I live in Gunlandia. My new neighbor phoned the police to inquire about my longtime neighbors, who apparently shoot at the squirrels in their yard with a .22. Law enforcement gently explained that since we live in the county, as long as no one gets hurt and no one else’s property is damaged, it’s perfectly legal. Though weapon of choice varies a bit (we just send out the dog to chase them off), I’d say the neighborhood’s split three ways between those who shoot squirrels, those who feed squirrels, and those who shoot the squirrels they feed.
Hunting is normal here. I want venison sausage restocked this winter, therefore I instruct the spouse to either shoot me a sausage deer or bring home someone else’s. (It’s illegal to sell venison, which an elderly neighbor explained has caused a remarkable rebound in the deer population over the past sixty years — he grew up rabbit hunting for food because there just weren’t deer. If you live in Gunlandia, however, you know people who are perfectly happy to shoot you an animal just because you asked. It’s the neighborly thing to do.)
When Sister John Paul Bauer explains the relaxing, prayerful nature of deer hunting, we know exactly what she means. The other week, we sent our 11-year-old to sit in the stand with her father, for just that reason: Kid needed some quiet time to decompress. Since we aim to be as Laudato Si’ compliant as we possibly can, naturally spouse and child truck-pooled with a (different) neighbor out to the hunting lease. Or else maybe it was just to be convivial.
My kids think the semi-controversial* Palmetto State Armory Christmas ads are hilarious. The one about the silencer, in our mind, has nothing to do with vicious crime and everything to do with yet another neighbor who runs an outdoor shooting range and uses silencers to avoid creating a disturbance. There’s nothing sacriligious, to the Gunlandian, about suggesting gun-gifts for Christmas; if anything, at least a nice rifle is a useful tool for environmental stewardship, and if you buy it American-made, it doesn’t even implicate overseas slave-labor like those trendy, foot-killing, virtually-disposable party shoes do.
It is from this cultural context that we read the news. Is there gun crime in Gunlandia? Why yes, there is. But then again, places with much stricter gun laws also get their share of terrorists and criminals. To the Gunlandian, there doesn’t seem to be much correleation, let alone causation; the problem must lie elsewhere.
When non-gun people propose banning a thing they don’t even use, at best it rings hollow: Sure, go ahead, solve the world’s problems by picking something that imposes on other people. At worst, and when it comes from the mouth of someone with a 24/7 armed security detail it sure sounds this way, it’s a hypocritical policy that will hurt most those you never were going to care about anyway.
Catholics have wide latitude in making prudential judgments about public policy and firearms. It is to be absolutely acknowledged that because Gunlandians view firearms as ordinary household items, no more problematic than a truck or a dog** or a water heater, we tend to dismiss out of hand concerns about gun ownership as so much noise. Planning to ban pipes and nails, too? Huh? Huh?
It’s a bias to be conceded.
But at the same time, Gunlandians have difficulty not scorning people who get shocked, just shocked, to discover that meat comes from animals, and that furthermore you must kill the animal to get at the meat part. It is challenging to take seriously policy proposals from people who are living a life so utterly divorced from reality as we know it.
I’m not persuaded there are many politicians who are interested in reasoned debate and well-crafted legislation, but there are voters who care about such things, so it’s not a complete loss. I would propose that in order to have any meaningful discussion about weapons laws, one must first come to understand that for many Americans, the perfect, non-ironic, entirely-sincere way to celebrate the birth of our Savior is to fast and pray a bit, go to church, sing carols, give gifts, host a feast, and then take the girls out to the range on sunny winter afternoon and let them practice with the .22.
Photo: Portrait of a Girl with a Gun and a Hound [Public Domain], via Wikimedia
*We don’t know any real live people who mind the ads — which are run in Gunlandia, not some other place where they might take on a different meaning. For some previous years’ editions, see here, p. 9.
**We know a lot of real live people who mind irresponsible dog owners. Also, we mind that animal control’s idea of picking up a nuisance stray is to drive around the block once, declare the animal “impossible to find” and go back to the office to wait for you to bring it in yourself. But they’re real nice when you do.