Didn’t know the gun was loaded

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 4, 2021

The recent deadly discharge of a firearm on a movie set in New Mexico has brought back to me vivid memories of a critical moment in my own life back east as a gun-loving teenager, about 65 years ago. And it involved an innocent young child.

Under the influence of a neighbour who was an avid sportsman, I had acquired several rifles and shotguns. We’d often go rabbit and pheasant hunting together. I even made my neighbour a hand-crafted gun rack as a gift, and one for myself, as well. In addition, I’d gained some skill in rebluing gun barrels and refinishing weathered stocks in linseed oil to bring out the richness of the grain. Folks said I made those guns look “real good.”

My fascination with firearms led to an after-school job for me at a prominent gun shop, a favourite of sportsmen and police alike. In those days the Smith & Wesson M&P .38 Special continued its reputation as handgun of choice among police officers, and the .44 Remington Magnum was just making its debut.

The gun shop was located on the main floor of a two-storey building. The shop featured a wall-to-wall rack of rifles and shotguns behind several showcases of handguns. A family with a young child just learning to crawl lived on the second floor.

I’ll never forget the time I came to work and found the owner badly shaken. Earlier that day some unknown customer had taken a rifle from the rack, slipped a live round into it when no one was looking, and returned it to the rack. Later that day, not long before I arrived, another customer had taken that same rifle from the rack, held it in various positions to see how comfortable it was, and while pointing it upward, had squeezed the trigger. He didn’t know the gun was loaded.

Upstairs, directly overhead, the young child was crawling around on the floor as the gun went off. “The shot went through the ceiling,” the wide-eyed shop owner gasped, “and just missed hitting the baby!”

I strongly suspect that that incident weighed heavily in my decision to quit my job at the gun shop not long after. I even sold my guns and bought something else to shoot with. Yes, that pretty much marked the beginning of my love for photography. And the shots I’ve taken ever since have filled my life with much better memories.

Life is not a target, but an inspiration. Camera in hand, that thought paid my way through undergrad school, and now keeps my eyes and heart open to the beauty around me every day and everywhere, especially when I’m not expecting it.

Yes, as “Satchmo” Louis Armstrong so famously sang, “I see trees of green, red roses, too … skies of blue and clouds of white … the colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky … and I think to myself, What a wonderful world.” And my camera and heart shout, “Oh, yeah!”

Not long ago I was visiting with one of our readers on the porch of a local coffee shop, when one of our fine feathered friends joined us. As the male house sparrow hopped across the deck toward me, I said to my coffee companion, “I just can’t resist taking a shot.”

I’m sure that sparrow was really glad he was in a camera’s viewfinder and not in a gunsight. And I think that young child crawling on the floor above the gun shop all those years ago would agree.


© 2021 Warren Harbeck

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