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Standing at the threshold of innocence and adulthood

The Smith Westerns new single “All Die Young” has me completely captivated. Reminding me of early 70s rock and a time of my life when I stood at the threshold of innocence and adulthood, gaping at a distant horizon filled with things I was not prepared to know, yet yearned to learn.

The Beatles had ceased to be a band, Jimi and Janis had died in ways that were not fully apprehended in my inchoate grasp of adults, and the Vietnam War slogged on, leaving me constantly fearful that my father would be called to serve in a conflict that had already taken two of my uncles. In the meantime, my body was about to change, the hormones already bubbling up to the surface, confusing my world view even more.

Music was my mithridate; as the only thing that made sense to me, it was a momentary escape from my confusion. Still fresh out of the playroom, where the only concern of mine had been what game to play or what to build next with blocks, a place where safety and happiness were not just intrinsic but the order of things, the security I felt with music, helping me navigate the chaotic, troubling, violent, capricious and cruel world emerging around me, was palliative.

“All Die Young” takes me back to a place where I found comfort in the bands and artists who were also entering my new world: John Lennon, T. Rex, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Wonder, Mott the Hoople and the oh-so-many one-offs of AM Radio. As my world was expanding with frightening acceleration, the music was there to comfort me, reminding me that something was right and true and worth fighting for. If the Smith Westerns had managed to travel back in time and drop “All Die Young” into the mix, nothing would be incongruent; the time-line would not be disturbed (keeping safe the old chestnut of sci-fi time-travel maxims).

With Eldest Daughter entering her own awareness of an often brutal world (with Middle Child and Mister following all-too-briefly behind her), I find myself observing her own confusion with the world and its brutish reality. This became abundantly clear the weekend before last, when the Arizona shootings dominated our collective consciousness as a nation.

Free from the 24-hour news cycle as a child, I was keenly aware that my children are potentially affected by our world in a profoundly different way than I was at their age. Back then, we had a half-hour before dinnertime or the rare news flash on the radio interrupting “scheduled programming” but, otherwise, our connection to the world was brief and largely intermittent.

It’s a new world for my children: news is available with the touch of a button. Eldest Daughter was about two-and-a-half when I came home from work on the morning of the 9/11 attacks to watch the looped reel of planes flying into the WTC. She was playing on the floor in front of the television but not unaware of what was on the screen.

I had nothing to tell her. Hell, I had nothing to tell myself. After several minutes of watching in horror (and unable to answer her “Daddy, wuts wong?”), I turned off the sound and put on Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song” (I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate much less anything I’d rather hear at that point), falling back to the philter of music that had consoled me so many years prior.

A year later, while watching the appalling and absurd images of “Shock and Awe” ignite the desert sky, I likewise muted news channel chatter and cranked Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.”

Flash forward eight years and Eldest Daughter is no longer that toddler on the floor placing small rings over big ones, seemingly oblivious to a world gripped by insanity. In fact, she’s painfully aware and less concerned with Daddy than what the hell is wrong with people.

“Why did he do it?” she asked, “What did he hope to accomplish?”

Still stunned, I had no answer. “He was a sick, angry man, apparently. We don’t know if he had an agenda, yet.”

All three wondered why he’d shoot and kill a 9-year old girl just there to be a good citizen and meet her Congresswoman. Again, my explanations lacked any substance or power .

Indeed, it wasn’t until the next day that we learned what a truly disturbed individual he was, that he had no apparent agenda other than to purge his demons by unloading a magazine on innocent strangers. Worse, it seemed that while he’d probably have been prevented from caring for the elderly or children or even secured any decent job he might have applied for (given his resumé), he was able to purchase a gun — with no questions asked — along with boxes and boxes of bullets.

“Arizona is like that,” I told them, not faulting the state itself but explaining federal gun regulations (or lack thereof) were pretty liberal, pointing out that, given current statutes, assault weapons were flooding over the border to arm drug cartels due to laws that not only allowed multiple purchases but prevented sufficient tracking of sales. Furthermore, I pointed out that laws that limited magazines to a certain amount of rounds had been repealed and that the shooter had been able to squeeze off 31 rounds instead of 10.

Again, I had no answer that would have sufficed when they asked, “Why?”

The answer I have to myself is that the NRA has congress by the short and curlies, having convinced a large part of rural America that any gun regulation is the next step to taking away all guns, inevitable dictatorship and redneck genocide. It was that rationale that the NRA fought tooth-and-nail against so-called cop-killing bullets, the same fanatic reasoning that helped Bush the Dumber allow an assault weapon ban expire (put in place after another sick puppy killed over 20 children with an assault weapon).

Yes, the gun rights advocates maintain that the Second Amendment is more about having the right to bare arms to fend off tyranny by a government out of control than the rights of a sportsman — I get it. While no one needs an assault rifle for sport (much less a 31 round clip unless you’re a really bad shot and then… well, shouldn’t you get some NRA lessons?), the fear of tyranny apparently continues, in paranoid fantasies of black helicopters, reeducation camps and having our precious bodily fluids compromised.

