The Life in My Years

An anthology of life

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The Second Amendment.

Probably the most contentious twenty-seven words in the entire Constitution.

I don’t hate The Second Amendment, but I don’t like it either. I don’t own a gun, and personally don’t see any need for one, so I should be ambivalent – but I’m not. For my part, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if The Second Amendment went away. But it won’t (read on and you’ll find out why it won’t). So The Second Amendment is, and, during my lifetime at least, will be a fact of American life.

That it’s a fact of American life means that we must, absolutely must, find common ground. Make it something that we can all be comfortable with – all.

A starting point might be to pay heed to two important words that have been lost in the debate – well regulated. Not infringed or abolished but well regulated. Maybe the founders should have phrased it, reasonably regulated.

For our part, maybe those of us on either side should practice a little give and take and at the same time, challenge politicians to be guided by what’s right and fair, and not by what will keep their coffers full and themselves in office. Challenge them to be forthright.

Prior to 2015, it had probably been more than thirty years since I’d seen my cousin. When I was a kid we used to see each other nearly every other summer. Either her family; her parents, two older brothers and little sister would visit us in the San Francisco Bay Area or we, my mom and dad, with me in tow, would visit them in Salt Lake City

Her brother and I, the second son were about the same age and we played when we were little, and hung out, as the saying goes, when we were older. She was the awkward tag along, wanting to join but getting shooed off like an annoying stray.

While much is blurred by years, there are a few things that stand out.

The time her family visited and we all went out to the beach, when she saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time, her thrill of wading into the chilly giant water.

She had an undying love of animals, particularly horses. She used to collect little plastic toy horse statues.

One year, when I was nineteen or thereabouts, I joined her family and another family for a summer camping trip. It was a two car caravan. I was in the lead car and the car she was in had fallen miles behind. We came to an intersection in some now nameless town where a horse had been run over by a truck. The poor beast was still alive, but trapped between the wheels. It was a sight that every now and then returns to trouble me.

Almost immediately our concern turned towards my cousin. The scene, horrifying for us, would be traumatizing for her. My recollection is that the two drivers communicated via CB radio and the car she was riding in detoured around the scene, sparing her the sight.

Decades later, on our way back home from Yellowstone, Cora and I visited her at her home outside of Pinedale, Wyoming. By then, she and her eldest brother and his family had all settled in the Pinedale area. Her other two siblings had long ago drifted away.

During our visit, after Cora had gone off to bed, my cousin and I stayed up and reminisced while sipping Black Velvet whiskey, her parent’s drink of choice.

During the family get-togethers, when we were kids, the parents all partook of Black Velvet – poured from a giant economy sized jug.

Maybe it was the whiskey that fueled the now legendary family political arguments. My dad was the political pariah of the family, a Democrat. Not just a Democrat, a liberal Democrat. The rest of the family were all conservative Republicans.

The evenings began peacefully enough. Usually a kitchen table game of draw poker. As the evening wore on and the fluid level in the giant economy sized Black Velvet jug was lowered, politics took a seat at the kitchen table. It didn’t take long for voices to be raised and billingsgate to be hurled about the kitchen. The night would end with some parting, shouted invectives and slammed bedroom doors, all followed by an eerie silence.

Back in my cousin’s living room, I learned that she had never lost her love of animals. She’d become a vet tech and then went into retirement. Ironically, she, the one who was spared the sight of the injured horse when she was a teen, would grow up to be the one to volunteer to put down dying horses when hope was exhausted. Even in retirement she’s been willing to take on that onerous duty.

The beach? She had no desire to revisit the beach. By the time of our visit in 2015, Trump had declared his candidacy and the nation was tearing itself apart. She was done with California and its beaches, done with liberals and Democrats and Obama. She vowed that if Hillary (the presumptive candidate) won, she would move to Alaska. She was MAGA and I was the liberal Californian.

As we sat in her quiet living room and sipped Black Velvet, poured from a giant economy sized jug, like our respective parents had done decades before, we recognized that we were political opposites but, unlike our parents, we only waded briefly into the boiling waters of politics.

