I am a child of Television. It’s true. Most kids first words are “Mama!” or “Da-da!” Mine was “Popeye.” I am not making this up. I grew up on a steady diet not of ABCs and phonics, but of ABC, NBC, and CBS. I watched everything from Captain Kangaroo and Kukla, Fran and Ollie, to Eliot Ness and Matt Dillon. As such, I was intimately acquainted with guns. Six guns. Shotguns. Lever action carbines. Tommy guns. You name it, and I saw it on TV. And of course, growing up in the 1960s, guns were a regular part of my play. I had that Mattel belt buckle with a derringer in it, where if I pushed out my stomach, I could flip it out and fire it at the bad guys. I had a Mattel M-16 Marauder (a.k.a. a toy M-16/AR-15). I even had a toy Thompson submachine gun. So riddle me this, Batman: why did it take until I hit my mid-forties, before I bought my first handgun and learned how to shoot?

The self-important, self-proclaimed experts in child rearing, gun ‘control’ and societal norms claim that exposing children to guns and gun violence is wrong, evil, and will warp them for life. Really? If that were true, wouldn’t all the guns and violence I experienced growing up have turned me into some kind of psycho, serial-killer-waiting-to-happen nut job? And yet millions of kids that grew up just like I did, ended up as well-adjusted adults, without so much as a moving violation on their records.

I’ve never had any fear of guns. Most of my education with guns was of the “good guy/shoots straight – bad guy/can’t hit the side of the barn” school of gun training. In the world I grew up in, guns only ran out of bullets when the writers needed them to for dramatic effect. Bad guys aim was perpetually bad. And good guys usually just winged the bad guys.

My knowledge of guns was limited to the idea that I knew the difference in a revolver and a semi-auto, a rifle and a shotgun. That was about the extent of it. Oh, sure, I knew a few buzzwords: “Colt .45,” “double-barreled,” “9 mil” and the like. But I was functionally illiterate when it came to guns. Aside from a couple of classes at the Sheriff’s range as a kid, I was blissfully ignorant about guns.

Most kids get some kind of hands-on familiarity with guns from their dads. My father got the memo, but he was evidently unclear on the mechanics of the thing. After I expressed repeatedly an interest in a pellet gun he kept around, he decided that it was time for me to have a ‘real’ gun. Not exactly sure how he came to decide that a single-shot, full-choke .410 shotgun was the perfect “beginner’s gun,” nor what he expected me to be able to do with such a weapon, but that was the gun I received as a present.

Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t looking a gift horse in the mouth. But I fired that gun on exactly one occasion. He took me out into the country, about an hour or so out of the city, to some property owned by a relative. There, he set up some tin cans and let me blast away for about a dozen shells worth – just long enough until I was able to actually hit something I was aiming at.

I was all of 12 years old. Don’t know what he hoped to teach me. Neither of us were dressed as hunters, and we had but the one shotgun and a couple of boxes of shells – bird shot, if memory serves. At one point, several buzzards showed up overhead, apparently curious to see if I’d hit anything worth eating. I asked my dad, “Can I shoot the buzzards?” He said, “sure,” and told me to aim ahead of them. I took aim and slowly squeezed the trigger. BAM! I saw the buzzard take a direct hit (I think), drop about ten feet in the air, and keep on flying. I was nonplussed.

After that, my dad decided it was time to head home. As we exited the piney woods of North Louisiana, we were surprised to see a game warden’s vehicle parked beside my dad’s sedan.

“You folks got a huntin’ license?” the game warden asked. “We weren’t hunting, officer,” my dad explained. “I just bought my boy here a .410, and I was teaching how to shoot by plinking at some cans. (Good thing I didn’t bag a buzzard, I suppose.) The game warden smiled from behind his mirrored aviator glasses. “Didja kill any cans?” “Yessir!” I offered. “I got three of ’em!”

The game warden let us go on our semi-merry way, with an admonition that, if we wanted to go shooting, a hunting license is required, should we want to bring back some game.

And that, gentle readers, was the sum total of my hunting experience as a child.

Once, when I’d just turned 21, a friend asked me if I’d like to go hunting. I said that sounded great, only to find out I’d need to buy some appropriate clothing, just to make the trip. After acquiring a hi-viz vest, long underwear, a pair of boots, a watch cap, etc., I then discovered the meaning of the phrase “crack of dawn.”

Let me put it this way. I’m a musician, and a graphic artist. Neither profession requires early rising. I hadn’t seen the crack of dawn since I threw the morning paper as a youngster. Nor did it hold any fascination for me. Apparently, we needed to be in the forest before the crack of dawn, so when Bambi and his family sauntered by, we’d be ready. On the way out, I was cautioned to be vewwwy quiet, and stay still as a statue. This was sounding less and less fun.

Cold. Hungry. Unable to move to keep myself warm. And apparently, completely alone. All morning long, we saw nary a woodland creature. Not a rabbit, deer, snake, or woodchuck was a-stirrin’, not even a mouse.

Before we gave up for the day, I convinced my buddy to let me shoot the rifle he’d loaned me, and blow away a couple of cans we’d found along the trail. Apparently, game wardens have little to do but to follow the sounds of people plinking at cans, for when we got back to the car, Johnny Law was awaiting our return. Fortunately, our paperwork was in order, so we were allowed to continue on, our metaphoric tails tucked between our legs, returning home without a kill.

