My dad was a font of wisdom. He had a way of casually tossing advice and snarky comments and all manner of fatherly things at the drop of a hat, usually when I least expected it. Since my folks were divorced and I only saw him every six months of so, I think he may have thought these things up, saved them, and then had them ready when we met. For instance:
I was visiting him in Phoenix (his home) on spring break from college (Portales, NM) and we were in a McDonald’s somewhere near ASU. We were chatting about school and work and generally eating some of the worst burgers the world has ever tasted when a young woman walks in. My dad, never one to turn down the chance to ogle young women, watched her walk by, turned to me and said, “You should ask her out.”
I tried to explain to him that I lived in New Mexico and she lived in Arizona and I was going back in a couple days anyway. His response: “You’re thinking buy. You need to think rent.”
And so it goes and so it goes. He also bought me my first car, a 1965 VW Beetle and warned me to not get anyone pregnant in the back seat. The back seats in VW Beetles are about the size of a postage stamp and this one was missing most of cover and some of the padding.
I assured him I wouldn’t get anyone pregnant in the back seat.
He was a big guy who loved motorcycles, Pepsi, and guns. He absolutely adored guns. To the best of my knowledge he never shot anyone, never got into a gun fight, and never had to defend himself with a gun. He had scads of them, though, from tiny .22 pistols to full-auto submachine guns, to large bore rifles and shotguns. When he was alive and I visited him, we would go out in the desert and blow holy hell out of targets.
It was a blast.
I grew up shooting and learning about guns and generally getting exposed to them. I’ve fired all manner of fun stuff and loved every minute of it. Contrary to what a lot of people say, holding a gun didn’t make me feel tough or superior. Shooting was just fun. Now that I’m older, I have guns of my own (inherited from my dad). The last time I shot was about a decade ago. I really need to go again. If you’ve never been shooting, you should try it sometime. It really is fun.
But, and here’s a thing, I grew up being taught to respect firearms. My dad was of the mindset that guns had a bad reputation and needed to be kept safe and secure. I remember one time, I was with him and his buddies eating breakfast at some place in Phoenix and one of the guys had just gotten a new gun. He brought it into the restaurant, snuggled securely in a locked box with foam padding, to show it off. They all huddled around it, using their bodies to keep anyone else from seeing a gun in a family joint and getting worried. Breakfast, they reckoned, was sacred and didn’t need to be disturbed by the big guys with a gun on the table. When they were done, the gun case was locked up and stowed on the booth seat and everyone ate pancakes.
That’s just the way it was with him. Loved guns; didn’t feel the need to flash his piece everywhere. He also once told me if I was going to kill someone to use a bow and arrow. By his reckoning guns had a bad enough reputation and didn’t need any further problems.
So, there you go. I was taught from a very young age (fired my first gun when I was four) about guns and how to deal with them and what to do and not to do. It’s not really rocket surgery; guns aren’t toys, treat them with respect and realize accidents can be fatal.
Unfortunately, this simple lesson seems to be lost on some people. I’m reading more and more stories about toddler accidentally shoots parents, or so and so got shot doing something stupid. Like the couple who got in an accident because she was waving the gun around the cabin of the car; boyfriend ducks, rear-ends someone. During the crash she shoots herself in the head. The Aristocrats!
Is it any wonder people get nervous when folks are stalking around Target with Kalashnikovs and shotguns? It’s not the responsible gun owners we’re worried about; it’s the irresponsible people we’re worried about and, alas, it’s sometimes difficult to discern the two groups. So, while these people look like paranoid idiots, I’m not overly concerned about them. What I am concerned about is how anyone can get hold of a gun with zero training and zero respect for the weapons.
What would really be nice is for responsible gun owners to start acting like responsible gun owners. Showing up to a Presidential speech with a rifle slung over your back is not sending the message that you believe in open carry laws, it just makes you look dangerous and strange. Wandering around the toy aisle at Target with your gun is downright bizarre. I get it, you’re trying to teach people that guns aren’t scary or illegal and Lord knows I agree with you, but you need to moderate the message and the medium.
One of the best displays of gun awareness I’ve seen was at an outdoor expo in Albuquerque last summer. Anyone could go out to the shooting range and try shooting. Before you went out, however, someone explained the rules. Again, the rules aren’t complicated. Treat a gun with respect and realize it is a weapon. Point it down range. Not a toy. Accidents can be fatal.
I firmly believe in the right to keep and bear arms, it’s enshrined in the Constitution and I think it’s a good and just law. But I’d love to see more gun owners doing a better job to educate and train people. I’d love to see gun shops (note: not the government, the shops themselves) requiring people to take a short class before they can buy their first gun. A little respect and a little education can go a long way.
Right now you can get a concealed carry permit; it takes a background check, some money, and some training. You have to prove that you understand your weapon. Why can’t regular gun sales be like that? Why aren’t we teaching people about guns rather than just carrying them in Chipotle with steely glints in our eyes?
Side story: when NM was considering concealed carry laws one of my programming students was adamantly against them. In her eyes, she was worried about going to the theater and having someone with a gun sitting next to her. I had to explain to her that situation has probably already happened and the people who are going to get concealed carry permits aren’t the folks you need to worry about anyway.
When you get right down to it, gun control needs to be a bit more than just being able to hit your target and it’s going to be up to regular, responsible gun owners to get that message out. That’s how you moderate the message: it’s not us vs. them. It’s not “you can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.” The message should be “we know what we’re doing and we want to help others learn it, too.” That way you can overcome the fear and distrust rather than making things worse.
It’s not a message you can create and send by wandering around Target with an assault rifle; that’s a perceived threat, whether it’s intentional or not. The message should be more along the lines of come on out and try. Provide a safe and sane environment and let people make up their minds on their own. There will still be some people who will balk at private gun ownership, and that’s fine, perhaps at least some of the rest can be brought around.
Because, hey, shooting’s pretty fun.