.22 Caliber Independence Day

by Mitchell Bonds

Happy Fourth of July, patriots! Let’s talk about how much fun I had this last month putting together a deadly assault weapon with a half-dozen lethal features.

Here is a picture of it:

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This is “Druidia,” my shooting-range darling. Her name is both a pun and a Spaceballs reference and I apologize for neither.

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Isn’t she pretty? Custom paint job using leaves from my little brother’s garden.

I grew up in the state of Idaho, but have over the last few years become a soft city boy. I prefer my fast Internet and hot running water over the rough backcountry lifestyle, play an unreasonable amount of video games, and relegate my camping trips to “never.”

I still however have a healthy appreciation for firearms. Living in the backwoods where bears, ex-mafiosos, coyotes, and other dangerous wildlife often occupied our backyard, our dad taught my brother and I firearm safety from the day we were big enough to possibly get our grimy hands on one of his several guns.

We weren’t taught to fear guns as dangerous objects, but were taught the dangers of not treating them properly. From day 1, we learned never to point a gun at anything we didn’t intend to shoot, and that even if it’s not loaded, a gun is always loaded. We learned guns weren’t toys. We knew to keep our booger hooks off the bang buttons until we were ready to shoot.

There was even a great object lesson wherein he filled a milk jug with red Kool-aid and had me feel it, test how squishy it was, then feel my own torso to see it was about the same level of squishy. Then he put the jug on a stump a dozen yards away and put one load of buckshot through it with his 12-gauge.

The resulting spray stayed vividly in my memory, and in more than 20 years of handling firearms, I’ve had not one incident of stupid behavior with a real gun and never hurt myself, another, or even a single animal with one. Because I like my torso. There’s a bit too much of it, but I rather like it where it is.

These days I mostly tinker with weaponry in digital form. I have been modifying guns in the “Fallout” video game series since you had to install a mod on the game to be able to install mods on your guns. My favorite in “Fallout: New Vegas” is the Marksman Carbine, a semi-automatic rifle with a red-dot sight, with plentiful ammo.

My brother Alex, on the other hand, never lost the backcountry in his heart. Unlike the easily-lampooned “operator” — with their beer gut, NRA stickers, and Bruce Willis attitude — he’s law enforcement, and he knows his stuff. He rolls his eyes at those who “think they’re a badass and wear camouflage pants,” as he puts it.

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The pudgy one on the left is me. The other is Alex, who purchases gun parts and customizes real life firearms. Last I checked, he owns more firearms than he is years old. Our conversations about gun parts usually take place within arm’s reach of four guns that I know about — and apparently two that I didn’t until last Thursday. I know the whole “guns kill people” thing is overplayed, but the whole time I was there, not a single one of the six tried to kill me despite having every opportunity to catch me unawares.

Thanks to Alex, I own two guns myself. One is a simple revolver for personal defense (you only have to get attacked in your own home by a meth head ONCE to want something sturdier than a field hockey stick for defense). Last month, I finally broke down and let him build a custom gun for me. I decided I wanted a low-budget, real-life version of the Marksman Carbine, and he made it happen.

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This is a 10/22, which is semi-automatic and fires .22 Long Rifle bullets. This is not, despite its appearance, an actual “Assault Rifle.” An assault rifle has selectable firing modes and are already illegal for civilian use. Druidia does not: One squeeze of the trigger, one bullet, nothing more.

She does, however, have several cosmetic features that are being currently bandied by prominent members of the Democratic party as “Lethal Features.” I’m going to explain them and why I have them.

First of all, here is the same gun, before any of the customization we did to it.

Ruger 1022 model 1103

Hardly looks like the same machine, does it? But at its heart, this is the same firearm. It fires the same bullets at the same rate, one per trigger squeeze. One might sound a little silly trying to ban the second rifle, despite their identical nature, so the add-ons are what get targeted.

Here’s what the scary-looking “lethal features” do.

The body itself, the housing for the ‘gun’ part of this rifle, is Proudly Made in the USA by Tapco. It’s great for customization, but as Alex puts it, it looks “scarier to the uninformed.”

Up top is a cheap Chinese optic, a Phantom RT6L, which Alex and I picked because I wanted its red laser dot to run on a AAA battery instead of coin-cell or ‘watch’ batteries.

