By Jerry Waxman
I did it! I finally sold off my last two working firearms and I feel as though a burden was lifted from my shoulders. Gun use was practically a rite of passage growing up. Many of the movies we love involve gun violence. True also of the TV series we watch. These guns weren’t used for target practice or hunting unless they were a necessary detail in the script a la The Deer Hunter. No, they were used to kill people, both bad and good people. I am a member of the first TV generation. We had a television in our house in Philadelphia in 1948 and actor Pete Boyle’s father, “Chuckwagon” Pete hosted Frontier Playhouse which aired at 6:00 just after Howdy Doody. Frontier Playhouse introduced us 8-10 year olds to The movie B Westerns and their stars, Hoot Gibson, Bob Steele, Johnny Mack Brown, Ken and Kermit Maynard, Tex Ritter, Tom Keene, Don “Red” Barry, Bill Boyd as “Hopalong Cassidy”, Robert Livingston, Buck Jones, Tom Mix, and yes, John Wayne, as a single and with his Mesquiteer partners Ray (Crash) Corrigan and Max Terhune. It also introduced us to their humorous sidekicks Gabby Hays, Dub Taylor, Howard St. John, Fuzzy Knight, Smiley Burnett, and several others. Later Cowboys on TV were Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Jock Mahoney as the Range Rider with Dick West All American Boy, Gail Davis (who played Annie Oakley) Duncan Renaldo and Leo Carrillo as The Cisco Kid and Pancho (I absolutely loved them), Guy Madison and Andy Devine as Wild Bill Hickock and Jingles, and The Lone Ranger ( Clayton Moore) and Tonto (Jay Silverheels). The crime shows had not made their impact on the small screen yet, but when they did by the end of the fifties they replaced the westerns with increasing violence.
The Saturday matinee fare offered to the 10-14 crowd included Autry, Rogers, Rocky Lane (the voice of Mr. Ed), Jimmy Wakely, Charles Starrett as The Durango Kid, Rory Calhoun, Audie Murphy, Tim Holt, Randolph Scott, Joel Mcrea and scores of others. Regular movies of the period that were also in the matinees were Red River, Streets of Laredo, High Noon, Shane, well, you get the picture. We haven’t even mentioned the cops and robber movies or the war movies of the period. It was just accepted that films featuring gunplay were what we were going to see. Even Walt Disney made a hero out of Davy Crockett (“Killed him a b’ar when he was only three”) in 1954 and his ability to shoot straight; Disney called it family entertainment. Gun use was such a part of the culture that those who questioned it were looked on as kooks and freaks.
My own father, a staunch conservative Republican even by today’s standards, hated guns. He had a service revolver from WWII but it never entered our house. I don’t know whatever happened to it and I’ve only seen pictures of it with him in uniform. I did question him when I was about fifteen about guns and he let me know in no uncertain terms that in our society (1957) there is no need to have guns. They would only be harmful. Still, at camp I learned how to fire a rifle and in the service I fired expert with several different weapons including the Colt 45 M1911 which was standard issue for my MOS. I was fortunate that I never had to use it or any other weapon in a hostile action. I was also fortunate that I never saw action from 1964 through my discharge in 1970. In the period of time I was growing up mass murderers Howard Unruh, Charles Whitman, Charles Starkweather and Carol Fugate made spectacular headlines yet I don’t recall that there was any movement to make gun laws more stringent. More modern day massacres using weapons unavailable or undeveloped in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s have prompted people to tighten gun laws, however the NRA is willing to sacrifice human lives in order to let the weapons industry make even more profits. It’s about time congress addressed the issue in an adult and responsible manner.
I’ve heard all the arguments about second amendment rights. I agree that gun ownership should not be the question; gun use, however should be regulated. A gun is merely a tool that performs a function. People who hunt to supplement their food supply, and my son living in rural Mississippi is one such person, should be allowed to hunt. That doesn’t mean that they can blatantly carry their rifles around and shoot at a prospective meal. They need to be licensed for the privilege on lands specified for just that and they should be able to show the need for such, otherwise the rifle should remain in the cabinet. Similarly, people who own hand guns should produce the need to carry them; otherwise the gun is of no use outside the home. Anyone can buy a car if they can afford to, but driving is a privilege, controlled by local and state laws that determine how, when, where and under what conditions you can safely drive. Gun privileges should be determined by similar laws. It is absolutely ludicrous to assume that anyone needs the assault weapons on the market and legally available today, unless again they demonstrate the absolute need for them or they are a known serious collector of weapons that exhibit them. Legislators have not lived up to their collective responsibility and that needs to change before others needlessly die. Let’s face it, George Zimmerman had no legitimate reason to carry a gun that evening other than the fact that he could.
I had been collecting guns of one type or another since the late 70’s, mostly for fun, target practice and pretending to be a hunter. Since I had small children I followed my father’s advice and never had them in the house. They remained under lock and key in my warehouse. That was foolish, because if we had been robbed the guns may well have been stolen too. I used to go hunting with several of my upstate Pennsylvania customers during small game and deer season and the camaraderie was more important to me than the kill. In five or six years I never fired my rifles at any living thing, but the fun was being with my friends, camping out like we were children again.
Once we opened our small theater we presented a lot of shows that required firearms, so the guns came in handy. There is nothing so phony on stage as a toy weapon, especially in a 99 seat theater where the audience is on top of you. The one stage gun we did buy was a replica .357 Magnum that did not have a real barrel or firing mechanism. It was a glorified cap gun that didn’t fire more often than it did so we stopped using it. When the theater closed I got rid of all but two guns, an 1850 cap and ball Navy Colt, and a beautiful Smith & Wesson 38 special that was manufactured for the military during WWII. Even though they were real they had been used for theater props and I kept them for sentimental value only.
I eventually realized that my father was right. Owning a gun can be harmful, especially to you and your loved ones. Wearing a gun in public doesn’t prove anything except that if shooting starts and you get involved things may get worse. You could shoot innocent people. Sure, the shootings over the last ten years, especially this new one in Aurora, are horrible, and nothing is going to prevent another mass murder from happening in the near future unless government at all levels acts now to limit gun use.
When I think of all the events I’ve covered in the last few years from the foreclosure and health care battles, the tea party interrupted town hall meetings, the Occupy Orlando ordeals and the Trayvon Martin Rally among others, I realized that I never felt as though I needed a gun. In fact, a gun in my possession could have been a liability instead of an asset. I sold my guns last month to a gun dealer. I do not regret it. The Second Amendment may give us the right to have or own these weapons, but it is federal, state and local government’s responsibility to regulate how, where, when, why and under what conditions we can pull the trigger.