Gun curious, part one

(Bangor Daily News photo by Troy R. Bennett)

A cell phone composite picture of my 69-year-old Mosin-Nagant rifle on the work bench in my cellar. (Bangor Daily News photo by Troy R. Bennett)

I’m a gun agnostic. I’m not sure what I believe, mostly because I don’t know much about guns. The only way to figure out what I think, is to find out what I don’t know.

I guess that makes me “gun curious.”

On one hand, I’m against killing as a general principal. Since guns are designed to (let’s be honest here) kill things, I guess I’m not a fan. I don’t believe violence ever solved anything. Might does not make right and war doesn’t decide who is right, only who is left.

On the other hand, it seems only fair that someone should have the right to defend themselves, their house and family. An efficient way to do that is with a gun. I like the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, especially that stuff about freedom of expression, assembly and the press. I don’t think it’s fair to pick and choose, so I have to accept the “keep and bear arms” part, too.

I know a lot of people in Maine hunt with their guns. Some don’t. Some just like guns for what they are: powerful, well designed and seductive.

But, every so often, here in the land of freedom of the press and freedom of the gun, somebody shoots up a movie theatre, their high school or a fast food joint leaving dozens dead. They never do it with a knife. They always use a gun, or two or three.

I can hear some of my gun-owning friends saying, “Yeah, but way more people die in car crashes every year than in gun crimes, why don’t we ban cars? Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Gun laws just keep the guns from honest people.”

Despite the shrill tone of a lot of these arguments,  they’re all basically true.

Another factor in my personal quest for gun knowledge is the fact that I’m a 40-year-old man who grew up in the countryside of Maine and I don’t know how to handle a rifle. I’m simply embarrassed. I feel like I should know. My father knows. My big brother knows. My nephew knows, too. I’m sure my father would have taught me if I’d asked, but I never did.

I hesitate to share this next bit, but it’s important to this story.

A few years back, I had a friend who was struggling with his mental and physical health. He ended up in the hospital for a few weeks. When he got out, my wife and I helped him settle back into his place. He’d been living like a hermit and not taking care of himself or his house. It was a mess, featuring garbage and moldy food everywhere. He’d ended up living in one corner of his living room, in an easy chair as shut-ins sometimes do.

We worked to clean up the joint while he rested in the other room, nursing an injured back. While vacuuming under his chair cushions I found a loaded .38 revolver. He was still talking about suicide off and on. I wanted to take the bullets out, but I didn’t have the slightest idea how to do it. I didn’t want to confront him or cause a scene. So, I did something dumb out of love for my friend: I put the pistol in my pocket and walked outside to my truck.

In my truck, I slipped it into an empty paper bag from a sandwich shop and put it under the seat. Later, I took it home and Googled instructions for unloading it.

Yes, I think I committed more than one felony that day. But it’s all I could think to do.

A few weeks went by, and he noticed it was missing. He asked if I’d seen it. I told him I had it. I told him I didn’t think he should have it in his house. He said he had other guns and if he was going to kill himself, me having the .38 wasn’t going to stop him.

He came over and I gave it to him. The bullets were in a clear plastic sandwich bag.

I’m happy to say he’s still alive, though his demons continue to haunt him. But that’s another story.

The point I’m trying to make is, I wish I knew more. I would have had more options that day if I’d  had more knowledge.

So, I’m going to find out more about guns and I’m going to write about it. Maybe someone out there is in the same boat as me. Maybe they grew up here but missed the gun lessons from their old man. Maybe guns scare them and knowing more will be the key to conquering the fear.

To start my trip to firearms-ville, I bought a 69-year-old surplus Russian army rifle called a Mosin-Nagant.

More on that in Part Two.


Troy R. Bennett

About Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.