A DYING CHILDCheryl and Michael Haggard cradle their son, Maddux,…
I would say a few words, gentle reader, about two recent passions in my life: guns and yoga.
Maybe it is just that I am a Gemini, that I would have hobbies so seemingly dissimilar (even antithetical). Yoga and guns? Are you crazy?
I enjoy them both. But I have highly nuanced feelings and thoughts about the firearms and yoga communities. Part of me is highly attracted, another part is strongly repulsed. There are the guns as tools and the practice of yoga — the specifics and the engineering. Then there is the larger psychology and sociology surrounding the followers and the culture of yoga and firearms. I like the former, not so much the latter.
Let me explain.
First I will speak about guns. My first lessons in shooting a gun were given to me by my father with an ancient Belgian .22 short rifle. This gun belonged to my grandfather and dates back to the 19th century, and he taught my father to shoot with it and later my father taught me. Interestingly, my dad taught my brother and I to shoot, but he did not teach my sister. My first memories of firearms were that I found shooting a rifle to be fun — but difficult to hit anything. I found cleaning the gun afterwards tedious and not fun at all.
But my interest in guns soon outgrew what my father could or would give me, and I struggled to get more access to shooting as a teenager. My grandfather had a number of guns that he would not let me shoot or inherit, even though they were just sitting there year after year. I remember asking him in his dotage if I could shoot one of his guns. My grandfather answered, “I am afraid you would blow your head off!” I was stymied.
So of course this just made me want one more. Finally, when I was old enough to legally buy a gun I did so. After saving all summer long I bought an AK-47 and a Ruger 10/22 rifle. I only took them shooting a handful of times, and then I sold both guns. It was not as much fun as I thought, and shooting is more expensive than most people know. As a 19-year old college student, I could not really afford to go shooting.
Years later while living in a crime-plagued area of Los Angeles, I bought a shotgun for home defense after my apartment was burglarized. Hearing gunshots from the gang members outside, owning a shotgun seemed eminently reasonable. The shotgun was always under my bed, loaded. If I had ever used it, that shotgun would be to defend myself in hearth and home. I had birdshot loaded in it, so that any pellets fired would (hopefully) not travel through walls and strike neighbors.
But then I moved away from Los Angeles and the shotgun traveled with me. I had not fired it in over a decade, and there was almost no crime where I lived in Ventura, California. Why was it still under my bed? I finally sold the shotgun. I did not miss it at all.
And I spent the better part of the next fifteen years teaching, getting married, and starting a family. I was busy. Too busy for much of anything except grading papers and changing diapers. Guns and shooting were in my past, not my present.
And then around when I turned fifty that began to change. The old cinders that had sparked into flame my interest in firearms began to re-kindle. I thought about how I had learned to shoot with that family heirloom .22 rifle, and how I wanted to teach my daughters to shoot with it, too. I did not care much if they took or not to shooting, but I wanted them to know the basics of gun safety. I wanted them to know in their bones that you never point a firearm (or even a toy gun) at anything you are not willing to shoot, always assume a gun is loaded until you see otherwise, and never forget what is in front of and beyond your target. This is basic gun safety. I think every American who has seen persons act the fool with guns in movies (ie. waving them around like a director’s baton, etc.) should take a corrective basic gun safety class. Guns in real life are not like guns in movies, but most Americans think they know a lot about guns from having seen them so much in mass media. So I will teach the basics of gun safety to my daughters and they will know these rules, because I will make it so. Julia and Elizabeth will be fifty years of age far in the future but they will still remember their basic gun safety; whenever they might come across a gun, those rules I drummed into their heads will come immediately to mind. They might even hear them with my voice. That is my hope, at least.
Since I have children now in my house and I would hardly leave a loaded shotgun under my bed like in earlier days. My wife has no experience with guns and they scare her. So first of all, I got a sturdy gun safe that would keep curious little hands (and burglars) away from my guns and ammunition. I told my wife if there were ever any issue of gun safety or accidents, I would get rid of any firearms from the house. And when I asked him my father still seemed hesitant to give me that old Belgian .22 rifle; I felt like I was a teenager again stymied in my desire to get my hands on the gun I wanted. But I was an adult now. So I exercised my 2nd Amendment rights and went and bought a .22 for myself. Wow! That felt nice. Being an adult does have its privileges, along with its responsibilities.
I am not an expert shot, nor ever will be. I am unwilling to spend the money on ammo and range time. I have other competing demands on my time and wallet. But I am an annual member at a local range which gives me six free days shooting per year. That should ensure that I shoot semi-regularly. Like anything else, good marksmanship requires practice. I enjoy cleaning the guns after use. I like researching how I can modify and tweak them. I have a Browning Buck Mark .22 pistol for the inexpensive ammo and cheap plinking, and to focus on the fundamentals of sight alignment and trigger control. I also have a Springfield XDM 9mm handgun with a laser sight for anything home-defense, although I am about 99.9% sure I will be shooting nothing but paper targets with it. I hope in the future to get more into scopes and long-range rifles. I want to experiment with red dot optics. All in good time. I have all the ear and eye protection. I have the gun bores and cleaning solvents and oils. Six times per year, at least. Pay for some more advanced training every now and again. Additional training is almost always a good use of money.
