When I was a little girl, my dad sometimes took me shooting. We’d go someplace near the edge of town, set up a row of cans, and use bullets to punch holes in them. On those days, I imagined myself putting every bullet where I wanted it to go (and sometimes it happened that way). I wanted to be Annie Oakley.
I enjoyed spending time with my dad, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought the whole exercise was rather pointless. There are lots of ways to hit targets—with arrows and darts, for example. I wondered then, as I wonder now, why so many people are passionate about heavy, noisy, expensive, and dangerous weapons—people who, like my dad, didn’t hunt and had no enemies against whom to defend himself.
I married a man who grew up on the prairie and whose father had some good reasons to carry guns—mostly to defend against coyotes, as well as making a little money on the side selling pelts. My husband’s father was a mechanic who loved anything made of metal that had moving parts—the more complicated the better.
My husband inherited his love of gadgets and became a mechanical engineer, as well as a locally well-known expert on guns. When his first child was a girl, someone asked him if he was disappointed not to have had a son. Bemused by the question, he responded, “Why would I be disappointed? I can teach her to shoot just as well as I can a boy.”
About three years ago, my husband and I went with my oldest stepson and daughter-in-law to an event at a gun club shooting range. Hundreds of automatic weapons were laid out on long tables, and anyone could shoot them for the price of the ammunition. Hundreds of people, mostly men and boys, lined up at every table to take a turn pummeling targets with streams of bullets. I took my turn, and at almost every family gathering since then, someone says, “You know, Mom has shot a Thompson submachine gun.” Only in America would that be a badge of honor more worthy of mention that any of the hundreds of other quirky things I’ve done in my life.
Last 4th of July, my husband and I went with three of our sons and a family friend to a local shooting range. The men in my family all top six feet (some by several inches), and I thought even the range master looked a little concerned as we started unloading armfuls of armaments from the car. He soon relaxed, however, when the shooting started. My husband has seen to it that all his sons learned early how to handle guns, and very few of the hundreds of rounds shot that day missed the bull’s eye (except the ones I fired).
So I understand how integrated guns are in American culture. And I say something has to change.
The slaughter by guns of innocent people is so routine in this country that, unless the victims are famous, it takes at least several deaths to even make the national news. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 people every year in the U.S. are killed by gunfire, not to mention the additional thousands who are wounded and maimed.
Thanks to the relentless, radical, well-funded defense of weapons by the National Rifle Association, it has been politically incorrect for many years to even mention common-sense controls that might keep guns out of the hands of violent and crazy people (not to mention children). Thanks to the national paranoia created by extremists and conspiracy theorists, a good percentage of Americans hold the irrational belief that the government wants to disarm its citizens in order to control them. Right-wing politicians have succeeded in making issues regarding “gun control” pretty much synonymous with burning the American flag and killing babies.
Enough. This ridiculous, emotional, all-or-nothing mentality with respect to guns in America needs to be examined in the cold light of reason.
Americans, we have to talk.