MO’s regular Wednesday contributor’s columns are intended as an alternative to our usual straight motorcycle reviews and discussions. There is always a motorcycle connection to them, however tenuous, but they are first and foremost intended to be free-range editorial space. Last week we presented John Burns’ take on a current hot-button issue, and his “Guns And Moto” column touched off a blaze of controversy resulting in more than 130 reader comments. It also struck columnist Chris Kallfelz, who claims he tried to put Burns’ piece out of his head but wrote this column anyway. He expresses a different view of the gun issue.
I feel it is important to note that John, Chris and myself are all patriotic citizens, gun owners, and U.S. Army veterans. Our opinions may differ from issue to issue, but our loyalty is always with our fellow citizens and motorcyclists.
When I was growing up motorcycles were regarded as dangerous, and firearms were regarded as a rite of passage for a young man. This would explain why I grew up hunting squirrels rather than doing berm shots on an XR75. Make no mistake, I wanted an XR75 or an RM80 in the worst sort of way, but due to the judgment of the adult charged with seeing that I made it to early adulthood without harming myself or others, I got a .22 and a 20-gauge instead. I am not complaining, it worked out for the best in my estimation.
This was normal, well, insofar as being raised by a Korean War-era Marine Corps staff sergeant could be considered normal. Today, not so much maybe, but back then it was. We were surrounded by former this and former that, all guys who’d served in Korea or WWII; they were our fathers, our school administrators, and our scout masters – they were the people in charge. This was not out of the ordinary. First you got a pocket knife and a BB rifle, and hopefully demonstrated you were not a complete halfwit, and then you progressed on to rifles, shotguns, and what not.
You had to show you were responsible enough to keep the weapon clean, use it properly, and generally act as though you were the product of 50,000 years of evolution with a brain in your head – rules that work pretty well for a bike, by the way. Violating any of these rules was subject to the harshest of punishments up to and including said firearm vaporizing before your very eyes for the duration of your natural life. Some of us progressed on to main battle tanks and race bikes. This was an odd world by today’s standards: Kids were less regulated back then, firearms were less regulated back then, and anybody improperly using a weapon was unusual and quickly corrected. The bikes would come in time.
I have been paid by others to sell two things in my life. The first was firearms, the second was motorcycles. I am not a natural salesman; I don’t think my personality really lends itself to sales. I am however one heck of an enthusiast, I have no problem sharing that enthusiasm with others of a like mind and trying to help them find something that best suits them. And for as long as I can remember, I have been surrounded by guns and bikes. I was pretty good at selling both of them. Selling firearms and fishing gear helped pay for my first streetbike. Selling bikes later on helped pay for college.
In a way, to my twisted way of thinking anyway, the appreciation of a fine weapon and a well prepared bike is much the same. Fabrique Nationale (FN) and Yoshimura-Suzuki turn out works of art in my opinion. I have an FN bolt action in my gun safe, I had two FN M240 machine guns on my tank, I have a Yoshimura AMA SuperSport-spec bike in my basement. Weird, eh? All are purpose-built pieces of machinery, all require a healthy respect in handling and operating, all exhibit a high attention to detail and craftsmanship and are uncompromising in their quality standards. They are, in short, mechanically satisfying. To my eyes they are art. They work like it too.
I’m firmly convinced John Browning and Soichiro Honda were geniuses. I have over the years shot some really good weapons, and ridden and raced really good bikes. I love the smell of two-stroke premix, race fuel, and cordite. I get offended when anyone uses a weapon or a motorcycle badly, I get offended at the stereotypes bandied about. I think they are undeserved. The “biker” stereotype, or the “squid” stereotype, or the “gun nut” stereotype. Inevitably, I find us – and by “us” I mean the vast majority of us who use firearms or motorcycles both legally and wisely – lumped in with these one-dimensional portrayals in a way that is neither fair nor accurate.
The people propounding these stereotypes inevitably call for something to be done about these, “squids,” or, “bikers,” or, “gun nuts.” They demand more restrictions, they want to legislate for the lowest common denominator, this despite the fact that previous efforts have produced negligible or nonexistent positive outcomes. They want more rules. More rules serve as a disincentive to anyone who wants to partake in the activity in question. That is kind of their point. They demand something be done without giving any thought to what the problem is. I suspect they will get more rules, and we will all be still left wondering why they are ineffective, and what is to be done about this. Wash, rinse, repeat.
That said, I just want to be clear for all those that have always followed the rules. I am not going to take ownership or feel in any way culpable for a society that misuses cars, motorcycles, firearms, or any other nonsense. I have been around firearms my entire life, I have been trained in their use and I have trained others. I am as comfortable around them as I am a cordless drill. I also know my constitutional law – I went to school for it. That does not make me a constitutional scholar, but it does make me less than dumb.
I secure weapons; I have a gun safe for these sorts of things. I use firearms wisely, I use a chainsaw wisely, I use anything that can kill or maim me or others wisely. It was how I was taught from the earliest age. If others do not, that is not on me. I open doors for old ladies, I like dogs and little kids, I have no interest in harming anyone. And I will go out of my way to avoid conflict, though I hate bullies. If you have a social issue with problem children and firearms, or religious zealots, or the politically inclined that want to act out, then police it up. I did not create this problem. I was paid bi-weekly to carry weapons, to sleep with weapons, and I bear no guilt, and I won’t suffer any of these stereotypes.
I will treat anyone with the respect they treat others and myself. Everyone wants to get to the same place. We all want to keep people alive. Maybe it is time to ask how we got here in the first place rather than just pile more rules on the old ones.
Please have a happy and safe holiday season. Ride safe and be safe. Peace.