But I have real difficulties with the gun culture. Every time I go to a gun store or visit a firearms website, I get a good whiff of gun culture. It is t-shirts with pro-2nd Amendment sayings and naked appeals to join and give money to the National Rifle Association. Online stores allow you to add a contribution to the NRA to your purchase, and I have been in stores continuously blasting videos produced by the NRA on flat screen TVs along the walls. I guess they assume that every gun owner is a rock solid supporter of the NRA. That is a big assumption. With me it is entirely incorrect.
Maybe it is the byproduct of a California political culture that seems currently to be so hostile to firearms: gun owners feel besieged and seek to organize and fight for their rights, as they see them. I partially sympathize. The State of California, as I see it, has plenty of laws and regulations that annoy gun owners without adding much to the public security. It is almost as if the California politicians realize they cannot ban gun ownership, which is what they would like to do, so they will make it so annoying and so difficult that hopefully gun owners will give up their guns in frustration. Harry and wear them down with red tape, regulation, and taxes. If you can’t ban guns, then make it more difficult and costly to get ammunition under California State law. This does little to make people safer, as far as I can tell, but makes it much more expensive and inconvenient to shoot guns. It is really an indirect attempt to get rid of guns in California.
On the other hand, I do support many California gun laws. If you have thought about it long and hard, and you decided you want to own a gun, you can surely endure the 10-day waiting period before getting it. If you fear for your personal safety NOW or TODAY or TOMORROW, then you should call the police. Otherwise, you can wait ten days. I also think that a thorough background check of a potential gun owners during those ten days is a great idea. Make sure convicted felons, violent misdemeanants, spouses with restraining orders against them, and the mentally ill cannot get a gun. Finally, I support the ban on assault rifle sales in California. There is no reasonable need for these rifles in civilian hands (until the Zombie apocalypse arrives or North Korea invades, at least). I guess that would make me a moderate in California, when it comes to gun rights: I want my 2nd Amendment gun rights to be respected, but I also want to be a responsible gun owner and follow reasonable laws. In Arizona or Utah it would make me a flaming liberal.
Perhaps it is the polarized nature of our President Trump-era that there is so little space for the political middle. California liberals would love to ban guns for (almost) everyone. After someone commits some horrible crime with a gun, progressives emotionally call for more and more gun control without really having thought through how it would help. “Someone do something! More laws! Make the gun violence stop!” But I have not seen most gun control legislation do much to control crime from the gang and drug underworld, where so much of it comes from. Ironically, the areas in America (Chicago, Washington D.C.) which have sought to adopt the strictest gun control laws seem to have the most gun crime. It is hard for many American liberals to claim that they would like to balance the needs for public security to be reconciled with law-abiding citizens’ 2nd Amendment rights: they don’t care about my ability to shoot paper targets with guns I keep safely in a strong steel safe. There is no nuance: their dream is to take every gun in the United States and smelt them down into a big ball of metal. California politicians like Gavin Newsom, if they could, would take my guns away from me.
It would make perfect sense for me, in this context, to join the NRA.
But here lies the problem. I have one buddy who is a hardcore NRA supporter and always tells me “It is the Bill of Rights, not the Bill of ‘Needs’!” when I talk about another gun I might “need” or want. But gun rights, like free speech or search and seizure rights, are not absolute. They are subject to regulation, especially at the extremes. The Supreme Court has long held that sawed off shotguns and machine guns can be held to be illegal (United States v. Miller 1939). Why does the average citizen need one of those? I have no trouble banning concealed handguns; I don’t want to eat my lunch at a restaurant with a guy carrying a concealed-pistol on his hip in the next booth. Reasonable regulation. But then Washington D.C. or Chicago wants to ban everyone from owning a handgun and keeping it in their house for protection (District of Columbia v. Heller 2008)? That goes too far. Where is the political middle?
Gun control is like abortion in that it tends to bring out the crazies who insist on their absolute political rights. Many NRA supporters claim that any gun law or regulation is an infringement on their absolute right to own a gun, any gun. Militant abortion supporters claim that as long as an unborn baby is inside a woman nobody else has any say at all about what happens to it. Should the average citizen be able to own an AR-15? “YES!” (I say, “no.”) Should a woman with a healthy baby be able to abort her pregnancy late in the second or even in the third trimester? “YES!” (I say, “no.”)