Since that visit we’ve kept in contact, exchanging texts and having phone conversations. We’ve still waded into politics on occasion but we’ve maintained the shallows – going no further than ankle deep. We’ve never started a conversation with politics. The subject has just sort of wormed its way into our exchanges of pleasantries and catching up.

And so, last April, as I was getting ready to go watch my grandson’s basketball game, I was surprised to receive a text from her asking if I was going to watch the Trump rally on Newsmax.

Was she trolling? Poking the bear? A smidge too much Black Velvet from a giant economy sized jug?

I should’ve responded by telling her that I was going out and couldn’t talk. But instead – I bit.

We went back and forth, exchanging the usual talking points that have managed to sunder the nation and I wasn’t surprised when she sent the, Biden’s going to take our guns, text. “The left would take all our guns away,” she wrote. “Biden and his radical vice president lead[ing] the way.”

I’m virulently anti-gun. When it comes to the Second Amendment my feeling is, repeal the motherfucker. I realize that’s as likely to happen as getting struck by lightning on a cloudless day, while I’m inside a convenience store buying the winning Power Ball ticket, but that reality doesn’t extinguish my fervent wish.

I wasn’t always this rigid but my position hardened over the years as the pro-gun faction dug in its heels.

To understand Wyoming is to know that it’s a state defined by its great outdoors and wild west culture. Hunting is both a business and an avocation. Wyoming is – gun central. In Wyoming a pickup truck and at least one gun are as essential as a toaster and a coffee maker. And if you’re a one gun household in Wyoming, well, that’s like sending the kids to school in tattered hand me downs – worse.

Maybe it’s ironic then, that I love Wyoming. I could go back to Wyoming and Montana, its kindred state to the north, also a gun heavy state, every single year.

My cousin and the entire family in that small town of Pinedale are gun owners. Her eldest brother is a wilderness guide, making guns as essential to his work as a frying pan is to a chef.

And so, because I’m anti-gun, living in the anti-gun San Francisco Bay Area and she is a gun owner in a gun loving state, I’ve always, always, assiduously avoided discussing guns with my cousin.

This time though, that one sentence, “The left would take all our guns away,” chafed,

It’s the bullshit of Ted Cruz, Lauren Boebert, Josh Hawley, the Republican Party, the National Rifle Association and the rest of the gun lobby. “They’ll take your guns away,” is a rallying cry that comes off as the whine of a petulant child, “Daddy took my toys away because I didn’t clean my room.”

“___________(fill in the Democrat), will take your guns away,” is the election cycle chant from the gun industry and politicians looking to feather their nests and remain in office.

It’s snake oil, distilled with the sole purpose of striking fear into gun owners and garnering votes. And the distillers know that it’s a canard. They know full well what it would take for the Democrats to “take your guns away.”

For me it’s become one of the most infuriating deceptions of the gun lobby and its whores in Congress, because it assumes, correctly I’m sorry to say, that most voters don’t really have a rudimentary understanding of civics, particularly the Constitution.

Oh the gun owning electorate knows that there’s a Second Amendment that protects their perceived right to own a gun. They just don’t know that to repeal that amendment, any amendment, is damn nigh impossible, and has only been done once (In 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified, essentially prohibiting nearly all sales of alcohol. Fourteen years later, in the midst of a depression, America decided it needed a good stiff drink, and the Twenty-First Amendment was passed, repealing the Eighteenth).

I tried that argument on my cousin, “The GOP is playing you…To change or repeal an amendment requires a new amendment. To amend the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and then ratification by three quarters of the states – thirty eight states. What thirty eight states are going to approve that?”

She responded, “I know what it takes to take all guns away. Most gun owners do. But they chip away, chip away. That’s why gun owners won’t support ANY form of gun control.”

And so I tried coming from the other direction, “If more than twelve states oppose [the amendment], it fails. So your side has the eleven former Confederate States, plus the Mountain States, plus most of the Midwest.”

Certainly she’d understand that at least half of the fifty states would fail to ratify an amendment repealing the 2nd Amendment. Surely she would understand that a super majority of Congress wouldn’t even let such an amendment out for ratification.

“I do know what it takes,” she responded. “I do think a democratic majority COULD get it done.”

