I was in the Quad Cities recently, doing something I probably enjoy more than anything else in this world. I was spending a little quality time with a little towheaded imp by the name of Jacob Robert Schwarm. Jakey is my grandson. The firstborn of my firstborn. It was just the two of us, on an outing to the movies. And, as most grandparents can appreciate and others someday will discover, ''Grampa Rich'' was about to learn a lot more from a 3 1/2-year-old than he'd probably ever learn from me.

While I was bending down to put on the little guy's jacket, as we were getting ready to leave the theater, Jakey noticed the colored pins on my trademark, Texas Rangers baseball cap.

Well, actually he noticed one in particular - the silver musket on a blue background and silver garland - my Combat Infantryman's Badge. ''Gun, Grampa!'' he said in a startled tone. ''You shoot deer?'' The question stems from the fact that his dad, my son-in-law, is a hunter. The strange look on my face must have been something, but all I could think to say in answer was ''No, Jakey.''

''Shoot bad guys!'' He returned to the attack with wide eyes, more in admiration than any real question.

Suddenly I was face-to-face with my own beliefs about quite a number of things, not the least of which were my feelings on guns. My grandson, without really knowing it, had instantly put me in touch with some very profound and conflicting concepts. Jakey's steel-trap mind had tossed Grampa into one of those major moral dilemmas. You know the kind I'm talking about. It was one of those moments you always tell yourself you'd see coming from a mile away, and then never do.

The dilemma? Well, believe me, it's awfully hard to pass up the opportunity to be a star-spangled hero in your grandson's eyes. But there was an equally strong tug coming from that part of me that wanted nothing at all to do with that kind of heroics, especially in my grandson's eyes. We live in such a schizophrenic society. The same amalgamation of supposedly like-minded souls who comprise this so-called free nation of ours and claims to cherish so much the dream of domestic tranquillity, also holds in such high esteem the individual's right to possess firearms. I saw that gleam in my grandson's eyes that afternoon at the picture show, and I must admit I resented it. Oh, I played a role in putting those visions of guns and macho bravado in that little mind, but I still find it an awfully uncomfortable thought.

We pride ourselves on our constitutionally given right to ''bear arms,'' in the face of the death of so many of our young and innocent. And here I am, in a business that seldom lets a week go by when there isn't at least some proof of the sheer insanity of this constitutionally bestowed license to kill.

Just a couple of weeks ago a 6-year-old boy - just a couple of years older and probably not much bigger than my Jakey - takes a handgun to school and fatally shoots a little girl who was a classmate. Within 48 hours of that horror, a 16-year-old runaway takes the service weapon of his law-enforcement father, steals a car, drives 1,000 miles and then apparently shoots and kills another law officer before he himself is gunned down.

Just last spring, 12 high school kids and a teacher were slaughtered by two schoolmates who then turn the awful arsenal on themselves in Colorado. When in the hell is this madness going to stop? It's beginning to look like we can protect our young from everything and everyone but our Constitution.

Members of Congress wrap themselves in the American flag, Constitution and quite a lot of National Rifle Association cash and spout off about how we shouldn't let our emotional reactions to these so-called aberrations cloud our judgment. They add how we need to help mend the problem of violence in our society with ''common sense'' legislation that doesn't trample on the rights of the law-abiding, freedom-loving gun owners among us. Then these same individuals turn around and can't get in line fast enough to support a law banning flag-burning. They seem to care less about the constitutionally protected freedom of speech and far too much for bits of colored cloth than they do for the children's lifeless bodies we continually lay at the altar of legal gun ownership. So the kids keep dying. Kids just like my grandson. I'm sick and tired of listening to the Second Amendment mantra that keeps repeating ''Why, if we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.'' They have them now and if we still harbor any illusions that the rest of us being armed is somehow a protection, then just where do we think our children are getting the guns they're shooting each other with? Then there's also the old reliable, ''Guns don't kill people. People kill people.''

That may be true. But I wonder how many of those ''people,'' be they children or not, would be so anxious to do the deed if they had to actually get the blood on their hands by using a knife or a club? As for my admittedly liberal views regarding guns, they are beliefs forged in the furnace of knowing just exactly what these most destructive of all human inventions can do.

So, no, Jakey, there were no ''bad guys.'' Just a bunch of kids, who except for some facial features and cultural background, weren't a whole lot unlike Grampa.

Just like me, they were indoctrinated by a society to pick up a gun, go where they were told and shoot whomever they were told to shoot. But unlike your Grampa, I doubt the society they returned to kills hundreds and possibly thousands of its children for a misstated and obviously misguided line of constitutional language.

But perhaps some day that cycle of the glorification of guns and violence in this society will be broken. But unfortunately, not any time soon. That's what really scares me with my grandson. So, can somebody please tell me just how to explain all that to a 3-year-old?

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online April 25, 2000

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