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In an 'honest world,' guns are tools, not obsessions

Date published: 1/25/2013

By Jonas Beals

IN THE WORLD I grew up in, there were two kinds of people: folks who owned guns and folks who talked about their guns like obsessive baseball card collectors.

The former group consisted mostly of normal people, like me (naturally). The latter group was, mostly, off-putting--the same people who can't find anything more interesting to talk about than their cars or their money or their god. But there really weren't too many of those people. Obsess over guns and you could forget about getting an invitation to the next hunt.

Which may be why all the recent talk about guns has made me uneasy. A gun is a tool to get food. It's like a screwdriver--you keep it in a box and take it out when you need it. I raise my eyebrows at anyone who purports to use a gun for any other reason.

And while popular songs often glorify guns for uses other than bagging game, there is a song that knows my uneasiness.

I have probably heard "Pancho and Lefty" 500 times in my life. It's one of Townes Van Zandt's most popular creations, and became a signature song for Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Emmylou Harris. Despite its popularity, it's a hard story to unravel involving at least one outlaw, a death and Cleveland.

This is the part of the song that's been rolling in my head for the past couple of weeks:

I've heard those lines for decades, but never took the time to think about why Van Zandt chose those exact words. I always assumed "all the honest world" was a poetic fill-in for "everyone." It's not.

An outlaw who carries a gun for practical, job-related reasons can just as easily carry it inside his pants and take it out when necessary.

Someone who decides to flaunt their weapon is a deformed monster in a free nation, to paraphrase Josiah Quincy Jr. That was Pancho, a bandit whose very presence inspired feelings of fear in the good people around him, in no small part because of his sidearm.

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