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On The Trail

Time for change

Two songs: one upbeat, joyous, the fiddle and mandolin giggling; the other foreboding, threatening, the tall stand-up base groaning in distress. I have hesitated for some time to jump into the gun-control fray, but will go there today; for what, I do not know. What do I have to gain? So, first, the happy tune celebrating spring’s arrival. Then guns, a discussion spurred by the plea of a reader minutes before the arrival of “Rolling Stone,” Issue 1178, Billie Joe Armstrong on the cover, an unrelated tease below reading “Blood Money: The Big Business of Assault Rifles.”

Believe me, my claim that spring’s already sprung has absolutely nothing to do with trusted morning weather wizards Al Roker or Willard Scott. And, no, I didn’t see “spring begins” in bold black letters on Billy Burns’ Northwestern Mutual Audubon calendar, snuggled between the fridge and dining-room door. Nope. All I needed was Springer-Spaniel pal Lily-butt, her and my fading eyesight, sadly no longer able to read the tight rotation of an oncoming slider, but still good enough, I guess. Lily, set to turn 10 on my 34th wedding anniversary in late April, told me spring waws here during a sunny Sunday-morning romp through granular Sunken Meadow corn snow, still close to a foot deep along the two southern cuffs shaded from morning sun. Yes, near a large, stately apple tree just past the midpoint of our daily rambles, Old Tavern Farm’s Tiger Lily disappeared over the edge and down the loose, gravely, 10-foot, undercut Green River bank. When I arrived at the escarpment’s edge moments later and looked down at the water, there she stood, up to her chest, taking a loud, sloppy drink. It gets better. Refreshed, she then with absolutely no encouragement or warning, pushed off for a lazy swim toward the opposite bank before circling back on the downstream side, just for the hell of it I guess, slurping occasional drinks from the surface. She glided back to where she had started, leaving a beaver’s V-shaped wake, regaining a foothold on the rocky stream bead, removing herself, shaking vigorously and scaling the bank back into the meadow. There she immediately trotted north to the eastern tree line, followed it a short distance, stuck her head into thorny farm-roadside bushes and exited with an old familiar skunk hide and tail in her mouth. She calmly dropped it between the two shallow tire ruts melted bare and rolled on it with carnal glee.

What better indicator that spring has arrived? I’ve walked that loop almost daily all winter and it’s the first time she’s taken a swim since bird-hunting season. That sealed the message, as do the cardinals singing their happy tunes in my yard, even when cool, gray and wet; the daffodils and crocuses sprouting between the snow pile off the slate roof and the house’s southern perimeter; and the lady bugs buzzing around atop the southern indoor window cases, seeking the same way out that they found in last fall. On our return trip to Sunken Meadow Wednesday, following the drenching rain that melted much snow and reopened my backyard brook, along the raised lip overlooking swollen beaver ponds in the southwest corner, two massive red oaks, an equally impressive shagbark hickory and its tall, straight, shaggy adult offspring had noticeably changed their frigid dispositions. They appeared happy, richer in color, their branches reaching out to embrace the morning sun and savor gluttonous overnight drinking. Just beginning, it promises to get better. Much better. Yes, spring has always stirred my mischievous juices. Pushing 60, nothing has changed. Enough! Onward ho.

But wait. A couple more tidbits. I finished that William S. Simmons book on the spiritual world and folklore of southern New England Indians, and enjoyed a long, entertaining visit from local lecturer Jim Vieira, who years back started popular presentations about sacred landscapes and related stone structures. Well, now he’s ventured far off the rails into discussion about a prehistoric land of North American giants. This new focus is attracting overflow crowds to local venues, a development that seems threatening to academic archaeologists, anthropologists and historians, who have responded with a concerted effort to debunk and silence the man. Oh well, what else is new? I don’t expect he’ll drop it. The dustup between professional and amateur researchers has been going on for a long time, is not likely to stop anytime soon. All I can say is thank the highest heavens for “amateurs” like Sheldon, Judd, Trumbull and, later, David Costello of map-making fame. Where would we be without these local antiquarians? But enough of that; perhaps a discussion’s for another day. Right now, space heater purring at my back, sun blaring in my face through the window, I find myself pondering that email harangue from an old Hatfield friend who thinks it’s high time for my “take, feelings, perception and overall opinion and insight on the hottest topic in the land, GUN CONTROL!”

Hmmmmm, guuuuulp? Here we go.

Honestly, I have intentionally avoided this debate because I do not think the sensible approach is popular among the National Rifle Association gang populating hook & bullet clubs. So why poke a hornets’ nest I have never been totally comfortable with due to innate political/philosophical differences? When I responded promptly, articulating my position and dilemma, my correspondent friend waited three days to respond and cut me not even a shallow little belly of slack. “Your comments about gun control reflect the prevalent feelings of most gun owners today,” he replied. “Your position of keeping your thoughts close to your vest may be more in the national majority than you think. … We are afraid to say anything either way in public for fear of ‘offending’ either side of this very emotional issue. I too remain silent, many times biting my tongue just to avoid arguments with good friends — freedom of speech buried by emotion and personalities.”

Wow! Imagine that. A second scolding pig-piling atop that “Rolling Stone” article, which, no lie, I read not 20 minutes after absorbing my friend’s first plea to address the gun-control issue. The Tim Dickinson article titled “The Gun Industry’s Deadly Addiction: Firearm manufacturers are betting their future on the military-style weapons used in Newtown and Aurora” is accompanied by a black & white photo of a teenage girl holding a light-colored, designer-model assault rifle. Dickinson reduces the debate to — Surprise! — a simple matter of capitalistic dollars and cents. Go figure. Even though the powerful, well-funded NRA still relies on old-standby sportsmen for vocal support and votes, it and the gun industry fully realize hunters cannot and will in the future not be able to carry their water. “Today, hunting guns account for less than a quarter of the market,” writes Dickinson, “and the hunting industry is forecasting a 24-percent drop in revenue by 2025.” On the other hand, in just five years time, gun manufacturers’ aggressive marketing campaign has paid handsome dividends, with handgun sales soaring 70 percent and assault-weapon sales doubling.

