I own guns. An 1870s Argentine rifle graces my bedroom wall, an immigrant from father’s Idaho mantle where it hung during my childhood. No one has produced ammunition for that weapon in 100 years. This gun is art and reminiscence. Rifles and shotguns huddle in cupboards, asleep in their form-fitting covers. Boyish enthusiasms made me terror of squirrels and wanna-be deerslayer. In my teens, I woke one morning no longer a hunter. Killing grew pointless. I quit. These guns are retired tools of past fascinations. Most ominously, a shotgun and revolver hide in my home. An ill-intentioned intruder might find himself profoundly unwelcome. These guns are deterrents. I hope violent deviants worry, at least a bit. But I stew as well. The Turks say “A weapon is an enemy even to its owner.”
Recently, the United States Supreme Court decided no government agent can prohibit non-exotic guns in the home. District of Columbia et. al. v. Heller, 554 U. S. ____ (2008). Justice Scalia said: “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home” (Slip opinion, page one summary). The District of Columbia’s handgun ban has fallen. The Justices’ vote was five to four. Four conservatives lined up against four liberals, with the ever wishy-washy Justice Stevens tottering between those ranks of titans. A French proverb warns “Between two stools, one sits on the ground.”
In the Heller case, the high Court was Everyman. The conservative in each of us demands home and hearth secure from criminal assault. The liberal in each of us recoils at a culture awash in weaponry, streets bathed in crimson gun carnage. And the Justice Stevens in each of us dithers, ready to inflict rough hewn justice but longing for a world in which none is needed or even possible.
I keep my guns, with deep reservations. I fret about the poetic foresight of Rabindranath Tagore (Indian, 20th century A.D.): “He has made his weapons his gods. When his weapons win he is defeated himself” (Stray Birds, 45).