El Paso Part II

I’ve been trying to decide how to write this the last few days. The battle lines were set years ago, and the same arguments keep coming back.

Today, some of my early experiences with firearms seems so foreign and other-worldly.

Some public schools even taught firearms safety.

When I was 13 or 14, I took first place in a competition at a boy’s shooting club. We shot our rifles in all 4 of the basic positions, prone, sitting, kneeling, and standing. I brought out the trophy to show you, complete with dust, although the brass inscription fell off years ago. The club had some very used .22 target rifles – heavy barrels and peephole sights. Never will forget the first lesson I got in safety.

El Paso II

My first place trophy complete with dust! – Caprod Shooting Club – 1963 The brass inscription fell off years ago…


We were being oriented to the rifles, and the instructor opened the locker door. He told us to always first verify they were unloaded – opening the action – bolt, slide, or lever. The rifles were to be stored with the bolts open so anyone could see there was no live round in the chamber.

One rifle out of the 2 dozen had a closed bolt, so he pulled out the rifle, opened the bolt, and out popped a live round.

He was as surprised as we were.

You have to wonder how many people are killed today by “unloaded” firearms.

Firearms safety is really simple, but failure to adhere to these simple rules can permanently change or end your life.

In addition to verifying that every firearm is empty before you handle it, one never points the muzzle (end of the barrel) at anything you don’t intend to shoot. Loaded or unloaded.

You keep your finger off the trigger and out of the trigger guard until you are ready to fire.

Virginia Hall, the Baltimore socialite and super-operative in the SOE whose biography I reviewed here a few months ago, blew her foot off with a shotgun while she was hunting before the war. She had her finger on the trigger and either tripped or got caught in brush. I’m too lazy to find it in the book again.

That is why the Gestapo in France referred to this most-wanted woman as the “limping lady”.

Failure to respect a firearm can change your life permanently.

Looking back on it 55 years later, what my best friend Bill and I did as 14 year olds would almost certainly  involve panicked calls to 911 today. No doubt resulting in a few police cars rushing to stop us on the road.

On many Saturdays, the 2 of us would get on our bicycles, sling our .22 rifles over our shoulders, and ride the 5 miles or so down the river road to some remote ranch land. We would always ride some miles to  farmland to “plink” – shooting at tin cans and dirt clods. A .59 cent box of .22 rounds provided hours of entertainment.

One of our favorite activities was to tie balloons on a good 7′ string off the top of a railroad trestle, walk back about 150-200 yards, and with the wind blowing the balloons, see who could hit it first.

Bill swore he was the better shooter (he will to this day as if it should be common knowledge!)  but as Lex would have said “it’s my story; he may tell it differently“.

What fun it was!

Then there was the time that Bill tried to convince me that eating park pigeons shot in the field was the same as squab. Well, I can tell from experience you it isn’t.

They don’t call them “rats with wings” for nuthin’.

Even Bill, who remains an avid hunter, after cooking them with one or 2 bites refused to eat them. And I have told people over the years that if you were to dump him off in the middle of Alaska with nothing, pick him up in a month, he’d probably have gained weight.

We were always respectful on their properties.

There were no people around and the ranchers didn’t care.

Somewhere in the late 60s or early 70s things started to change. Trespassers many times became trouble, destroying other’s property for fun. They’d even shoot livestock for “fun”.

The last time I went to our favorite spot I remember a bullet whizzing over my head. It wasn’t from a rancher, and never saw the shooter.

I have always thought it was some kids out there with a .22 and a 6 pack of beer.

If you have never had that experience, you don’t hear the shot when you hear the bullet. Sounded like a torpedo splitting the air.  And it wasn’t that close over my head but some feet above. I’d like to think it was an accidental shot gone awry. At least that’s what I have maintained.

No wonder the farmers and ranchers started to take a different view towards shooters on their property. On the way out to my favorite range, probably the best one in the state if not the country, is some ranch land with large signs warning others not to trespass. The signs state that you WILL be arrested.

And I suspect that they are not kidding.

Perhaps I’ll have to tell you the story of a game warden who was certain after following us for 2 hours we were poaching pheasants, cited us for trespassing on ranch land, and a no-nonsense judge who admonished us that she could send us to the country jail “for a term not to exceed 6 months”.

It’s funny now; wasn’t then 40 some years ago. I not only paid my own $300 fine but had to loan Bill another $300 to keep him out of jail.

That’s the last time we went plinking.

In the 70s  things had changed for certain. More people didn’t respect other’s property and even more ominous, didn’t respect the lives of others.

Mass shootings at random victims at public venues, now sadly a regular event, bring the news media but largely lost is the carnage in the inner cities. Are these incidents not dramatic enough to bring out those with agendas? Or is it just expected?

Chicago got so bad a few days ago that a trauma center was forced to turn away some victims. While criminals killing criminals doesn’t get any sympathy from me (my friend  refers to that as “scum killing scum – no humans involved“, it is the innocents caught in the crossfire that is the tragedy.

And largely unreported is the effect this has on friends and loved ones. Imagine a pebble tossed into a calm lake – the deaths permanently change not only close family but extended family, co-workers, friends.

Imagine each murder radiating out to literally a 100 people. Or more.

