Confession time. I have never, in 37 years of newspaper writing, gotten a reaction to anything I've written as thoughtful, witty and downright sensitive as the notes I received about my May 5 column about whether or not we should have a state gun.
I also should point out that the comments I'm about to share were not written on stationery or typed on paper - those kinds of reactions are often civilized and well reasoned. No, these were comments on the website, and you can usually count on that sort of correspondence to be hysterical, mean and, in my personal experience, often quite stupid.
First, let me back up and explain, for those who didn't see the original piece, I was sharing the news that the state of Arizona had chosen its official state gun - the Colt single action Army revolver - and I went on to wonder what kind of gun we'd pick if Oregon were going to have such a thing.
I did point out that I grew up around hunting and guns, that I earned my Oregon Safe Hunter card at an early age, and then suggested that maybe our state gun should have something to do with the pioneers who walked, rode and bounced across the country on the Oregon Trail.
As usual, I was mostly just having fun and throwing out things in hopes of getting a chuckle out of somebody. But obviously, some readers took me seriously.
'Mike Kelly has a good idea that needs momentum to keep rolling,' he wrote. 'New state symbols arrive each year. Milk became the state beverage in 1997 with the help of Tillamook students. Dungeness crab became the state crustacean in 2009 with the help of West Linn fourth-graders. School kids chose the western meadowlark in 1927.'
But then Mr. Gillaspie injected something I don't get a lot in my online comments - humor, and quite subtle humor at that.
'No one wants school kids to choose the state gun,' he continued, 'unless it's the 13-inch guns of the Battleship Oregon. Those would come in with a handy unit of history. Arizona missed their chance with the USS Arizona and an introduction to WWII.'
But Gillaspie still wasn't done.
'If a gun has to be a rifle or pistol, search out the weapon 14-year-old Harvey W. Scott carried on the wagon train to Oregon,' he said. 'Why Harvey Scott? He was an early editor of The Oregonian, co-founder and first president of the Oregon Historical Society, among many activities. Any gun good enough for Harvey Scott is worthy of being the Oregon state gun. Otherwise, go with the battleship.'
Well said, Mr. Gillaspie. You could teach a seminar on how to respond to crackpot writers and speakers and even one-up them without being a horse's hind end.
'I would vote for the old lever-action Winchester, model 1894, which probably put more meat on the table and was the handiest ranch rifle ever, whether afoot, in a truck or on horseback,' he wrote. 'But there are states which might deserve it more. Montana or Wyoming might pick the Model 70.
'As for guns being 'only for killing' (an expression, by the way, I did not use), I would have to say that out of several dozen guns that I currently own, the only thing killed in 40 years has been one deer and a few grass-fed beeves for the table, and a whole lot of targets for the pure pleasure of threading many thousands of bullets through ever-shrinking single holes in pieces of paper 100 yards away. It is just a very accurate way of throwing something at a target.'
Clearly, JD felt the need to defend himself even though my column was not really about that, but he did it in a very classy way.
'The 'only for killing' argument does not take into consideration that homicide in the necessary defense of one's own or another's life or safety is perfectly justifiable and in a minute number of cases, preferred,' he continued. 'There are many occasions where the mere presence of a weapon in the hands of a person of any age - kid or adult - has made another person aware that he would be wise to reconsider his intended course of action.
'Regrettably, I once did encounter such a situation,' he added. 'No shots were fired, no gun was actually pointed at anyone. And decades later, everybody continues 'fat, dumb and happy.' No help was required from the good police officers who were many minutes away at the time. The situation was defused, and they were never bothered with a call. The sudden awareness of the serious presence of the gun redirected a very foolish course of action.
'In answer to those controlled by an irrational fear of all guns, I would say that to allow the muzzle of any gun, especially a toy gun, to idly or intentionally cross another person's body is a terrible thing. It is not to be allowed, except in the gravest extreme. Whether in my home, on the range or in my pack-in hunting camps, it is, quite simply and soberly, not allowed.'
And that, I have to say, is exactly what I was getting at. Sensible people know this, and thugs don't.
There were a couple more responses that I found enjoyable, partly because they didn't waste any words.
'I vote for a squirt gun,' he said. 'We'd never run out of ammo.'
Former editor of the Lake Oswego Review and former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, Mikel Kelly handles special sections for Community Newspapers and contributes a regular column.