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Sunday, April 18, 2004

The Smoking Gun

Despite the fact that I am 42 years old and have a family of my own, I still find myself seeking my parent’s validation – or at least tacit approval – of the choices I make in my life. To a large extent, the social conscience and values I possess, I received as part of the liberal, Jewish, suburban American upbringing they provided. Though I have developed my own views and am a thinking adult/parent, I still find myself occasionally wondering WWMADD (what would Mom and Dad do) in any given situation.

I bring this up because, as happy as I am to have my parents staying with us for a few weeks, there was a secret that I kept from them, and was completely unsure of how they would react to it’s revelation.

I own a gun.

More than that, I carry a gun during every waking hour of every day. My daily commute takes me past several Arab villages (where passing motorists have been attacked), and recent events have proven that even at home one is not entirely safe from terrorism. Also, Israel’s highest law enforcement official has publicly asked that those who are licensed to carry weapons do so at all times.

If you are a Republican or an NRA member (I know…redundant) you are probably scratching your head and asking, “What’s the problem?”

The problem is that I grew up in a household where perhaps the only civil liberty one was not encouraged to exercise was the right to keep and bear arms. If any of us had been arrested at a demonstration, or for some sort of civil disobedience, or for doing one of a hundred other things allowed by the constitution, my parents would have been proud of us. But Guns were always considered out-of-bounds…something that was exclusively the province of law enforcement officers and right wing nuts.

During the week before my parent’s arrival my wife asked me how I intended to broach the subject of my gun. This is where the child-parent struggle takes place. Part of me silently agreed with her that I should probably prepare them in some way so we wouldn’t have a ‘scene’. But another part of me was saying that, damn it, I was a grown-up and they would have to accept the choices I had made in my life. If I had decided to start smoking, or had gotten a tattoo, or voted Republican, they would have had to just accept it (no, I've never done any of those things). So how was this any different?

In the end, I opted to just say nothing and see if they mentioned it (I know…pretty mature, huh?).

They didn’t mention it at the airport, even though we had to make a detour through the El Al security office (where I had checked my pistol). In the days following their arrival, and throughout all the touring and time spent at home, they never mentioned it.

I imagine that the first time an adult smokes a cigarette or takes a drink in front of his/her parents (or does anything else that a parent might disapprove of), there is a tension in the air caused by the generations being slowly pulled apart. Although I have never smoked a cigarette, and my parents have long known my fondness for bourbon and red wine (not together, of course), I imagined I could feel their combined attention focused on the butt of my pistol each time my back was turned to them. However, for almost a week – not a word was mentioned about the gun. It was like this big pink elephant sitting in the room that nobody could mention.

In the end, it was a simple comment that Zahava made that ended up broaching the subject.

We were all squeezed into the kitchen for dinner one evening and I was standing at the sink washing some leftover lunch dishes. As Zahava passed behind me she accidentally banged her hand on the gun and let out a delicate exclamation (not printable here). Almost at once my mom asked if I always wore a gun. I explained that yes, as a result of the security situation here, I felt it was the responsible thing to do. My dad asked if it worried me to have a gun in the house with the kids. I explained that, not only had I had a LONG talk with both the kids about guns and their inherent dangers, but that when I was sleeping or showering (the only time it was not physically on my person) it was locked in our safe.

And that was that.

Perhaps they still remembered the terrorist attack that had taken place in front of the Jerusalem pizza parlor at which I had worked during my student days at Hebrew University. Two Palestinians had walked into the center of one of Jerusalem’s busiest streets and had begun calmly lobbing hand grenades at the crowds of shoppers on either sidewalk. Within seconds both of them were killed, not by policemen or soldiers, but by armed civilians. The double miracle is that not only did the terrorists fail to kill anybody (although several people were wounded by grenade shrapnel), but also nobody was wounded or killed (besides the bad guys) in the civilian crossfire from opposite sides of the street! My parents watching the news back in 1985 had recognized the front of ‘my’ pizza parlor, and had been very relieved to hear I was unhurt.

