I really don't want to like guns. I was raised in a pacifist household -- we protested the Vietnam War and worshiped Ghandi. So why do I find war so gripping? My dad, who was a leader in the American Friends Service Committee for many years, is also a Civil War buff. He read us Michael Shaara's "Killer Angels" (the fictional account of the battle of Gettysburg) out loud. When I was old enough, I re-read it -- studying the infantry maps of Little Round Top, where Colonel Chamberlain and the 20th Maine changed the course of American history.
As part of the Good Men Project, I have become close with Michael Kamber, war photographer for The New York Times. We often exchange emails; while I'm sitting in my suburban Brookline home, he's getting shot at in some god-awful war zone in Iraq or Afghanistan. He tells me that there is a time to use guns. The wars may be foolhardy, and the press reports scripted by the military, but the men on the front lines have a job to do, and no choice but to do it to the best of their ability.
And then there are my neighbors, who are wealthy and conservative. Several take a doomsday, riots-in-the-streets approach to the future. They are interested in stockpiling gold, having a secure food source, and making sure they have plenty of guns. (One neighbor e-mailed me a cartoon in which a guy is pounding a sign into his front lawn that reads, "I have a whole arsenal of guns, but that guy has squat," with an arrow pointing next door.)
I went with that same neighbor and a friend to a home in suburban Boston, where an old man led us into the basement of his townhouse, closed the door and produced the largest array of handguns I have ever seen in my life. For a full day, he taught us everything we need to know about handling, cleaning, shooting and buying every conceivable type of gun. Then he gave us the test that would allow us to carry a concealed weapon. I passed with flying colors.
The truth is that holding a handgun, I felt good. Damn good. I don't like to admit it. But that's the truth. And that's how I ended up on the nationwide NRA talk show talking about manhood and guns.
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