It seems that according to the mainstream media today, just the mention of the word ‘gun’ is enough to send folks screaming for cover. This has been especially perplexing to me since I am the 9th generation of my family to call the Appalachian region home; we have been, and many of us still are today, a gun culture. Before you start throwing hate my way allow me to illustrate my point.
In order to gain any reasonable perspective on what I am about to explain you must first accept two basic common-sense principles: 1) A firearm is an inanimate object, a tool, and as such is incapable of independent actions or feelings; and 2) In order for the human animal to survive and continue the species, the individuals must be responsible for their own well-being. I consider these two points to be the foundation of Appalachian, and American, culture and if you cannot accept these simple statements, perhaps you should seek your reading elsewhere.
The intimate and necessary association of humans and weapons throughout history is self-evident: if we wanted to eat we had to have a means by which to procure sustenance, and if we wanted to protect our progeny from the dangers of our environment (including other humans) we needed the tools to do so, regardless if these means and tools were clubs, rocks, knives or, eventually, guns. The evolution of weapons is the story of the evolution of the human race—this is not a judgement based on good or evil, it is simply what it is. We provided for ourselves, we protected ourselves, we expanded our range and we evolved and even today, we continue that evolution.
In order to understand our Appalachian Mountain heritage and history (I believe the two terms to be interchangeable) we must remember the context of the times when the region was settled, and this is the reference point we need to remember when we talk about ‘modern’ Appalachian culture. The region was not the fertile, bountiful land of the breadbasket of the country, it was a stark, unforgiving land of hard mountains with poor soil and big timber and fierce native people determined to keep European settlers out. There was no welcome mat for the Appalachian settlers, we were the people that did not have the means to settle the ‘good’ land and only wanted to carve out a place where we could raise our families in peace and isolation, unhindered by far-away governmental restraints. We displaced the natives and took the game where we could find it and we banded together in our isolation by the means of our churches and our mutual needs. Throughout that time it was the gun in the hands of the pioneer that made that settlement possible; yes, we demonstrated both the good and bad in human nature in a hundred different ways, but the gun was the one tool we relied upon when the question was survival. All of the things that came after the pioneer era, the roads and farms, the dams and mineral extraction, the schools and manufacturing businesses, all came because Appalachian people accepted their individual responsibility to themselves and their neighbors, and because we were prepared (armed) to protect and provide for, our culture.
I grew up in a household where guns were simply a part of our lives. We had firearms in the house and we hunted and so did everyone I knew. We were taught from an early age simple, straightforward truths and we knew that making the wrong decisions had consequences: you didn’t allow the baby to get into dangerous situations, you didn’t mess around on the farm implements, you didn’t stick anything into the light socket and you damn sure didn’t touch a firearm without permission. We were taught these things by caring and loving parents that weren’t afraid to tan your hide if you did stupid things. Personal responsibility. Regardless if the object was a hammer or a kitchen knife, or a scythe or a shotgun, if you were careless you could get hurt. We learned to use the tools and to respect them and know them for what they are. These concepts I passed down to my children and I take comfort in the fact that they will also pass them down to their sons and daughters.
Today we are told in a hundred different ways that we are now ‘civilized’ and together, we can provide for our well-being. The same folks that are telling us this are also telling us that our faith and self-reliance are antiquated and obsolete notions we should abandon. These are also the people that are the most fervent supporters of removing guns from American culture. In our America of today it is in the South in general and Appalachia specifically that there is the most resistance to this mindset, but I have seen it all across our country. Perhaps it is because we have not forgotten our history that this is the case. If human history has taught us nothing else, it has vividly taught us that the people that give up their individual identities and responsibilities are quickly swept away. Our strength as a people has come from our ability to recognize what has to be done and our willingness to use the tools that are right for the job at hand, and not forsake those tools because of irrational fears.
Until the evil side of human nature is swept away, I’ll be keeping my guns. If you move to Appalachia, we welcome you—but you might want to keep that in mind. We would be delighted to share our heritage with you, but do not expect us to forsake it for the expediency of political correctness.
In that regard I’m afraid you will be disappointed.