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“You Are in Gun Country”

Having just picked up 6 Christmas-gift poinsettias at the local Walmart store on December 4, 2012, exactly three years to this day, I decided to take a shortcut through the constricted labyrinths of the wall-to-wall and floor-to-twelve foot high glut of made in China Christmas trappings in every shape, make, color, and size.

On my way to the electronics department, the shortcut led me through the sports department (fishing, hunting, camping, and outdoors supplies), a path I had not taken in a very long while. There they were in a glass display case, an assortment of glossy metallic colors so shiny they sparkled under the trade-show display lights. My initial thought was that, because they were in the protective display case, these were expensive electronic Christmas toys intended for some youngsters. Some ten feet down the aisle and away from the large array of burnished toy rifles, it hit me like a thunderbolt. This was not the children’s toy department. I turned around, headed back to the display case, and was awestruck by what I saw. No less than fifteen assault rifles in every variety, model, size, and type were strategically and enticingly displayed for maxim seduction. Still not certain that what I beheld were authentic, military grade weapons, I posited the following question to one of the employees: “Are these real weapons?” “Yes, Sir,” he affirmed and, lest I came across as a naïve bloke, I rephrased my question to: “I mean these are high powered assault rifles, right? I can’t believe they are sold here!”

The employee gave me this on-which-planet-do-you-live look and responded thusly: “Man, you live in gun country.”

And sure enough, on December 14, 2012, exactly ten days later and some 1,400 miles away in the same “gun country,” Adam Lanza, carried an assault rifle his mother had gifted him, walked into Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School and murdered 26 people; 20 children, and 6 teachers lost their lives in a barbarous outburst of mental malady and severe emotional distress.

The gun industry, through its NRA mouthpiece, immediately went into overdrive mode, lying to Americans that “the government is trying to get your guns,” and that “guns don’t kill people. People kill people,” and invoked the Second Amendment. Later a variation of these themes stated that the only way to stop violence and defend oneself was for good people to carry guns so as to defend themselves when assaulted bad people. Others, including pandering politicians, suggested that teachers pack heat.

Sure enough, the NRA scare tactics worked. Guns and ammo became a hot commodity, and some items such as the multi-bullet gun clips, sold out at gun stores across the nation. Sometime around December 18, 2012, I noted that every assault rifle at the local Walmart store had sold. Albeit three years later, Walmart family stores stopped selling assault rifles as of August 2015.

Just over a month later and during an introductory lecture/discussion in a college art appreciation class I taught in late January 2013, I was utilizing a few images to demonstrate to my junior level students that creativity is an innate, uniquely human trait that dates back to Paleolithic times. After displaying images of cave paintings and drawings discovered at Lascaux and Chauvet, France, and Altamira, Spain, I stressed that even though cave painters possessed very primitive tools and could neither read nor write, they possessed an uncanny ability to discern the basic elements of design, including line, shape, size, color, texture, and direction. One image in particular, an image of a bison, is perhaps one of the best examples of subordinating the natural world to the artist’s intent of blending nature to conform to the finished artistic expression. Utilizing the protrusion in the cave rock wall to represent the forequarter of the bison, some 35,000 years ago the artist, utilizing the drawing technique better known as contour line drawing, painted the bison’s head and the rest of the torso in a manner that allowed the rock to speak for itself and for the bison in a dramatic three-dimensional manner.

To engage the students in the art work, I asked the deer hunters to raise their hands; after several hands were promptly raised, I posed the following question: “Where do you shoot the deer to make sure you’ve bagged it?” Two extroverts pointed to the obvious, one aims for the forequarter area, just under the fore-shoulder, and in the area of the vital organs. I then went to the Paleolithic image of the bison and pointed out that some experts believe that the pock marks on the exaggerated bison forequarter/stomach protrusion are marks left by the hunter-gatherer men’s spears in a pre-hunt ritual led by their shaman. And I frequently add that today’s college football pep rallies (bonfires, chanting, and communal excitement) are merely a reenactment of these primordial rituals. For a transition I point out that the only manner in which I shoot a deer is with my camera lens.

For some reason, and perhaps still incensed at the dastardly and heinous crime committed at the Newtown Elementary School, a place that was supposed to be a safe haven, I followed up with the following: “I understand that some hunters kill deer with assault rifles. That’s foolish. Anyone care to comment?”

There he was, with thick, stringy red hair akin to a shorn floor mop and seated on the back row and with a full Texas twang, he responded: “ You goin’t keel it inyway.” Taken aback, I responded that if hunting is a sport, then the deer should be given a fair fighting chance, and that a true sportsman would use a rifle instead of unloading a whole magazine into an animal that is already behind the eight-ball scope. And I asked the class whether, in view of recent events, assault rifles should be outlawed. Sitting by his fellow wrestling team members and perhaps emboldened by a miniscule of assenting voices, he pointedly told me that the Second Amendment (he mumbled something about the right to bear arms) gave him every right to purchase, carry, and use whatever weapon he so chose. I invited him to quote the one sentence line, and of course he could not do so. Even though I knew that I walked into a trap of my own making in this, another geographical locale of “Gun Country” U.S.A., I merely pointed out that the founding fathers had no idea that some 320+ years down the road the arms industry would be producing the types of deadly weapons that are currently sold online, at gun shows or stores.

When I recounted the unusual experience to La Belle Femme, she immediately instructed me to never broach the subject again. “You never know what people will do!” she asserted. I conceded, she’s almost always right on target – pun fully intended. And that was the end of that discussion.

And for the rest of the semester he sat in the same seat, his head always propped up in the palms of his hands, occasionally dozing off, but never responding or engaging in any class discussions.

In May of 2013 I pored through my student evaluations and was delighted to read the copious comments about how rewarding the class had been, and how several students determined that thenceforward they would visit museums whenever they ventured into world. And there it was, written in pencil, with poorly executed penmanship, with its marked combination of cursive and print handwriting. The statement read: “He doesn’t know anything about the second amendment [sic.] and he needs to keep his mouth shut.”

How many tragedies have befallen a gun-crazed nation since the Colombine High School massacre, tragedies that have unfortunately become all too frequent, all too violent, all too deadly, and all too vulgar.

It is time for common sense remedies to stop this madness.

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Raouf J. Halaby has just recently been awarded a Professor Emeritus status. He taught English and art for 42 years. He is a writer, a sculptor, a photographer, and an avid gardener. He can be reached at rrhalaby@suddenlink.net

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