Rushville Republican

March 28, 2013

Ward: Guns were common in New Mexico

Bill Ward
Rushville Republican

RUSHVILLE — With all the hullabaloo about gun control, I was reminded of my time at Western New Mexico University back in the ‘60s. The school was located in Silver City, N.M., where the major industry was Kennecott Copper. They had a huge open pit mine just outside of town. There was also Phelps Dodge; they had an abandoned but recently reopened open pit mine the other side of town. The university had about 1,200 students when I attended and I felt I got a good overall business education there.

Interestingly, everyone seemed to have a gun or pistol.

If you went downtown everyone seemed to have a pickup and each of them had a gun rack in the back window with at least a rifle and shotgun hanging there. I never saw anyone actually lock their truck, mainly because everyone knew if you tried to help yourself there was a very good chance you would get shot. Many had hand guns, some carried openly and others not so openly. Many of the students of Western came from the East Coast and immediately took to the gun society of southwest New Mexico. A lot of them purchased rifles, some pistols; most all were generally a menace with whatever firearm they had purchased.

I remember one evening a friend and I were invited to the off-campus apartment of a gentleman from New Jersey. He had a beautiful Henry rifle hanging on his wall and asked if I would like to see it. I, of course, said yes, so he got it down and handed it to me. Out of habit I pulled back the bolt; low and behold a bullet came flying out! The idiot had actually placed a loaded, not-on-safe rifle out in the open for all to see and use. He had a full clip in the rifle and as far as I could see had no idea how to safely handle a gun. I emptied the rifle of bullets prior to handing it back to its owner, but even so decided it was about time to leave.

The first year Mike Rowley and I attended Western we lived in the dorm and that was a real interesting thing. One afternoon we came back to our room from class and there was a huge eagle of some sort tacked up with his wings outstretched on the door going into the dorm room’s wing of the building. Someone had managed to plug that unsuspecting eagle and wanted to show off his prize to all who passed by, if they were interested or not.

I suspect that more than 75 percent of the rooms in that dorm had some sort of gun in them. It was not unusual for some Easterner to borrow a rifle from a native so they could go deer hunting, and it was not all that unusual for those Easterners to have a rifle of their own.

Mike and I had both been in the military so did not feel the need for a rifle. I eventually ended up with a Winchester .22 lever action rifle, which I really wish I still had. Mike never owned a gun, just borrowed one. I would guess that our campus was as well armed as most Army barracks. After our first year at Western I purchased the Winchester, mainly because I was feeling left out because so many others were armed. I remember that Mike and I, along with about three others, decided one afternoon to go owl hunting. It seems that barn owls or some close relative had a nesting area out of town at a butte of sand about 45 feet tall; they burrow nests in the top of the cliff.

Well, all of us wanted to show off our ability to shoot (and shoot straight and well). I had the lever action and all the rest had semiautomatic rifles. We got all worked up, purchased a huge amount of ammo, and headed out for the owls. We had to drive about a mile from town, which was good for anyone who might have been walking around Silver City close to where we were shooting. I doubt if many of us paid the attention we should have to where the bullets went. Anyway, the owls were out in force and so were we. All of us took aim and let loose. You could not see anything but dust churned up by the large number of bullets hitting that cliff. I shot over two boxes of shells and was not the one who shot the most. With the other rifles all you had to do was pull the trigger and it would go. Me, I had to lever mine and that took a little more time. I would guess we shot about 12 boxes of shells and hit not one owl; scared the daylights out of a lot of them, but caused no actual damage to anything other than the cliff side.

Guns can be fun, but still are dangerous. Those who use them should be cautious and know what and how to handle a fire arm. I thought I did because of my Army training, but as time passed I wondered if I really did have the correct attitude to have a gun.

I still own a gun, but it is empty and hanging behind glass in my computer room. I had a 20 gauge shotgun of my father’s but gave that to my eldest son a long time ago. I also have a circa 1830 Kentucky Long Rifle hanging on my wall, and no way would I attempt to shoot that baby. Guns are good if one does use common sense and caution when using them.

Our country has a long history of gun ownership and I would surmise it always will.