Sunday, September 5, 2010

Gun Culture

As my wife and I were driving up to the mountains today, we started to talk about how we were going to introduce our son to guns.  We discussed some of the events of the recent past and other history about how curious children gained access to their parent's guns and, in their curiosity, killed themselves or their friends.  While discussing the issue of weapon security, I drew upon my experiences as a young child, growing up in a house full of guns.

When I was a small boy, gun safes and GunVaults were accessories for the rich.  Nobody in my town had a gun safe.  In any given house in our rather poor city, the guns were kept in a closet with the boxes of ammunition stored next to them.  This was a common occurence when I was young.  Yet, when I look back, nobody in my school accidentally killed themselves with their dad's guns.  Nobody came to the school yard and blew anyone away.  Moreover, guns weren't really talked about with anymore fascination than you'd talk about a screwdriver or frying pan - even though everyone and their brother owned a gun.

Looking back on those days, I recall that Dad was a police officer.  Seeing Dad in uniform, with a handgun on his belt, was normal.  Taking the ole 30-30 carbine to the woods on a gun rack in Dad's truck was also normal.  In our family, in our culture, a gun was just another tool in the toolbox, and it served a specific purpose.  Just as one would reach for a #2 Phillips screwdriver to remove a screw, you would pull the rifle from the gun rack to hunt or to protect against predators.  Many a time, we would be out on the logging roads, far away from anyone, to saw up leftover logs for firewood.  A couple sandwiches, a gallon of gas, a chainsaw, an axe, and a medium bore rifle were things that seemed to always go along with Dad and me.

I grew up in the gun culture.  Dad taught me to shoot when I was 5 years old.  He taught me the fundamentals of safe gun handling, how to load, aim, and fire the gun.  He taught me about "Kentucky Windage" and how to properly sight in my rifle.  Dad taught me about what a firearm was capable of doing to a human being.  Dad taught me that unsafe gun handling could have devestating consequences.  Dad planted the seed of gun safety and reinforced it for years. 

I grew up knowing exactly where the guns were located.  There was no lock and key, no safe combination, no separately stored ammunition; the guns and the ammo were in Dad's bedroom closet.  We knew where they were, how to get them, how to clear them, check them, clean them, and most importantly, how to operate them safely.

How is it that I, and many of my peers, did not end up accidentally maiming or killing ourselves, or each other?  The answer is simple: Guns are not taboo.  They are not some unsafe implement that should be locked away and never shown to a child.  A gun, like any other mechanical device, is a tool that requires the operator to manipulate in order for it to work.  In order for it to work safely, the operator must handle it safely.  Guns weren't something that Dad hid away, hoping we'd never find.  Dad encouraged us to handle them under well supervised and safe conditions.  He taught me about weapon nomenclature, what did what, and how it did it. 

I remember Dad showing me what a 12 gauge shotgun could do to an abandoned car that we found at a local shooting pit.  That image is still burned into my head to this date.  As long as we were being safe, Dad encouraged me to expand my knowledge and ability.  He would advise often, correct when necessary, and teach every time we went out.  I remember a lesson in muzzle discipline rather well.  Dad taught it to me the first time we ever went out.  He said, "Son, too many people have been killed by weapons that were thought to be unloaded.  So, first when you are done shooting, check your weapon to see that it is unloaded.  Then treat it as if it is loaded.  When you walk with a rifle, you are either shooting birds, or you're shooting worms."  Of course, the lesson was that when you walk with a rifle, you either have the muzzle pointed skyward, or straight down at the ground, away from your body.  This lesson serves me even unto this day.  I never muzzle people, or turn my weapon around into a group.  For us experienced shooters, this is a no-brainer.  I have, however, been shooting with inexperienced people who will turn a muzzle right around at you when they talk to you.  Those people usually get a quick lesson in proper muzzle discipline.  The older the gun handler, the quicker and more forceful the message gets.

I grew up liking guns, but I was never fascinated by them.  I knew what they were.  I knew what they do.  Guns were as normal as anything else in the house.  I was actually astonished to find out, in my preteen years, that one of my friends actually thought that guns were dangerous.  Up until that time, I just figured everyone knew how to handle guns.  After all, the little town I grew up in had enough guns and ammo to get a small military going.

Now, I'm a dad, with two beautiful children of my own; a boy and a girl.  Will they grow up in a house where guns are locked away and never to be seen?  Absolutely not!  Of course, the guns are locked up when not in use, but that's more for theft prevention than anything else.  If you make a gun something they are not allowed to see, they will find a way to see it.  They will figure out the safe combination or find the key.  If the kid hasn't had any training, then what?

As a concealed pistol license holder, I carry a gun on a daily basis.  It is just another part of my attire that I put on with my pants and belt.  Thread the belt through the holster, and slide a handgun into it.  My two year old son sees me do this all the time.  Yes, indeed, I take my loaded gun out of the GunVault when he is in the room, and holster that loaded weapon, all the while he is watching what I'm doing.  To him, it is just normal behavior.  Is my gun going to go off because it is loaded?  NO!  You wanna know why?  Because I'm an experienced gun handler and I use safe (also known as proper) gun handling when I remove it from the safe and put it in my holster.  My son seems no more fascinated about my guns than he does the kitchen faucet.  At this point, he knows it is not a toy for him to play with. 

My son and daughter will both be fully immersed in the gun culture while they are living under my roof.  This doesn't mean that I am going to force them to take an interest in guns.  If they don't care about guns, then they don't care about guns.  There's nothing you can do about that.  What you can do is ensure that they know what to do with a gun, should they come into contact with it.  A mindset for gun safety translates into many other things.  The mindset easily crosses over to driver safety, knife safety, fire safety, etc.  Living the gun culture will help them in their lives in many more ways than just how to be safe with a gun.

Of course, all these rules and requirements are for not if the house is insane.  Our house is to be a house of order and values - good values.  I will teach hard work and real consequences for their actions, good and bad.  After all, if being a parent means raising my child to be an upstanding citizen and contributor to society, I'm going to instill the values of a good contributor.  That means teaching my children about the lies that the protectionist gun grabbers perpetrate.  That means teaching the sheepdog effect of concealed carry and being a well-armed citizen.  That means teaching about the founding fathers and the Constitution.  That means teaching "leave no trace" when dealing with the outdoors and being a good steward of the land.  That means teaching the value of hard work and income.  If you can't get your house in order, you should not own a gun.  But if you can get your house into order, teach your kids, train them right, and make them children that other parents compliment, then the gun culture is for you.
-James

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