Growing up with Guns

I grew up with guns. Two of them: a 12-bore shotgun and a .25 automatic. I do not remember the make of the former but the latter, I’m pretty sure, was a Browning (a ‘Baby’; again, if I remember correctly). They belonged to my father (and thus, our family): he had purchased them overseas after getting the necessary clearances and applying for a gun ownership license, and then brought them back home. I do not remember how old I was when I first saw them, but they fitted rather seamlessly into our household. We were, after all, surrounded by weaponry of other kinds. Most prominently, large, loud, fighter jets that carried bombs, rockets, missiles and guns; we lived on an air force bases, and these reminders were never too far away. Our living room sported 20-mm and 30-mm cannon shells, remnants from gunnery exercises that my father had participated in. The guns in our household felt like an extension of that visible firepower.

But these weapons were not visible quite the same way. For one thing, my father kept both guns disassembled, with the various parts scattered over the house, well-hidden away from my brother and myself. Once in a while, the pieces were collected, and the guns cleaned and assembled. These occasions also served as a time for my father to check the shotgun cartridges; they came in colorful boxes, with wax paper inside that enclosed the shells. They were all things of beauty; the gleaming metal of the shotgun barrel, the lettering on the red shells, the embossed marks on their back, the polished wood of the butt. Then, the cleaning and checks over, the guns and the ammunition were put away again.

We did use them though. It was pretty clear they were meant for hunting, and not for defending ourselves against intruders or the government. So, I learned how to shoot at an early age. By the age of nine, I could shoot the shotgun, and was a reasonably good shot. I learned how to load, the use of the safety catch, how to handle the inevitable recoil, how to aim,  the safe ‘barrel-down’ carrying of the gun, and so on. (My father made sure to tell me a few stories of careless fools who mishandled their guns and caused grief to themselves and their families.) We did occasional target practice and a little hunting for partridge. One of my fondest memories of my childhood, by far, was spending a week–as a nine-year old–by myself, with my father on an air force base, which like most bases of its time, was partially forested and thus offered ample opportunities for tracking and hunting. We would take out the shotgun, assemble it, get the ammunition ready, and head out in the evening. Those walks through the elephant grass with my father in front, and as the sky darkened, won’t ever be forgotten. Game was easy, and I had the satisfaction of bagging a bird or two.

I do not know where the guns went, and what ever became of them. In my teen years, I lived in a city, and hunting never happened any more. (More to the point, hunting had lost its appeal for me after I saw a deer get shot but not die immediately.) I remember seeing the guns once when I was seventeen, and then a few years later, I left for the US.  After that, on my trips back home, I never inquired about them, and they never came up again in conversation. I still don’t know where they are or what happened to them.  I don’t think I will ever own one myself.

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