Harbor, the frigate is the world’s oldest commissioned warship afloat. But if New Yorkers know Bainbridge, it’s from an avenue bearing his name in the Bronx USA.

Thoroughly steeped in War of 1812 lore as the visitor was, he did not know that.