Or, it could simply be that they have a better ability to grasp the ‘big picture’ than I ever gave them credit for.

In any event, they haven’t mentioned it since.

Almost as if they were given some sort of cosmic follow-up exam, one of the guests we invited for tea & cake today arrived carrying an M-16 assault rifle. Both of my parents did a quick double-take, but acted as though it were the most natural thing in the world. After we had seen our guests out, my mom asked quietly, “Can I ask, why your friend was carrying a machine gun?”. I explained that he was part of our town’s anti-terror response unit (every community has one) and he is required to carry it while on call. Once again, information that I figured would trip my parent’s circuit breakers was absorbed and accepted in a very matter-of-fact manner.

Mark Twain once said:

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned."

Perhaps my parents had learned a thing or two since I had grown up (or more correctly, perhaps I should finally have realized that they have been pretty sharp all along).

Five follow-up facts for the curious:

1. While I had plenty of firearms training when I was in the Navy, I don’t enjoy either the idea or the current reality of carrying a gun. I never imagined it would be glamorous or empowering…and it is neither.

2. Guns are not art. While there is an entire genre of magazines devoted to the detailed, shiny, intricate results of the gunsmith’s ‘art’, the real issue that seems to escape all of them is that guns have one purpose – to kill. I think there would be a few less deaths in the world if more people stopped ignoring that little fact. I chose the ugliest, simplest, ‘safest’ gun currently available (a Glock) in a caliber large enough to be lethal (9mm), but less likely to pass through walls and kill bystanders (e.g. my kids).

3. I don’t trust my kids (or their friends). I love them dearly and would stand in traffic for them, but I know that kids explore. The ‘talk’ that I told my parents about mainly reinforced the fact that the kids were never to touch a gun, period. That said, I know that kids don’t listen. By the time I was 8 I knew the contents of every drawer and closet in my house…especially those belonging to my parents. I wasn’t a bad kid, and my kids aren’t bad…which is why I will never put them in a position to make the potentially fatal decision to play with a gun or not. My gun is on my person…or it is in the safe, period.

4. In the states, getting a gun license means taking a safety course (once) and based upon that fleeting exposure to common sense, one can renew a gun license indefinately for the rest of one’s natural life. You can maintain a gun license longer than a Florida driver's license! In Israel, one has to undergo an extensive background check, and then every year, in order to renew the license you have to again attend a safety class and then prove to an examiner that you can still hit a target 50 TIMES IN A ROW!

5. Between private gun ownership and active & reserve army duty, nearly every Israeli household contains at least one gun. Despite this, Israel has one of the world’s lowest rates of gun-related violence (including accidents). No road rage incidents ending in gunplay…no marital disputes ending with a bang…it just doesn’t exist here! I would like to think that constantly being faced with the specter of death has had the result of reinforcing the sanctity of life.

Posted by David Bogner on April 18, 2004 | Permalink

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Shalom David! I found you via the Ha'aretz article on 'Anglo' bloggers.

I'm sure that if you were still in the States and had a gun, your parents would have had a real fit! But here they understand the situation and - reluctantly - accept it as a fact of life here - unfortunately.

Posted by: Chaya Eitan | Apr 18, 2004 9:43:53 PM

Dave,
I was shocked upon reading this entry the first time. But when re-reading it, found it interesting, responsible sounding and in general, just an informational piece about your life over there.

Am I crazy about you having a gun in general? NO. But in some ways, I feel better knowing that you have one with you on your commute to and from work.

I pray you never have to use it.

Posted by: Val | Apr 19, 2004 2:57:09 AM

Amen!

Posted by: David | Apr 19, 2004 12:58:08 PM

I think the original author of that line was Winston Churchill. I could be wrong though.

Posted by: ExpatEgghead | Apr 21, 2004 4:45:52 PM

I never cease to be amazed at the things I learn from you. This is like the textbook for our trip to the shooting range some time ago.

Posted by: Jordan | Apr 22, 2004 7:50:22 AM

The truth doesn't change...it just sometimes becomes more obvious.

I miss our 'road gigs' together.

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