It carried through to morning breakfast.
“Really, you have guns?” Edgar would say shaking his head.
The incredulous look would reprise during conversational lulls. And given my limited German vocabulary, conversational lulls were regular throughout this visit to a friend’s family farm in rural Germany.
Raversbeuren is eight kilometers up the steep valley of the Mosel River. Ascending through the forest on my bike, I eventually broke through to expansive rolling fields of wheat and hay interspersed with stands of forest. It looked a little bit like the hills just past Dubuque, Iowa, and in the evening light after six hours in the saddle, it felt like home.
I pulled into the farm and was immediately overwhelmed by nostalgia. My friend’s parents reminded me of my own as they griped over the number of broken machines in the barn and the price of milk, and lamented the departure of their children to the city – no one staying to take over the farm.
That night – after going over the basics of who I was, where I was from, how many brothers I have, etc. – we got on the subject of the recent shootings in the US. I relayed the fact that my family owned four guns (three shotguns and a rifle). I tried to properly convey the subtle nuances of people and their relationship with firearms in the US.
But it didn’t really work.
“Wirklich? Vier Gewehre?”
I generally consider myself mostly progressive; more conservative than I may admit, but more liberal than others might want me to be. In other words I am from Wisconsin. I have donated to Russ Feingold’s Progressives United. But I also like to think that there really isn’t anything wrong with the fact that my family owns a few guns.
But then the lulls returned and, “Guns. Phhhttt.”
Growing up we started out with BB guns. I remember the day while marauding around the pit when I shot a chickadee. The bird didn’t die right away, but it beeped, flitting from branch to branch as the spot of red on its white breast slowly grew. I was filled with dread.
I wanted to catch it, remove the BB and nurse it back to health. But with each step I took, it hopped to another branch. A lump gathered in my throat and I headed to the haymow to contemplate what I’d done.
“Why are people so scared there?” Edgar asked.
People seem to fall on two sides of the fence.
- The dorks that say “Potentially, if there had been a law-abiding citizen who had been able to carry in the theater, it’s possible the death toll would have been less.” (or visit the folks at www.gunssavelives.net)
- And the dorks that think all guns should be banned.
And of course there’s a middle ground, which always seems to be the most logical. A little bit of compromise from both sides could go a long way toward making things a bit safer. But fear is stultifying and we end up with more shootings.
In Germany, citizens are allowed to own guns, but laws are fairly strict. Criteria include 18 years of age, the relatively ambiguous trustworthiness, personal adequacy and necessity requirements, and expert knowledge. Along with that convicted felons, people with a mental disorder, or people deemed unreliable (with a drug or alcohol problem or violent or aggressive people) are prohibited from owning guns.
Laws started out relatively strict following World War II, but have been loosened over time while maintaining strict oversight of who owns guns, how they are stored and when they are used. Beyond that, attitudes among the people I have come to know are similar to my farming friends.
“Why do you people even need guns?”
And in parting, I leave you with this.
Props to Peter M. for reminding me of this one.