Men and Their Guns


I'm involved in the evaluation of a murder case and I wascoming back from jail recently, ruminating about how the murderer shot and killed his victim. This made me think about going shooting myself, so I packed in my 9mm Beretta and headed for the indoor range.

The range I use is part of an ordinary shopping mall and you go in and pay your hourly fee and buy any ammunition you need. They also sell paper targets. Samples of them are mounted above the cashier.

The one that caught my eye was that of a large brute holding a young woman hostage, her body almost completely shielding his. This target tests marksmanship in a way ordinary targets do not, but I was too embarrassed to buy it and opted for a sterile bulls-eye instead. At the outdoor range I frequent in the warmer months, only such non-human targets are allowed. I had briefly belonged to a less proper outdoor range where men tacked up human silhouettes to blast away at. Once, a man came with an automatic rifle and raked the hillside with fire, fully splintering the wooden structure upon which was target was pinned.

At the indoor range, targets are hung on an electrically driven holder and a motor whirls it down a corridor. It's like an alley with lanes, except bullets fly instead of bowling balls.

Next to me, a man calmly fired round after round into the hostage target. Some shots missed the villain and hit the woman. The man's girlfriend calmly pulled down the target and put up another one. She took her turn. In time, the victim was peppered with holes. They laughed, reloaded, shot.

The gun I use scares me and I force myself to practice with it. I learned shooting after another murder case several years ago during which I vowed to learn something of man's base nature, as if guns would put me in touch with this darkness.

And so I palmed pistols and fingered cartridges of various calibers but it did little to help me understand why some men kill those they love too much, while other men love killing. There are men who kill for love, in spite of love, in the midst of love. It confuses me, but then we therapists are quite naive, given to believe in the crisp divisions of id and superego and the clean dimensions of good and evil.

Killing and loving should be sharp polarities. Instead, they are simply parked in the mind's garage alongside hundreds of other passions. Everyone is everything: gracious and savage, benevolent and vicious, noble and infantile. When I read now about school children who carry revolvers, it reinforces my belief that anyone can kill, given a killing device. Sweet children can kill for candy.

My patients are surprised to hear of my interest in weaponry. It is not in keeping with an analytic image, the tie and jacket, textbooks strewn on a couch. After all, the practice seems dignified and serene, and they and I sit by a sunlit window and quietly talk of hopes and dreams, of pleasure and unhappiness, of love. True, an occasional police siren screams down the main road but the thick walls and glass muffle the sound and we ignore it.

Yet all is not what it seems. Our refined chats do not always stay nice, and agendas stray into battlefields. Occasionally, disappointment and dismay slowly slide into despair, and desperation mushrooms into anger, and the anger heaves about and erupts into fury. Within the past year alone, violence burst forth in my furnished suite and with trembling trigger finger, I dialed 911.

Now the siren I heard was the one I had dispatched and I was again reminded of a truth too conveniently discarded: give a sane man a cocked gun and a stiff drink, cuckold him or scrape the paint of his shiny car, call him a name that he himself had already come to fear and hate, and he will respond, as surely as the night erases day, as righteously as soldiers wage war for the fatherland, with the purposefulness of jungle beasts who pounce upon their prey and carry home a carcass to lovingly feed their young.

Dr. Lion practices psychiatry in Baltimore.

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