A boomer’s take on Zen and the Art of Machine gun Maintenance

Once we announced here on BoomerCafé.com that from time to time we would depart from the norm of our stories and entertain intelligently and respectfully written opinion pieces, we heard from frequent contributor Alan Paul of Hawthorne, New Jersey. What he said was, “Thought I’d jump into the shark-infested Boomer Opinion pool with little regard for life or limb.” Well, we hope neither life nor limb is at risk as we publish Alan’s piece which he calls, “Zen and the Art of Machine gun Maintenance.”

Can we have a reasonable discussion about guns? Say yes, or I’ll have to stop writing right now.

Gun guys, I totally get it; I used to be one of you, and perhaps I still am, in spirit, at least. When I was a much younger man, I was a martial artist, and was on the editorial staff of some martial arts publications. One of these, called Warriors, covered the entire spectrum of the fighting “arts,” unarmed and armed, including firearms. Through my association with this publication I met and interviewed dozens of people to whom guns were an integral part of their lives.

I have spent considerable time around guns and the people who revere them, and am well aware of the impact that they have— positive and negative— on our society. I understand the devastation they can cause, but I also appreciate the fact that many people are fascinated by them, covet them, feel protected by them, and/or have been raised in families or in certain parts of the country where they were common, even necessary, components of daily life. Don’t I have to respect their views, even though I may not agree with them? Isn’t that the manner in which reasonable people view disagreements with other reasonable people? I would hope so. Unfortunately, this isn’t generally the case with our national gun debate.

Alan Paul

During my tenure with martial arts publications, I developed an appreciation of firearms and decided that I wanted to have one. I took a firearms course, and discovered, to my surprise, that I possessed considerably better-than-average shooting skills. I frequently took my gun (unloaded, packed in its soft case, in the trunk of my car) to a local shooting center for target practice. I greatly enjoyed these target sessions and enjoyed, perhaps just as much, caring for the weapons. There was an almost Zen-like quality attached to the rituals of disassembling, cleaning, oiling, and reassembling my pistol. It was, believe it or not, relaxing, calming, and oddly satisfying.

I was a gun owner for perhaps two or three years, but the moment that the adoption papers had been filed for our daughter-to-be, Carolyn, was the moment I decided that I didn’t want guns in my home anymore. While I liked guns (and enjoyed having them, using them, and caring for them), I found that I didn’t need guns. My priorities had changed, and therefore my perspective had been altered as well. I sometimes feel like the most vocal proponents of unrestricted gun freedoms fail to appreciate priority or understand perspective. To them, it seems, the Second Amendment is the only thing in the Constitution that matters.

While their oft-quoted axiom, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” is technically true, what I think they fail to realize, or at least refuse to admit, is that guns enable some people to kill other people easily and efficiently. While statistics can be spun to reflect virtually any viewpoint, the fact remains that, though violent crime in the U.S. has actually decreased over the past dozen years or so, America still leads the world in deadly gun violence. This is according to virtually every measurable statistic one can quote.

If you are an American under the age of nineteen, you are four times more likely to be killed by a gun than a peer living in Canada; seven times more likely than in Israel; and 65 times more likely than a child residing in Britain. A person under the age of 25 is killed with a gun in America every 70 minutes. I don’t like statistics either. But my gut tells me that if our country featured fewer guns, in fewer hands— including fewer high-power, high-capacity weapons— fewer innocent people would lose their lives to gun violence. Doesn’t that make at least some sense?

There is one request that I would like to make to the guys-with-guns, as a former gun-guy who understands, at least to a reasonable degree, where you’re coming from. The next time an innocent child, or schoolroom-full of children, is mowed down by some gun-nut with a Bushmaster AR-15 equipped with 30-round magazine, would you please just speak from your heart, if you must speak at all, instead of spouting the NRA company line? And those of us who may be on the other side of the gun issue should strive to keep our own rhetoric to a minimum as well. While both sides may never agree upon exactly who or what kills people, or who should or should not be permitted to possess guns, we should agree, at least, that innocent people need not be dying at such an alarming rate.


  1. A very good and thoughtful piece . As a gun owner , I also find it hard to understand why we need automatic or even semi-automatic weapons, designed for rapid fire and kill. I am totally for the right to own a gun to hunt or to protect oneself or ones home, but these need not be a rapid fire weapon.
    I also agree the “shrill” needs to stop and a balanced system put in place.
    Maybe we can start here?

  2. Thanks so much for your thoughtful response, George. Gives me hope that maybe there are reasonable people on both sides of this issue. We need mutual understanding today more than ever. Thanks again.

  3. Alan, I have been living in Israel for the past 35 years.The gun laws are quite strict here about firearms.i have my pistol in a unique safe at our central office.When my children were small, I just took out the clip and put the gun in the air-conditioning vent.When they asked questions, I decided it was time to be gunless.I understand your point.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Bruce. I remember thinking at the time that it just didn’t seem right bringing a new baby into a house that contained a gun. And I never again owned a firearm.

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