Last night my husband and I watched an old Western with a young Clint Eastwood as the hero. He wore a poncho and, without moving it, he could outdraw anyone trying to do him in.
When I was growing up 80 years ago, I loved a shoot-em-up movie. As kids we shot cap guns. During the Depression I remember standing at the counter of the corner confectionary clutching my penny. Which? A roll of caps? A jawbreaker? The caps always won and I shot judiciously to make the delicious smell of a shot last.
Later, in high school in the '40s, for P.E. we could choose time on the rifle range in the basement. ROTC boys helped show us how to lie on the padded platform, to pull the trigger of the long gun softly and try for the target. It was triumph to hit a bull's-eye.
That was the last of a gun in my hands, but the cowboy shows kept entrancing me.
So why was I appalled by Clint Eastwood doing in the bad guys? Maybe it was watching the bad guys laughing as they mowed down men and horses by cranking a Gatling gun shooting dozens of bullets a minute. Or the same bad guys laughing as they picked off men running from a burning building, some still on fire.
The glee. That was it. The heinous glee in killing. The shooting eerily echoed the maniacal gunning down of innocents by today's far-from-heroic gunmen.
And this old movie is probably a pale comparison to a video game where the player shoots policemen like ducks in a shooting gallery. Surely the Eastwood movie mayhem was minor compared to the bloody violence of three out of four previews of coming attractions inflicted before the start of a film in any local theater.
But before I fired off a stormy letter to a newspaper or my legislator, I tried to look at the other side of using a gun.
I called my cousin. Not only does she live on a ranch and own a gun, she worked for 40 years at the Browning Arms plant that adjoins the beautiful acres she lives on. She, her husband, and their grown children all own guns and keep them locked in a Browning gun case. They like to hunt and need guns to shoot predators, mostly coyotes, after their livestock. An assault weapon? Yes, her sons use one for shooting at a distance and being sure to hit the target. This cousin, so attuned to my love of horses and mountains, who loves to read, also loves guns? Even assault rifles?
I had to sleep on the idea. This morning I'm thinking that guns in her life are no more a sign of reckless animosity than my cap gun was those years ago. She, like 70 percent of gun owners shown in a Pew survey, wants answers to prevent killing sprees that have so tormented the nation.
Enough is enough. Surely bright people who take on space and technology can find ways to limit accessibility and inclination to violence. For us, the cowboy shows of the 1930s were make-believe. Violence now is more than real, especially violence to children. Fear follows and we beg for protection.
That protection demands wise, balanced consideration, unpolluted by ideology or tradition or the corruption of money.
Please, before my generation is gone, a rescue some thoughtful, humane, balanced changes by the good guys, gun lovers or otherwise to harness the death-dealing bad ones.
Emma Lou Warner Thayne is a writer, poet, teacher and public speaker. She lives in Salt Lake City.