The weekend before last, Dianne and I went to the Gays Mills Apple Festival. It's an annual day trip for us. The two-hour drive takes us out Highway 14, then on Highway 60 along the Wisconsin River, and finally up Highway 131 through the twisting hills of southwest Wisconsin, which is for my money the most beautiful part of a beautiful state.
The festival itself culminates in a parade featuring every high school marching band and volunteer fire department in a fifty-mile radius. If you live more than twenty miles away around that region, do not have a fire or a hankering for a drum and bugle corps on the last Sunday in September. It will take a long time for either to reach you.
Gays Mills has earned the word "funky." It was a top destination for Madison hippies who wanted to drop out of society and back to the land. Somehow, they made peace, common cause and apple fritters with the conservative, rural locals. Somebody should write a novel about this place. Chances are several have been started.
Anyway, Dianne and I are walking down Main Street taking in the scene and we come across a guy selling guns at the parade. This is not something you see in Madison every day, so we stop. Turns out he's selling raffle tickets to win one of these guns because the Gays Mills Fire Department needs a new station. This is a good cause, so I buy three tickets (they're ten bucks apiece or three for $25). Problem is I only have five bucks on me, so I get a twenty-dollar loan from Dianne. I promise her an 80% stake in any rifle I win. I know that's uncommonly sweet of me, but that's just the kind of guy I am.
Well, as I'm inspecting the guns I might win (there are ten) I notice the one I really want. It's the top gun on the prize list, a classic bolt action Winchester 270 with a walnut stock. I'm admiring this deer-dispatching work of art when Dianne points out the Mossberg AR-15. "That's just a killing machine," she says.
Later I chastise her for blowing my cover as a liberal Madison guy (nobody would have noticed otherwise) with a comment like that. She fires back that I've said exactly the same thing about the AR-15 -- in writing -- and, by the way, the guy selling the tickets was mostly deaf. She's correct on both counts, but still.
This does raise an interesting question. What if I don't win the beautiful, classic walnut stock Winchester, but the ugly killing machine instead? Do I ask to trade it in for something more useful for an outdoorsman and less useful for killing lots of people in a short period of time? Dianne, with her 80% stake in my winnings, as well as her liberal, urban ways, suggests that I accept the gun and then have it destroyed.
There would be something symbolically satisfying about that, but it would be pure symbolism. Good data are hard to come by, but a good estimate seems to be that there are something like 2.5 million AR-15-type weapons in circulation already, and there are more out there every day as the gun-buying frenzy continues in response to Congressional non-action on the issue. One less wouldn't make a heck of a lot of difference.
On the other hand, what if I found out that the gun I traded in wound up in the hands of another mass murderer in a school someplace?
Until October 14, the day of the drawing, this is a purely hypothetical question, and it doesn't get much less abstract after that. I own three chances out of 1,000 tickets sold and there are ten prizes. I struggled through statistics in college, so smarter people out there can calculate the odds, but my best educated guess is that they are bad.
I know I contributed a few bucks toward getting the Gays Mills Fire Department a new station. If someday I could live in a country where I had a chance to win one of nine really nice sporting rifles but not an assault rifle, I'd feel better about everything.