Happiness is a Warm Gun by
(34 Stories)

Prompted By Guns Then and Now

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I grew up with guns.  When we were young, my brothers and I had cap guns, which made a loud noise (the caps had dots filled with gunpowder) when we could convince our parents to buy rolls of caps for us.  In elementary school, just ten to fifteen years after the end of World War II, the boys would play “war” on the playground at recess and after lunch.  As I remember it, our “enemies” were usually Germans, not Japanese soldiers.

Around the time we were ten, maybe a little earlier, we were allowed to have a BB gun.  The strict rule was that if any of us ever shot one of our brothers with the BB gun, it would be taken away forever.  About that same age, my dad let me shoot a 22-caliber rifle for the first time.  Another rule, which has been stated by others in this conversation, was that I could never point a gun at anything that I did not intend to kill, and that a gun was always considered to be loaded, even if I had just inspected it and determined that it was unloaded.

Dad had a twelve-gauge automatic shotgun with a five-shell capacity, although in Ohio you had to have a device that limited the capacity to three shells if you were deer hunting.  He never actually shot a deer on our farm, but he did have a deer head on the wall from his one successful hunting trip in Michigan.  He got that one with an 8-mm Mauser, a German army rifle – I don’t know where he got that rifle, but I don’t remember anyone in our family ever actually shooting it.  I was allowed to use my grandfather’s 22-caliber/410 gauge over-and-under rifle/shotgun when I went squirrel hunting in the woods behind our farmhouse.

Over the years, I shot two squirrels, one rabbit, one groundhog, and a large number of rats that infested our henhouse and ate our eggs.  Now I do not own a gun, and June would be horrified if I ever decided to buy one.

That’s all background information.  I grew up with guns, know how to use them, and have a very healthy respect for them as dangerous pieces of equipment.  There are way too many people, however, who do not have that same respect for them.

If you think about America’s “gun culture”, think about the influences that our kids are exposed to.  On television, far too many times the answer to a problem seems to be to use a gun to solve it.  That attitude then extends to problems that people see in real life.  “He disrespected me, so I had to shoot him.”  “She dumped me for that other guy, so I had to shoot them both.”  “He wore the wrong colors in this neighborhood, so I had to protect our turf.”

And now the technology of guns is far more destructive.  I’m not convinced that “semi-automatic” weapons should be outlawed.  The 22-caliber rifle that I used for target (and rat) shooting as a teenager could hold 20 “short” cartridges or 15 “long rifle” cartridges.  But it was just a hunting rifle.  Now you see people buying AR-15s and similar guns that are really just slightly disabled military weapons.  After watching dozens of movies and countless video games in which those types of weapons are used to commit mayhem, is it surprising that young people with a grudge use them to “solve” their problems?

We won’t solve the problem of guns by outlawing them, we’ll only solve it by making their use unacceptable.


Profile photo of Jeff Gerken Jeff Gerken

Characterizations: well written


  1. Thanx Jeff, I’d forgotten that Beatles lyric.

    Do you remember Johnny Cash’s
    Don’t Take Your Guns to Town?

  2. Marian says:

    Great perspective, Jeff, and I do admire people (mostly men) who are familiar with and respectful of guns. Your analysis is very perceptive.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    You know guns and have a healthy respect for them. You learned how and when to use them as a child. That, I understand. But, like you, I don’t understand, and cannot accept this constant exposure to high-capacity weapons used for mayhem. We are a sick society. I agree with your assessment entirely.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    Your examples of people using guns to “resolve” problems resonated–it is horrifying that people use guns for road rage, or because some poor employee requested they wear a mask. Let alone of course any number of revenge killings, domestic violence, hate crimes and mass shootings. The proliferation of military-style weapons is unconscionable. Your experience of respect for guns bears little resemblance to what we are seeing now.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I like how you emphasized respecting guns and knowing how to use them safely. What we see today is people who always have access to guns using them to kill others in a moment of road rage or in the heat of an argument. Or to kill themselves. Or to fire at people who may be affiliated with another gang.

    • Jeff Gerken says:

      Danielle, daughter #2 (of 4) taught science at what was probably the worst high school in Columbus, with students who were late almost every day because they had to walk around the territory of another gang. I subbed for her twice. She had one student with whom I was very impressed, as he seemed to me to be the kind of kid who would be able to rise above that environment. A few years later, she told me that he had been murdered in a gang incident.

  6. Suzy says:

    Thank you for this story, Jeff, I was hoping you would write on this prompt! Of course I love your song-title title, it’s a fine tradition you are following. I appreciate learning of all your experiences with guns, and the complete list of animals you shot. And I agree with your conclusions. We were able to make cigarette smoking unacceptable over the course of a generation – I wonder how we can do the same with guns.

  7. Hear, hear. I share your early experience with cap guns and such. Makes me remember just how many westerns were on television in the late 50’s and early 60’s. There were no guns in our household; neither my dad nor his dad, etc. grew up with them. A little odd because hunting was big in our area of the Southern Tier of NY. But I got a real education about firearms from an erstwhile brother-in-law who was a competitive shooter.

  8. John Zussman says:

    Thanks for this, Jeff. I like the way you’ve mixed the personal with the cultural. The key is your observation that you grew up with guns and developed a healthy respect for them, while too many others get their understanding only from action movies and video games. Maybe we need to require at least as much training to own a gun as we do to drive a car.

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