Something I’m occasionally asked is why I like replicas, or indeed guns at all? Usually by people who are horrified to discover that I have what look like firearms in the house. In fact, I’m so used to my interest in replica guns causing reactions ranging from outrage to a suggestion that I’m too old to be playing with toys, that I rarely mention it. I sometimes wonder if I should take up a more socially acceptable hobby. Like, I don’t know, puppy strangling or something which might draw less flak from the general public?
Which led me to thinking about why I like guns and replicas. And why that seems baffling or even threatening to some people.
Not my collection. Sadly.
The first bit is probably the easiest to answer. Like many men, I’m fascinated by machines. How they work, how they’re designed and the history of their use. For this reason, I spent many years building, racing, restoring and riding motorcycles. However, at over 55 years of age, I find that I don’t bounce as well as I used to. And it becomes discouraging after spending several months labouring in an unheated garage to build some new bike, only to stuff it in a ditch first time out as you round a corner to discover a bemused little old lady doing a fifty-two point turn in the middle of the road in her ageing Fiat Panda.
Working on replica pistols gives me much the same pleasure as working on bikes, but in the heated comfort of my living room and without the possibility of taking part in another Fiat Panda/Motorcycle interface scenario. I also like the historical aspects of handguns. I can’t think of any other technological artefact which, 100 years or more after it was designed, can still be capable of satisfactorily fulfilling the purpose for which it was originally intended. And yes, I do realise that my Cybergun Tanfoglio Witness isn’t really 100 years old. But it allows me to appreciate the design, construction, intent and function of the original in a way that no photograph or non-shooting replica could.
I also like shooting. I find handgun shooting difficult, challenging, satisfying and occasionally frustrating but also strangely soothing. An hour spent pointlessly making holes in paper targets is a great way to unwind and relax. Though I’m sometimes asked if I wouldn’t rather be shooting “real” guns (usually by the same people who make “playing with toys” comments). For the record, the first part of the answer is no. I have shot a number of cartridge firing pistols, and they’re great fun. But in most parts of the world, the ownership and use of firearms is tightly controlled and I just can’t be bothered with having to go to a range every time I want to shoot. I like the fact that I can shoot my replicas whenever I want: in the garden, garage or even bedroom safely, legally, cheaply and without endangering or disturbing anyone. And the second part of the answer is that replica air guns are “real” guns. The fact that they use compressed air rather than the explosive power of gunpowder doesn’t make them toys. Replica guns must be treated with the same respect as their cartridge firing counterparts and accurate target shooting with a replica air pistol requires the development of precisely the same skills and techniques as any other handgun.
So, that’s why I like replicas. Which leads us on to the second part of the original question: why many people seem to be anti guns generally and by extension, anti replicas. I can’t be the only person who finds admitting that I collect and shoot replicas faintly embarrassing. But I don’t know why. I’m not doing anything illegal, immoral or which could endanger anyone else. I’m very careful about the safe and secure storage of my replicas and I certainly wouldn’t think of brandishing a replica in public. And yet most of my neighbours are unaware that I own and shoot replicas, mainly because I choose not to mention it. My wife is an intelligent and thoughtful person, but she treats my interest in guns with a sort of bemused tolerance and (I guess) probably doesn’t mention it to her friends. She will occasionally say something like “Hmm, yes, that’s nice dear” as I enthuse over some new pistol, but I know that she has no real idea of why I’m so excited and would probably be happier if I collected vintage Dinky toys or Star Wars memorabilia. Though I suspect that she also regards replicas as less likely to add to my already extensive scar collection than my previous passion for motorcycles, so perhaps that’s why she’s keen not to be too discouraging?
Now, I can understand people who don’t share my interest in replica air guns. It’s a fairly niche interest after all. What I don’t understand is people who actively seem to loathe all guns. Is a handgun an intrinsically evil thing? If pressed, I might be persuaded to agree that the world would be a better place if it contained no firearms, though that simply isn’t possible – we can’t put the genie back into the bottle. And I’d be forced to point out that wars, violence and all forms of general inhumanity were being successfully conducted long before there were any guns. And note that for every instance where guns have been used as tools of oppression, they have also been used to confront that oppression. My father fought throughout World War Two, standing up to Hitler and the might of the Wehrmacht with his trusty Webley revolver. So I’d probably contend that it’s a mistake to regard guns themselves as either good nor bad. They are simply tools that reflect the intent and morality of their users. Guns don’t cause violence. They can be used by evil and violently inclined people, but so can a baseball bat or a broken bottle. Don’t confuse the use for which an item is designed with the intent of its ultimate user.
UN Soldiers deployed in Kibati as part of a peacekeeping force. Good guns? Bad guns?
Some people also seem to believe that there is a connection between an interest in guns and extreme political views, especially those of the Conservative right. Which is kind of odd when you think about it. In the last hundred or so years, Che Guevara, Lenin, Ho Chi Minh and Mao Tse-tung all successfully used lots of guns, and none were especially noted for their reactionary, right-wing views. Certainly there are people with extreme views who believe that a zombie holocaust/end of the world/attack by black helicopters is approaching and who horde and even bury guns in preparation. But these people generally aren’t gun-nuts. They’re just nuts. And shouldn’t be taken to represent those of us with an interest in guns. In my experience, those interested in guns and replicas span a range of nationalities, social and ethnic backgrounds and political views. A few are even balanced and intelligent people.
Nice hat. Sensible precaution against alien mind control. Probably.
Fear and loathing of all guns (hoplophobia) seems to be fairly common, but it’s no more rational than a fear of spiders or open spaces. I can see why people would be afraid of a violently inclined person carrying a firearm, but I am at a loss to explain why anyone should be afraid of or opposed to responsibly used replicas.
So, what’s the purpose of this rant? Well, I suppose it’s principally to say don’t be embarrassed about your hobby. Don’t be afraid to say that you enjoy replica air guns. It’s legal, harmless, cheap, fun and there are much, much worse things you could be doing with your spare time. And who knows, if you talk about it, you may even find that you get other people interested. Just don’t expect them to admit it in public!