Tyranny? Really? A healthcare bill almost letter-for-letter drafted by Sen. Bob Dole and pushed by Republicans in 1994 and a similar plan enacted in Massachusetts by Gov. Mitt Romney in 2006? Tax rates continued from the previous administration, the lowest in over 50 year? Gun rights expanded so that loaded weapons can be carried into National Parks – and no further gun restrictions put in place?

Still, there are two problems with the NRA’s stand, one logical, the other historical.

Dealing with the latter first, only three substantial stands have been made against the federal government: The Whiskey Rebellion, John Brown’s attack on the Harper’s Ferry armory and the Civil War. The Whiskey Rebellion was suppressed rather quickly (indeed, they really did owe tax on their hooch, even if President Jefferson repealed it, for political reasons) while the second incident arguably led to the third incident as John Brown felt the federal government was not moving fast enough to abolish slavery.

And the third incident … are you really prepared to say that the government overstepped its bounds to outlaw slavery? And, um, how well did that rebellion work out?

Quite simply, hicks in Idaho dealing arms illegally or child molesters in Waco aren’t going to fare well against the brunt of a standing federal army.

My second point is that, if the NRA is not about the right to own sporting weapons (which no one would argue against) but for any weapon to defend against “tyranny,” wouldn’t that extend to Rocket Propelled Grenades, Improvised Explosive Devices and thermonuclear bombs? Logically, the NRA defends all those (and many others) in its defense of not regulating assault weapons, bullets that can tear through a cop’s protective vest or the kind of clip that Allowed the Arizona shooter to cut down six people and injure 14 more.

Reasonable, rational gun owners need to tear themselves from the extremist teat of the NRA and admit that, while they sure as hell don’t want the government to come for their 30-06 or 12 gauge or even their Glock 9 mil, the AR-15 or the AK-47 or Tek-9 or Uzi is a bit much, outside the military, that there’s no reason to own those weapons except to kill people and, well, we’re not into that.

Look, I’m not against guns per se — living rurally, I understand the desire or need to own one (or even several). Not only are we on the lookout for beasties (bears, pumas, etc.) but also the predators we ought not ever see.

One needs only read “in Cold Blood” (or recall our entire Western past) to know that a gun beneath the bed or bedroll is an awesome insurance policy against desperados and degenerates. As Tony Montana said, “You wanna play rough? Okay. Say hello to my little friend!”

While I might feel safer with a sidearm tucked in my bedroll, I know that guns don’t really make us safer. If you look at the states with the highest per capita gun ownership you also find the highest rates of gun deaths; the converse is true, with low numbers of gun ownership equating to low numbers of gun deaths.

I repeat, it’s not guns that bother me but the types of guns. It’s time this country had a mature and reasoned conversation regarding this, shunning paranoid delusion and dystopian fantasies bred in the fallow and infertile imaginations yearning for a Kenyan birth certificate (those brilliant Marxists had Barack’s birth announcement published in the Aug. 13, 1961 Honolulu Advertiser knowing full well that the infant would one day grow up to be POTUS and subvert the constitution!).

The fantasy that armed insurrection would fend off a federal force reminds of the Clash’s “Guns of Brixton”: “When they kick out your front door/how you gonna come?/

with your hands on your head/

or on the trigger of your gun?/when the law break in/how you gonna go?/shot down on the pavement

Or waiting in death row?/You can crush us, you can bruise us/but you’ll have to answer to/

Oh, Guns of Brixton”

The notion that a well-armed militia, much less a lone loon with a basement full of guns, could fend off the brunt of U.S. ground and air forces, is just ludicrous. Thus, the NRA’s argument that the Second Amendment is in the Constitution to insure against tyranny is just as laughable — and disingenuous.

What the absolutist agenda of the NRA is really about is to protect the rights of a minuscule number of gun fetishists who are unable to cope with fundamental inadequacies.

I’m positive that the vast majority of NRA members have no interest in owning a Kalashnikov and question the wisdom large-volume clips. More than that, I’m certain most of them would not shed a tear with the passing of a ban on those clips, much less a ban on assault weapons. Unfortunately, in the “with-us-or-against-us” mindset held by the NRA’s governing body, those members are held hostage by narrow-minded extremists.

Worse, while this sick obsession with war weaponry (and the right to own them), countless people continue to die needlessly.

Young as they are, my children know this. When the issue of the number of bullets fired came up, Eldest Daughter asked, “Daddy, why did he have that? The man on TV said he should have only been able to shoot 10 bullets but he shot 31.”

“Well, sweetie, some people think that we should not only be able to have as many guns as we want, or whatever kinds of guns that we want, but also be able to shoot as many bullets as we want.”

“That’s just stupid,” she replied. “Guns are stupid.”

If she knew the song, I knew at that moment “Melt the Guns” by XTC would be playing through her head: “We’ve trapped the cause of the plague/in the land of the free and the home of the brave/

if we listen quietly we can hear them shooting from grave to grave/

You ought to melt the guns, melt the guns, melt the guns,

and never more to fire them.”

For myself, the Smith Westerns persist in my mind’s playlist, taking me back to a simpler time, when the horrors of the world were not assaulting us 24/7 and solace could be found in a simple song.

A time before the era of well-armed psychotics spraying bullets into crowds of people, drenching the country in blood.

jim@pagosasun.com