ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 4 (UPI) -- As a veteran, I own guns. I like my guns. When I was in, we trained and worked with them all the time. In the field, you'd sleep with your rifle or machine gun in the same sleeping bag, like a girlfriend or something. We'd take them to the range, and firing them was like making love to them.
Sometimes we called our institution a Gun Club. But it had limits. We couldn't carry guns in our free time or keep them in the barracks. When we returned from the field, the guns went into the armory, where they would remain locked up till the next shooting range, cleaning or field op.
Safety was paramount. Treat every weapon as if it were loaded. Finger straight and off the trigger. Weapon on safe. Never point a weapon at anything you don't intend to shoot. We were trained to unload and show clear every time we handed a weapon to anyone, and flagging your muzzle at another Marine was like holding a knife to your best friend's throat.
This isn't something you learn overnight. It's drilled into your brain for months and even years. I remember a range coach on Parris Island throwing a bottle of Gatorade at my head for letting my barrel wander about 25 degrees off the target area as I unfastened a loop sling.
It was serious. Because guns are serious.
I always giggled at the saying, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." Of course they don't -- but they sure make it easy. Push-button murder. A chainsaw might be deadly, but it's got a primary function: cutting wood. A gun serves no other purpose except to make killing extremely convenient. We got a good dose of that in Iraq. It went both ways.
Nowadays, I don't break my guns out much except to rotate the rounds into different magazines. Don't want the springs to wear out. I don't carry one because I find it cumbersome, and to be honest, I'm not as paranoid as I used to be. Except that's changing. I'm getting nervous in large crowds. I feel like a target. Not because of bad feelings from Iraq. It's because almost every week in the United States, some crazy guy ends up blowing a bunch of people away.
Scrolling through Facebook in the aftermath is the worst. On the one hand, my far-left civilian friends want all guns to go away (good luck). On the other, my Marine friends sit around blaming the victims. Should have armed themselves, they say.
I had a hard time understanding civilians when I got back from Iraq, but it doesn't take a genius to know they don't want to live in a country where everyone is preparing for firefights to break out all the time.
I don't want to either. I think some of the adjustment problems that I had coming back home stemmed from an inability to let my guard down. In Iraq, we were constantly told complacency kills. And it did, often enough. The command always said, "Don't relax till you're out of the desert and back home."
Well, I'm home now, and I want to relax. But most of my vet friends see no merit in that. Like a lot of Americans, they don't think there's a problem in the world that can't be shot dead. A lifetime of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris and John-friggin-Wayne, talking tough and blowing bad guys away until the credits roll.
That's how you get a logic that suggests in a country where firearms have out-populated people, more guns are the solution to mass shootings. They say it's a mental health issue while opposing pretty much any legal measures that might make it harder for people -- even the insane -- to get guns. Probably looking forward to a brisk gunfight with a crazy person.
Like the good old days.
Personally, I think it's pretty freaky, all these civilians without any training buying guns like action figures. If it were my choice, I would force anyone who wants a gun to undergo a rigorous mental health screening and several weeks of safety training. I'd really stress the "well-regulated" part of the Second Amendment.
Because while I like guns, I don't trust crazy folks or untrained amateurs with them.
Fred Lambert, who served two tours in Iraq as a rifleman in the U.S. Marine Corps between 2002 and 2006, is a world news writer for UPI.