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How we agonize with poor Ralphie Parker as he pines for his dearest love, a Red Ryder air rifle! The time of A CHRISTMAS STORY is before Christmas in the 1940’s—when (we’ve been told) America used to be great. America was also in or approaching a world war which isn’t mentioned in the story.
The Red Ryder air rifle wields more mystical power than an opiate in Ralphie’s mind. It’s a gateway to imagination, courage, adventure, and triumph. It is manhood, heroism, and power. It’s all that guns can still represent today for those who are given to such posturing. Of course, reality serves a different view—even for Ralphie. When his father presents him with the air rifle, Ralphie can’t avoid being hurt. The adults who warned, “You’ll shoot your eye out,” weren’t entirely wrong.
In those days, the danger of a child with a weapon reflected on the judgement—or lack of judgement—of the parents. Parents who hunted spent long hours teaching their children how to walk safely with a rifle to avoid accidental discharge and how to discern the difference between edible prey and other hunters. The NRA taught gun safety classes. In my school, the NRA classes were mandatory for all students as we sat in the gymnasium bleachers. Parents forced television moguls to regulate the amounts and kinds of violence that could be shown during prime time. However, the fretting parents did over whether or not to expose their kids to guns—for play or hunting—came to naught. Today, we all recognize that many of the guns in circulation are military-grade tools for killing, and children can be the shooters.
What happened to responsible gun ownership? Did we love our guns so passionately that we shot our eyes out? What reality are we no longer able to see? While activists rant about the lives of the unborn, others revere combat weapons and what they perceive as an individual’s right to commit violence as more important than lives—especially the lives of people they don’t like. Innocent people fall victim daily. But many of us simply look away now that we’re weary of bad news. Some confuse freedom with being without scruples, patriotism with hypocrisy. We celebrate the Fourth of July and honor our soldiers who fell in battle while we no longer uphold democracy and short-change our veterans.
As with Ralphie, the problem isn’t actually as simple as guns. The problem is the “me” obsessed don’t want to grow up and take responsibility—for themselves or for those around them. Like spoiled children in the toy aisle, they say, “I want what I want!” They want religion that shuts “undesirables” out and forces everyone to comply with the rules of the few. They don’t want to know that finding and fulfilling yourself requires accountability to your highest self, regardless of religious affiliation. They don’t want to do the sharing a democracy requires. The Golden Rule of treating others as you want to be treated is an expression of self-respect. Do you know how to love yourself and serve your highest good? If you do, then you can prove it by sharing that care with those around you. If you don’t, you bully and throw a fit when you’re asked to respect the needs of the whole. You don’t have to have an air rifle to shoot your eye out. You can blind yourself by staring too hard at your selfies and listening exclusively to those who pander to you until your knees jerk their way.