Soliloquy # 17
"A well regulated militia being necessary to the
security of a free state, the right of the people to
keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." - The
Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United
One day my father bought a rifle. This was when my
parents still lived in a one bedroom apartment in the
Bronx. My sister was a mere tot and I had yet to be
born. He just came home with it one day, shocking my
mother. He had never thought to discuss it with
her. She was unhappy about it, thinking Jews
just aren't the kind of people who own guns. My
father was thinking, if every Jew had a gun. . . .
What happened in Germany wasn't about to happen to
him. He placated my mother by allowing her to
buy a rug.
The war and the rise of fascism were still fresh in
my parents experience during the late Forties.
And then Joe McCarthy took office. My father regarded
the Senator from Wisconsin a danger. He
considered the House Committee on Un-American
Activities a threat. He feared the government
might start rounding up those folks possessed of
unusual political views. So while lots of
conservative thinking individuals were arming
themselves against the Communist, my father,
regarding it his sincere Patriotic duty, armed
himself against Senator McCarthy.
My father became a collector of firearms, swords and
knives. The antiques decorated a wall in the living
room of our suburban home. He kept an arsenal
of modern weapons in his bedroom closet. He became a
Life Member of the N.R.A. [National Rifle
Association] and adopted their cause as his own. If
the N.R.A. knew my father better, they might not have
wanted him for a member. During the sixties,
believing that, like Jews, the Blacks should protect
themselves from Fascist goons and a potentially
despotic government, he sold semi-automatic pistols
to the family members of our Black maid. He also sold
handguns to a few hippie radicals.
It escaped my father's understanding why his young
son didn't want real guns. I wanted toys to play
with. "Why do you need toys when you have the
real thing?" my father would reply. I'd whine
that I couldn't play with real guns because I
couldn't point them at people. And my father would
say, "You shouldn't even point a toy gun at
somebody." When I played battle games with
friends, they always had to supply the make-believe
My father never locked his guns away. I could play
with them when my friends were not around. I played
with the antique flintlocks from the wall. They were
fascinating pieces, deviously complex. One had a
switchblade that would spring forward when the
trigger guard was tugged back. Another had four
barrels. When the top two were expended, you could
clutch the barrels and revolve the unit for the next
two. And I knew my way into the large, black
carrying-case in my father's closet. It unfolded to
reveal a row of modern weaponry, revolvers,
semi-automatic pistols, and derringers. The case also
contained boxes of bullets. Still I didn't even have
to go to my father's closet to find guns. A 30-30
Winchester hung on the wall of my bedroom. A
beautifully engraved Browning squirrel rifle rested
in a case in my closet.
Only once did my father and I try hunting. We went in
pursuit of pheasant with two other men. The pheasant
is a colourful, long-tailed bird, far too exotic in
appearance to seem a native of my country. The
pheasant was, in fact, brought here from China by
sportsmen interested in hunting and eating them.
Often you don't see them until they suddenly eject
themselves from the bush. I almost blew the head off
one of my partners, sweeping the shotgun past his
face while I followed the flight of an escaping fowl.
It was a long day of traipsing up hill and down, and
we succeeded in killing only one rabbit, and one poor
puppy. The puppy, brought along with an older dog,
was being introduced to birding. The elderly man
leading our small pack of hunters had his shotgun
fire off without warning, with the safety still on.
The unfortunate puppy just happened to be there. A
piece of the shotgun's stock blew off to wedge itself
deep into the flesh between our guides index
finger and thumb. He was insensitive to his own pain
and the bleeding. He was weeping for the innocent
young dog. My father and I lost our taste for
I am happy to say I deserved my father's trust, for
the most part. Before playing with any gun, I
checked the magazine and chamber, I knew with
certainty that the gun was completely empty. Having
grown up in the company of firearms, I was trained
and retrained to have a healthy respect for the
damage they could do. And still -
Tony was a new friend, freckled, red-haired, and a
bit reckless. He was quick to anger and seemed to
enjoy a fight. He genuinely liked me, and since I
liked being liked, I hung out with him. He was
untypical of my other friends, but like me, he had a
father who collected guns.
Once, just once, I went over to his home, which was
in another section of Levittown. For me in my youth
it was an adventure. The houses there were all alike,
just like they were all alike in my neighbourhood,
but even though his community was built of the same
components, they were built in a different basic
pattern. It was slightly eerie and not exotic, not as
if I had ventured somewhere distant, but as if I had
passed into an alternate dimension.
We went up to Tony's room and he showed me his rifle.
He had an M-1 carbine from the Korean War. So did my
father. And then he took from a box of shells a brass
.30 caliber cartridge with a dark bullet mounted in
its narrow neck. I was staring at live ammunition.
There were no little hole drilled into the casing to
remove the powder. And as I watched he loaded
it in front of me, making a very obvious show of it.
The cartridge was in the chamber, pointing down the
barrel. Tony smirked and started to point the barrel
I complained. I told him you must never point a gun
at someone else, even as a joke. He laughed and told
me the safety was on. Then he pulled back the bolt
and the cartridge sprung free of the rifle. He put it
in his pocket. I didn't like that. And then he wanted
to go outside to play with the carbine.
Never, never, never had I taken guns out of the house
to play. I don't mean the times I went with my father
target shooting, or for trap or skeet shooting, but
to just run around in a child's imitation of battle,
this I could never do with a real gun. Tony said, why
not? He did it all the time.So he gave me - what did
he give me?, I no longer remember. It could have been
a deer rifle, a handgun, even a toy. Whatever it was,
I remember feeling unfairly disadvantaged. I went
outside to play with him to show him my good faith.
How bizarre, we went running about in the backyards
between suburban homes playing at war, shooting at
each other, and me secretly worrying about that real
bullet and what had become of it.
It was the last time Tony and I played together. I
was determined to avoid him after that.
Years past and one day I was a father with a son of
my own. As a child, my son seemed unable to
distinguish plaything from real weaponry. His
obsession for weapons frightened me. I gave all my
guns back to my father to sell. My son grew up and
joined the Army, is still in the National Reserves,
and last I heard was going out to buy a gun before
the laws grew more restrictive. For myself, I have
not seen fit to replace the guns I have given up.
In old age my father began selling most of his more
valuable firearms and blades to pay his debts. But
several he held on to, feeling them necessary for
protection. He would not be separated from his loaded
.25 Mauser, small enough to fit in a pocket, and this
piece he carried everywhere he went, even out of the
State. I asked him to put it away, for the sake
of the kids. I was afraid he might accidentally
shoot one of us in the middle of the night. He
was intractable and would not surrender his loaded
gun. One afternoon he accidentally shot the gun off
in the house. This contributed to our decision
that it wasn't safe having him live with the rest of
my family. Towards the end, while he was living
alone in an apartment in Trenton, all his judgement
lost to old age, his remaining handguns, and
everything else of value, were stolen by the whores
and petty crooks he invited up to his apartment.
Every weapon he once owned is now in unknown hands.
For three years following his death, his monthly copy
of "American Rifleman", the official
journal of the National Rifle Association of America
came to my home to be trashed. My British wife
saw this tactic as a way of costing the N.R.A.
money. Finally I called the N.R.A. and informed
them that my father was no longer a life member.