Guns.

I know perfectly sane people that own guns. Lots of them. They are our fathers, my friends, my customers, and people just like me.

Except, they own guns. No other single factor about these people in any way, other than the fact that they own a handgun makes them any different from me.

But they feel different to me in some way. I do not love them less, or respect them less, but they feel different now, and I don’t know why.

Several times over the last month or so, I have had random conversations about, and one unexpected exposure to, handguns. More specifically, I have had conversations about owning guns and carrying them. But I have to rewind…

This story starts in back in January, at a client’s office in a rough neighborhood. I’m sitting at a table in a small conference room with a client, talking about software for his business.

The wiry, smaller man reaches into his waistband and drops a small automatic pistol on the conference table in front of me. “Check this out” he states, matter of fact like. I am being watched, very carefully, for my response. I also know immediately and instinctively not to reach for it, without question. I can see this clearly in his eyes.

“wow” … is all I can muster. This is a Twilight Zone like moment for me, one I have not experienced before, and my brain is trying desperately to right itself. I have never had a gun pulled on me in a meeting before.

“this is a rough neighborhood… huh?” is all I can blurt out as I try to save myself. Poorly.

“Nah, I always have one on me, anyways. I have a carry-all permit, Check out the other one on my leg.” Two guns now.

“really?” Again, meekly, I mutter. I am surprised again, and I am now mad at myself. I didn’t notice his earlier cue to show all of our weapons, and he takes this as an immediate weakness, and moves his chair a bit closer to me, sensing that I am perhaps uncomfortable, with the guns in the room, and on the table so to speak.

“Guns sure make a conversation go in a different direction sometimes.” he simply states, and pops the little handgun back into it’s secret holster and the guns are all gone.

This is surreal. I am a computer consultant, not a cop, or a army captain. Most of us are not armed at work. I am definitely not. He finishes mumbling that the software is great, and thanks me. He walks out of the room, and I find a reason to leave, quickly.

Somehow I now find myself talking to people that I know about guns, and asking them why they have them.

My pal Joey is a hunter, who I am certain is armed and dangerous most the time. He is also a grade A Mac nerd, who would build you a server for free if you had good pizza, and some jokes to tell him all night. He would also write the first and biggest check if you asked him to attend a fund raiser. He’s a solid guy, but I have never SEEN Joe’s guns. I know about them, and I don’t care. It’s his life, not mine. He stays within the boundaries.

Guns carry the same rules as sex for me. I don’t care what YOU do in your home, just don’t feel compelled to tell me, or worse yet, show me. Fair? Cool.

I have even learned some suburbanites keep machine guns in their homes. In the suburbs? Really? One very normal seeming soccer dad told me that he had an AK-47 at home at one time, and sold it because of the kids. He only keeps two handguns, now. He’s a gentle, nice guy, one that I have seen with his kids at youth sporting events for years.

He’s a landlord, and he carries large amounts of cash in a somewhat sketchy neighborhood, and that’s why he has them. That makes sense. I get it. The machine gun seems a bit over the top though, maybe? I hope whoever he sold it to doesn’t have any kids in the house.

40% of U.S. homes have a handgun in them. A lot of very nice, very normal people have guns. A lot of very crazy, hungry, addicted, or maybe not so normal people therefore, very logically, also have guns. They worry me more. But even unarmed, many of them worry me.

I don’t hunt. Hunting doesn’t offend me, it just doesn’t interest me. Like wrestling, it’s a little too manly, and there is way too high a likelihood that I could wind up with blood, sweat, or other questionable bodily fluids on me at any given moment. I just don’t like it. If it’s for you, no problem. Really.

I have a very healthy fear of guns, and generally would prefer not to have a gun in the house though. Here’s my biggest reason – my dad. He was a lifetime soldier and cop, and saw lots of gun victims and bloody collateral over his career.

My father hated guns. Simply hated them. He never saw a good outcome from a gun, ever. As a cop he once said that you never got a gun call from the guy who stopped a rapist or a robber, it was always a boy that had shot his 8 year old sister, or a spousal dispute, or drugged out kids in a poor neighborhood proving their manhood.

Handguns killed people, he said. My dad was a staunch catholic, a Jesuit brother for a brief time, and he was conflicted for sure.

Before the police department, Bill was in the United States Secret Service, and before that the army. He was a sharpshooter in the army, with medals we found later to prove it. A crack shot with a pistol, and his Jesuit schooling, landed this three sport star athlete from South Buffalo a job on Kennedy’s presidential detail. He quit though, soon after, citing the demands of travel and the desire to have a family as reasons.

So, family made my dad a beat cop, but I think a big part of it was the guns. He had seen what they did to people over and over again, and there was never a good outcome. People died. As a catholic, he could not reconcile the two. His faith beat out his sense of duty in a battle for his soul. He just liked people too much. So he went to night school, got degrees in History and Philosophy, and took a second job teaching in the Buffalo Schools part time.
William Kirsch once protected John Kennedy. He ended up a traffic cop, changing lights, writing traffic tickets, and directing people into all of the Buffalo Sabres games at Memorial Auditorium. He had taken jobs farther and farther from the front lines over his career, because he wanted to be a giver, not a taker.

Note to my Dad- thank you for sneaking me in to all those Sabres games and concerts at the old Aud, and for buying me popcorn, every time.

…………………………………………..

A very small, perfectly appointed, 80ish year old woman introduced herself to me at my dad’s wake, after most of the large crowd had left into the summer evening.

“Your dad walked me to my car on many cold nights. He was a wonderful man.”

My dad got out of work at 4 p.m. and she at 4:30, well after dark for many months during winters in Buffalo. When it was really snowing, blowing, or otherwise inclement, he would simply show up in his street clothes unasked, and walk her to her car before walking back to his car and driving home, to make sure she got on her way safely. He never told any of us at home that he did this, we just figured it took longer to get home in the snow.

He told her that he figured it was his duty, but he was not asking for overtime to do it. So he just did it, because it was the right thing to do in his eyes. Always the true giver.

Handguns take lives. That is the only reason I don’t want one. They scare me. My dad told me I should be afraid of handguns, and I am. I hope my children are too.

My father was a really, really, smart guy. He understood, and ultimately won, the giving versus taking battle of life. In the end, that victory defined him.

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