Believe it or not, even though I live in the sticks where it’s not uncommon for bears, mountain lions and coyotes to wander across my property any time of the day or night and its perfectly reasonable to possess a rifle or a shotgun in case one of these critters goes loco, I don’t own any sort of firearm.
This isn’t due to any principled opposition to guns or anything. I grew up hunting, still go every once in a while and I’m a solid 2nd Amendment supporter.
I don’t own a gun primarily because I’ve internalized the great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov’s axiom regarding guns in drama—if a rifle appears above the mantle in the first act, it must go off by the third act—and transformed it into a sort of perverted superstition, perhaps even a phobia.
Chekhov was saying, if the gun doesn’t go off in your play, if it isn’t necessary for the dramatic action, then take it off the mantle. My superstitious mind tells me if I keep a gun around the house, sooner or later it’s going to go off, probably by accident, and someone’s going to get hurt, probably me, cleaning the damned thing or something.
I know all about gun safety, I don’t think I’m afraid of guns, but the fact is, sooner or later, any given gun is going to go off. That’s what they do, a reality that sunk in for me recently when I learned my parents stopped keeping a 20 gauge for home protection after mom accidentally discharged the shotgun while rummaging around in the closet.
I discovered this because they just moved into a new house in town and we moved into their old house in the country, and I found an old box of shells. I might have inherited that shotgun if they hadn’t gotten rid of it, and I would have kept it. We really do have bears, lions and coyotes out here in eastern Shasta County, and although they don’t seem to pose much threat to humans most of the time, there have been a few incidents over the years, mostly gruesome livestock massacres, as my mom is fond of recounting.
At any rate, I don’t yet have livestock and I’m not so scared of the wild things that I go around worrying that I need to buy a gun all the time. What really got me thinking about my gunless condition was another thing we have out here in the sticks, conservative talk radio, specifically Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.
I have to listen to them in the garage, because the misses will not allow Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck and Michael Savage in the house. I myself sometimes find listening quite difficult and am apt to yank the cord out of the wall socket. But, this is where red state America gets its marching orders, and by extension that means Shasta County, which is, as the radio station I listen to frequently points out, a red county in a blue state. If you want to know what your conservative friends are thinking and why they’re thinking it, this is one place to tune in.
While there are fairly wide areas of disagreement between these four hosts, I think that it’s fair to say that they, and conservative talk radio hosts in general, promulgate the notion that America is embroiled in a cultural civil war that’s been going on since at least the 1960s. It’s been mostly a cold civil war in recent decades, but now, with the rise of Trump, it could be going hot. And for that my friends, you need to be prepared.
Along that vein, both Hannity and Beck in recent weeks have preened about their prowess with handguns and the necessity for every law-abiding citizen to obtain a concealed weapon permit. I think in part they’re playing to advertisers, which includes gun stores and the NRA on the channel I listen to. Beck also hawks a line of survival food products and adheres to Christian end times theology, which makes the idea we’re on the verge of second civil war seem all the more plausible, if you swing that way.
I don’t, but nevertheless recently found myself desiring a gun, mostly for the aforementioned wild animals, but also because the idea that a real shooting civil war might erupt in the United States doesn’t seem quite as absurd as it did two years ago, before the rise of now-President Donald Trump.
Now, I’m not much of a consumer, I don’t go out purchasing a lot of big ticket items, and by big ticket I mean anything more than $100. I’m practical, which is not necessarily the same thing as cheap. For example, instead of buying a street bike and a dirt bike, I compromised and for the same price bought a bike that doesn’t excel at either but can do both adequately.
Naturally, I would want the same qualities in a firearm. A pistol was out of the question and I subsequently found myself in the market for a combination over-under rifle/shotgun. The Crossfire MK-1 depicted at the top of the story is way beyond my price-point and not readily available; however, it turns out Savage Firearms has been making affordable rifle-shotgun combos for eons that are fairly easy to find.
So a couple of weeks ago I went down to one of our local gun stores in search of said weapon. I’ve never even attempted to purchase a gun, and I was nervous about passing the background check you hear some gun advocates complaining about. “Got any felonies?” the guy behind the counter asked. I don’t. “Then it won’t be a problem.”
