A Mosin-Nagant Rifle, Gandhi’s Grandson, and Me.

Jessica Dickinson Goodman, Sunnyvale Firing Range

One of my father’s nicknames for me when I was little was “John Wayne.” Not only because the Duke is one of my father’s heroes, but because my father used to take me target shooting. We don’t have a yearly habit, but every so often he and my brother and I will spend a Saturday afternoon at a local range.

Guns are only one of the several types of weapons I have some skill in. I’m a black-belt in Shito-Ryu Karate Do, am reasonably good with a bo and a bow, and I wrestled in high school.

I remember trying to explain this to my classmates when I was studying abroad in Doha, Qatar. My professor, a German nuclear physicist-turned-history-of-science-and-technology-PhD, was offended by the idea that using deadly weapons could be a family activity. That’s probably why I wrote my term paper for his class on how novel pro-gun groups (ie, not the NRA) use social media to oppose the United Nation’s proposed Arms Trade Treaty.

I’m not sure what the appropriate role of guns in society is. I enjoy using them for target shooting, just like I enjoy practicing staff and Karate. I am deeply disturbed by the apparent correlation between the presence of guns in my society and increased gun-deaths. The presence of Karate dojos in every mid-sized town has not created a similar gushing of cases of death by Karate-chops, which makes me wonder what is it, specifically, about guns that encourage murder.

I think shooting with my family and friends leaves me better prepared to engage in our national debate on guns’ place in America, and engage respectfully with the people for whom full gun rights are an article of faith. The day I flew back to Pittsburgh from California, I went rifle shooting with Brian Smaalders, a friend from middle school (who took the above pictures).

Bruise from Target Shooting with a Mosin Rifle

I don’t own any guns, so I borrowed his Mosin-Nagant, a WWII-era Russian rifle apparently made in former tractor factories in the USSR. Its simplicity, sturdiness, and aesthetics all bring to mind the tractor, even if that origin story is apocryphal. It was fun to shoot, though like most of the kinds of fun I engage in it left me with bruises–>

Like abortion, human trafficking, and intellectual property law, guns seem to tickle the least rational, most reactionary depths of our brain-pans. And like with abortion, human trafficking, and intellectual property law, I find immersing myself in the experiences most core to the debate (walking clients into the clinic, working with trafficking survivors, creating and licensing my intellectual property), regularly researching, renting, and firing guns leaves me better able to articulate beliefs.

Inspirational Quote:

““I was 16 years old and living with my parents at the institute my grandfather had founded 18 miles outside of Durban, South Africa, in the middle of the sugar plantations. We were deep in the country and had no neighbors, so my two sisters and I would always look forward to going to town to visit friends or go to the movies. One day, my father asked me to drive him to town for an all-day conference, and I jumped at the chance.

Since I was going to town, my mother gave me a list of groceries she needed and, since I had all day in town, my father asked me to take care of several pending chores, such as getting the car serviced. When I dropped my father off that morning, he said, ‘I will meet you here at 5:00 p.m., and we will go home together.’

After hurriedly completing my chores, I went straight to the nearest movie theater. I got so engrossed in a John Wayne double-feature that I forgot the time. It was 5:30 before I remembered. By the time I ran to the garage and got the car and hurried to where my father was waiting for me, it was almost 6:00.

He anxiously asked me, ‘Why are you late?’ I was so ashamed of telling him I was watching a John Wayne western movie that I said, ‘The car wasn’t ready, so I had to wait,’ not realizing that he had already called the garage.

When he caught me in the lie, he said: ‘There’s something wrong in the way I brought you up that didn’t give you the confidence to tell me the truth. In order to figure out where I went wrong with you, I’m going to walk the walk home 18 miles and think about it.’
So, dressed in his suit and dress shoes, he began to walk home in the dark on mostly unpaved, unlit roads. I couldn’t leave him, so for five-and-a-half hours I drove behind him, watching my father go through this agony for a stupid lie that I uttered. I decided then and there that I was never going to lie again.

I often think about that episode and wonder, if he had punished me the way we punish our children, whether I would have learned a lesson at all. I don’t think so. I would have suffered the punishment and gone on doing the same thing. But this single nonviolent action was so powerful that it is still as if it happened yesterday. That is the power of nonviolence.”–Dr Arun Gandhi


  1. “using deadly weapons could be a family activity” like driving a car, doing chores with power equipment, or eating family supper with sharp knives. These elite people couldn’t care less about our families, they just want to ensure we can never threaten their wealth. Finance capital derivatives have ruined way more lives than firearms ever will.

  2. Pretty sure my poor poli sci professor wasn’t dealing in derivatives nor trying to harm my family. The ways in which different cultures and their respective governments approach individual and group ownership of deadly and non-defensive weapons is varied. I like the American 2nd Amendment approach personally, but see no moral failing in pacifism. And there is a significant moral difference between guns and lawnmowers.

Get in touch

%d bloggers like this: