You Shall Not Kill
My Life with Guns
The Rifle was hung high up on the wall of the barn. Sometimes I would see it on the highest stack of seed wheat. It was never to be touched. Dad had a .303 at the Rifle Club, but by the time I knew of its existence, the old soldier never went there. The .22 at home was used to dispatch sick sheep. I doubt he used it a dozen times before I left home.
I was allowed to use it in my teens, and delighted in bare-footing rabbits in the scrub. Bare foot hunting makes you totally silent. Crows were also allowed. Kangaroos were forbidden.
I took dead rabbits on the bus, in my school bag, for high school dissection classes. The only class I really remember, was when we were all crowded round the science teacher as he took out a string of tiny foetal sacs from a pregnant doe.
When I went up north, I bought my own gun, even before buying a truck.
Rabbits were the thing. Spotlighting was a good way to get meat for the old pensioners who would otherwise go hungry, or so I told myself. In reality it was also the fun that counted. Shooting was a social occasion.
One day I was targeted by a wild scrub bull which was immune to all but the last of the six shots I managed to pump into him. He dropped at my feet, but when the men came back to cut him up, he’d gone. So I kept my little semi-automatic for rabbits, and bought a big gun for when I had to work out in the cattle infested country.
I was given permission by the men to shoot kangaroos- a sacred animal- and my prowess there was appreciated by all the old folk needing a feed.
I had a reputation for being able to blow the head off a ngintaka at 200 metres, so he wouldn’t get away down a burrow. The young fellas would stand spotting on the back of the Landcruiser, as we came home from a day’s work in the bush. They would all stand motionless as I prepared, sitting the rifle across the bonnet on a bean bag, and carefully breathing out to take the shot. I loved the challenge, and the notoriety.
I began to be ashamed that I enjoyed killing.
One night I shot a kanyula which vanished in the muzzle bloom, and the buck of the scope. We went to the spot and found it gone. We tracked the blood 300 feet up a spur, down into a gully, and as high up the other side. The chest cavity was almost empty. I marvelled at its endurance, but felt the beginnings of a regret.
Not long after, in a gun magazine, I suppose, I read a soldier talking about how much punishment the body can take. He’d shot “his first Viet Cong” six or eight times, but the man had kept coming for him. His whole tone was one of regret and frustration, but not about the killing. Back home, he had bought a proper gun.
Somehow, the two incidents connected. I’d once said to someone about my rifle, “If you’re within 500 metres, you’re dead.” It was no boast, just a fact. To use such a weapon for fun began to feel deeply, viscerally wrong.
My theological studies inexorably brought me to a sense or the connectedness of all things, and of all Life.
Meat became a problem. I understand why my father refused to kill his own meat on the farm. I wonder if his long dislike of mutton was really about the eating the animals he grew for wool.
The current outrage in Australia at the inhumanity of Indonesian abattoirs, and the opposition to the live sheep trade, is ironic. We do the same killing here. Killing is killing, and we are not half as humane about it as we pretend. Life becomes a commodity.
Perhaps the Bushman says a prayer before he kills on the hunt, but it doesn’t happen at the abattoirs, and there are no prayers said as terrified stock are run down with helicopters, and forced into stock crates. Few of us even say Grace at meals.
You see what you want to see in all this. I don’t eat much meat, anymore.
I’ve heard the extreme position that we shouldn’t kill anything, and indeed, when we find a big huntsman spider hanging off the ceiling over our bed, we take it outside rather than kill it. But there’s a line of practicality somewhere, or we couldn’t use antibiotics, which kill life. Not killing redbacks under the bed would be silly.
But why kill, and why and despoil the land, when it is not necessary. Why is my life so valuable that all other life should fall before me?
This insight changes everything of course; how we farm, how we develop; would I refuse a pig’s kidneys? One of the tasks of theology, and of being human, is to re-examine our attitude to other life. We have choices and knowledge that even our grandparents did not have. And we do things they never did; cage hens, pig crates, and feedlots, that commoditising of Life we call ‘meat production.’
Where the line lies is yet to be determined and will always be ‘blurry.’ But it is clear, I think, that there is no need for any civilian to have weapons that are designed to kill people. You shall not kill. The practicalities of life mean we need armies and police, but handguns at home?!
And hunting? I ask, “What are you doing to yourself when you go off for a good weekend’s shooting? What does Life mean to you?”
As I stood propped on my staff during the opening service of our Ethiopian partners at Greenacres, I let my eyes wander across the tabernacle housing the Ark, and the musical instruments. I finally realised what I was seeing. The handles on all the senasels, which had come from Ethiopia, were made of 50 calibre machine gun shells. What a turning of swords into ploughshares!
By comparison, Mythbusters’ playing with machine guns is— I was going to say pornographic— but perhaps deeply offensive and disrespectful of life, and mocking of those who died, is more appropriate.
We would be deeply offended if tourists ran through Auschwitz playing hide and seek, or wrote graffiti on the wall of the gas chamber. We are outraged when some bogan urinates on a war memorial. Why do we play games with the weapons of death?
Even target practice— harmless say the gun lovers— is a homage to killing. Our rifle clubs were encouraged by government to prepare for war. Learning to shoot to kill is part of their heritage. We would be horrified if a car club practised running down dummies, and called it precision driving practice. Not the same thing? We see what we want to see.
The two small boys across the bottom paddock, on the farm next door, became admirers of my Dad after I had left home. My little sister used to babysit them. They told her how Dad would just shoot over the ‘roo’s heads to encourage them out of the wheat. “Mel has a big gun,” they said, “but he doesn’t use it very often.” I think he was right.
Kanyula: A hill kangaroo
Ngintaka: A large goanna aka Perentie
Redbacks: a poisonous Australian spider with a very painful bite.
Sensasel: Traditional Ethiopian Instrument a bit like a Tambourine.
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