The man who taught me about guns died eight years ago this month. My father was 82 years old and, up until the last six weeks of his life, he seemed unstoppable, strong as a mule, steady as a rock, always there if needed. Typically, whenever I called home, my mother would say he was outside repairing a fence, tilling the garden–or, like his very last chore, rigging up a pulley system in order to load an old clothes dryer onto the pickup bed without any assistance. This was, I should add, contrary to my mother’s admonitions.
His name was Jesse Sublett Jr., but almost everyone knew him as Jake. In official documents and to my mother, he was J.E., which saved him the trouble of being confused with his father, Jesse Sublett Sr., and the embarrassment of being known as Junior. It’s a common nickname in the South, but does anybody ever start out in life wanting to be called Junior?
Mom had quite a few health problems, and Dad doted on her. For him to precede her in death was kind of unthinkable. I always thought that he would go on caring for her as long as she was alive, not so much because of his physical condition, but out of sheer willpower.
Jake was country. Raised on a farm, sixth grade education, modest, soft-spoken. He couldn’t play a lick, but he loved music and was a fan of my own creative endeavors, no matter how weird they must have seemed to him. After my wife and I moved to Los Angeles, he was always the first one to cry when our visits came to an end.
Thus the man of few words is often recalled in verbatim. His advice to me on avoiding narcotics: “Keep your nose clean, bub.”
On his first trip to California, confronted by great the proliferation manicurist signs which said, simply “Nails,” this native of the Texas Hill Country said, “I thought they were all hardware stores.”
I also remember vividly his gentle presence, his large, scarred hands and quiet voice as he instructed my brother and me (and later, my sister, although I was on my own by then) in the arts of hunting and shooting, and everything about guns we needed to know in exchange for the privilege of using them. “Always be careful not to point your rifle in the direction of any person.” “Never shoot unless you have a clear line of sight.” “Squeeze the trigger, don’t jerk.” “Always know where the other hunters are sitting.”
All guns in our house were unloaded. The ammunition clips were even stored separately. On hunting trips, we’d gather our rifles and supplies and set out on foot from the camping site, never chambering a round until we had cleared the last gate or other obstacle. Even after that, a gun was kept on safety until the moment it was to be fired.
Jake was strict about all the protocols of handling guns, not only gun safety but cleaning and storing after use. No guns in the world could have been better maintained than the ones in our household. And there’s something about the seriousness and care he embodied as a parent that still rings in my ears, even sends chills down my spine, as I remember his instructions. These days, in particular, I keep hearing him say “Always be careful not to point your rifle in the direction of any person.”
When my wife and I first moved to Los Angeles, I remember encountering people who were offended at my gun history. Yes, I killed my first deer at age five (with my father steadying the rifle) and continued hunting into my 20s. I enjoy going to the shooting range now and then, and also take my teenage son along.
My father preached strict adherence to all game laws, although when he was young, the family observed a more relaxed approach, one best expressed by the old saying, “There are two hunting seasons: salt and pepper.” A few times we went out “headlighting” (known as jacklighting in other parts of the country), which means going out with dogs and lights to kill raccoons and other “varmints” for their hides, which fetched, as I recall, between fifty cents and a little over a dollar.
My brother and I shot doves and squirrels and when we failed to harvest enough of either to make a meal, we’d shoot some of each and Mom would make stew. Sometimes I’d hike alone in the woods, shooting birds and armadillos, rocks, trees, whatever. I regret this last part, but there it is.
My son has lived in an urban environment his entire life and the notion that a young boy needed to learn to shoot because there were no grocery stores around and even if there were, buying meat every week for our family was financially impossible. It could still be a valid thing to teach a young person, but whenever it’s something promoted by the NRA, it reeks like some rotten, bottom-dwelling creature born of desperation, greed and fear.
It was many years ago, but at one time the NRA wasn’t just a gun lobby, a PR machine that relentless promotes guns and pushes them, beyond any logic except for that of fear and greed, and pushes far too many guns that have no reasonable civilian use. There was a time when you could say the NRA was about gun safety and outdoor recreation, but now it’s more accurate to compare them to the corn syrup people hustle to inject fat in every morsel of our foods, particularly the young. Of course, it would take fewer words to compare them to crack dealers, but I’m sure that’s been done before.
