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In 1890 the U.S. Census reported there were enough people living in every part of the continental United States to definitively eliminate the notion of a frontier.  By 1900, it is estimated that more than 90% of the U.S. population derived the bulk of what they ate through purchase of foodstuffs produced from some place other than where they lived.  In other words, it’s been more than 100 years since the average U.S. resident needed a gun either for self-protection or food.

The truth is that, all arguments notwithstanding about concealed-carry and the “right” to self-defense, guns are a hobby.  And like most hobbies, the hobbyists take their hobby very seriously.  They spend lots of money on their hobby, they spend time with other like-minded hobbyists, their hobby is more important than their work, and they define themselves in terms of the enjoyment they derive from engaging in their hobby.

red ryder



When I was growing up in the 50’s I had three hobbies: toy soldiers, toy trains and toy guns.  If I was a good boy my father would stop off on his way home from work and buy me a hand-painted, lead toy soldier which I added to a collection that was always on permanent display on a shelf in my room.  The floor of my room was almost entirely covered by the track on which my beloved Lionel trains ran, whistled, stopped and reversed course.  And in my closet I kept an impressive array of toy rifles and handguns, of which my most prized possession was my Roy Rogers plastic revolver, complete with leather holster and velour cowboy hat.

Over the years the toy soldiers broke into bits and pieces and weren’t replaced, my mother gave the trains away to my cousin, and God knows what happened to the toy guns.  They were probably replaced by baseball bats, balls and gloves as I moved from acting out Wild West fantasies in my room to acting out Major League fantasies at the playground.  But as I moved into adulthood the fascination with guns continued and ultimately the toys were replaced by the real thing.

I developed other hobbies as an adult – hiking, self-taught ‘gourmet’ cooking, winemaking – but none of these hobbies involved carrying over the toys of my youth  with the exception of guns.  When I pick up a Winchester Model 94 lever-action carbine today I’m also picking up the toy copy of the Daisy Red Ryder that I had from the time I was six.  When I take out a Colt Government Model 45 pistol, it hardly looks and feels any different from the toy Army Colt cap pistol that my father gave me when I was eleven or twelve.

When I was good, I was rewarded with a toy.  When I misbehaved, the toys were taken away.  If I didn’t do my chores, the guns were transferred to another closet for which my parents had a key.  Or the trains would suddenly disappear, the track broken down and put away. The toy soldier shelf would look like Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard.

I reacted to these catastrophes the way all children respond to a sudden confiscation of their toys: I threw a tantrum.  I wasn’t interested in the why or the how.  I wanted my toys back and I didn’t want them taken away again.  Believe it or not, I get those same feelings of anger today when I think that someone’s trying to pass a law that will result in the loss of my guns.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not accusing gun owners of being children.  But the emotion and anger about gun control usually crowds out any effort to conduct a rational debate.  Gun control advocates need to understand that when gun owners think about their guns, it’s not a simple pro versus a simple con.  Instead, it’s a question of memory and identity that has been nurtured and maintained for a very long time.