And then there is the social milieu in gun stores, gun shows, and gun media. It is almost entirely NRA members, Trump supporters, and the white-working class, in my experience. I am generalizing, of course, and you will find plenty of exceptions (like me) but this is what I have seen. I go to a gun show or gun store and I just don’t fit in. It is as if everyone assembled is an ex-Marine Corps lance corporal. Where is the gun culture for the officers and persons with more education? I have not found it. American gun culture I have found to be typified by persons without college degrees wearing “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” baseball caps. Not my scene. I once told the following to a buddy upon entering a gun range full of the usual customers: “Don’t tell anyone here I voted for Hillary Clinton!” They might shoot dirty looks at me, or worse.
And in the more extreme elements of gun culture, you will find the far right ranchers and militias who almost want a fight with authorities. It is Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge and Cliven Bundy and his armed band, or the David Koresh-types; the NRA can attract this, and I want nothing to do with them. They are almost eager to get into a gun fight with the government. It is NRA Chairman Charlton Heston saying, “You will take my gun out of my cold, dead hands!” They want the guns so they can shoot at law enforcement, given the least provocation. They have a chip on their shoulder. The NRA likes to claim it represents millions of average Americans who happen to own guns, persons like me. Too often, in my opinion, they move out into gun-nut land — to the extremists. The hotheaded rhetoric of the NRA, in my opinion, makes things worse, not better. Don’t believe me? Check out this recent NRA video.
No thank you. Not for me.
Here is a nasty little secret the NRA does not want you to know: there are PLENTY of gun owners in the United States like me who support sensible gun control measures when they will actually result in greater public safety and still respect the 2nd Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans at the same time.
So I guess this brings me to the point of this essay: I will TAKE THE BEST I can find in guns and gun culture, and LEAVE THE REST.
It is the same with yoga.
It would be hard to find a more opposite culture from American gun culture than American yoga culture. If guns is rural America and Trump supporters with high school diplomas, yoga is urban America with money and education. It is affluent white women in Manhattan or San Francisco or Santa Monica with their yoga pants and yoga mat before they visit their favorite vegetarian restaurant with friends.
But I like yoga.
It was not always this way. My mother loved yoga and insisted that I take a class once when I was seventeen. I fell asleep right there on the mat halfway through. I found yoga slow and boring. But this said more about me at that age than it did about yoga. All the time my mother was alive and practicing yoga I felt not the slightest urge to join her. Not my thing.
But now it is.
Because I have matured and aged.
It reminds me of Ezra Pound’s poem to Walt Whitman, “A Pact”:
I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman –
I have detested you long enough.
I come to you as a grown child
Who has had a pig-headed father;
I am old enough now to make friends.
It was you that broke the new wood,
Now is a time for carving.
We have one sap and one root –
Let there be commerce between us.
At fifty years of age my body needs the motions of yoga to limber up and help my spine and hips twist. At fifty years of age the importance of attending to one’s breath, and the controlling the autonomic nervous system in responding to stress, is more important than ever. To feel centered, to listen to the body as it attempts to move in a full range of motion. To gain peace of mind in body and spirit. I get it now.
At times my fifty year old muscles are so tense and overworked from tennis that I am just one small movement away from painful full muscle cramping. Yoga is the tonic to my aging body and to the muscles and joints that need to be stretched and repaired. Yoga helps my body retain proper posture and to allow my head to sit straight up on top of my neck. Yoga helps to open up my hips and to twist my spine the way it did more easily when I was younger.
At fifty years of age I can see that my over-stressed joints and muscles need yoga like the desert needs water. Sometimes after a hard match of tennis my upper back will start to spasm and cramp up while I am driving away from the court in my car; yoga is the cure for those hypertonic muscles. I feel so much better afterwards.
It is that simple.
I try and make time for yoga everyday. If I feel especially sore and tight, I will try and do multiple sessions that day.
But there is yoga.
And then there is the yoga culture. Not my thing.
Why do gun stores alienate potential customers when they blare NRA advertisements on TVs inside the store? Don’t they realize some of their customers — gun owners — might dislike the NRA and not want to patronize the store as a result? They lose business. A store is a place of business, not a political advocacy center.
Similarly, why can’t yoga have room for those who are overweight and male? Who like to drink whisky and eat bloody steaks? Those who could care less about Hinduism? Those who don’t care if their yoga blocks and mats are not 100% biodegradable and eco-friendly? Even yoga for those who voted for Donald Trump?!?
I guess it is as simple as “birds of a feather flock together.” But it presents me, a bona fide Gemini, with difficulties.
So I have decided to try to follow this dictum: TAKE THE BEST, AND FORGET THE REST.
I will enjoy my guns and my yoga. I will attempt to remain unperturbed by “the rest,” and to allow it to roll like water off a duck’s back.
We shall see how it goes.
Wish me luck, esteemed reader.