“For when a bullet passes through flesh and bone in supersonic fury, those lucky enough to survive are forever damaged and disfigured.” The author of those words, Craig K. Collins, knows the truth of the statement, having permanently injured himself with a bullet. But he was raised in a “gun culture” out
west, where hunting is a rite of passage and to show fear of guns is, in a man-child, unacceptable.
Reading Collins’s book is like taking a train ride through unexplored territory, some of it peaceful, some of it wild, some it quite terrifying. The train moves at the same pace—it’s only in the mind of the passenger that certain turns or downhill runs or cliffside views seem to make the journey faster, more frightening. The story of the author’s gunshot self-wounding is interspersed with chapters recalling hunting trips with the men in his family and tales of other gunshot accidents, some of them fatal. There are suicides (“…the bullet performed as designed when Austin touched the trigger. It entered the soft tissue in his lower mandible at 2,300 miles per hour”). There are accidents: a gun discharging in the cab of a truck when a father and his two sons were heading home from a hunting trip; a teenaged boy proudly displaying his new gun and shooting a friend, who will live the rest of his life wearing a helmet and making “Gaaaa”” sounds. There are accounts of white men shooting Indian women and children (“nits make lice”) with only occasional pity and seemingly, no regrets.
The book is also something of a travelogue, as the author has lived in a lot of different places and has a good eye for landscape: California’s Central Valley, Humboldt River Valley, Bodie, Elko, Washoe Lake, Winnemucca. Men roam those places, hunting geese, bucks, and each other.
Collins frequently quotes Ernest Hemingway, a great writer who committed suicide with a gun. Collins imagines his young friend Austin, who didn’t make the football team, didn’t get the girl; or a bank robber named Steve (“dejected that there had been no blaze of glory”); in their final moments, like Hemingway, selecting the weapon, setting it in place, choosing to take that final, small action, just pulling the trigger, knowing that it will work. It’s one thing that a man can accomplish, one action that can wipe away the past. And the future. Of weapons, a gun is the easiest for one person to handle to do the maximum of destruction with the least effort in the shortest amount of time. So short, one barely has to think.
Collins is the Founder and Executive Director for the Center for Gun Analytics that has as its purpose “to accurately illuminate the true nature of American gun deaths and injuries.” In his book, he does not make absolute, condemnatory statements, does not preach. He just illustrates how time and time again, guns have hurt, maimed and killed.
We can think about it.