The NRA constituency claims to revere family values, and the degree of truth in that idea is probably best seen their advocacy for unregulated sale of noise suppressors, which would bring a lot more kids into the hobby. And dig those happy families in the pages of Junior Shooters, an industry-backed publication geared to that sweet younger demographic.
Junior Shooters touts itself as “a place for our next generation of shooting enthusiasts! We provide information on clubs, events, safety, and information for all shooting disciplines. We provide information on clubs, events, safety, and information for all shooting disciplines.” An article in Sunday’s New York Times had a few insightful comments to add about why the gun industry is working overtime to push its products these days:
Threatened by long-term declining participation in shooting sports, the firearms industry has poured millions of dollars into a broad campaign to ensure its future by getting guns into the hands of more, and younger, children.
The industry’s strategies include giving firearms, ammunition and cash to youth groups; weakening state restrictions on hunting by young children; marketing an affordable military-style rifle for “junior shooters” and sponsoring semiautomatic-handgun competitions for youths; and developing a target-shooting video game that promotes brand-name weapons, with links to the Web sites of their makers.
I don’t want to dwell on the subject of this publication right now, but I would like to offer this screen shot from the site.
For those of you who know nothing about firearms, .22 is a small caliber. It’s not something that the military would use. I do think the color of this one is hideous, however, and it does look like something made by an industry desperate to shill its products to very young children. One frequent argument from the NRA crowd is that they take firearms very seriously. But does it really help teach a child to take guns seriously when they’re the color of bubblegum?
A lot of people in this country are sick of the fear-mongering propaganda being spouted by gun manufacturers, their trade groups, their lobbyists and the ill-informed public they have inflamed in the name of greed. Hunting is one thing, but if you need a clip that holds more than five rounds you should stay home, get another hobby, maybe see an eye doctor. The time for reasonable regulations on guns in this country is long past.
And if you’re arming yourself to protect yourself from the “jack-booted thugs” of the federal government, as I believe Wayne LaPierre once called them, why the heck do you still live here? You can’t bemoan the death of democracy, then pout, whine and grab your guns every time an election doesn’t go the way you wanted it. There’s a real logical disconnect there, pal.
The arguments have been made. The facts are out there. It would be nice if the gun extremists would listen for a change instead of shrilly shouting “You’re taking away my guns!” every time a proposal aimed at reducing the needless slaughter is merely suggested. I have mentioned my own history with firearms here in part because my past blogs on guns have been greeted by sadly hilarious lines like “Stop getting all your ideas about firearms from Hollywood.” Huh?
Wouldn’t it be interesting if a similar hue and cry were raised at every new incident of genocide, with every hundred acres of rain forest destroyed, whenever there appears to be another type of egregious infringement to the Bill of Rights–one of the other nine, that is?
How many of these huge fans of the 2nd Amendment are keeping busy “maintaining well-regulated militia”? I mean, not just to overthrow the democratically-elected government of the United States, but to assist the public in various other capacities, besides waving their guns in our faces? I guess, way back there on Tax Day 2009, those were supposed to be militia men, those gunsels proudly sporting firearms very near a speech by President Obama.
“Gunsel” is an interesting word. Read about its origins here, or below.
A couple more bits on this digression: Hammett was obviously swept up in the times here, and his writing did not exactly bristle with 21st century egalitarianism, i.e., there are lots of jokes that could be construed as homophobic. The “gunsel” insult is only one, but he does exude a deep contempt (which no doubt was informed by his experiences as a private eye during rough times) for punks with guns, as in this retort to The Fat Man, Kasper Gutman (Sidney Greenstreet).
SPADE: I hope you’re not letting yourself be influenced by the guns these pocket-edition desperadoes are waving around, because I’ve practiced taking guns from these boys before; so we’ll have no trouble there.