The red dot allows me precision aiming. Last time I used one of these, even my natural clumsiness wasn’t enough to harm my accuracy.

The same goes for the folding forward grip. With this I have immediate control over where the muzzle of the gun points, and combined with the red-dot optic, I reliably hit what I’m aiming at and nothing else.

These two are great features for a guy who doesn’t want to shoot anybody. If I wanted to commit mass murder, I wouldn’t care about collateral damage. These bits make the gun safer for the average Joe, not more dangerous.

The gizmo on the front is a pin-on flash-hider/compensator by NC Star. It reduces the “fireball that comes out the barrel” Alex tells the uninformed. But that’s not its reason to exist.

“It has one purpose: To create a greater perceived caliber on the business end,” Alex said.

If someone who meant me harm — remember the angry meth addict? — was confronted by this weapon, “it reduces the likelihood of having to pull the trigger. You’re less likely to actually have to use it. Nine times out of 10, when justifiable lethal force is presented, the presentation is enough to mitigate the threat.”

Yeah, he talks like a cop. He is one. And he’s right. I’d be more intimidated by a doom gun than a sissy pistol any day, especially if I was attacking the holder of said doom gun with something less doomy, like a knife or baseball bat.

The high-capacity magazine you hear so much about is attached to Druidia. That big banana clip is a Ruger BX-25 and holds a whopping 25 rounds, which coincidentally, is 5 rounds fewer than I thought it held given its size.

Alex wouldn’t get me a larger one since any magazine larger than 25 rounds has a tendency to jam and make the gun less reliable — and by ironic logic, less dangerous. I won’t be doing a Scarface impression with these magazines.

Sadly, mass shooters who didn’t have these just brought backpacks full of the 10-round magazines instead, so banning the sale of these doesn’t help.

The last two deadly features of this perilous weapon are its pistol grip and its telescoping stock. The first feature is touted as the most perilous feature of any ‘assault weapon.’ But there’s a problem.

“It does nothing for the actual shooting,” Alex said. Literally it’s designed to be “easier to hang onto with one hand,” ostensibly so you can do things like turn on a flashlight, take a sip of tea, or text “just shooting pumpkins lol” with the other without worrying about accidentally dropping the damn thing or pointing it an unsafe direction.

The telescoping stock allows the back to be resized to be comfortable for any person who wants to shoot it. Extend it all the way, and tall, long-armed people can use it. Collapse it, and a five-foot-nothing teenage girl can use it. Safely and comfortably. It does nothing for the shooting. Same number of bullets, same firing speed.

This gun’s cosmetics might look scary — it’s my own Marksman Carbine, just like I wanted. She was fun to build and customize to my personal preferences and requirements. But this is Druidia, a gun that will never kill a living thing.

Because I have the features I need to hit nothing but my targets, be they swiveling competition targets or just tin cans. Because I know how gun safety works. And because I keep my booger hook off the bang button.

Mitchell Bonds edits for a local newspaper as his day job, and elsewise spends too much time playing video games and writing about dragons. Beware of contacting him at fouryearquest@yahoo.com.

Refugees, Immigrants, and ‘Murrican Values

by Daniel J. Durand

A friend of mine reached out to me on Facebook, and asked what my take is on the idea of refugees receiving welfare.

Refugees are a touchy subject, especially in Idaho; the College of Southern Idaho acts as a refugee center, taking people in from all over the world and helping them find homes and jobs. Many decide to settle permanently in Boise or Twin Falls, and I’ve known and worked with many refugees and their families.

In my experience, most Idahoans are indifferent or even happy about refugees living in their community. Some people, though, aren’t so thrilled, or can even be hostile to the idea, and this creates tension—there are now groups in Idaho that have formed to “watch” refugees and keep track of their activities.

Big Brother is Average Joe, but “Average” isn’t a Compliment

Recently, one of these “watcher” groups posted an article on its blog about a young girl in Twin Falls who was raped by the son of a refugee family. The article suggested not only that the boy was congratulated by his family, but also claimed that the response to the situation by the police and prosecutors hinted at a greater scheme.

Details are still emerging, but information released by the authorities involved in the case and the media suggests that there were three boys involved, one committing the crime while the others egged him on. The police responded, the boys were apprehended, the legal system is processing. As of writing this, it doesn’t look like any of the boys were refugees, either.

