I Just Don't Want to Die Alone
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 155, January 7, 2002
THE BRIGHT AND THE BLEAK
I Just Don't Want to Die Alone
by Joel Simon
Exclusive to TLE
"Why do you do that? What would you USE it for?"
My fellow cubicle-dweller is an interesting fellow. Former Special Forces grunt, son of a semi-famous actor. He burned out after being seriously injured in the army, and bummed around Asia doing god-knows-what before coming back to America. Then he bootstrapped his way to a fairly good tech writing job at the Silicon Valley branch of a Japanese robotics company. I feel a certain kinship with him. We've both made some serious mistakes for which we're paying some very serious prices. He's single; I'm divorced. He's cynical as hell and so am I. Neither of us has many friends outside work. I like him.
And that's why I told him how I spend most of my weekends. And that's why, when he asked his question, I gave an honest answer. An answer he found disturbing and offensive. I should have just shut up, or lied.
I shoot. A lot. I have, off and on, for decades. When I'm not shooting, or working, I'm cleaning up from shooting or getting ready to shoot. When I'm not practicing with my M1A, I practice with a .45. Sometimes just for variety I practice with a knife. What little money I have left after taxes, bills and child support, I spend on food and books and reloading stuff and surplus rifle ammo. Rarely in that order.
It's not for enjoyment. I tell people (and myself) that I enjoy it all to pieces, but the truth is I don't actually enjoy it that much. I'm hardly Jeff Cooper, but I'm at least good enough with a handgun to give a street mugger reason to regret his career choice. I don't hunt. I'm not planning a life of crime. So why spend so much time on it?
That's the question my friend asked me. It's the question I used to lay awake asking myself night after night, already knowing the answer. Along with, "am I crazy?"
My daughter flew up from LA to visit for a week during the holiday break, and inadvertently reinforced my reason for shooting so much. It was the first time I'd been to an airport since the Sept. 11 hijackings. I'd heard how much worse they'd gotten, but I still wasn't ready for what I found there:
After buying an e-ticket online, I was required to present proof of my identity at least three days before the flight or my daughter would not be allowed to board.
I was forbidden to enter the short-term parking lot until I consented to have my car searched. I didn't ask whether a cased rifle in the trunk (legal even in California) would cause the searcher to lose sphincter control. I just drove away unsearched and came back later.
While standing in the first of several lines in the airport, I noticed:
An Immense Machine scanning luggage for contraband, taking up space once used to welcome passengers. I thought the large American flag that covered it was a nice ironic touch.
A colorful illustrated sign listing the sorts of things you could be arrested for "smuggling" onto an airplane, such as plastic cutlery, corkscrews, and nail files.
A prominent notice that it was a federal offense not to inform the airline of firearms in checked baggage, which would of course be discovered by the Immense Machine. It's not, oddly enough, an offense to HAVE a firearm in checked baggage. But to be legal, the baggage must receive a sticker that says, in effect, "steal this bag."
When I arrived to meet my daughter's plane, I was refused permission to go to the gate. No amount of explaining, arguing, or pleading would produce an exception to this rule. This "protective" rule required my barely-teenage daughter to wander alone through a busy airport concourse until she happened to arrive at the closest location I could approach without being shot by national guardsmen.
When my daughter and I went to the security checkpoint for her return flight (you're allowed to escort a child to the gate, but not to pick one up there), an unpleasant woman with a heavy accent demanded that we remove our jackets, belts, and wallets and send them through the X-ray machine. Some passengers were required to remove their shoes.
Venerable elderly ladies were pulled aside for (random, I think) wand searches. One particular lady - blond, young, heart-breakingly well-built - received particular attention. She was apparently considered too dangerous for a mere wand search and needed to be patted down.
After I beeplessly passed through the metal detector, another woman refused to allow me to pass until I removed my hat. She ran her hand through the inside, very thoroughly. It's a rather old hat; I have a rather greasy head. I do hope she enjoyed it.
I looked around and noticed the postures of the national guardsmen who surrounded the checkpoint. You know: The ones posted at the airports to protect us from terrorists? They faced inward. Their M-16's, slung at the ready, were pointed at my daughter and me.
What particularly disturbed me about all this was how cheerfully my fellow herd members received it. We seemed to have fallen into a movie about occupied France, and it didn't bother anyone. I wanted to shake people by the shoulders. Either I was crazy, or everyone else in the airport was.
Later that afternoon I went to the range and burned through over 100 rounds of .308. Just gotta get those groups smaller from the prone position.
All of which leads me back to my friend's question, and to the bleak and offensive way I replied to it:
"I only expect to use it once," I told him.
"I fancy myself an honest man. I've never intentionally harmed an innocent soul, and I've never stolen so much as a slice of bread even when I was broke and hungry. I obey every law I can bring myself to, sometimes at the cost of self-contempt. But there are some things I CAN NOT do, and someday those things will be demanded of me. Then I'll be branded a dangerous criminal. And someone will come for me, and I'll resist. Then the shooting will start, and I'll likely be killed. I just don't want to die alone."
"Are you telling me," my friend asked, "That you'd shoot some poor pimple-faced grunt just because he was ordered to be the first one through your door?" I recalled that my friend had earlier said that he was assigned to "counter-terrorism" work in the Special Forces, and that his training had more to do with breaking down doors than storming bunkers. I looked up and met his eyes.
"I have to take the consequences of my choices," I replied, "And he has to take the consequences of his."
I wish I could believe that the original intent of our republic can be restored. I really do. Not long ago I re-read El Neil's and Aaron Zelman's book Hope. I leaned back in my chair and tried to retreat into a fantasy of what it would be like to have someone like Alexander Hope as president, providing a way for us to restore our liberty while punishing those guilty of stealing it from us. I just couldn't do it.
No president like that will arise. Americans won't rise up, either, even when it's too late. In the unlikely event we do organize for revolt, we'll lose. Since I can't imagine living in the future America I envision, I expect to die. And when I die, I don't expect to be surrounded by friends. So enemies will have to do. I just don't want to die alone.