I had hoped to find a Savage Model 24 in the .357 magnum/20 gauge iteration. That’s enough firepower to stop the sort of predators or game I might encounter out here in the woods, and would easily down any human threat.
But it turned out Savage hasn’t made the Model 24 since 2010. The only rifle/shotgun combination they manufacture today is the Model 42 Takedown, which with its 22 long rifle and 410 gauge shotgun barrels, is still lethal, but considerably smaller. The gun store guy handed it to me across the counter: a nice, compact weapon, almost a kid’s gun, something you’d get on your 12th birthday.
In fact, as I broke open the gun’s breach, I recalled the 16 gauge I was given at a very early age growing up in Idaho. Like that 16 gauge, the Model 42 is a single shot: you break open the breach, insert a bullet or a shell in one of the two chambers, close the breach, fire the weapon once, then reload it.
That got me thinking.
Suppose all hell did break loose, beginning in the cities, a real civil war, breaking down along cultural and racial divisions. An armed and obviously hostile mob arrives at the top of my driveway. With practice, I might be able to load, fire, unload and fire maybe three times before they reached me—I’ve got a long driveway. Clearly, I’ll need more firepower if it ever comes to that. Much more. Land mines, perhaps.
But then I thought of a much more plausible but still unlikely scenario. Suppose instead of a mob standing at the top of my driveway, it was but a single person, a homeless transient, let’s even say a dirtbag junkie thief of the worst order, who’s traveled 30 miles out of his territory not knowing I have absolutely nothing of value to steal and certainly nothing I would kill anybody over. He’s standing at the top of my driveway, it’s dark but I can see him under the single streetlight, and I’ve got my trusty Model 42.
Is that gun going to go off?
Chekhov’s law, at least my interpretation of it, says yes and the Model 42’s single-shot action doesn’t leave much room for warning shots. A 22 long rifle slug in the skull will kill you just as dead as a .357, and I’m not a bad shot when I practice. In the heat of the moment … well it’s not going to come to that today.
I closed the gun’s breach and held it out with both hands. It was light, short, manageable, totally lethal—and affordable. I liked it. I handed the gun back to the clerk and told him I’d think about it.
I’ve thought about it, amid all this hysteria swirling around Trump and the Russians and collusion and treason and Resistance and the Alt-Right and the onrushing civil war and I’ve actually been able to come to some conclusions that at the very least satisfy me, for now.
First, there’s not going to be a second shooting American civil war, some awful bloody conflict between blue state city slickers and red state rubes that settles the score once and for all. When it comes to territory, neither side has anything the other side really wants. There’s nothing that’s being fought about at the present moment, geographically, culturally or otherwise, that any of the various factions involved actually believe are worth dying for.
There will always be outliers on the right and left who, like the Bernie Sanders supporter that recently went on a shooting spree, critically injuring a Republican congressman and several others before dying in a hail of gunfire, demonstrate they are willing to both kill and die for a cause. But they are just that, outliers, politically-minded men (and rarely women) who for whatever reason choose to violate one of our civilization’s most sacred laws, thou shalt not kill, even at the expense of their own life, for a cause.
Whether we call such men “deranged” or “uncivilized,” we can rest assured that they are rare. When people actually start dying en masse for causes in this country, I’ll change my assessment, but until then I suspect we’ll all continue to “go our own way,” as the kids are saying these days. Yet somehow we’ll miraculously remain the United States.
Maybe we’ll look a little different. As the state of California wishes to secede from Trump nation, the State of Jefferson wishes to secede from California. There’s a solution in there somewhere (let everyone secede?), perhaps one that will even make it to the ballot box soon. That’s how we do things in a democracy. In America, anyway.
Yeah, I still believe we live in a democracy, more or less. And I’ve decided against buying the Model 42. Where I live, with the bears, lions and coyotes, a single-shot just isn’t going to cut it. I need a little more firepower as well. So now I’m in the market for a pump action 12 gauge with the largest capacity permitted by law.
Because Chekhov’s law is inevitable and I like giving lots of warning shots, no matter what animal is at the gates.