I had been writing about guns for years, often annoying the hell out of people who were otherwise good friends. One of those folks was the late Doug Rokke, a former member of the US Air Force, who had served in both Vietnam and Gulf War I. He gained international attention telling the world about the horrific risks of depleted uranium, with which the US made bombs and missiles – which upon explosion spread nuclear radiation far and wide. The US military may as well be waging nuclear war.
I wrote a number of columns about DU and got to know him well. While he was extremely critical about US militarism, he was also a total gun enthusiast. He lived in central Illinois, not far from Chicago, where I live, and I had visited him at his home. One day, in the hope of penetrating what he assumed was an obtuse anti-gun prejudice of mine, he invited me to an NRA training weekend coming up near where he lived. Well, why not? At my deepest level, what I am is curious. Here was a chance for me to step into a whole different world.
Participants had to bring their own guns, of course, so he provided me with one of his: a Smith & Wesson .38. Before the weekend was over, I had fired off at least 200 rounds of ammo from it, and actually started hitting the target. At the weekend’s conclusion, as certificates were being handed out, one of the instructors declared: “Bob is definitely the most improved shooter of the weekend.” I was applauded.
I mention this paradoxically. My experience that weekend was utterly fascinating, and sharpened – but in no way changed – my thoughts about armed America. There were four instructors at the weekend and all four of them were incredibly positive and encouraging. There was no bullshit “be a man” swaggering during the weekend, and indeed, of the 37 participants, 17 of them were women. A word the instructors used over and over was ‘love’, as in, “I feel a lot of love here.” The goal of the training was more than just the sharpening of participants’ shooting skill or intensifying their gun safety awareness. It was creating camaraderie.
One problem: This was camaraderie based on the presence of enemies. Lots of enemies. The instructors, in their continuing lectures throughout the weekend, peddled fear and created scenarios of horror and hell. In Argentina, they told us, there were now home invaders wearing body armor who broke in and tortured the residents. One of the brochures on display showed an attractive woman in a red dress shooting a hideous man, clearly a rapist, coming toward her with a knife. Another brochure showed a stern and serious fellow shooting a vicious rattlesnake – and the snake had the same snarling, “I’m gonna get you” look on its face as the rapist.
As I wrote in my journal the next day: “The gun society is a no-nonsense social dualism, precisely divided between good guys and bad guys.” And despite the ‘love in the room,’ despite the respect and patience the instructors showed to everyone present, despite the wisdom and clarity of their words – shooting is a ‘Zen process’, one of them said – the weekend’s essence was the reduction of life to that one reptilian option: fight or flight.
In the NRA’s words: “Using firearms responsibly and ethically for personal protection involves: Mental preparation for an encounter (what will I do before, during and after?), a willingness to use deadly force (can I do this?) and recognizing use of a firearm as a last resort.”
Excerpted: ‘My Weekend With the ‘Good Guys With Guns’’.Robert C Koehler, "Good guys with guns," The News. 2022-07-23.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Nuclear radiation , Nuclear war , Bombs , Missiles , Militarism , Doug Rokke , Vietnam , United States , NRA