A young girl was sexually assaulted—but clearly, the incident was not exactly how the blog made it appear.

Keep in mind, the people running these blogs are regular people like you and me. Question is, do you trust the guy next door enough that you’d be comfortable with him watching your activities?

Is it hard to believe that in a city where refugees are common, and people are on edge, some of the details these “concerned citizens” produced were fuzzy, or even made up?

The story made the rounds in the media, and the Idaho Statesman, the Washington Post, local KPVI, and Snopes thoroughly debunked it.

Unfortunately, this was after the conservative, anti-refugee crowd got all hopped up on freedom juice—YouTube is full of videos right now linking the incident to media cover-ups and a conspiracy by Obama to strategically place Muslim refugees across the United States.

I’m not going to link to any of those videos, because I refuse to give them web traffic. If you really want to go to the freak show, just search “twin falls refugee” on YouTube. Sadly, you won’t find the media reports or credible sources, because the news agencies are using their own video players, not YouTube.

In this day and age, information is spread rapidly, but it’s the information that is the easiest to pass around that actually gets passed around, not necessarily the best information. You almost can’t fault people for buying into the bullshit when it’s so abundant and easy to find.

Almost.

Refugees on the Dole

Regardless of where you stand on this, it’s a huge can of worms to talk about refugees right now, and so I decided to take some time to gather my thoughts before answering my friend’s question, and this article is for him.

To put it simply, I am in favor of refugees receiving welfare. By “welfare,” I mean access to food stamps, housing, unemployment insurance, Medicaid, etc. Refugees have virtually the same access to welfare programs as legal immigrants and United States citizens, and in my mind, this is fair.

If you think about it, their entire status as refugees is a form of welfare—we recognize that refugees are without a country, without a home, without a life, and we strive to take care of them until they can get back on their feet. Why would you bring in refugees, and then not give them access to food, housing, medicine, and financial aid?

Refugees are your neighbor who has a house fire and has to stay in your living room. Yes, we one day want our living room back. But we understand that our neighbor didn’t choose to have their house burn down.

Ideally, refugees will return to their countries of origin when the war, natural disaster, or political climate that caused them to be refugees has subsided, or they could become citizens, and fully integrate themselves into American society. If either of those outcomes are to be realized, someone has to make sure these people—and they are people, above all else—are cared for.

How can you expect a person to survive, or to want to naturalize, when you remove all access to the systems they need to do so? Remember, refugees have nothing—no job, no money, no social security number, nothing. If you don’t give them a way out of that situation, they won’t get out.

I think this goes against what a lot of Americans believe right now, this pulled-up-by-your-bootstraps mentality that suggests if you just grit your teeth and struggle hard enough, you’ll make it. It’s got a simple sort of beauty to it, I suppose. No matter what else, you can always count on yourself, and pull yourself up, without pity or charity, or, heaven forbid, the government.

How do you pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you have no boots?

That’s really what we’re dealing with—a group of people who have nothing, and can only depend on others, a plight that is so much the antithesis to our national mindset that the people who suffer from it may as well not exist.

But there was a second part of my friend’s question; specifically, what are my thoughts on refugees receiving welfare, when other immigrants don’t have access.

Getting Ours First

Here are some other questions you may have heard people ask when talking about refugees, or about immigration:

  • “How can we let in refugees when we have homeless veterans?”
  • “Why should we ease immigration restrictions when there are no jobs for Americans?”
  • “Why can’t they just fix their own country before ruining ours?”

All I hear is, “I want mine before they get theirs.”

Not that I’m accusing my friend of harboring that notion. But I do think the second part of his question sounds awfully familiar. So, here’s a new riddle: A Syrian refugee, a homeless veteran, and an illegal immigrant who just crossed the border walk into a soup kitchen. Who’s hungriest?

We live in a world where sometimes, people need to rely on help from others. Call it charity, call it welfare—poverty knows no nation, creed, color, or language, and the helpless will always need help. I don’t think you can assign a pecking order to the tired, the poor, or the hungry, and short of Batman, bigger soup kitchens are probably the best way to help the most people.

