Published: Jan 14, 2013 12:32 PM
Modified: Jan 14, 2013 12:33 PM
I remember the first time I held an M-16. It was in the second or third week of basic training.
Thanks to construction and overcrowded barracks, Ft Jackson housed my unit in a series of quadruple wide trailers in a parking lot on the back of Tanker’s Hill. One of our drill sergeants marched us over to a building with a secured weapons vault and one of the supply sergeants there carefully issued us each a rifle. He listed each serial number and told us to sign in three or four places to show that we took responsibility for the weapon.
Holding that M-16, I had a very odd feeling.
I was no stranger to guns. I’d grown up outside of Albemarle in Stanly County. I am an Eagle Scout. I’ve done plenty of target shooting and I’ve blown whole flocks of clay pigeons away. But holding that M-16 was different.
The M-16 is an assault rifle. It has one purpose, to kill other human being. Holding that rifle, I felt fear. That was the first time I think I fully understood that the job I had taken on when I enlisted might well mean taking another person’s life. I hated it.
Back at the barracks trailer, Drill Sgt. Allen saw me looking grim. He marched over and asked, “Hey Taylor, what’s the matter with you?”
“I don’t want to hurt anyone,” I said.
“You’re clumsy, but you’re not that clumsy. Keep it pointed down range and you’ll be fine.”
Over the next few weeks we were drilled over and over on the proper way to handle rifles and on how to use them. I discovered the joy of being capable with a weapon, of being about to hit a 300 meter target again and again, of knowing what I was doing.
Later in Iraq I learned the strange pressure and weight of constantly carrying a loaded rifle, never knowing when it might need to be used, even in moments of comparative peace and safety.
I loved my rifle, carefully cleaned and oiled its delicate inner parts, but I also hated it, hated what I might be called on to use it for. It was with me constantly, both a responsibility and a protection. I still sometimes wake up in the dark of night panicking because I can’t lay my hands on my rifle, terrified that I don’t know where it went.
The AR-15 used in the Newtown shootings is the civilian model of the M-16. The only major difference is that the AR-15 lacks the three-round burst setting the M-16 has. Through my entire time in the Army, I was always told never to use three-round burst as it was significantly less accurate and wasted ammunition.
I don’t understand why we need a civilian version of an M-16.
I mean, I understand there is something intoxicating about standing in that place of violence, about being the sort of person who is able to stand up under the moral weight of being in a position to make decision about whether or not to resort to violence, whether or not to potentially end a fellow child of God’s life. There is huge power in that, but it is ugly, wretched power. It is soul poison.
I don’t understand why so many of us choose to act as if we are at war with one another. I don’t understand why so many people in my country feel the need to be prepared to kill one another.
Some folks say it isn’t the rifle that does the killing but the person. That might be true, but the assault rifle is the tool, and it is a tool with one purpose. When I see my paint brush I’m reminded to paint. I hate to think what an assault rifle reminds us to do.
We can do better. We can strongly disagree, argue, and oppose one another without resorting to violence. We must come to a place where we can say that even if we completely hate each other with every fiber of our souls, see in one another not a single redeeming quality, that even then we know that we are both humans, both children of the same family, and that it is not acceptable to kill one another.Viv Taylor served as a chaplain’s assistant in Iraq and graduated from UNC. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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