Opinion

The rifle on the wall

There’s a quote somewhere by George Orwell about the rifle on the wall being a symbol of democracy, and I quite agree with it in practice and in principle. True, it was written in the darkest hour of the Second World War when Britain, Orwell’s native country, was menaced by the depredations of Nazi Germany, but the idea still persists in my way of thinking.

Orwell, or Eric Blair in real life, is one of my favorite writers. He knew something about the use of guns for the all the correct reasons. He fought against the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War and was rewarded with a bullet wound in the neck for his troubles. Afterward, Orwell wrote one of the most marvelously insightful books in the English language; a favorite of mine (I’ve since lent and lost my copy some years back) titled “Homage to Catalonia”. Orwell was a man with convictions and I suspect a better writer than he-man Hemingway, but that might be my biased opinion only. Orwell, at very least, knew when to put the gun aside, unlike Hem who turned one on himself.

That, however, is another matter. Because I live in Maine, there are few households who do not have a firearm of some kind on the wall, in a drawer or closeted somewhere in the house. I once wrote in a magazine article that we Mainers practiced a form of gun etiquette, namely; you don’t broach the subject of gun ownership unless it is prompted by someone else. One eases into the conversation thereafter.

I once chided an acquaintance for spontaneously spouting some vitriolic pro-gun rights NRA spiel as being unseemly. He was born in Pennsylvania, which made him a transplant Mainer, so I carefully explained to him that we don’t usually talk about such things in such terms because of the unlikelihood the government would do something as rash as enter one’s home and take one’s guns away. That peculiar form of suicide is something I think more likely to happen if said government went extreme right instead of extreme left.  Extreme left is unlikely to happen in the USA, though the radical right seems poised to spring into action given the appropriate set of circumstances.

Hence, Orwell’s assertion that said article on the wall as an insurance policy in a democracy may prove correct.

What I find untoward is the worship of guns; the gun as fetish. It is simply a chunk of steel and walnut in my view, certainly containing no polycarbonates whatsoever in their manufacture. While I do not worship guns, I admire those articles of practical construction and the degree of elegance not found in anything made after 1950. I like the term a gun salesman uses who sells on occasion the shoddily built semi-automatic assault variety I heartily eschew. He calls them “crowbars.” He sells crowbars mostly and loathes them.

I am also old enough to know that gun ownership is not, nor should ever be, a symbol of one’s political views. I adhere to a hard-left turn in my thinking and world view and would resent being lumped in that alt-right political persuasion because I accept gun ownership a democratic guarantor of liberty. Orwell again, and he was a leftie to take into one’s heart and soul.

Both sides of the political spectrum have a hand in demonizing the issue of gun ownership; the right by fetishizing guns as the be-all and end-all of political debate, and the left as the cause of all earthly woe. Neither is correct, and true, I exaggerate for effect.

I was raised in a household where my father taught me and my brothers a basic respect for firearms and their use. It was a matter-of-fact upbringing that regarded such things in proper perspective. No sermons. No moralizing. Just the admonition that you were responsible and accountable for everything you did, and never point that thing at anyone. Sound Presbyterian advice.

As for what I admire, I fault myself for not having the $50 in pocket in 1984 (prophetic, that) when I happened on a 1917 Smith and Wesson 45 in a shop in Portland. It was mint. I was poor.

Still, I’m grateful for knowing what it’s like to be poor. Like Orwell, it shaped my political thinking.

Dave Wylie’s life and work experience runs the gamut from newspaper editor to carpenter to grant writer to boat builder with lots of other work wedged in-between. Born in 1953 in Canada, he admits not having found what he wants to be when he grows up. Wylie currently is president of a management company that oversees an elderly housing complex and president of the local historical society. He resides in Madawaska.

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