What disappoints me is that instead of planning to build more soup kitchens, we plan to build walls. We believe rumors a little too willingly, and care too little about the truth.

Americans believe in working hard and building a prosperous life—the American dream, alive and shining.

The second part of that ideal, the part we seem to be forgetting lately, is that once you realize the dream, once you pull yourself up by your bootstraps… you reach back down to the people below you, and pull them up.

Sometimes, reaching back means risking a bite on the hand, but we do it anyway, because that’s the kind of people we are.

 

Daniel Durand is sick of Facebook debates. He can be reached at ddurand.specialrojects@gmail.com

French Fries and Jesus

by Daniel J. Durand

A couple of weeks ago, I met a woman named Bess.

I was in Barnes & Noble, soaking up air conditioning and free Wi-Fi, thinking of ideas for articles. I’ve been doing a lot of research on green technology and have become fascinated by home solar panels and trying to make individual homes more efficient, so I thought I’d try to write an article about what I’d learned.

I was making good progress, too, but after a while of getting redirected to websites for doomsday preppers, and also learning that a “carbon scrubber” is apparently a device used in growing marijuana, not just helping the environment, I decided to call it a day.

My stomach was growling as I stepped out onto the street. French fries sounded good, maybe with some vinegar. I adjusted the strap on my laptop bag and started toward my car.

“Excuse me, can you help?”

The question had come from a woman, who was about 20 feet away from me in the parking lot. I stopped and turned, not sure if I’d even heard her. She quickly closed the gap.

“Can you help, sir?”

She had a small bag on her shoulder, a duffel bag grasped in one hand, and a taped-together picture frame in the other. She wore socks with sandals and a faded dress, and a floppy sunhat with the plastic brim falling off. She smelled vaguely of what I thought was patchouli.

This was Bess, and she was homeless.

In and of itself, I was not shocked to meet a homeless person. Boise, like many cities, has a pretty serious homeless problem.

Also like many cities, local government has been slow to acknowledge it. Barely six months ago, the police had broken up a tent city downtown, and I regularly see homeless people on the streets on my way to work.

I asked what was wrong, and Bess introduced herself. She said she didn’t want to offend me, and she didn’t want to take my time or cause me any problems. She said she had been hoping and praying for help, and wondered if there was anything I could do, and that she would understand if I didn’t want to or couldn’t be bothered.

I was about to say she had my attention, and that I would help if I could, but before I could say anything, she sped through a rundown of her faith and how her present circumstances are a test to bring her closer to God. She had clearly given this speech before, and I guessed she was probably used to people walking away or being more defensive.

“That’s why I carry a guardian angel on my arm,” said Bess, showing me the picture frame she was holding. In it was a portrait of an angel, with a serene look and clasped hands, and a background of clouds, surrounded by a glowing aura.

Bess assured me that she didn’t drink any alcohol or do any drugs. I hadn’t asked, but the reassurance was nice. Truth be told, I’ve seen enough druggies and drunks to know she was probably telling the truth, and based on her age, it seemed more likely to me she was homeless from lack of access to drugs, not misuse.

About five minutes after she approached me, I finally got a word in. I explained that I didn’t carry cash, but I was willing to come back if she’d be in the area for a while. I figured since I was going to get a bite to eat anyway, I could get her something, too, and maybe throw in a few bucks.

“Actually,” said Bess, “If you don’t mind or if you’re not comfortable giving me cash, I need medicine and I need to raise money for that.”

I asked what kind of medicine.

“I don’t like to use pharmaceuticals or manufactured medicine,” she said. “The vitamin shop is just up the street, and I need barberry tincture; it helps the gallbladder.”

I looked at my watch, and then at her face. She seemed innocent enough; her eyes reminded me of farm animals back home. She was older, but her skin seemed wrinkled more from sun than from age. I imagined she had been quite pretty when she was young. I imagined she had liked to laugh.

What the hell, I had French fries on my schedule, not a meeting with the Pope.

I threw my laptop in the trunk of my car, and we started walking to get her barberry. I thought about driving us there, but I’ve heard enough horror stories of people getting mugged or having guns pulled on them by hitchhikers to be cautious. Besides, it was only a few blocks.

Bess asked me about myself. I said that my name is Dan, and I’m almost 24. She asked how long I’ve been in Boise, and I said about a year, that I’d moved here a few months after I got out of school. She asked what I went to school for, and I said journalism.