Guess what that means, fellas? Well, it ain’t rocket science, even for a flunkie like me. Hunting is dying, and the gun and ammunition manufacturers are doing quite well, thank you, building new markets by creating bogey men, dire threats like terrorists, illegal immigrants, and even ex- and current spouses who keep women in servitude with brute force and intimidation. First the advertisers instill fear, then they teach their timid targets to release their frustrations with the power of a killing machine that can mow down the biggest of monsters. I guess the husbands who buy spouses weapons for Christmas to help solve their boredom just have to pray they don’t play out their gun-club fantasies at home when the relationship becomes “irreconcilable.” Then, of course, Dickinson says there’s an industry-wide motto that states: Teach a man to hunt, he goes hunting. Teach a woman and the whole family goes hunting.” But that’s old news. The industry is way past trying to rebuild the hunters’ pool with women, regardless of those state wildlife agency “Women in the Outdoors” initiatives that cropped up a decade and more ago, likely with the backing of vested interests. It appears that gun manufacturers now view hunters as supplemental consumers. A dying breed, hunters have been relegated to cheap mannequins in the gun-shop storefront to draw consumers to the counter for handguns, purse derringers, assault rifles and all the enticing power-trip accessories promoted for self-defense and personal protection. And that doesn’t even address the adrenaline rush of video-games played out on target ranges not unlike shooting clays or 3-D archery target courses you’re seen mentioned right here in this space. These days in some states, instead of deer and bear and woodcock popping out into manicured sight lines on wooded courses, gun enthusiasts are shooting at “‘zombie’ targets, including ‘The Terrorist’ and, more troubling, a blood-soaked, buxom woman target called ‘The Ex,’” according to the Dickinson piece. No, it seems that in this era of video games and reality TV, kids and their moms aren’t happy shooting in gravel pits at tin cans or round, one-inch florescent targets stuck to gallon jugs. They want “action,” all of it dangerous to those of us who value our gun-owning rights, because out of this new faux-commando culture comes the likes of troubled Adam Lanza, who shouldn’t have access to assault rifles.

This I can say from the heart: Although I do possess a special license permitting me to carry a concealed handgun and own high-capacity weapons, I have never shot an assault rifle and have no desire to own or fire such a weapon. In fact, I rarely carry a concealed weapon, never in my daily rounds. I remember going to the skeet and trap range as a boy with my Uncle Bob each Wednesday evening outside Minneapolis-St. Paul and can’t imagine any of those gentleman owning such a military-style killing machine unless retrieved as a relic from some distant battlefield they fought on. That, I can understand. I cannot get my head around going to the local gun club to walk a target course of frightening human targets that pop up in front of you like a rapist, serial killer or one of those demons in room-to-room video-game chases and online military or police games.

The people screaming the loudest in opposition to background checks and assault-weapon bans — the ones who vociferously mimic the NRA argument that only guns in the hands of good people can stop bad people from killing rampages at schools, malls and movie theaters, and who loyally vote the NRA ticket in every election — are about to slit their own throats with diehard support for NRA post-Newtown politics.

Just this week an old military man from South Deerfield stopped by my home on another matter and, during a delayed departure under the rainy carriage sheds, he addressed the subject of assault weapons. He said he was perplexed by the debate, confused by the NRA argument.

“When I was 10, I got my first BB gun,” he explained. “Then I graduated to a pellet gun at 15, got a single-shot 12-gauge for bird-hunting at 16, and had to wait till I was 18 for a .22 because, you know, those bullets travel farther.

“I’ll be honest. I’ve never wanted to own one of those weapons I shot in the service. You’d pull the trigger and a burp would release 40 rounds. Those guns aren’t for hunting. They’re for killing people. Why should anyone own one?”

Just one man’s opinion, I guess, but trending toward mainstream, I suspect. On the other hand, it’s obvious why ammo manufacturers love such weapons at 50 cents a bullet. Think of it, when did hunters ever unleash such a profitable barrage? Most pheasant hunters don’t shoot 40 shells in a season. Deer and turkey hunters shoot even less.

I would guess that these days my friend, not a “lefty” by any stretch of the imagination, can find a lot of support for his opinion among gun owners and a shrinking hunter pool that’s tired of the insane carnage we’ve endured from deranged people carrying lethal firepower. Like it or not fellas, I think assault weapons are on their way out. There are, in my opinion, two ways to go: cooperate and continue hunting and owning appropriate sporting weapons; or dig in and suffer the painful consequences for waving the reactionary NRA flag. Public opinion has turned. The crazy, Wayne LaPierre/Charlton Heston NRA tirades, veins of anger bulging from their necks, have become the rallying cry, the wind behind the sails of the inflating anti-gun movement.

So, fellas, if you want to slit your own throat, be my guest. Count me out. I see no reason to participate in such an unnecessary, suicidal, Jonestown-style bloodletting.

We’ve tried the video-arcade game of assault rifles and it’s backfired badly by making the weapons far too accessible to psychopaths. Maybe it’s time to try something new.

Seasons change. So do rules and regulations. Sometimes for the better.

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a longtime member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: www.tavernfare.com. Email: gary@oldtavernfarm.com.

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