Like most South Dakotans, I grew up around guns.
Dad had a 12-gauge shotgun he used for hunting pheasants and eliminating potentially dangerous animals who entered our farmyard. He also had a .22 rifle, which we primarily used to shoot gophers who were attacking a cornfield south of our house.
We all knew where they were — behind the door in our parents’ bedroom. We looked at them a time or two, but were warned not to touch them or play with them.
They were tools, needed for specific purposes, not toys for kids. While they were not locked up, they were off-limits to us kids and we respected that.
Dad was a fine shot. He dropped more than a few pheasants over the years, a skill he learned in the 1930s and ‘40s when his mother sent him out to bring home dinner. Dad said he drove around the section in his pickup and shot a bird or two to serve as that night’s meal.
Dad also displayed his keen eye when an unwanted animal, such as a skunk or other critter appeared in our yard. He was always alert to the dangerous rabies, and it just took one shotgun blast to eliminate that threat.
My older brother Vern was a very keen shot. Vern hunted often and effectively, bringing home pheasants for Mom to expertly clean and cook. Frankly, I never cared for the taste or texture of the wild meat.
I hunted several times with friends for a couple years. Unlike Dad and Vern, I was a miserable shot. A friend described my hunting style as very environmentally friendly, always returning lead to the earth.
I did drop one or two pheasants, but I soon realized I enjoyed the walk in the brisk fall air, the exercise and the company of good friends more than the actual shooting. I haven’t fired a gun, except for once or twice while doing a story on hunting, for more than 40 years.
But I have friends who are avid hunters, including my friend of more than half a century, Ray Oines, and I support their right to harvest game for meat, while enjoying the sport and the outdoor exercise.
I also understand people who want to protect themselves by having guns around the house. They feel the need to be armed in case an intruder poses a threat to their family, themselves or their property.
Studies prove they are actually putting themselves and their loved ones at considerable risk by keeping loaded weapons nearby, but there doesn’t seem to be any chance of dissuading most of them. Their guns are a security blanket with a trigger, it seems.
But all that said, I am disgusted by the way the Republican Party, its elected representatives and most of its members have become such slaves to guns. It is one of their primary issues, and they celebrate guns and the culture of death and destruction on a regular basis.
The most recent example was when three of the leading deplorables in Congress, Rep. George Santos (R-NY), Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-FL), and Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA), wore assault rifle pins while serving. The images of these three embracing weapons of mass murder — that’s the only real use for such weapons — quickly spread across the internet.
Duke University Professor of Global Health and Public Policy Gavin Yame was justifiably outraged.
“Absolutely repulsive,” Yamey said on Twitter. “We have mass shootings almost daily, and the Republicans are wearing assault weapon pins FFS.”
It’s not just For F’s Sake — it’s a callously deliberate political gesture. Conservatives are enslaved to the gun industry. The National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America, among other gun nut groups, donate millions to political organizations and politicians.
There are enough members of Congress in very conservative states — like South Dakota, aka “The Mississippi the North” — who won’t even consider a bill on gun control, no matter how reasonable, how modest, how sane.
They love guns, and the campaign money and votes they get from them — much more than the kids slaughtered in our schools, the sad souls who commit suicide every day, and the victims of mindless violence on our streets and in our shops.
Gov. Kristi Noem, Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds and even the deeply milquetoast Rep. Dusty Johnson are quick to pose and preen with guns and express their undying love for them.
Without guns and horses, Noem wouldn’t have much to contribute to the public dialogue. It’s the very essence of what she is.
Thune and Rounds get their pictures taken with guns more than they do with small children. Rounds is holding a shotgun in his statue on the Trail of Governors in Pierre.
Hey, folks, we get the message. Guns, guns and more guns. There are more than 400 million guns in the United States, millions more than the population. As we continue to tolerate the mass murder of our people, including kids, the disparity will only grow.
So why so subtle with the assault weapon pins? Just go ahead and wear pins depicting a blood-soaked classroom filled with the shattered bodies of small children.
There have been at least 50 mass shootings (including the recent Los Angeles area incident above, pictured on ABC News) in our gun-crazed nation so far this year, and February just got underway. Many more will occur, but the politicians so deeply in thrall to the gun lobby and its depraved devotees won’t change. They don’t care, as long as it benefits them and excites their base, a term that aptly describes their followers.
You can tell by the pins they so proudly wear.
Tom Lawrence has written for several newspapers and websites in South Dakota and other states and contributed to The New York Times, NPR, The London Telegraph, The Daily Beast and other media outlets.