Civil Engineering

An opportunity to aim a little higher. 

These long, cool nights, that wan and sluggish sunrise… yep, summer’s about over, folks, and fall’s a-comin’ to the Bozone. For many of us, that means one thing and one thing only: hunting season is here.

All around southwest Montana, safes are being unlocked. Basements, lofts, and closets are getting rummaged through. The guns are coming out. And for the next three months, they’ll stay out—in foyers, hallways, and back seats, as hunters take to the range to practice their shooting and to the field in search of game.

This is the annual ritual of the hunter. It is my ritual. I’ve done it for two decades now, and I enjoy it immensely—this changing of the guard, wherein summer gear is stashed away and fall gear—guns, ammo, camo—is inspected, cleaned, and made ready. It’s a sacrament of sorts, akin to a rain dance or ceremonial song: a way to consecrate ourselves to the season, to nature, and to our shared primordial past.

Hunting Outside Bozeman Rifles
Autumn in Montana

Now, I won’t lie and claim that prepping my firearms constitutes some sort of deep religious exercise. I like my guns. I like the way they look and how they feel in my hands. At the risk of sounding lewd, I’ll continue: I enjoy working the action: sliding the bolt back and forth, cracking open the barrel. Swabbing the chamber, fingering the trigger… the metaphor—I mean, the list—goes on. 

I also won’t lie and say that I do all this unselfconsciously. That I take hunting and shooting for granted, as I once did, and as I do the outdoor pursuits of every other season. I wish I could. I wish my guns felt no different than my skis or my fishing rods—that I thought nothing more about it, so deep-seated as it is in our mountain culture, so accepted, so much a part of life in Montana. Like skiing and fishing, hunting is who we are, it’s what we do. 

The times, however, they are a-changin’. We’re not isolated anymore. Montana is on the radar, just like everywhere else. We’re all connected. And one can no longer ignore the thrumming energies coursing through our national consciousness. From Seattle to Boston, people are up in arms, so to speak, about guns. And it’s time we got involved, lest some disconnected city-folk make decisions about what we can and can’t do here in small-town Montana. 

But that’s not the only reason to lend our voices. We need to participate in the dialogue because there is no dialogue. There is only quarrelling. Two opposing camps, rigid and resolute, each yelling at the other, neither willing to listen. As one pro-gun blogger wrote, “There’s no meeting in the middle, people, there’s only winning and losing. That’s it.”

An all-too-familiar sight these days

And that, of course, is the problem. The politicians and the media have taken this difficult, complex issue and reduced it to a contest. A feud. The result is a forlorn and debased dialectic battleground reminiscent of Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach”: 

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

But we’re not fooled. Not here. Not in Montana. We haven’t surrendered our intellects, abandoned our agency, and obediently assumed a position on one side or the other. Because we know it’s not that simple. Not when it comes to guns. 

Indeed, around these parts, those of us who own guns and those who do not enjoy a peaceful coexistence—respecting each other’s rights, giving one another the benefit of the doubt, and minding our own damn business. Which is exactly how it should be. 

Elsewhere in the country, though, the dichotomy runs deep—and with every shooting, the divide broadens. Tension mounts until something is done. And in these united states of ours, that generally means federal legislation.

And therein lies the risk. Our country came into existence at least partly in response to an insufferable wrong perpetrated by the prevailing government: taxation without representation. In our day, it’s legislation without conversation—a burden every bit as tyrannical, every bit as unfair. The two parties square off, dig their heels in, and a tug-of-war ensues. And the citizenry follows suit, taking sides, parroting the rhetoric, reducing every issue to a conflict, every problem to a fight, where there is no solution, no growth, no agreement, only victory and defeat, winners and losers. And the rest of us are left dazed, bewildered, wondering what the hell happened. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can dispense with the dichotomy and have a civil, rational debate—which, of course, is the right and proper path. As La Rochefoucauld reminds us, “Intellectual politeness is the delicacy and purity of thought.” 

When civility—and intellectual maturity—reigned

As it happens, that’s exactly what The Gun Show proposes, starting this Friday at Verge Theater. Devoid of opining, lacking bias, this play offers a stage, as it were, for sincere and candid conversation. It imparts ideas and poses questions, and afterward, an open forum allows people to share their own experiences with guns.

And what better place? The theater has long been an important venue for engaging in social and political discourse. From Sophocles to Shakespeare to Shaw, drama has delved deep into sociology, shining a light on human conflict and coaxing resolution out of the shadows. And Montana has long been a place of free thinkers: independent egalitarians whose beliefs and values come from within, shaped not by shifting political winds but by the hard hand of nature and the soft touch of neighborliness.

In short, it’s a perfect match. At the perfect time. Hunting season is here. The guns are out and the gun debate is on fire. So go fondle—I mean, handle—your guns and then go see The Gun Show. And start talking—to the people sitting next to you, to your neighbors, to your co-workers, to your family and friends. Share your experiences, share your ideas. And listen to theirs.

Let’s start the conversation—and keep it going. Let’s talk about options, like mandatory gun-education courses (we have hunter’s safety, why not shooter’s safety?). About better background checks. About requiring that gun sales go through licensed dealers. Let’s talk about training and arming teachers, so that they may stand their ground in the face of murderous intent, our children safely behind them, and say, Oh no you don’t, scumbag. Not here, not now. Not ever

Let’s talk about it all. Everything. And maybe in so doing, we’ll remember that we all want the same things: freedom and safety. And once we accept these shared goals, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll figure out a way to achieve them, together. 

The Gun Show runs Friday and Saturday nights, September 7-22, with a special showing at the Baxter on Monday, September 10. For information and tickets, visit