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November 16, 2003

Outing Myself

So, when and why did I come out of the closet?

That got your attention, didn't it? Beth probably just spewed coffee/margarita all over the screen and keyboard depending on when she reads this.

Not that closet. The one a coupla doors down. The I am a gun owner. I mean GUN OWNER. Lots of guns and other fiddly bits and I live next door to you.” closet.

What follows in not a criticism of you who stay in the closet. If you live in high crime areas, or a community with rabid anti-gun politicos and law enforcement, let prudence be your guide. My situation allows me to come out in a safe environment.

For years, I would get a new gun, clean it, research it, repair/preserve as needed, and into the closet it went, except when I would drag it out for an afternoon of shooting, or to show a friend. When I got the job as the military history instructor at the Field Artillery School, I started taking items from the collection into class. (This was a GOOD THING – it also meant that they no longer counted against my weight allowance when moving… whee!) For convenience sake, in an interior hall of the house I put up two four-gun racks and hung up 8 rifles. The rest stayed in the closet. No, I’ve never had a safe. My sister came to visit, with her three small children, as an overnight on their way to New Mexico to visit some friends. Oddly, she’s never been back.

Then I met Beth. She bought me guns. And she was tired of not having anyplace to hang her clothes, so she made me put them up on walls in the basement. She said she wouldn’t be as supportive of my hobby if all it did was cost her closet space. So, since the basement is reasonably secure, and had the space I did it. And I liked it. And I saw that it was good.

Then some other things happened. I had a conversation with my sister over Christmas one year. I asked her flat out if one reason she never came to visit again was because of the guns. She was surprised at the question, but her answer surprised me even more. She said no, they didn’t come by because I tended to live in inconvenient places that it was tough dragging three young kids to. But the next bit is what caused me to reach for the handle of the closet door. She told me that one of the things that had caused her to rethink her position on gun ownership was me. That it was possible for someone to be completely, thoroughly, obsessively into guns and not be a dangerous flake. Those of you who know me, resist the temptation, okay? Oh, all right, I’ll wait until you quit rotflyao.

Done? Good.

So, after a while along come the picture-hosting sites. And I see a venue where I can share out pics of my collection with fellow collectors without causing our modems to explode. Then, as the people I work with every day would ask questions about the collection, I would point them to the URL for the photos and let ‘em take a look.

And then I started getting comments along the order of – “Wow. That’s cool. You’re really serious about this and you’re not one of those kooks who sits in your basement bunker with a dozen AR-15’s and cases of ammo waiting for the black helicopters to come.”

Nope. I usually don’t hang out in the basement. And the helicopters would probably be green. I do have a few cases of ammo though. Oddly, I don’t own any M16 clones. The only clone I own is a Chinese M-14S. Nice rifle, but Springfield Arsenal’s M1As are better. And before you send me a warning - my receiver is properly hardened and heat treated.

Back to the story. A guy I work with who was also in my Rotary Club asked me to be the guest speaker (each meeting has one, and each member is periodically responsible for sponsoring one) – and to present the collection. Oh boy. Dilemma city. Openly reveal myself. Come out of the closet to some of the movers and shakers in my community – including the Police Chief, and a District Judge, lots of clergy, a few academics. The whole dangerous gamut of Probably Liberal People.

Well, everything I have is legal. Everything I do is legal. And, it seems like the more people I let really into the depths, the more people change or at least soften their opinions. I’m not making converts of rabid anti-gunners, but I’m making it harder for them to convert and/or hold on to ditherers.

So, I said yes. I gave the presentation. When I started, lemme tell ya, there were gasps and lots of whispered “Is that legal?” The police chief finally said, in a loud sotto voce comment – “Yep, it all looks legal to me.” The judge started asking questions about some of the older stuff.

I explained the laws and the rules; I showed how I complied with them. I talked about which ones I disagreed with – but still adhered to. And I mentioned that there were probably people next door to them who also had something like this in their basement. Maybe not this big (there are at least two others in town who are as big, though), but more than one or two shootin’ irons hanging around. And that you could go a half-mile, across the Missouri River, and there full-auto was legal.

And then others started falling out of their closets. And the few smug anti-gunners suddenly came to realize that there were a lot more gun owners in the club than they had any concept of. Fine, upright pillars of the community. One with a collection not quite as large as mine – but a much better US component than I have. And he was the Director of the local Water Department.

And the guys from the history faculty at the Command and General Staff College suddenly realized there was a heck of a resource to tap into. And the local public library began having window displays with military themes filled with artifacts. No guns yet – but they really aren’t secure enough to do that with, otherwise they would. The clergy found items they could use to connect to the military families in their flocks. Even alcoholics could identify with the collection!

My collection appears at local historical events. It’s been used to populate faux trenches at ANZAC Day activities sponsored by the local Aussie and Kiwi contingent at the Fort. As a point of courtesy, the local Turkish officers are invited as well, and they appreciate my Gallipoli era Turkish rifles, which mount modified bayonets made from captured British bayonets… in a subtle dig at the Brit leadership (including Churchill) who planned the Dardanelles campaign.

I really think I have made a difference by being out in the public, calmly talking about gun ownership, both from my historical collector perspective and from a “It’s just your RIGHT” perspective, without getting hysterical, without being polemic. Just being “normal”.

Okay, I’ll wait until you pick yourselves up off the floor again. This is tedious, watching you guys laugh so hard you blow your intestines out your nose.

Yes, I’ve had to invest in some security, and I don’t make a point to invite lots of people over to root in the basement (but fell free to ask if you’re in the area – unlike most museums, this one is interactive, you can touch the guns!). And yes, there is a risk on the criminal side of things – though smart burglars won’t touch this stuff and stupid burglars, well, they’re probably going to get caught in the act. Cutting my telephone and cable won’t stop the alarm from going out.

But – I’ve made people think, and in some cases, change their minds. And for at least two – well, they show up for our themed shoots.

So, while it’s nothing like coming out as a gay person or anything like that – I do have some empathy for those people who do have to think through moving from what sociologists call primary deviancy (you deviate from a perceived norm but keep it to yourself) to secondary deviancy (you come out of the closet, either by exposure or voluntarily) to tertiary deviancy – where you embrace it.

I embrace it. And I’m not ashamed of it. And that (along with Beth’s encouraging me to do it) is one of the main reasons this site exists. That and I like to have a place I can rant about Moonbats!

And chill with my buds.

Now comment you lazy bassids!