With that, I clearly realized that she, like most gun owners, doesn’t fully understand what it would require to “take all our guns away.”

In fact, most Americans, left or right, who claim to STAND BY THE CONSTITUTION, don’t have the foggiest notion of how the damned thing works.

Jump to last Saturday. As I was searching the TV for the Bucks – Celtics playoff game, I saw the breaking news of a shooting in Buffalo, New York. Ten people killed, and three others were injured; 11 of the victims were black.

Well, it was almost tip off, and so I did what Americans do these days; I went on with what I was doing and started watching the game.

Tossing aside news of a mass shooting is as traditional in America as football on Thanksgiving; as traditional as a hotdog on Independence Day; as traditional as, well, a mass shooting in a crowded place.

Shrugging off a slaughter is what we do here because shootings are normal in America. Not the new normal. Hell it’s been normal for decades now. But unless you’re someone vacationing from – Mars – you already know that.

The world knows that in America a mass shooting elicits a mass yawn, followed by the obligatory thoughts and prayers, followed by the equally obligatory harrumphing, finger pointing, pearl clutching and ass covering. Why bother with the details? The American, post-mass shooting dance is one the world has witnessed so often, it knows the steps by heart.

Critical to the Buffalo, New York, rampage is that it was racially motivated. But whatever the reason, racial; umbrage over getting fired; anger over a love affair; or simply voices inside a tortured head, it all comes back to guns.

When I did jump to coverage of the shooting, my cousin’s words, “… gun owners won’t support ANY form of gun control,” came back to mind – and I was incensed.

We’re just about ten years since Sandy Hook, a horror that was, and still is, for me, the point at which I gave up on the notion of gun control. The murder of twenty little children in what should’ve been the safety of the school room, should’ve been recognized as the depth of gun depravity, should’ve softened the hardest of hearts and moved the needle, if only a little bit, towards some form of gun control.

It didn’t. The gun whores remained steadfast.

Gun control, of “ANY form,” won’t happen until gun owners themselves reject the gun lobby’s bullshit. Guns will NEVER be taken away, but the mere hope that mass shootings will cease will never glimmer, until compromise is achieved. I’m a staunch opponent of the whole premise of the Second Amendment, but I’m all for compromise, as are a majority of Americans. But it needs the willingness of the hardened side to reciprocate, in order to move towards stopping the madness.

I would’ve thought – hoped – that Sandy Hook would’ve moved my cousin. That it apparently didn’t, doesn’t just sadden me, it angers me, sickens me.

I’m an only child, so there are no siblings and in-laws of siblings to count as family. My family, on my Italian mother’s side, lives in Italy. What’s left of my dad’s side, that I know of, lives in or around Pinedale. When it comes to regular communication and occasional visitation, my Wyoming family is all that I have.

I love my cousin. When I sat with her and sipped Black Velvet poured from a giant economy sized jug, she told me her story, everything that I’d missed over the decades. There’s a lot in her story that she’s had to overcome. She inspired me.

I cherish the memory of that evening.

Since 2015, when Trump waged nuclear war on decency and discourse I felt good about the fact that I could put family before politics.

I know that eventually I’ll soften, but right now, this very moment, it’s a challenge.

23 thoughts on “A Gun Divide

  1. Jane Fritz says:

    Paul, you and I would drink the whiskey (well, I’d sub in some wine) and commiserate Togo, because I agree with every single view you hold. I would have a very difficult time maintaining an honest, open relationship with someone who felt as your cousin does. Life’s not always easy, is it?

    1. Paul says:

      Life is certainly not easy and politics has made things even harder.

      My own relationship with my cousin is a one way strain, as far as I know. I’ve put up with her MAGA stance and she’s put up with my “socialism.”

      I really began to feel the strain when the Alito decision was leaked. Though I don’t know exactly how my cousin comes down on choice (I think she’s pro), it’s still her guy who brought that upon us and I felt the urge to do a little trolling.

      I’m hoping that with time, my feelings will soften. I hate the notion that the hooey being spewed by politicians and their acolytes in the media has had such influence. Lies and disinformation are two of the most dangerous threats to our democracy and blatant, unrepentant deception has become an accepted tactic.

