A lifetime around arms, and in the end hope for a more civilized country

I grew up in Durango in the 1950s. We kids knew our enemies, and we were well-armed. In good weather, we spent much of our playtime using imaginary automatic weapons (with limitless clips) to mow down imagined Japanese and German enemies.

Because of the nearby Native American reservations and the related Durango tourist industry, as well as easy to access Indian artifacts and archaeological ruins, for us, playing cowboys and Indians was passť and seemingly unkind to our Indian neighbors.

Hiking alone at about age 10 in the mountains behind our house on Crestview one day, I came across three older boys around a campfire. They ordered me to start gathering firewood while one directed me with a pointed .22 rifle. I reluctantly gathered their wood and left, thinking they were jerks. Although I was young, I had full comprehension of the natural law related to being armed versus being unarmed.

In high school, I joined my friends hunting deer each fall. We were less interested in shooting deer than we were in being well-armed, camping out and drinking beer.

Later, as an adult living in Mancos and attending a high school football game in a nearby town, I remember several men who were avoiding the cheap admission price by watching the game on a hill through their mounted rifle scopes. No one seemed to mind.

A combination of such experiences diminished my respect for excessive advocacy for guns and for those who horde more guns than they have any use for.

I have lived in North Dakota for the last 18 years, and the gun culture here in the Midwest can be equally strange.

One local high school is currently planning a hockey fundraiser featuring a gun raffle. That reminds me of the time I attended a regional high school wrestling meet in nearby Minnesota just north of where a Red Lake High School student killed nine people and himself in a shooting spree the same year Ė 2005.

The gymnasium was full of young wrestlers and their families, and the event also featured a raffle for a new hunting rifle. The woman conducting the drawing was a very enthusiastic school booster who lauded the virtues of the gun.

After the winner, a female high school student, came up to accept her prize, I approached the booster and asked if she didnít think it was inappropriate to be giving away a rifle in a crowded high school gym so soon after the nearby mass shooting. She seemed genuinely taken aback and said the connection hadnít occurred to her. With my courage up, I approached the local wrestling coach and asked the same question.

I admit enjoying the empowerment of carrying the rifle my father had brought home after two years of combat in Europe during World War II. But at the end of the war, he lost interest in guns. He also lost two close relatives to guns, both lonely men in their late 60s who used them to end their lives.

I now avoid the gun sections of sporting goods stores because of the candy store-like displays of handguns, shotguns and rifles.

It is hard for many men to repress the visceral urge to be armed and empowered. It bothers me that anyone with such an urge and a functioning credit card can be better armed than I am.

On two recent occasions while shopping, I had to walk by tables staffed by National Rifle Association representatives who were in a store to recruit new members. Although I tried to resist, I felt compelled to engage the recruiters in discussions about guns and gun control. Some were civil, and some just glared.

When I complained to a salesperson that I would rather not have to be greeted by the NRA while shopping, I was surprised that he agreed with me. I hope he still has his job.

I reluctantly support the Second Amendment. But in 2013 it is both anachronistic and overly broad in its interpretation. A way to reduce our 11,000-plus annual gun deaths might be for overly zealous gun advocates to collectively find something less dangerous to embrace, and through mass and voluntary disarmament help America to become a more civilized nation.

Richard Shafer was a Herald staff writer from 1979-1981 and is a professor of journalism at the University of North Dakota. Reach him at (701) 772-5473.