SPADE: Here. (Hands him Wilmer’s guns.) You shouldn’t let him go around with these on him. He might get himself hurt.
GUTMAN: Well, well, what’s this?
SPADE: A crippled newsie took ’em away from him. I made him give ’em back.
End of digression. You might have already intuited this next part. My father, Jake Sublett, a dedicated Democrat, big fan of the Clintons and Barack Obama, was also a longtime NRA member who would have been dismayed and disgusted with that organization today.
No matter what you think the 2nd Amendment says, it does not say it’s OK to wave your gun around near the President. We lived in Johnson City when Lyndon B. Johnson was President. That was after Kennedy was assassinated.
Random guns + Presidents = not a good thing.
Who missed that memo?
The so-great-it-oughta -be-number-one 2nd Amendment also does not say it’s a great idea to have everybody come heeled to school, church, funerals or your mother’s colonoscopy.
Another thing to consider about the holy, the awesome, almighty, gold-encrusted 2nd: Do you really see the Founding Fathers guaranteeing every citizen, no matter their criminal background or mental competency, the right to buy a cannon? A whole bunch of cannons? Selling them at village gun shows and the like? Only a nincompoop would think so.
The GOP is an endangered creature. That’s largely due to its stupid ideas and the fact that its main demographic could be described as white men who fear black presidents and said group happens to be aging out of the planet? Small wonder that the Guns Over People party receives boatloads more gun-supporting cash than Democrats. Which seems like a waste, since it’s been decades since so-called liberal Democrats have posed hardly a whisper of a threat to the gun-lovingest people of our nation. Chris Solizza of the Washington Post brings in the numbers with a series of charts in his January 16, , 2013 blog piece, “How the NRA Influences Congress in Six Charts.”
In the past month the Post has published a number of other articles with detailed, useful information on this topic which should be of interest to anyone who would like to see a little less gun carnage in this country, and does not believe that the blame lies with “gun-free zones,” Hollywood or an “elitist hypocrite” –NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre’s term for President Obama.
Of particular interest to me was Joel Achenbach’s series which began with “How NRA’s True Believers Converted a Marksmanship Group Into a Mighty Gun Lobby,”
Even the very basic idea of universal background checks before gun purchases makes Wayne LaPierre see red. He says it’s because “criminals will never submit to them.” Ever notice that the NRA gets a lot of their ideas by studying things criminals won’t do? With these guys it’s always more guns, bigger guns, guns everywhere, all the time.”
I welcomed Achenbach’s well-researched series, as I have wanted to write an essay like this one for some time. I particularly appreciated his explanation on how the NRA became so radical and intractable, because in years past, it wasn’t an evil caricature, a sad, bizarre cartoon. Have we mentioned the fact that Ronald Reagan favored gun control, or that George H.W. Bush was so disgusted with the NRA he tore up his membership? Charlton Heston stuck with “em, but God bless the old toupee-topped Moses, at that point in his career, he wasn’t exactly being inundated with other offers.
Good investigative journalism has already been done by others, so I wanted to say something about my father the simple common sense and sense of class he embodies for me. In a way I hate to repeat his admonition about being careful where your gun is pointed, but seriously, I’m sick of the NRA and gun-weirdos pointing their guns and their hysterical fears at the rest of us.
A couple of years before he died, my father gave me an early heirloom, a Colt .32 revolver. Although not as striking as some old revolvers, it’s a neat looking gun, and it gives off a nice frontier vibe.
The gun came to my father, and his father before that, from the collection of my great uncle William Winthrop Sublett. He was born in Texas and later migrated to the mining communities of New Mexico and from there to Redding, California, where he was a miner and rancher. He also served as sheriff of Shasta County from 1922-1943. I like finding stories in archives that mention him, like the one about a car chase and shoot-out with armed bandits in 1925, and apprehending escaped convicts from San Quentin in 1939.
I also like the story of how Sheriff Bill got the gun. He confiscated it from a bad man and never gave it back. They didn’t call it “fascism” or “communism” back then. They didn’t even call it gun control.
They called it common sense.