No more thoughts and prayers

Pittsburgh’s shooting hits home for many.

In the summer of 1962, I set sail for the South Seas and beyond. My goal was to circumnavigate, to follow the wake of countless sailors before me, have amazing adventures and see the world. I was 21, and about to squander a nice inheritance in the pursuit of my dream. I was naïve and somewhat stupid — it never occurred to me that I couldn’t do it. Before buying the ancient wooden sailboat that spring — that would act as my home for the next six years — I had been sailing exactly three times.

Designed by Edward Buker and built in Massachusetts in 1924, Paisano was a Marconi-rigged ketch, 56 feet overall and 42 feet on the waterline. Drawing 8 feet, she was pitch pine on oak, iron fastened with teak decks and mahogany trim. Despite her age, she was in fine shape.

I persuaded a couple of friends from college to join me on the voyage, and we spent several months fitting her out. I wanted to be prepared for anything, so we made sure that we were well armed. I acquired an M1 carbine and 30.06, as well as a revolver.

My pals abandoned ship in Tahiti, I found new crew members and the circumnavigation continued. My shipboard arsenal expanded, and I was particularly glad to have an automatic weapon as well as my popguns in early 1966 when we were approaching the Gulf of Aden. Then as now, it was a dangerous part of the world.

A couple of dhows, wooden merchant sailing vessels that were then in wide use along the African coast and the gulf, approached us. There were armed men aboard and we thought, probably correctly, that they intended to board us, steal Paisano and kill us. A burst of fire across their bows deterred them, and they bore off.

Being heavily armed while sailing through dangerous waters is one thing, but being heavily armed at home in the United States is another. Semi-automatic firearms aren’t toasters — they’re not useful home appliances, ready to brighten your morning with a crisply browned slice of raisin bread. Having an assault weapon is like having your sullen, drugged-out, unemployable brother-in-law living in your basement. You know that the jerk might get you in trouble, but you can’t seem to get rid of him.

AR-15s are bad tenants. They’re useless for personal protection, absurd for hunting and nowadays wouldn’t even slow down a Red Sea pirate. They’re great for hunting down and killing America’s most abundant, most defenseless and least agile land mammal — Homo sapiens.

Our niece Sarah, a member of the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, posted this on Facebook:

“I know it has been going on for all of history but I just can’t understand why people have so much hatred for Jews. For those who have never had to live their life scared of being discriminated against, hurt, or even killed for who you are, consider yourself lucky.

“Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Hell, the people who were killed were doing just that — praying. We need gun reform in this country and we need it now. There is absolutely no reason anyone should own an assault weapon.”

Sarah and her husband, David, are newlyweds. My wife, Karen, went to their joyous wedding in Pittsburgh last month. It’s only by chance that Sarah and David weren’t at temple that deadly morning.

In an ideal world, we’d do what Australia did years ago and make assault weapons illegal nationwide. But in the real world, that would activate the crazies and exacerbate our nation’s fearful divisions. We have to stop fighting, start persuading, and eventually give up our strange love affair with weapons of war. Middle-aged white guys, wake up! Speaking as an old white guy, we don’t need these damned things.

Unless you’re confronting an armed robber in your house or place of business, you don’t need a gun — and if you do, a double-action revolver should serve.

Assault weapon manufacturers should be held accountable for their products, as were tobacco companies. Of the 300 million or so guns Americans own, assault rifles account for no more than about 4 percent of the total. I’m a gun guy, but I’m with Sarah — no more thoughts and prayers.