I grew to the age of 13 in a little four room white framed shack with my Mom, Dad, and two brothers in a spread out little community called Tee Pee Flat. My older brother Maurice, was born just fifteen months before me so growing up with him was just about like having a fraternal twin. We loved and cared for one another deeply, as we still do, but we had very little in common, as we still do. Our younger brother Larry was seven years younger and since he has a great deal more in common with Maurice, it goes without saying that our commonalities are rare as well. Except for the love and deep caring for one another!
In our home just above one of those sagging old door frames was an old single shot twelve gauge shotgun with a gunstock that had to be taped to keep it from falling apart. It was there out of the reach of three pre-teen boys for a reason. It was not a toy and was to be treated with respect. Just like everything else in that house it had to have a purpose or it wouldn’t exist. We had no money for things we wanted, just for things we needed.
When my Dad would get that old “Long Tom” out as we called it, we knew that he was either going to try and kill some quail for the evening meal or that there was yet another rattlesnake in harm’s way for us three boys. He never wasted shells because they too cost money. For that reason my Dad was a pretty good shot: not great because target practice because of cost was out of the question.
We lived some ten miles from the nearest town and even though we had neighbors on both sides of our place, they were at least a quarter of a mile away. There was no such thing as a telephone, much less a cell phone. 911 was not even an idea at the time! So we all learned early in our lives that the lone gun in the house was also for our protection just in case an uninvited visitor happened upon our place without a welcome or warning. We knew where the chair was to climb on and get the gun, we knew where the shells were kept and how to load it, and we knew how to cock it and fire if the need be.
That was our introduction to gun control, gun safety, and gun orientation. I know that Maurice and I got one of those little cock and fire Daisy BB guns for Christmas when we were about nine and ten. I am sure Larry had one at some point. Maurice, ever the mechanical mind, ruined his gun right off the bat by over-oiling the firing mechanism. Not me: I cared for that gun and killed what seemed like a thousand sparrows and blackbirds. I was a darned good shot especially since they were sitting still. With each kill I had a rush that brought satisfaction and the desire to do it again and again. So I truly understand how hunting can become a sport and get the adrenaline pumping even though I have lost the love of that sport.
Sooner or later for Christmas or some other occasion we all received shotguns for gifts. Mine was a twenty gauge single shot and I still hunted quite a bit for quail and dove but would get pretty frustrated because I don’t think that I could have knocked an elephant out of the air if they had been able to fly. I was not a gifted hunter!
As I grew into an adult I would still hunt on weekends, after finishing our game plans, with my coaching buddies. I was always the butt of all the hunting jokes because I just couldn’t find the range. Only once did I ever get my limit hunting doves and that was because they were so plentiful around that stock tank that they were practically flying down the barrel of my gun. Quail hunting was a little different as I could either get them on the run or as they took flight. I was a little better there.
For all those reasons I just gave, guns were never an issue for the Clifton boys. We all had the same upbringing and basically the same gun philosophy. And we may now have the same philosophy but if we do we definitely have different theories on how it fits into today’s world.
Both my brothers have as many or more guns than I have Texas Football magazines. That publication began in 1960 and has appeared on the newsstands every summer since then and I have all but two of them. So they are well armed and seemingly have plenty of ammo for any gun in their collection. They are both proud of their guns and I am glad that they have not only preserved our heritage with firearms but how they have increased that heritage.
Just by what little my brothers and I have discussed the gun control issue I can probably say that we don’t see completely eye to eye on how to go about controlling the violence that is attached to guns themselves. I can only speak on my part when I say that I am open to listening to any point of view. I just want that point of view to be as accurate as possible.
I will start out by saying that since I left home in 1967, I have always had a gun in my residence and at no time have I ever felt threatened to have that gun confiscated by the government or anyone else. For that reason I have never had reason to believe that my second amendment right has been threatened yet I hear that argument daily. We live in a remarkable country that allows us to express our opinions, commitments, and beliefs openly so I respect those who choose to cast doubt. But they are yet to convince me that the second amendment is under attack simply because we need to have an educated discussion in this country about guns.
I thought advanced background checks would surely pass. I too endorse the belief that guns do not kill; that people do. I also believe that no law, old or new, will keep guns out of the hands of people who would do harm simply because they have no conscience. However, background checks I thought, was to be about people. So yes I was disappointed that we couldn’t get that passed. I know that the gun rights advocates will have a ton of reasons to argue that point, but once again they will not convince me that we don’t need to do more to at least try and limit the bad guys from getting guns.
And last I simply do not understand why we allow anyone to own a firearm or weapon of any kind that is equal or greater than our military or law enforcement. The reason that I have those feelings is the same as the United States allowing any other country in the world, especially those with evil leaders, to have greater fire power than we do. Our military needs to have the ability to outgun anyone and I think the same should be true for our law enforcement.
I too know that there are gun enthusiasts out there who use assault weapons for sport such as target shooting etc and I understand the enthusiasm that they have for firing with the intent to be better than they were the last time out. But keeping those in homes or in the hands of questionable people has proven deadly in the last few years. I wish that I knew the answer as to how to let people enjoy the thrill of firing those high powered guns and have the appreciation of something that powerful without those same weapons becoming the weapon of choice for criminals. Until that happens I wish that we could limit the firepower.
I am not a hater of the NRA or the government. No one will ever make me believe that either of them, just like the rest of us, wants to see people, and especially children, being gunned down. It is my hope that someday there will be an educated discussion about firearms and that the people in that discussion will be there without having to worry about the next election. I really felt that we almost got there this year but both sides of the aisle must be willing to listen and do whatever it takes to protect people and preserve the privileges of those who love guns, whether for hunting, competition or for protection.
Last summer my two brothers and I went back and spent a night on the family home place where that old shack once stood. Larry had put a nice little cabin down there for the opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of his very tenacious job. After the initial visit and a trip that back-tracked our old school bus routes we enjoyed our “supper” fresh off the grill. Our conversation around the table became about guns and Maurice got his out and was showing off one of his prize pieces. It was obvious that he had great pride in the gun and its capabilities.
I must say as we went to bed for the night we all felt safe with that gun there. With feral hogs now on that land, with rattlers still calling that place home , and with the possibility of some suspicious stranger snooping around I was glad we had a gun in the house.
The next morning he took his gun out and fired off a few rounds. It was again obvious that he had done this on many occasions. Pulling that trigger and hoping to hit his target as quickly as he could; I could tell that he was getting that rush with every bulls eye. Standing there watching him on the land that raised three boys, I couldn’t help but close my eyes and think about all the times that we went hunting down that little creek that ran through our place or over on the adjoining Matador Land and Cattle Company property in search of Bob White or Blue quail. It was fun, and even more so when we had friends and family along. It was sport for sure and we all loved playing.
As my brother squeezed off a few more rounds I could see the enjoyment in his eyes. I was happy for him and have no doubt that he will always be able to feel that same joy while holding a gun as a citizen in this country. I also don’t believe that Maurice, Larry, or I ever want to see a weapon of that magnitude, or greater, used in a class full of first graders. I believe if it were up to us with our differing opinions that we could find common ground to that question that haunts this nation.
For me the answer here and for so many other problems in the world begins with that one commonality that the Clifton boys had: a father like the late Clyde Clifton who took time to make sure that his kids knew the boundaries of gun ownership and was there to make sure that we played within those boundaries. He also made sure that we knew it was our right and above all, our responsibility.