      Just to clarify, if you and I were to commiserate over a glass, I’d sub in some better whiskey.

      1. Jane Fritz says:


  2. Hettie D. says:

    You know what happened in Chicago last Saturday… I still can’t take it in.

    1. Paul says:

      I didn’t know until your comment. I had to look it up. It’s hard to keep track isn’t it?
      My understanding is that the gun lobby likes to point at Illinois’ “failed” gun law but ignores the fact that most guns are bought in gun friendly Indiana.

      1. Hettie D. says:

        That’s true, Indiana is closer to the South Side that the Northern suburbs. And as long as the guns are within reach (and are easier to reach than to go to Millennium Park…) we have what we have.

        This Saturday shooting makes my heart bleed, because I always thought about Millennium Park as the perfect way for the kids from the South Side to get to the safe zone. I took the youth form the shelter there on multiple occasions, And actually, I was planning to take the group to the Buckingham fountain opening that very Saturday, and this out was cancelled due to the circumstances unrelated to me.

        I copied the article from the Sun-Times to my blog (because I always afraid that the online copy will disappear) – learning more about that kid made me cry again…

  3. Ironically, the second amendment never prevented many frontier towns in the old west from passing ordinances banning possession and wearing of guns in the city limits. An ordinance like this was the source of the dispute that led to the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Coral between the Earps and Clantons. People who actually actually needed guns for hunting and protection from other people and animals had the good sense to know that the public was better off when people were unarmed rather than when everyone was packing as the NRA likes to say.

    1. Paul says:

      Of course in the Old West there was no internet or Tucker Carlson available to spread manure far and wide.
      It’s interesting that in the soon to be finalized opinion against Roe v. Wade, Alito argues that there is no mention of abortion in the Constitution.
      There’s no mention of AR15’s either. I don’t know about you but I’m okay with muskets.

  4. mistermuse says:

    The older I get, the more convinced I become how pointless it is to have an ‘educated’ discussion with a hardcore ideologue of the left or right (but especially of the right). They live in their own closed-off world and haven’t the slightest interest in re-examining what they and their fellow true believers uncritically believe. In short, their willful ignorance is invincible, and intellectual curiosity is unthinkable.

    1. Paul says:

      Yes. Charles Dickens opined on ignorance quite well in A Christmas Carol. “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”
      Ignorance will in the end be the downfall.

  5. Christina Reich says:

    Paul, you expressed so well what I have to deal with my family in Michigan… all gun toting Trumpsters. I am with you…the “gun whores” don’t even understand their beloved constitution.

  6. Your writing is amazing and I completely identify with you stance…it is exactly mine.

    1. Paul says:

      What is sad and frustrating is that our stance is actually the majority stance when it comes to gun control yet, as with many other issues, the tail wags the dog.

  7. Toonsarah says:

    Looking on from outside it’s hard for me to comprehend why anyone wouldn’t want to control gun ownership. I recognise that the culture in the US is very different and also that the country itself is different. The lifestyles and landscapes of the western states in particular probably means that for some people having a gun is useful for their work – I don’t know, is it? But having a gun for the express purpose of being able to shoot other people, say an intruder, that I don’t get. Having a gun simply because it’s your right to be able to have one, that I don’t get. And I don’t understand where people feel an amendment to the constitution is so sacrosanct that it can’t be changed, when an amendment is itself a change to that constitution. Basically, it’s all totally incomprehensible looking on from outside. I’ve been to Wyoming and I loved it, but I don’t know what sort of a conversation I could have with your cousin, it’s as if we live on different planets.

    1. Paul says:

      Hello Sarah,
      “Looking on from outside it’s hard for me to comprehend why anyone wouldn’t want to control gun ownership.”
      Looking on from the inside, I can’t comprehend it. I’m so angry that we’ve reached a point at which my grandchildren have to go through shooter drills in school and gun owners don’t seem to think that’s at all wrong.

      “…for some people having a gun is useful for their work – I don’t know, is it?” It is. My cousin’s older brother is a wilderness hunting guide so firearms are part of his vocation. My cousin shares her living zone with bears, moose and wolves, so I understand that when she goes out for a walk she brings a gun.

