At one time, one mark of a gentlemen was the practice and privilege of carrying a sidearm. When the Japanese samurai were forced to give up their exclusive right to carry swords, it marked the end of their status and really their existence and of Japan’s feudal society. At some point, this started to have unfortunate consequences, with the proliferation of dynastic and clan warfare, duels, and other private violence. Gradually these practices were suppressed and superseded by lawsuits, which undoubtedly did help to diminish the level of violence and have long been hailed as an advancement in civilization. In retrospect, it is not clear that this improvement was not without some unintended and unfortunate consequences of its own. It greatly diminished the role of private citizens and householders — that is, men — as protectors of themselves, their homes and families, and our freedom. Instead, it substituted (and forced us all to pay) a professional gendarmerie that acquired a near monopoly over the means of force and that has become increasingly authoritarian, bureaucratic, and subject to political manipulation — that is, a positive threat to our freedom. It also greatly augmented the power of lawyers, who have become our professional surrogate citizens, and judges, who are rapidly becoming our de facto rulers.
At the same time, the invention of firearms also contributed greatly to the democratization of warfare and therefore of society, as Alexis de Tocqueville observed. This is another reason a gentleman should encourage their safe and skillful use.
Whether you own and carry a firearm is a matter of circumstances and choice, as it is still legal in many locations. At the least, a gentleman should know how to use a pistol, a shotgun, and a rifle proficiently and safely. Sport shooting is good train- ing and effective in relieving stress. Shooting targets, especially moving ones, will help you achieve proficiency. Shooting game also has a spiritual dimension. It connects you with nature and teaches you to respect her. If you have moral qualms about killing animals, then overcoming them is a good defense against moral arrogance and can help inculcate the lesson that being human, and especially a man, inescapably involves showing gratitude and asking forgiveness. (In some cultures, women are not permitted to kill even domestic animals.) Even if most of your meat comes from the supermarket, it is good to be reminded that someone must do the dirty work.
It has even been said, with approval and some justice, that “the impression generally given of the average English gentleman is of a man who, on getting up in the morning, goes over to the window to draw the curtains and remarks, ‘What a perfectly lovely day! I must go out and kill something.’ ”58 For some men, a gun is his most prized possession. “There is a tradition handed down from generation to generation that the things that one should never lend, even to a friend, are one’s gun, one’s horse, and one’s wife, in that order.”59
Fencing is also good exercise and relieves stress. You may not share the insistence of Sir Thomas Elyot, author of the sixteenth- century classic Book Named the Governour, that “shooting the long bow is principal of all other exercises,” but no doubt you can find alternatives.
57 Butler, American Gentleman, 266.
58 Sutherland, English Gentleman Is Dead, 65.