Although I was raised in gun-totin' Texas, I was never much of a hunter. I suspect that the instinct to kill and eat one's own food is passed down patrilineally. And even though my father was a farm boy and a committed carnivore, he had a soft spot in his heart for animals. He had no interest in shooting anything. Our bonding took place on long car trips and at the movies, rather than in the woods with guns.
Nevertheless, the instinct to shoot and kill runs deep. As a young boy, I begged for a BB gun. My parents didn't like the idea, but eventually they relented. I was hell on tin cans and cardboard, but one day I took a (probably illegal) shot at a perching bird in the woods.
He flew away, but not without leaving a few feathers fluttering to the ground behind him. I never shot at another bird.
Until I was 12, that is, when my uncle took me dove hunting. We sat on the shore of an East Texas stock tank while he shot capably throughout the afternoon with a borrowed .410. I retrieved the birds. Finally, at dusk, he let me take a shot. One shot, one dove, 60 yards away. I was a hero. Cool.
Then, many years later, a deer-hunting friend lured me along on an expedition, and another friend loaned me a rifle. Again, one long, clean shot, one fine young buck. He was delicious.
And that's just about it for my hunting career. Hunting's appeal is not entirely beyond my comprehension, and who am I to gainsay another man's passion?
Still, it's a bit of an eye-opener to peruse the Natchez Shooters Supplies 2012 Master Catalog, a dense, small-print, illustrated document of more than 600 pages full of accessories related to shooting.
The first thing you notice is that deer and varmints are losing the technology battle. Game calls, for example, have gone electronic. Instead of blowing through old-fashioned rubber or wooden tubes to call game -- ingenious devices with quaint names like Raspy Coaxer, Fawn Bleat or (my favorite) Female Whimper -- for $600 the modern hunter can purchase the Gallows or the Executioner, both with 4 gigabytes of internal memory and up to a hundred preloaded game-calling sounds, which he can control with a remote from the comfort of his deer blind.
The Natchez catalog is a shooter's fantasyland. It sells everything, for hunting, for self-protection and, really, for war: camouflage, ammo, crossbows, dummy grenades, knives, targets (varmints, human and zombie), reloading equipment, a "3-Day Assault Pack," the Rhodesian Reconnaissance Vest and, for $2,500, a safe that will store up to 66 guns.
Natchez doesn't sell assault weapons, but it provides all of the accessories for the AK-47 and the AR-15, including butt stocks, scopes, pistol grips and high-capacity magazines. The 30-round magazine "offers the next generation of technology to feed your Kalashnikov."
The language throughout the catalog is military and the theme is destruction. The names of the high-tech crossbows are characteristic: Raider, Invader, Warrior, Predator, Penetrator, Vengeance, Fury, Bone Collector.
What's going on here?
Keeping a weapon for self-protection isn't unreasonable. And if you can't resist shooting animals in the woods, be my guest.
But 66 guns in a safe isn't a collection, it's an armory.
And if you require 30 rounds to bring down a deer or a home invader, you don't need a bigger magazine, you need more trips to the shooting range.
Nothing feels as powerful as a gun in your hand. Unfortunately, America's infatuation with guns is connected to something much deeper and darker -- power, paranoia, fear, aggression -- than whatever pleasures are found in hunting or the need to protect oneself. And that's what interferes with any attempt at a rational conversation about how to keep the destruction under control.
(John Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.)