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  • I was so young when I got my first real gun that, by the time I turned 21, the fascination was gone. I went out on my own after game no more than once or twice, unsuccessfully, after leaving high school. It was a failure that troubled me not at all. There was always something about watching myself blast the life from an innocent creature that felt like being tugged by the claw of Satan, piercing my heart. It might have crippled me for life if atheism hadn’t saved me.

    Guns are never very far away. They’re a visible condition of life in the United States of America, a place where gun-owners outnumber atheists by a thousand-to-one, I reckon, and most of them would agree, “That’s too many atheists.” The sight of a man with a gun is about as stirring as that of a man with a hammer. It barely registers on anyone whose life has included a deep familiarity with the sight, sound and presence of firearms. I am such a one.

    It was easy to sneak away from middle school for an afternoon hunting jackrabbits across the brushy foothills surrounding the southern Utah towns where I was raised. They were then, and no doubt still are, classified as “varmints”. Considered untouchable and inedible because of diseases like tularemia and insect pests they are alleged to carry, their destruction was widely approved. For a species accused of such terminal afflictions, their reproductive success was phenomenal.

    The successful destruction of most predators that lunched on them had already been carried out; they had been adjudged to prefer baby cows and sheep for lunch. Any problem for the growers of beef and mutton in a place where the dry conditions produced forage too scant to support both varmints and grazing livestock was solved in favor of ranchers. The solution: armed assault.

    In high school, duck season meant spending every possible daylight minute sitting in a natural willow blind tucked into one of many shallow notches lining the Sevier River with a Remington 12-gauge single-shot. It was a dad-approved weapon, because “It gives the ducks a chance.” It didn’t give Monty Marshall’s inflatable decoys a chance, when I bushwhacked them as they floated placidly in his farm pond. The satisfaction of knowing it was possible to get two birds with one shot faded when, instead of wading in to collect them, I watched from shore as they sank, every paint-on-rubber feather unruffled.

    I was a boy who lived to shoot, and then grew up, outgrowing it.
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