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.
Image of boy playing with squirt guns courtesy of Shutterstock