Wednesday, March 09, 2016

From Harry

Gun Culture

A lot of people around the world don’t understand American gun culture. I thought I did when I was a teen, but it was a simpler time. I grew up in the rural countryside of Eastern Virginia. Hunting was, and still is, a big part of country living. Our dad took my brother and I hunting for dove, quail, and squirrel in the autumn. He gave us matching 20 gauge shotguns to use and, most importantly, he taught us how to handle a gun safely.

There were other guns in the house. Dad had a .22 caliber rifle and pistol. I love that pistol, a Colt Woodsman. It’s a collector’s item today. My brother has it. I remember buying my first rifle from Sears and Roebuck. I was 14 or 15. Yes, things were different then. In those days a kid could walk into a hardware store and buy a box of bullets and go home and plink at tin cans to his heart’s content.

For many, many years after I got married my guns stayed locked up in a gun cabinet. Just because you are a gun owner, doesn’t mean you must play with them everyday. The only thing I shot for a long time was a snake that made the mistake of entering our yard. Once I retired from teaching things changed. Well actually things had been changing around the country and the world for quite awhile. Columbine, 9/11, the Virginia Tech shootings, the DC sniper, and Sandy Hook were events that affected us at school.

On 9/11 word of the events in NYC reached school by late-arriving students. Rumors spread from classroom to classroom. I personally don’t believe in hiding the truth from children. I let my students watch events unfold on TV until the principal made an announcement-ordering teachers to keep the TVs off. Years later I was monitoring a class of online high school students when the Virginia Tech shootings took place. Using their cellphones to text and email their friends, the students in my classroom accounted for all of the Tech students who had graduated from our school. Technology at it’s best.

The DC snipers scared the heck out of all of us. The two snipers were targeting schools, gas stations, bus stops, and parking lots where they could pick a random target. They traveled south of Washington to Ashland, Virginia (only 40 miles away) to shoot a restaurant patron and to leave a note saying they would target a Richmond area school. We closed schools for two days while local police forces beefed up security for the communities. I was never so relieved as I was when the snipers were captured.

It was at that time our schools started implementing lock-down drills. It became just another drill at first, like the annual tornado drill, but that changed again after Sandy Hook. That scared a lot more people who realized that schools are soft targets for mad men. Now every school I go to requires a visitor to be buzzed in through a locked door to the office. It’s not a perfect system, but it will slow someone down.

Anyhow I admit I let the growing paranoia get to me and did what many Americans have done. I bought a pistol and applied for a concealed carry permit. I did a little more. I bought another shotgun and a couple more rifles, partially out of a desire to be prepared and partially because I have and always will like guns.

My feelings about guns are conflicted at times. It bothers me that it’s too easy for kids to get their hands on unsecured firearms with tragic effects. It bothers me that guns sold on my state end up in the hands of criminals in other states like New York. It bothers me that the NRA has a lock on too many politicians who will not pass any reasonable laws to prevent guns from getting into the hands of people who are dishonest or mentally unstable. A majority of Americans (67%) want universal background checks for whenever someone buys a gun. I have gone through the process multiple times now. It’s no big deal.

Education is important too. If you own a gun you need to know how to handle it properly. I think my father taught me well, but I still took a gun safety course when I applied for my concealed carry permit (CCP). I could have gotten the requirement waived because I was a military veteran, but I wanted the refresher. CCP holders and hunters have to take safety courses, but there is no requirement that anyone who buys a gun have any training. I think children should be taught gun safety at some point. Teaching gun safety can be done in schools without guns actually being brought into the schools. Little Johnny might not accidentally shoot his little sister if he understands that you should ALWAYS treat a gun as if it is loaded. Of course Little Johnny might not accidentally shoot his sister if mom and day kept their guns secured at home in a gun safe or use trigger locks.

There is no one solution to our gun problem. Some of the gun laws we have are not enforced, partly because the legislatures in some states don’t fund police departments and other agencies well enough for them to do their jobs. There are too many people on the streets that are not getting the mental health services they need, but can easily get a gun even if they are a few cards short of a full deck. That is a health care problem that needs to be fixed. People (mostly men) who are guilty of domestic abuse should lose the right to gun ownership until it can be shown that they are no longer a threat to their families.

Guns need to be safer too. Most of mine are locked up. One of my pistols has a built-in gunlock. Without the key it makes a nice paperweight. I need a larger gun safe too. Just because I know (well, I think I do) how to handle a gun safely, I don’t want someone else to use my guns carelessly.

What this country needs is for common sense and reason to prevail. Unfortunately that is in short supply at the moment. I don’t know how events will eventually play out over the issue of gun control, but until then I’ll keep my powder dry


  1. An occasional reader12:14 PM

    A well written post. Here in the UK we have a different culture, probably based in part on the fact that very few people come from a hunting background. So we have very tight gun laws, and the regular police force are not armed. Traditionally, that has worked well for Britain. That doesn't stop disturbed individuals going on the rampage on rare occasion, but it does stop children accidentally killing or injuring their parents when guns are too freely available.

  2. I wish I hadn't bought into the paranoia we've been experiencing in America over the past couple of decades. I really wish people here would use more common sense and reason, two commodities we are quickly running out of.

    Just the other day a woman who is a gun advocate bragged on social media that her four-year old son enjoyed target practice with a .22 rifle. The next day while driving she was shot in the back by the same son when she left a loaded gun in the back seat of the car where he could get to it. Four years old is too young for a child to handle a gun, and leaving a loaded gun where a child can get it is plain stupid.

  3. Crazy people and children shouldn't have access to guns, beer or rum.

  4. I agree with Sha'el