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I was so excited about the gift my boyfriend got me for Valentine’s Day: a .22 rifle.
As most of us do when we are excited about something, I posted about it on Facebook: “Nothing says ‘I love you’ quite like a Mossberg 715 Tactical .22 Long Rifle.”
My country friends understood what that meant to me and why I would be excited to share it. Most of my yogi friends did not.
One commented, “No thanks.” Excellent! I hope her husband got her something perfect for her, whatever that might be. Another asked, “Why?” I’m guessing she’s not the only one asking this question: Why does my yoga teacher have a gun?
I know that I am not the only meat-eating, gun-carrying, motorcycle-riding yogini out there, but I often feel like most of us keep these things to ourselves, fearing misunderstanding and judgement.
To my friends who don’t have and don’t want guns: I get it. I respect your choice and understand the many reasons to not own a gun. That was also my choice until the last few years.
Before, I lived in a quiet suburb with low crime rates. The chances of encountering a fox, coyote, or other animal that would threaten my safety, that of my child, or my dog on our daily walks was minimal. But, if I am being completely honest, I was afraid. My fear came from a lack of experience and knowledge.
I did not grow up with guns, my family didn’t hunt, and it just wasn’t part of my upbringing. My parents didn’t teach me to hate or to fear guns, they were just something I didn’t understand. No one I knew had them—or if they did, they did not talk about them. From my limited perspective, only cops and criminals had guns.
A few years ago, I moved to a farm to live with my boyfriend.
I learned quickly that people here think about guns differently. Out here, only an hour from my former suburban home, just about everyone has guns—the same way just about everyone has a tractor, which is another thing I didn’t understand or need in the past.
What I want my city friends to understand is that for some people guns fall into the same category as tractors. They are useful tools.
Yes, we sometimes collect interesting guns the way some farmers collect old tractors, and target shooting can be enjoyable, but guns have a legitimate place in homes here. We have different guns for different purposes. We take care of and value them. We also take them seriously. Our children learn to respect them, to understand them, and to use them—safely and appropriately.
The first gun Mark bought for me was a Mossberg 464 SX Tactical .30-.30 lever action. I picked it out at a gun show because I liked the way it looked—like something out of the cowboys versus aliens sci-fi series, “Firefly.” That was what got my attention, but he bought it was because it was a good hunting rifle for me.
I have a shoulder injury that affects the way I hold a rifle and that means I need a short stock. Most tactical guns have adjustable stocks which I can adjust to be short—shorter even than a youth-sized gun. I practiced shooting targets so that if I did take a shot hunting I would be accurate and would not cause unnecessary suffering to the animal. We hunt to help control the deer populations which would easily grow out of control without human intervention, and we use the meat. I haven’t yet had a shot worth taking. However, I was extremely grateful for my gun knowledge when I found a dying calf in the pasture and was able to end its life quickly and painlessly, rather than watching it suffer.
I also appreciate the feeling of safety it brings me to know that I have protection if I do encounter a bear, wolf, or coyote while out picking apples in the woods, should it choose to do something other than walk away. It would not be an altogether unusual thing to happen in this area. Another point of brutal honesty: Every once in a while you meet someone who makes chills run up your spine. I have met a few of these people. Home alone, where the neighbors are too far away to hear even your loudest cries for help and your cellphone doesn’t have reception, I am not ashamed to admit that I feel more confident knowing there is a pistol in my waistband as I do the evening chores.
Over the last three or more years, I’ve acquired a few more guns of my own: a better hunting rifle, a shotgun, a pistol to carry, a revolver, and a Deringer that fit into my collection of unusual, Wild Wild West, steampunk, cowboys versus aliens firearms. I took a “Conceal and Carry” class, not sure at the time if I wanted to carry or not, but figuring it would be useful information either way. I’ve also had the opportunity to shoot guns owned by my boyfriend and other friends. I’ve learned that shooting is a sport that requires mindfulness and presence. Mark has said since we first started talking about teaching me to shoot, “I think you’ll be good at this. You know how to breathe.”
If we let go of the judgement that guns are “bad” and see them as machines that only do what we make them do, they can appeal to all of the skills we seek to hone as yogis. Imagine I was throwing a javelin instead of shooting a gun, or practicing sword fighting. Would it bother you the same way that my shooting a gun does? A javelin and a sword are both instruments of death, used for hunting and war. They require skill and focus to achieve the target. In the hands of someone untrained or with ill intent, they become frighteningly deadly weapons, but in the hands of someone trained and dedicated, can be an amazing show of skill. As a yogi and a shooter, I can tell you that target shooting—checking your firearm and loading it safely, lining up your sights, steadying your breath, your hands, and your mind, and finding exactly the right moment to pull the trigger—are some of the most mindful experiences I have ever had.
Mark gave me my first pistols as birthday gifts, the Deringer as a surprise just because he saw it and knew I would love it, and the Mossberg .22 for Valentine’s Day.
A quick note about this last gun, the one that spurred my explanation. It looks pretty intimidating, but it’s really not. A .22 is what we would use for shooting rats that get into the grain or foxes threatening the chickens. This gun is the same caliber as a gun called the “Cricket,” a popular gun designed to be used by children to teach them firearm safety and handling. The AR style is just that, a style. And AR does not designate assault rifle or even automatic rifle. AR stands for ArmaLite.
I like it because it is an adaptive piece of equipment. I’ve already mentioned the adjustable stock. It also has ghost ring sights which work better for me than a regular scope because of my left-eye dominance. These are some of the reasons why it was a great gift for me. My love knows how difficult it is for me to find a rifle that I can hold properly and comfortably. He knew I would like both the style and the fit of the gun. He knew it would be an easy gun for me, a still inexperienced shooter, to use and to learn with. This was a gesture of caring and trust. He picked out the perfect gun for me the way a different guy might pick out the perfect pair of earrings for a different girl, but I don’t have pierced ears!
I know it might be hard for some to understand that I truly didn’t want flowers or a candle-lit dinner for Valentine’s Day. Shooting is one of the things that my love and I share. It is time spent together. We go to gun shows and auctions together and look for unusual finds and collectibles. We watch old Westerns and talk about the different guns they used. There is a rich history to explore here. To him, guns have always been a part of life. To me, they are new and interesting. They are now something I also share with my child.
As a yogi I have learned to look at situations with clarity, to remove my personal biases and judgement, and to look for the truth in the big picture. The picture I once had of guns and gun owners was clouded by fear. It was full of judgment on what was “bad” and what was “good.”
Bad and good, right and wrong—these are all judgments and they change based on our perspectives.
Author: Tracy Hovde
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren