It was an expletive-laden phone call that threatened to kill the young columnist. “You’re going to die because you wrote xxxxxx about yyyyyyy.” The young man laughed, and told the caller, “You’re not going to kill me over the phone. Come over, since you know where I am. I’ll be waiting with a gun.” The call ended.
Back in those days, there were no cellphones in the “sovereign, secular, socialist, democratic republic” as India called itself. Guns had been severely restricted a few years earlier in 1984 by the socialist regime, and only those who had been issued licenses before that owned any.
If you were a politician, of course, you were entitled to buy what you wanted from a slick store run by the Mumbai customs. If you had served in the armed forces and held a rank above Colonel, then you were similarly entitled to buy a handgun from the military. All calibers larger than 8mm for rifles, and more than .38 Special for handguns were effectively banned.
The idiots who crafted these restrictions didn’t know that a .357 Magnum was more powerful than a .38 Special, so it remains legal to this day. Only three guns are allowed per individual, but good luck getting a license for one. An antiquated Webley in .32 cal costs the equivalent of $4500. LaFrance .25 cal pistols sell for $3000.
This in a country where criminals and terrorists have no difficulty finding guns and where the wards of politicians shoot tollbooth employees who dare ask them to pay as they enter highways. A former President’s grandson even shot a hostess at a bar for refusing to serve him a drink when he was obviously drunk. The thug got off with a couple of years in prison, two decades after he murdered the poor girl.
Sovereign, socialist, secular democratic republic…yeah, sure. And the moon is made of green cheese.
In the decades before the socialists took over, gun ownership was not encouraged, but it wasn’t proscribed either. The young man remembered a rite of passage when he was nine years old. He knew that he was going to get a gun. Yes, .22’s were gifts in India like they are in the US. It wouldn’t be in his name, because you had to be 16 to get a license back then, before the socialists raised the minimum age to 21. The little .22 was registered to his father, but the boy knew that it was going to be his rifle.
On his birthday, everyone pretended not to know what day it was. He dressed in his school uniform and went off like he did every day, returning home to the family continuing to pretend that they had forgotten the big day. He looked around the huge house – it occupied an entire block on Popham’s Broadway – and saw nothing. No cake, no sweets, nothing.
There was no television in India back then, so he sighed and washed his face, and was about to go to play outside, when his grandmother winked at him, and hinted at the sofa with a very slight gesture of her chin. The ennui disappeared and the boy ran to the sofa. Underneath it lay his gift. He had his first rifle.
The Madras Rifle Club rimfire range was at the Police Commissioner’s office. You had to be sponsored by a member, seconded by another, and cleared by the police to join. There were only two range days a week — Saturday and Sunday — and you only got to shoot for about four hours on those days.
No one used any kind of hearing or eye protection and some UIT competitors would come with their meccano guns and fiddle with them more than they shot them. There were the standard pistol, rapid-fire pistol, and free pistol shooters who spent even more time fiddling with their toys.
Joining the club was a privilege, and, even back then before the restrictions, privilege was rewarded by subsidizing the ammo that members bought. Gun owners were accorded ridiculous reverence and a legal judgment in the 1970’s even laid down a precedent where a judge said that a gun owner was more “truthful” because he had been considered responsible enough to be granted a license to own a gun.
The young boy had only one friend whose family owned guns. That family were farmers, and were given an SBBL license in Indian bureaucratese – Single Barreled Breech Loading gun. Often he would meet up with his friend at his family’s farm and they would shoot at targets offhand before going to the rice fields to try and catch some freshwater crabs.
India’s magnificent wildlife had long disappeared by then. From 35% forest cover at Independence from Britain in 1947, cover had dwindled to less than 5% by the mid 1960’s. The last Asiatic cheetah had been shot in Chittoor, not far from where the boy lived, and you were unlikely to see any wildlife even if you took a trip anywhere except to a sanctuary.
The politicians blamed poachers. Yes, there was poaching, but it paled in comparison to the destruction of the animals’ habitat across the huge country. Only some vermin and feral pigs could be shot on crop protection permits, and boar carcasses had to be handed over to the Forest authorities for destruction, because eating the meat was forbidden by the socialist regime. Guns became a bad word and India turned into a nation where an Australian PETA organizer became a national celebrity.