That has never really been reported. Interviewing every person whose lives were changed and altered by each murder. I don’t think a reporter could do that.

Probably only God really knows the true count.

What has mystified me is that in our history, guns have always been readily available. I can remember even seeing them as a boy available by mail order. One could buy a surplus .45 or rifle through the mail.

President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963 (a date that, like 9/11, is ingrained with me) changed that. Mail order of firearms was banned.

In 1966, I remember when Charles Whitman climbed the tower at the University of Texas at Austin, and calmly started shooting people below. People he certainly didn’t know. People whose hopes and dreams were snuffed out. People who had no idea who Charles Whitman was, and certainly didn’t expect to be killed by him that day.

The same year, just a couple of weeks earlier,  Richard Speck systematically bound, raped, and killed 8 Chicago student nurses.

That was 1966, a crazy year in a crazy decade. They were in the news for weeks.

While serial killers have been around a long time – this guy * made Charles Manson look like a girl scout –  going to a public place in a rage and murdering random people seems to be fairly recent.

If firearms have always been readily available, what has changed? 

Many people have changed, along with their attitudes towards others. Have the stresses of society pushed some over the brink? An autopsy revealed Whitman had a small brain tumor and it was determined at the time was likely a contributing factor. But people have had tumors since…..there were people and going into a murderous rage killing random and innocent people has been a recent phenomenon.  I would say that living in the 17th-19th century produced a lot of stresses in people that are unknown today. Living in the world has always been “stressful”.

Think that the typical profile of a school shooter is one who is an outcast and/or bulled? Apparently that isn’t the case.

When the country found out that the Marysville-Pilchuck High School shooter in Washington state seemed to be an otherwise normal kid, some pundits and politicians were baffled. Jaylen Fryberg, the 15-year-old gunman who on October 28 killed three people and himself, was described by friends and peers as well-liked and popular. The week before the shooting, he was named the school’s freshman homecoming prince.

“[T]his youngster does not fit the stereotype,” Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) told CNN. “Again, he seems to have been somebody who was popular, got along well, was doing well in school, well in athletics, and so forth.”

But Dave Cullen, author of Columbine, the definitive book on the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, says those stereotypes were never true to begin with.

If you are looking for a definitive answer here as to the causes, I don’t have one.

But I can offer an idea. During this time, since, say, 1966, have more Americans been losing a faith in God? I am not talking about percentages of those who go to church, synagogues or mosques, but who have in their hearts a faith? Something with all of the trials and tribulations the world has always had, offers an anchor?

One of my favorite posts of Lex (actually like the Oscars we should have different categories), so in the category of “Moral Guidance” I offer An Honest Question.

Lex wanted an honest and civil discussion among his readers as to the question: Does Morality come from Man? Or God?

Meanwhile, the mayor of London, shocked that his murder rate has just surpassed that of New York City, issued a call for stronger knife control.

“No excuses: there is never a reason to carry a knife,” Khan tweeted. “Anyone who does will be caught, and they will feel the full force of the law.” 

There have been more than 50 homicides in London so far in 2018, and much of the violence is tied to gangs. 

Guns are strictly regulated in the United Kingdom and the rising homicide rate in London is directly attributable to a rise in knife-related crimes, with stabbings claiming at least 31 lives to date in 2018. By contrast, New York — which has a population roughly the same size as London — has seen a steady decline in violent crime. 


El Paso Part 1 is here



**08-17-19 The Wikipedia entry really doesn’t go into much detail about H. H. Holmes. Some time ago, I read a wonderful book on the making of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair

Author Erik Larson told 2 stories: The building of the world’s fair (and how one man, through a new invention still used today, saved it from bankruptcy), and a monster, H.H. Holmes, who had a hotel just 3 miles from the site. 

He would put his victims into a sealed room, gas them, and sell the bodies to a university that needed cadavers for teaching medical students. 

They really don’t know how many he killed. 

There is, of course, more to the story but it is a wonderful book. 



Filed under Politics, Politics and Culture

3 responses to “El Paso Part II

  1. Edward

    I agree with you Bill. The crazy violence is due to a loss of faith in God and the sense that there is true good and true evil, not just shades of gray.
    Consider what has become of the church of England — total loss of faith by its leading clergy and then putting amusement park items in the cathedrals to up the attendance.

    • Bill Brandt

      I had an almost surrealistic experience when I was in Australia back in the 80s Edward.

      I went to a Sunday service in Melbourne’s Saint Pauls Cathedral, and there must’ve been 20 people in this vast cathedral with probably 4000 seats

      20 people.

  2. When abortion became legal we told everyone that human life no longer need be absolutely respected. When what ethnic, racial, or social group you belonged to or what sex you were became more important in judging you than what your individual attributes were we told people that their own actions didn’t matter. When one particular racial group started to be pilloried by prominent educators, social commentators and politicians as the cause of all evil in the U.S. and told that they had guilt that they could not escape and had to atone for, regardless of what they themselves said and did, people decided that they themselves were worthless. When news media decided that money and the advancement of an agenda was worth more than public safety, any person who had been affected by the above knew that they could achieve immortal infamy, with their words and pictures published to all – and that made them get the worth that the world had taken away.

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