One Christmas my Daddy's big gift was a new rifle. Another year it was a fancy scope. When I was 9, I learned to shoot skeet with a .22. I was 13 when I completed the Hunter's Safety Course taught as part of my physical education class in junior high school. I am not sure how old I was when Grandmommy let me clean out her revolver off the back porch, but she made sure to remind me not to hit the cats. A mounted deer head hangs from the wall in my parents' family room. A trophy from years of hunting. Eight points. Daddy likes to say it was "harvested" not killed. It made several great dinners. I was 32 when I bought my own gun, a small attractive five-shot revolver.
Where I am from hunting is a serious hobby for most men, young and old, and guns are points of pride and collectibles. In November you see many truck tailgates down displaying the morning's "harvest."
My father, a sharp-shooter in the Army during Vietnam and an avid (this may be an understatement since he owns enough hunting camouflage to dress an entire brigade) hunter since he was a kid. He is a serious hunter and by serious I mean tree stands, hours of preparation, deer urine, and hours spent sitting quietly in the freezing cold. The guns that came into our home were for utility -- what he needed for hunting and what the house needed for protection; nothing automatic or with a clip. Daddy would probably say to that: "Why would I need a clip? It only takes me one shot per deer."
This is a typical scene in my Daddy's vehicle. Turkey calls -- never leave home without them.
He treats his guns with caution and respect. They are neither toys nor trophies. He taught us, even before my state school system provided training, how to hold, clean, and store guns. He used the often quoted common sense approach: "You do not point a gun at anything that you do not intend to shoot." If we wanted (I did, Sister not so much) he let us shoot them so we would know the proper way to do it. He did not want us to be scared of a gun, but respect its potential power. He did not say this but it was evident in his attitude and instruction.
I grew up with guns. I am not scared of guns. I believe I have the right to legally possess my gun.
However, in the wake of last week's tragic shooting in Connecticut and the intensifying debate on gun control, I find myself thinking a lot about guns, freedom, and my life and where those things intersect. This is not the first time I have considered this issue. A school shooting occurred in my hometown and three people, who I knew or had met, were killed. I grew up in Virginia, only a couple of hours away from Virginia Tech where the worst mass shooting in U.S. history took place. I work in higher education and have had to address this issue as an administrator considering the safety of students and employees.
I find that my thoughts and opinions are not new or revolutionary. In fact, they seem like common sense to me. In the words of West Virginia (can you say hunting state) Senator Joe Manchin, who has an NRA "A" rating, "I don't know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle. I don't know anyone that needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting." I would add to that, I don't know anyone who needs an assault rifle or 30 rounds a clip to defend their home from an intruder. Common sense.
Yet, so many people believe that the right to own a gun is somehow an unlimited right. I am a lawyer, but certainly no Constitutional scholar, and I am pretty sure that is not what the Second Amendment says or was intended to mean. Apparently, some people think it means arming civilians (teachers, principals, employees, etc.) to stop gunmen that enter schools and businesses. As I type this I don't understand how that makes sense. Really? Do we want our schools and workplaces to become the wild west? It makes me angry.
It makes me angry because so many families from so many senseless tragedies will never be the same. That little boy on Friday -- who so bravely and innocently told his teacher, "I know karate, so it's OK; I'll lead the way out" -- will never be the same. That little fella will never forget that day, the sounds of the bullets, the sobs of his classmates, the terror on the faces of adults, and the inexplicable loss of his friends. Senseless.
I am not naive enough to believe that an assault and large clip weapons ban will stop these attacks; it may not have stopped the attack in Connecticut knowing what we know now. There are so many facets to this problem -- weapons already in the stream of commerce, illegal sales, and a broken mental health system, to name few. We must, however, start somewhere and start now.
Why not start with common sense?
If you are not a soldier then you don't need anything resembling an assault rifle and a high volume clip.