She made an “Ah” sound, one I’d heard a lot since going to school, usually followed by comments about how bad things are with the media or that I wasted my time and should have picked another major. Her reaction wasn’t quite that extreme, though, and I decided to take the opportunity to ask about her.

Bess, it turns out, had been a night security guard for a number of years before an accident in 2012 threw her life into chaos; while crossing the street one day at a busy intersection, she was hit by a car and tossed onto the pavement, resulting in several broken bones and brain damage.

She showed me the ring on her finger, which had several spaces in it where stones had been set. The force of the impact had knocked the stones out of her ring.

While she was able to recover, she was not able to return to work. She said she had family that took care of her for a while, but they had all died, and since she never married or had children of her own, she was alone. She soon became homeless, and then decided to wander.

A few friends Bess made after getting out of the hospital scraped some money together to buy her a bus ticket to Montana. Originally from northern California, Bess didn’t tell me why she was headed to Montana, but she got off the bus in Boise because it seemed like a good place to live.

“There’s no drugs here, and it’s a very wholesome family atmosphere, and what drugs there are are illegal,” she said. “I wanted to be somewhere like that, where I could just focus on my spiritual learning and connecting with God.”

Bess continued on about her faith, how it was really what was holding her together. Her whole life had been changed in a day, and everything she thought was important was cast aside; she said without her faith, she wouldn’t have survived.

I felt funny, then. It had occurred to me that I was walking to buy homeopathic medicine that I doubted would be effective, for a woman whom I knew next to nothing about, as we talked about a god I don’t believe in.

As if on cue, she said she was very grateful that I was helping her, and that most people wouldn’t go to this much trouble.

“It’s no worries,” I said. “At the very least, you get your medicine and I get some exercise.”

We made it to the vitamin shop and I stopped to let her catch her breath. We stood there for a few minutes while she talked about a man she had met about my age from Seattle, who had gone to school to study computers and spent about a year looking for jobs and losing hope before landing a position with Micron.

“That time he spent searching was for him to learn, just like it is for me,” said Bess. “And just like I’m sure it is for you, this up-in-the-air time you have now, to learn and to go to Jesus and ask for help.”

I held the door for her and we went into the store. If I’d had any doubts about her authenticity up to this point, they vanished when she made a beeline to the barberry tincture, the store clerk recognizing her face and greeting her with a small nod. Bess had obviously been here before. I paid for the tincture and we started walking back to my car.

On the walk back, Bess said that she didn’t mean to impose anything with her religious beliefs. She only meant to share, and that the last thing she wanted was to give me unsolicited advice after all the mistakes she had made in her own life.

“When people tell me I should go to the church, or get help, or go to a nonprofit, they’re not understanding, they’re not helping,” she said. “We all have to find our own way.”

I did end up giving her a short ride a few streets over; it was getting dark and I figured if she were going to brutally murder me, she would have done it by now, so it would probably be okay to help her get on her way home, even if I couldn’t take her all the way. I dropped her off and went to get my belated dinner, thinking about our conversation.

While I waited for my order to be made, I kept thinking. When I got my greasy brown bag of fries, I kept thinking. When I got home and ate alone in my room, I kept thinking.

I’m angry.

Not because of the religious conversation, or that she talked about Jesus so much. No, that was part of who she is, what’s keeping her strong, what makes her human in a life that would make most people forget they aren’t animals.

I’m angry because Bess isn’t the first person I’ve met in the last year driven to poverty, to have their life ruined by circumstance or to be left with nothing but their faith. I’m angry because I know people who are just one step away from being Bess, from needing tinctures and angles to get through the day. I’m angry because no matter what else, these people are still people, and I feel like society has let them fall through the cracks.

Why do we let people get sick and not take care of them? Why do we let the elderly live on the streets? Why do we give people so little that when they need help most, they must depend on the intangible?

I’m angry because I don’t have answers to these questions, and because frankly, I don’t think any answer would satisfy me anymore.

But at least I got my damn French fries…

 

Daniel is a writer and editor based in Boise, Idaho. He likes detective stories and probably drinks too much coffee. Reach him at ddurand.specialprojects@gmail.com