Snake CharmerTM

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A
Snake CharmerTM is a shotgun. It's
a cute little thing only twenty-eight and a half inches long, single
shot, with a stainless steel barrel and a plastic grip. It takes
a three-inch magnum .410 shell. That means, to those who don't know
it, that the ammunition for this delightful
shotgun
is three-inches long and not quite a half-inch in diameter.
When I moved across country, I left the one I had owned for twenty-years
behind.

This
was like parting with an old friend. If I had the talent, I would
write an aria of farewell, like Colline singing goodbye to his old
overcoat in La Boheme, for the truth is that I had purchased
this shotgun from my best friend. Sad, leaving it like that, but
necessary, or so I thought at the time.

I
was sitting in my apartment in the heart of the coastal mountains
of northern California studying road maps and thinking about what
to take with me on this journey to Florida. I had narrowed it down
to music, books, sculpture, and computer, but I had some odds and
ends left over, including this shotgun. What should I do with it?

I've
lived with guns in the house since I was a child. Dad kept a loaded
.22 rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun leaning in a corner of the kitchen
pantry, which was common practice among farmers in those days. He
taught me how to fire that shotgun when I was seven, the same year
he taught me how to drive the tractor. My brother, eight years older,
had a regular gun closet in his bedroom with an assortment of pistols
and rifles and shotguns that I envied. I used to carry his .22-short
double-barreled derringer in my pocket when I was prowling around
the countryside; I even took it to school with me once in the fourth
grade for show-and-tell. Guns were part of everyday life in rural
America during the 1940s and nobody thought anything about it.

Taking
a gun along to college never occurred to me and several years passed
before I bought one of my own. Pretty soon I owned a .22 revolver
and a 30-30 rifle and my wife and I spent a couple of evenings every
week out at the firing range, competing with each other. She always
won. Then hard-times came and I sold them.

Later
on we settled down in Santa Rosa, California, and we bought a house
not far from the hospital where I worked. This was before the orchards
that surrounded the city for miles were turned into subdivisions
and I felt so safe that I used to walk to work at night. Sometimes
we even forgot to lock the doors. We didn't own a gun.

Then
one day the cops were chasing a car through town and the guy ditched
it and started running through an old residential neighborhood,
with the cops hot on his heels. The guy ran through the front door
of one house, shot an old lady sitting there, ran out the back door,
jumped the fence, ran through the back door of the next house, shot
a young mother and child, ran out the front door and got away.

I
read this front-page news story several times. The crazies had arrived.
From the few crazies I had seen myself in the emergency room and
from the stories I had heard about the new drugs on the streets,
I guessed that we were entering a new era of risk and uncertainty.
I decided to buy a gun.

I
admit that the odds of surviving a surprise assault with a deadly
weapon are mighty slim; that's why SWAT teams don't knock first
at three a.m. Even if the old lady had been sitting in her rocking
chair holding a loaded gun in her lap when the crazy ran through
the door, she would probably not have had the time to fire it – but she might have. A locked screen door might have slowed the guy
down long enough for her to wake up and grab a gun and fire it.
Maybe. We'll never know, she didn't have a gun.

Dad
couldn't see the use of having an unloaded gun zipped into a padded
case and locked into a closet. I couldn't either. I mean, if you
needed the thing, you needed it right now, not five minutes from
now. I didn't want anything complicated either; I had some experience
with jammed cartridges and stuck safety locks and I wasn't about
to take it apart and oil it and put it back together every month
so it would work if and when the time came. I'm not interested in
playing around with a gun any more than I'm interested in playing
around with claw-hammer, so I wanted a smallish thing that could
reliably pack a big wallop without a lot of fuss. I bought a gun
catalog and I found the Snake CharmerTM.
It just happened that my friend had one to sell.

I
took it to the firing range and I fired it a few times just to convince
myself that it worked. My wife fired it too and once again proved
that she was a better shot. We taught our kids how to load it and
fire it. That's it. We didn't use up even one box of shells. After
that it gathered dust under the bed or on top of a bookshelf for
year after year, seldom cleaned, but loaded, ready, and waiting.

Now
what should I do with it? I tried to figure the odds. I would be
alone, driving for ten to twelve hours a day, with at least two
gas stops and two pit stops per day, and a motel stop at the end
of the day, for four days. My pickup could break down and strand
me in the middle of nowhere anytime. I could be stopped for speeding
or for a burned-out tail-light. Whom did I have to fear the most?
Crazies or cops?

You
may think that this is an easy question to answer, but to me it
was not easy. I knew cops and crazies both from the environment
of the emergency room, where unheard of drugs and good old four-point
leather restraints and lots of professional hands are available.
I've never had to deal with these people face to face, alone, on
the street or in my home or while I'm driving. I tried to imagine
various possibilities.

Several
images came to mind. Cops had taken to carrying multiple weapons
and wearing bullet-proof vests and black uniforms. The black uniforms
bothered me. Why black? These were no longer the "boys in blue"
who were there to protect us, these were the men in black who were
there to threaten us. It reminded me of Nazi history. Then there
were images of Ruby Ridge and Waco and of SWAT teams murdering innocent
people in their sleep in Los Angeles. Then there was my close friend,
gut-shot by a cop in a restaurant parking lot for no good reason
at all. These images added up to one conclusion: cops are dangerous
people.

Funny,
none of the images that worried me turned out to be images of crazies.
I think I can see them coming, for one thing, although they don't
wear uniforms and I may be deluding myself. Manson was still in
prison, the last I heard, although Hollywood wants to forgive him
and run him for Senate, like some other evil people they adore.
Be that as it may, in the end I decided to leave my shotgun behind
and to take my chances with the crazies rather than take any chances
with the cops.

Well,
I made it to Florida without a hitch, although I had a bad moment
there at an Arizona checkpoint on the taxway. The guy asked me if
I was an American citizen in English so broken I could not understand
him at first. I started laughing, you see, thinking of Heinlein
novels, and the guy was reaching for his gun by the time I said,
"Yes! I'm a tax-paying American citizen!" Okay, he was
probably a rookie. God save us from rookies.

America
is beautiful. We can drive freely across a continent and speak the
same language everywhere, we can use the same currency for money,
we can shop at nearly identical stores, and one motel or gas station
is much like another. Neighborhoods too, the construction materials
may differ, but the way we live throughout the country is much the
same. Unfortunately, so are the crazies and the cops. I was kind
of hoping there would be a difference.

One
of the first stories I heard in Florida was about a crazy who randomly
murdered people living near railroad tracks. I decided not to live
near a railroad track. Recently I read about a cop killing an unarmed
college kid during a routine traffic stop. Then I saw the local
SWAT team proudly hailed on the evening news. Too much! It's just
like California. So I'm back to square one, should I buy another
gun?

Against
the cops there is no defense. Zero. Zip. Don't even think about
it. Cops have the legal monopoly on the use of deadly force and
there is nothing we can do short of changing the nature of government
itself. If the SWAT team hits the wrong address, we're dead meat.
If a nervous rookie misinterprets our intentions, we're dead meat.
But what about the crazies? What are the odds that a couple of crazies
would run through an unlocked door during a dinner party and kill
everybody in the house for fun, as a couple of crazies did in Kansas
not so long ago? Would a little .410 loaded with one 00 buckshot
shell make a difference?

Yes,
well, now that I've thought it over again, I'm going to go out and
buy myself a brand new Snake CharmerTM.
You just never know when you might need one.

April
18, 2001

Robert
Klassen is a medical technician and writer. Here’s
his web site.

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