By Brian Mead
The atmosphere is hectic. People, hundreds if not thousands of them, are milling around the giant expo center, a place that could more accurately be described as a humongous warehouse differently preoccupied. They are of every stripe and origin, pale and swarthy, male and female, old and young, local and foreign. They navigate around the tables like river trout navigating rocks. I am just one of them on this lazy, wintry Sunday afternoon . . .
But why are we all here? If we are so different, what single thing could possibly join us all in one mass of humanity?
The right to defend life and home in the gravest extreme, the right to keep and bear arms. Before long, I walk out with my prize, an old relic of a war nearly gone from living memory.
I sit crosslegged on my bed, my prize, a Mosin-Nagant 91/30 lying before me. They had been selling these by the crate at the show; I could have claimed any I wanted, but out of all of them, I had chosen this one. Now that I am home under the bright lights, I can look over this singular artifact.
The initial inspection tells me nothing interesting – it’s an old rifle made in 1942 in Izhevsk. All numbers matching, a nice shiny bore, and no rearsenal stamp. As I hold the old wood and steel in my hands, I realize that this thing has been around longer than any living person I know. Fascinated, I look it over more closely, trying to see if there’s anything special I can spot in the speckled wood with its fading finish. To my disappointment, the staraya vintovka yields nothing to me, other than it is obviously old and well used.
I pick the rifle up as I set about familiarizing myself with it. I think to myself how old this gun is. How many others have already picked up this rifle? Trained with it? Marched with it? Fought with it? Died with it? I practice just working the bolt. It is not long before she yields her first secret: the great, pale splotches are most strongly concentrated right where my hand goes when turning the bolt. I realize that somebody, somewhere, has made the exact same motions.
As I lower the rifle, I pay attention to the body. The finish is most off in places where one’s skin would touch the wood, like the stock, foreend, and receiver side – right where I had laid my hands on this relic. Intrigued, I look more closely at the weapon, just like doubtlessly some other man has, perhaps while sitting in a trench, wishing for better days.
Then I see it.
I see a splotch right by the grip – a dark, unmistakable, out of place splotch right where the heel of my hand would be. My heart recognizes it before my brain. Blood. This is a weapon of war, and in war, both sides bleed.
My fingers absentmindedly brush over the rear of the receiver. To my surprise, I feel notches. My eyes count four notches cut into the wood deliberately. The blood, the notches… My god!
I see it.
A man, maybe not even my own age readies his Mosin and aims down the sights. On the far end is a shape, another person not too different, just wearing a different uniform and speaking a different language. The tall shape dances like a candles’ flame in the sights. The trigger is squeezed until the striker flies forwards. An invisible ball and a jet of flame. At the far end, that shape in the gunsight flickers and falls.
A man like me did this four times to people with this very gun.
The nine pounds of wood and steel feel heavy now. Those battles are over and their dead are slain, but every new day is a new future. In hands like mine, this weapon has brought misery, perhaps guided by nobility, perhaps used ignobly, but it has impacted history with bones that lay lifeless still and forevermore. As I pick up my rifle again, I understand the burden of the armed, and in my heart, I pray to God that I never have to witness for myself what this nine pound thing can do to a man, for I hold no doubts that into my home I have welcomed a weapon of war, and it sits squarely upon me to shoulder that burden, because this weapon is nothing but a tool; it is up to me and me alone to decide that that tool does.