      That said, she lives in a very small town and so the notion that she needs a gun for protection against criminals is without merit. The hunting grounds of thieves don’t include small towns.

      “…I don’t know what sort of a conversation I could have with your cousin, it’s as if we live on different planets.”
      I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and it’s as if my cousin and I live on different planets.

      I honestly don’t know right now what to do with our divide.

  8. selizabryangmailcom says:

    I was always extremely confused when “gun people” never supported ANY gun control, not even having to qualify for a certificate every year, which would involve keeping your training updated and would only be good for them and make it much harder for any “nuts” to acquire arms. Her response now makes it painfully clear: that if they go for one thing, more will start coming, and they’ll just keep “chipping away and chipping away.”

    Also agree that everybody holds the Constitution up as a shield but nobody actually reads and/or understands it, since the “right to bear arms” amendment involved a well-organized militia. I don’t think the writers envisioned suburbanites with machine guns, etcetera.

    I feel for you regarding your cousin, as I recently went through something similar with a 30-year-old friendship. This friend of mine had been living in Texas and was leaving and calling it her “beloved Texas,” and many other accolades online, even right after more gun massacres happened and Texas went ahead and passed egregious gun laws. When I privately reminded her that not everybody would be able to live so comfortably in Texas (I’m mixed race and my husband is a black Dominican) or agree with what their leaders are doing (making abortion illegal, suppressing voting rights)… you can imagine what that led to. And that was the end of 30 years. Which led me to ask myself: What did that 30 years mean, then, if we can’t discuss/disagree on various topics or beliefs? Well, it meant absolutely nothing. It was an illusion. And now, at my age, I’m too old to give rat’s ass. 🙂

    1. Paul says:

      Thank you for this wonderful response.

      That whole chipping away argument is completely without merit as are most of the claims by gun owners and the gun lobby. One can’t “chip away” at a Constitutional amendment. It either is or it isn’t. And with the current Supreme Court the Second Amendment is ironclad.

      I agree with your assertion that the Second Amendment refers to a militia. I’ve always argued that the National Guard stands as our militia and that the clause in the amendment nullifies the whole amendment.

      That went away in 2008 when the SCOTUS ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to possess firearms independent of service in a state militia and to use firearms for traditionally lawful purposes, including self-defense within the home.

      It was a disappointment.

      I’ve never known politics to be such a divisive thing. The evening arguments that I described in my post were forgotten by morning. Usually over breakfast and screwdrivers.

      As for my cousin, she doesn’t read my blog so that won’t be an issue.

      I’m very disappointed in her. Her guns are mostly for hunting. I’m not a fan of the “sport” but she at least eats what she shoots. My disappointment comes from her not being swayed by incidents such as Sandy Hook. I thought she had more humanity.

  9. selizabryangmailcom says:

    And thanks for the reminder about the 2008 decision. I’d completely forgotten that. I agree: very, very, very disappointing.

  10. eden baylee says:

    Hi Paul,
    And so it continues.
    I can’t even comment here before another mass shooting.
    Uvalde’s death toll so far – 19 children and two adults.
    We’ve talked about this, about a tipping point. Is there one?
    I don’t want to hear any more bullshit tots and pears.
    What the fuck will it take to pass laws to stop these killings?


    1. Paul says:

      No. There is no tipping point and there will be no law passed to stop these killings. This is America. What you see is what you get. If you visit be sure to pack your Kevlar.

  11. Scott Blake says:

    Those I know who are gun ownership enthusiasts are ok otherwise, so we don’t discuss such divisive matters. Pathetically sad that Sandy Hook, Uvalde, Columbine, and Robb are among many familiar names in recent history because they are schools that had mass shootings.

    Some kids our age during elementary school made jokes about the nuclear attack drills. The active shooter training in schools may draw some joking, but I would hope it’s uncommon.

    1. Paul says:

      Thanks for commenting.
      Here’s how I feel about gun owners who I know. Unless they are raising their voices for some gun restrictions AND refusing to own assault weapons then they are not part of the problem, they ARE the problem.
      I no longer care for their perceived gun rights if they don’t care about my rights to go to the store and not have to worry about finding myself ducking and covering in the midst of a gun fight. In short, fuck gun owners.

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