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During Tuesday's night's debate, Mitt Romney indicated staunch opposition to any attempt to regulate gun ownership. But earlier, as one-term governor of Massachusetts, he had taken the opposite position, rather proudly taking credit for a bipartisan assault weapon ban.

boy rifle

As he often does, Romney explained this latest flip-flop with a complicated story, involving a fair amount of hand signals and his funny little head cant, about the pro-gun lobby in Massachusetts getting in bed with the anti-gun folks and everybody waking up all smiles in the morning.

It wasn't true, of course. In fact, the people of Massachusetts -- as is true for Americans generally -- wanted tougher gun limits and the pro-gun forces were unhappy with the legislation that got passed. But with Romney the truth matters little.

Like any good businessman, Romney tries one approach, then another, then another, until he hits on the one that moves the most product. Truth be damned. For Romney -- in politics as in business -- the only thing that counts is the profit. For the kind of vulture capitalist he was, it's whatever would make him and his already rich clients the most money -- never mind the jobs sent to China, the manufacturing towns dismantled, the lives destroyed.

Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, used to promote his admiration for Ayn Rand, until someone pointed out that she was a chain-smoking Russian atheist who ended her days on welfare. But Mitt Romney -- the "job creator" who built an empire for himself and his kind at the expense of the people beneath him -- he's the real John Galt from Atlas Shrugged.

And with guns, the transaction businessman Mitt Romney honors is the$1.8 million the National Rifle Association has poured into his campaign coffers. That's the kind of commitment Romney understands.

Why the Fascination with Guns?

I grew up in gun country. When we moved from a small town in southeastern Iowa to the farthest fringe suburb of Minneapolis in the late 1950s, one block away began the first corn field, which connected to other corn fields, and hay fields, and wheat fields and, cow pastures and later soybean and sugar beet fields, stretching westward across the gently rolling prairie to the Dakotas and beyond.

boy with shotguns

Photo: Kan. Credit: Craig Hacker/LA Times

Like my own parents, most of the adults in our cookie cutter development that sprang up after World War II had grown up in the small towns and farms that once gave the Upper Midwest's people their distinctive character. They came to the big city for a better life but hunting was in their blood, for most of the fathers and at least some of the mothers.

Jimmy Swanson’s dad, the plumber next door, had a couple of shotguns, as I recall, for duck hunting. Gary Hansen’s parents, the house painter and his homemaker wife across the street, had a rather ornate gun case, if memory serves, filled with scoped rifles for deer hunting. Craig Eide’s dad, the milkman two doors down, had guns, too, I think. (It was Minnesota, remember: there were Scandhoovians as far as the eye could see.)

An anomaly already because of his advanced education for that working class neighborhood, my Dad had a Ph.D. but only one gun, the M-1 carbine he brought home from World War II, along with the ceremonial Nazi dagger he liberated from a German officer’s body in Aachen shortly before he himself was wounded. The M-1’s barrel was spiked. It wasn’t for shooting. It wasn’t even for show, as it sat most often behind the suits in Dad’s closet.

Unlike my friend’s dads, mine didn’t hunt. He didn’t care much for guns, even though he completed a 30-year military career as an Army Reserve colonel. Later, when I was older, he said his time tramping through France, Belgium, Holland, and into Germany with a rifle in his hands had taken away any joy he might have felt from gunplay. I understood. I had recently returned from combat duty in Vietnam.

But earlier, I think for my twelfth birthday, my Dad gave me the best present a boy could have, in that part of the country, at that point in time: a bolt-action .22 caliber rifle with a six-round clip and a notch sight.

Dad and my favorite uncle – Rich, my Mom’s oldest brother – spent hours teaching me about gun safety, gun maintenance, gun safety, how to breathe slowly and squeeeeeeze the trigger, and, let’s not forget, gun safety. During long visits every year at Uncle Rich’s farm in northern Minnesota, outside Moose Lake, I would always spend hours blasting holes in tin cans and targets posted on the trunks of fallen birch trees.

Once, in a 50-year-old memory, I lay in a hay field with Uncle Rich, sighting down maybe 80 yards across a hay field he called the “lower forty,” toward a duck floating peacefully in the lake – Little Island Lake -- mostly encompassed by Rich's farm.

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It wasn’t duck hunting season, but we figured I’d be lucky enough to hit the lake, never mind the bird. So I breathed deeply, sighted down the barrel with my left eye – my shooting eye – and squeezed off a single round. The bullet plinked into the water not six inches from the duck, startling me and Uncle Rich every bit as much as the quickly departing bird.

Later, those marksmanship lessons stood me in good stead, when I joined the Army – to “straighten out my life,” of all things. In training, I rather easily qualified as an expert marksmen with both M-14 and M-15 rifles, and later with the M-60 machinegun I carried for my first several months in combat.

But We Aren’t Talking About Taking Away Hunting Rifles

Earlier this month, my next younger brother Dave passed away, suddenly, unexpectedly, apparently from natural causes, at 58, at home in Henderson, Nevada, outside Las Vegas.

Dave Price

Brother Dave

Dave had helped look after my Uncle Rich for the last years of his life, for our stepfather Sim, and for my Mom, who lives now at a home in Boulder City. Dave had always lived alone, but his house, garage, and a storage shed are filled to the rafters with these other people’s possessions.

As my brother Doug and I began putting Dave’s affairs in order, we came across two guns stored out back in the garage – an old shotgun and an even older .22 calibre rifle. For just a moment, I thought the .22 might be my old boyhood treasure. But the one in my hands in Henderson was larger, sturdier than what I recall from years ago, and it didn’t have a six-round clip.

Still, the heft of the gun in my hands triggered thoughts of how my life might have been different if I had stayed in Minnesota, how Dave’s life might have been different if he had stayed back home where he fit so much better than he ever did in Las Vegas.

If I hadn’t gone off to college in New York City at 17 and spent every day of my adult life (save those two years in the army) living in the middle of big cities – New York, Washington DC, Minneapolis, and now Los Angeles – there’s every chance I would have stayed connected to the gun culture of my youth.

I did only a little actual hunting beyond the tin cans and birch trees I bagged, but I loved tramping around my Uncle’s hilly, heavily forested farm and especially loved the deep, mysterious woods of northern Minnesota, where I took several long canoe trips.

If I had fallen in with the right set of friends – and especially if I had taken that small town newspapering job a journalism professor pointed me toward – I can imagine I would have been like Misters Swanson, Hansen, and Eide, coming home every year or so with a big six-point buck draped over the hood of the family station wagon, crunching through the snow into the driveway.

(Okay, there’s a big “maybe” in that. I can picture the woods, the family station wagon, the snow-lined street, and the coming home parts. But it might have been with a camera full of photographs and a rump roast in the back seat that I picked up at the local butcher shop.)

Which is a long way of saying that Mitt Romney – and the NRA, for that matter – have got it all wrong on gun control. No one, not even the most rabid anti-gun advocate, is talking about taking away a single hunter’s hunting rifle. My precious .22 calibre rifle would be safe in anyone’s plans.

dick price

What we don’t want – what reasonable people don’t want – is automatic weapons in anyone’s hands, assault rifles and machineguns anyplace but well-guarded military armories, and armor-piercing shells and body armor anyplace but in the movies.

But Mitt Romney – because he has no values beyond promoting his own and Lady Romney’s welfare – he’ll take the NRA’s money and oppose any sort of reasonable gun regulation. Which makes him forever the Gun Lobby’s Mitch.

Dick Price
Editor, LA Progressive

Posted: Friday, 19 October 2012