Playing with Guns

We teach kids that driving a car is a responsibility, but we still teach kids to drive. What do we teach them about the responsibility of gun ownership? 

The objective is simple: defend the fort at all costs. For country. For liberty. For bragging rights over the brothers of a good friend. Deep in the woods of Central Massachusetts the base is constructed of branches of pine, logs of oak and a few plywood planks that also double as great cover boards to find red-backed salamanders under. Those little dragons are fun to find but today is about military conquest. If the fort can be held until the call for dinner echoes through the trees, then the walk back through the forest will be a proud one. The cool stick of shirts to skin will not be minded too badly so long as the enemy has felt more of the punishment only a Super Soaker can deliver.

That was certainly my first time handling a “gun.” I’ll be up front—I have never held a gun for any significant amount of time in my life. In that sense, I know absolutely nothing. There are only two machines of destruction I know how to wield: a bow and a car. My Super Soaker though, and any water gun for that matter, was a beautiful thing. I could pester my brother by waking him up with a quick spray, play army with my good friend (who, it seems took those game seriously since he is now a Marine) or, much to her dismay, water my mother’s tomato plants. There is a lot of satisfaction in pumping that handle, carefully building up all the pressure you possibly could contain and then pssshhhh!—letting the water explode in a tight stream, distributing watery justice to all in your path.

It is thrilling to shoot something. Much fun was had between my Super Soaker and I and that is probably because I did not have to respect it that much. It existed purely for my enjoyment. One could say I was entitled to that fun simply because I bought that water gun. Seems to me people have the same attitude about guns and cars.

When it is time for you to start driving, your parents become very different people. They develop a heightened sense of, what I’d like to call, “Oh. My. God. He is going to be able to drive anywhere … and possibly hit everything.” They never say you are an excellent driver (reality check: you probably won’t be until you’re in their shoes) and every time in the car is an opportunity to teach you something new. For this reason, they now drive the best they have ever probably driven and probably will drive. Parents do all of this because your driver’s license is a privilege.  You must earn it and, if the rest of us think you are awful at driving, we can take it away. This fact was cemented into me when I test drove the car I bought from my neighbor. At the end of the drive, I parked in his driveway and he said to me without hesitation and in a firmly stern voice: “If you ever speed in this car, I’ll take it away.” I was taught not only how to use the vehicle but to respect this machine as well.

Guns seem to have eluded the gaze of respect in the public eye. Ask any hunter or noble gun owner or soldier and they will probably be quick to disagree with me so let me say that again: guns seem to have eluded the gaze of respect in the public eye. Our culture does not look at these items with that same cautious confidence I have when I put my keys into the ignition. Any public gun conversation quickly becomes about the Second Amendment and here is maybe where the conversation at large in our country loses focus on the idea of privilege. The Founding Fathers wanted to protect “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” and this made perfect sense in the eighteenth century. The American Revolution not withstanding, the most common profession back then was being a farmer—you lived more or less on the frontier. Who knew what dangers you might come across in the course of a day, be they bears, mischievous villains or seeking revenge on the British captain by leading a militia through the swamps of South Carolina. Heck, you probably just need that flintlock rifle just to get dinner! Fast forward to the twenty-first century: the last bear I saw was the one that made it all the way from Western Massachusetts to the tip of Cape Cod, highwaymen are long gone unless you count tollbooths and a battle hasn’t been fought on American soil for about two hundred years. Point is, we have a vastly different need for guns today than we did all those years ago.

This topic has been on my mind recently as I have just finished reading Columbine by David Cullen. Fascinating piece. If you stop reading here to go find that, you have my blessing. One fact in Mr. Cullen’s work that has cemented itself in my mind is that following that tragedy, no federal legislation was passed to address any part of the gun safety problem. The only public work passed was a piece of Colorado legislation aimed at tightening the regulations around who could buy and sell guns at gun fairs. The perpetrators of the Columbine tragedy purchased their weapons through one of these fairs, but the law was not well thought out and vendors soon found a loophole to the new measures. Since Columbine, we have only had more shootings (Virginia Tech, the D.C. sniper) and the most recent occurring in Aurora, CO. Two months away from that tragedy and nothing has happened. The candidates for this year’s election have not even made an effort to change how we look at guns in this country. As a twenty-first century man with no gun experience, I am not looking to prevent the honest men in this country from a hunting trip with their buddies or a weekend outing to the shooting range with their son. My father and summer camp taught me about how to wield a bow the same lessons those men teach their friends and family: This is a weapon and it demands your respect. In the wake of Aurora, the same two things have happened as usually do after previous tragedies: good people come together to give aid to the victims (Hans Zimmer wrote a lovely tribute piece and collected donations of any size) and applications for firearms nearly doubled.

This is a call to move the conversation from one of “right” to “privilege.” You have the right to own a firearm. Now prove you can handle that responsibility.


Read more about Guns on The Good Life.

Image of boy playing with squirt guns courtesy of Shutterstock

About Andrew Bardetti

Andrew has a passion for social justice, really bad movies and trying to read every book someone recommends to him. He blogs at Living the Fourth in the Real World and as an unofficial collector of quotes, his favorite is by Marcus Aurelius: "Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all of your heart."