Fast forward thirty-odd years to Appleton, Wisconsin. The now almost middle-aged young man landed as an immigrant with his new bride. It took a few weeks to get his pink “green” card, and he then went off to Scheels along with a friend to look at the guns. The man had earlier lived in Europe and in Singapore, but while there were gun shops there, and he did visit them, he couldn’t buy anything.
Here, a salesman started a conversation and the conversation quickly went to Jim Corbett, maneaters, and much more. He saw a used Mauser sporter with leaf sights on the rack at a very attractive price. It was an 8mm, and had not been drilled for a scope. The man picked it up, and it was immediately familiar to him…just like the old guns that still kicked around in some old-timers’ collections in India.
Wisconsin was mostly a shotgun for deer state, but he had to have that rifle. He filled out the forms, gave the clerk his green card and social security card, and went home for the longest 15 days of his life…until the waiting period to pick the rifle up ended.
With some practice, he managed 2½-inch groups at 100 yards off a rest with the open sights. The little rifle hardly kicked and the man was delighted to have finally come to the Land of the Free. No, he wasn’t born here, but this is where he would live, and die when his time came.
In the nearly two decades that followed, he would move to Illinois and then to Texas. The Mauser would be joined by a number of guns. A brace of Browning A5s would become his favorite shotguns. A Remington 1100 would be his shotgun for visiting guests from India. There would be more rifles; custom Mausers in .30-06 and 7mm, and a gift from a friend in .45-70 on a Siamese action, to Mannlicher Schonauers, one in 6.5 and the other in 7×57, and some guns that he just had to have.
The Perry Mason and other detective novels that he had read in high school helped him exchange a week’s wages for a mint Detective Special. Of course, you can’t be American and not have a 1911, so he bought one to celebrate becoming a citizen. And he bought a CZ in .458 Lott, just because.
The buying didn’t stop. A renowned gunsmith would get him hooked on the immensely addictive sport of blackpowder shooting and hunting. The man would be astonished when he bought his first muzzleloader, a Knight inline American model, and shoot into a single hole off a rest with 90 grains of 2F powder pushing a 320 grain cast lead bullet off a rest. More challenging flintlocks and percussion rifles would join the Knight in giving him many hours of enjoyable shooting.
He would often think back to his father’s and grandad’s time – both men had long passed – and feel just a hint of sadness because he had no one to give his guns to…until his much younger wife surprised him with the news that she was pregnant. The man was over the moon.
A daughter was born and the days glided by as if they were meant to lead him to the day when he would take his little princess shooting. He would play with her and show her his guns while she was a baby. At 4, she received toy break-open and bolt action plastic dart guns, and learned the basics of gun safety at home during the cold Midwestern winters. At eight, his little girl was a far better shot with a rimfire than he had been with his .22 at 15.
When the girl turned 10, she told him, “Daddy, now that we live in Texas, can I shoot a gator? I want to, Daddy!” The old man nearly got up and danced. He nearly got down on his knees and thanked his ancestors. He felt the tears come into his eyes, and he pulled his little girl to him, and hugged her.
He would apply for a tag. His county was one of the best for gator hunting. When his little girl was older, he would take her pig hunting and teach her to do it the old way like he had learned to hunt pigs in another country, on another continent, and in another era.
He knew that his guns would go to someone who would use them after he was gone. He also knew that future generations would continue the sport that he and his ancestors had cherished. He also knew that if he died early, his little girl would easily be able to care for herself. Father and daughter had more to do than just argue and pull each others’ legs.
With tears in his eyes, he laughed. And, he asked his daughter if she would like to go to a gun store that they both often went to, in nearby Friendswood. He would take her and her mother to dinner at a restaurant that they both loved, to celebrate.
Today was the next great day after his little girl had been born. The days ahead would see many more wonderful days. Call it an old man’s wisdom or whatever else you want. He knew that he was going to be exactly right on this.