  1. Explain to me again how criminals obey laws?

    You imply that laws should be made to limit access or have a more stringent/through licensing process, but that goes against the entire spirit of the amendment. I disagree with your opinion about the reason behind the second amendment;the reason it is there is that the founders, after getting through a revolution, had a distrust for concentrated government power, where a government can oppress their own population through use of force (look at Syria and the current militarization of our police). Of all the checks and balances included in the constitution, it is the last resort.

    You mention that the columbine shooters got their guns from a gun fair and the tone was that it was that the access was too easy, but what of all the other people who bought guns at the same fair? did they shoot up something or do anything at all illegal?

    Those shooters had intent and premeditation, do you honestly think that if it was more difficult for them to obtain guns, that it would have stopped them from attempting mass murder?

    I agree with the sentiment of AnonymousDog, what of responsible shooting?

    To use your example, driving; there is an entire industry devoted to teaching people how to drive and most people usually have a mentor to guide them through the basics. This is because driving, in many places is an essential part of life.
    To compare driving with gun ownership is fundamentally different, guns are a choice and no where close to being a necessity, as you prove from your arguments. But because it is a choice, there is now a rift between responsible gun owners and the rest of the public who fear them. When the old guys plowed through a farmer’s market, did anyone seriously rethink car ownership access?

    You say that the perception of guns should change, I agree, but not with more legislation and condoning a culture of fear, but like with driving, using education and experience. We are a more fearful culture than ever before, bring back the campus gun ranges, gun safety classes, real ROTC, etc. so that people can understand and no longer fear guns. It is a tool of death, but a tool nonetheless.

    Remember the old adage, guns dont kill people, people kill people.

    And no, I do not own a gun.

    • Andrew Bardetti says:


      Reading my article and your response again I can see where you might think I see legislation as the only answer. I certainly believe, given how people with ill intent still manage to get their hands on dangerous tools, we could stand to revisit our security measures and see where we might be able to make it more difficult for those folks to access those weapons but I also want to completely agree and second your final paragraph and the old adage. The arguments I made were to motivate a move to this kind of conversation, to say “Look, it is certainly a given responsible people can own a gun in this country. Now, what are the best things we can do to a) foster good gun education for everyone and b) limit access to the irresponsible” as opposed to getting bogged down in the same old Second Amendment, all or nothing argument because the world is not black and white like that, there are shades of grey. There are certainly those on this planet who will commit an act of violence with whatever they can get their hands on and how to reduce the amount of violence in a society is a whole separate topic. When those old guys plowed through a farmer’s market, I seriously rethought car ownership access. When shootings of any caliber happen, I also rethink gun ownership access but I also believe the best way to reduce the amount of gun violence is through education and experience, as you point out and as are the staple elements of forming a good driver as well. I hope that clears up my position and next time I’ll go into more detail on the finer points I may have left too vague.

  2. AnonymousDog says:

    So what’s your position on public access to safe shooting ranges? On the decision some years ago by the NCAA to drop rifle shooting as an intercollegiate competition due to target shooting being crowded off college campuses by a host of factors? What are your thoughts on the use (or non-use) of Pittman-Robertson funds for the construction of public shooting ranges?
    There are a bunch of different things involved in your basic question that don’t get the public discussion that they deserve.

    • Andrew Bardetti says:


      Public access to safe shooting ranges is necessary so individuals who have no idea how to handle a gun can learn just what it means to squeeze that trigger. If a responsible father wants to teach his son how to handle the 9mm in his lockbox, he’s got to have somewhere to do that and so I say yes to public access to safe shooting ranges. Now, saying that we could also get into “Well, if anyone can come learn how to shoot, what would/could be done to prevent someone with ill intent from practicing?” There I’d say people running these shooting ranges should be making note of people come in with, let’s say, heavier arsenals but as DCPrin so eloquently points out, and I’ll agree with him below, criminals do not obey laws and gun safety starts with gun education.

      I try to respond to people in twenty-four hours and in that time frame I could not find much on this NCAA issue. When I tried to find an article or a case about this issue, nothing came up besides a list of colleges that still participate in the sport. If you have more information you could provide here, I’d be happy to read it and give you my opinion.

      In terms of Pittman-Robertson funding, I would say we should be careful where that money goes. Those dollars are primarily being collected for wildlife needs, as I understand it, to ensure that various populations of animals do not go extinct, and so I think it would be best to say those funds would go towards “hunting ranges” as opposed to “shooting ranges.” Got nothing against hunting – best meal is the one you can catch/gather on your own – but it would be a mis-allocation of funding to put those towards, say, an indoor shooting range.

      And I completely acknowledge there are a whole plethora of topics on the general heading of “guns” that my article does not touch on. Thanks for pointing out some of these other issues.

      • AnonymousDog says:

        I was under the impression that Pittman-Robertson funds were supposed to go for BOTH wildlife conservation and the construction of public shooting ranges, but most states devote most of their shares to wildlife conservation. Here in Illinois, about 25 years ago, Pittman-Robertson funds were used to purchase a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for historical preservation ( a fine project, by the way, but probably a misallocation of P-R funds), and the courts struck down all challenges as lacking standing.

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