And that’s about it, for my gun experience, up until the time I decided self-defense would be a Really Good Idea.

I’ve recounted here and here about the profound effect the death of John Lennon had on me, so I leave the details on that to those who choose to read my older posts. Suffice it to say that it was a swing and a miss, gun-wise. I briefly considered getting a gun, but instead bought of on the concept that having one would put me at more risk than not having one, and that if I had a gun, I’d end up looking for a reason to exacerbate and conflict into a shooting war. I realize now how ridiculously ignorant that idea is, but at the time, it seemed like sound reasoning.

So what changed? What got me interested in guns, and more importantly, what kept me from being interested in guns before that?

The answer to the first question is pretty simple. My then-wife decided that getting a concealed carry permit would be a good idea. When she shared that bit of intel with me, I said I wanted to do it as well. (Some time later, she said she’d never intended that I should get my permit or a gun. This was something she’d really wanted to do on her own. By this, I am not implying that she wanted to get a gun and get trained for any reason other than personal protection.

But I will admit that the thought did cross my mind during the divorce, that perhaps she had considered me as a late addition to her list of potential people against whom she’d want or need to defend herself. For the record, I’m squarely in the camp of “non-aggression/non-violence,” especially when it comes to women, so I’d put that in the category of categorically ridiculous. Never got around to asking her if there was any merit to that speculation. Still.)

In a post-9/11 world, I’d realized that the police were largely useful to present a deterrent to crime, and to mop up after a crime, hopefully seeking out and arresting the guilty parties. I also realized that there was no way they would keep me or my family safe, when seconds counted. Buying a gun and getting trained was a pretty easy decision. Once I got into it, I also realized how much fun it was. The more interesting question is, “what kept me from getting into guns sooner?”

Based on the idea that the “child is the father to the man,” I see this as a combination of factors. It’s not like I wasn’t exposed to guns at an early age, or that exposure wasn’t positive. It was. And at any of the inflection points in my life – the Sheriff’s marksmanship course, getting that .410, going on my abortive hunting trip, or whatever – I could have found myself immersed in guns and gun culture. But it didn’t happen.

Looking back, I’d have to say there were two factors missing from my gun education: the fact that my father had virtually no interest in guns, and that there were few educational experiences I had that involved guns.

In the 1960s and 70s, guns were not the controversial subject they are today. In fact, it really wasn’t until the late 70s that the anti-gun crowd were able to get any traction in either legislatures or within the world of entertainment. Today, of course, guns are a flashpoint between a very vocal (and increasingly frustrated) anti-gun crowd and those of us that appreciate guns as tools for hunting, self defense, and sport.

Therefore, I’d say that it’s less likely today that your average kid would have a positive exposure to guns and it’s equally less likely that they will take up shooting as a hobby. And that’s a shame.

When it comes to getting kids interested in guns, we could learn a lot from McDonald’s. I’m not fond of that particular burger chain. I find their breakfasts to be marginally okay, but if I’m looking for lunch or dinner, McDonald’s would be my last choice. It’s not that their food is bad. It’s just consistently mediocre.

So why are they as popular as they are? Advertising. Specifically advertising to kids, via Ronald McDonald. Kids acquire the McDonald’s habit at an early age. Kids are inundated with messages about how great McDonald’s is. And then there’s the Happy Meals. The name says it, man.

For very young kids, the NRA is on the right track with their Eddie Eagle program. You’ve got to start by dispelling fear. But after that, there’s only the NRA’s work with ranges and the Boy Scouts, far as I can see, that really encourages kids to take up shooting. As a kid, I really enjoyed the Sheriff’s marksmanship program. But it wasn’t enough. Wanna get the next generation to have a positive feeling about guns? Get ’em while they’re young.

If you shoot and you have kids, if you’re not getting your kids trained and involved in shooting, you’re screwing up. If you are involved in your kid’s school, you might want to start making inquiries as to what programs they offer for gun training, marksmanship, and shooting sports.

Many schools have clubs – and unless you live in a portion of the country dominated by anti-gunners (NYC, Chicago, and most of Kalifornia, I’m talking about YOU), this shouldn’t cause you to be marked for outcast status. If you belong to a range or club, you might consider encouraging them to start a youth program. And if you have other ideas, TTAG would be a good place to share them.

Think about it like this. Television is many things – entertainer, information source, cultural touchstone, and influence peddler. Do you like what you see on television regarding guns and gun culture? No? Since you know something about guns, don’t you think it would be a good idea to pass along your knowledge to the next generation, so we can avoid the kinds of threats to our freedom that we’ve had to endure over the last couple of decades?

As for me, I’m gonna take my daughter out to the range. No time like the present to make sure she gets her gun education not from MSNBC or PBS, but from me.

25 Responses to Growing Up (Mostly) Gun-less

  1. My dad was a hunter since he was a kid, and although I was born in Germany (where Dad was stationed), my earliest memories are of the small town in Northeast Oklahoma where my Mom hailed from. Pretty much everybody hunted and fished, and guns were as common as crabgrass and just about as controversial. Granddad had them hanging on the wall of his study alongside his trophy deer and elk heads, they were commonly seen in the back windows of pickup trucks, they were sold across the counter at the OTASCO (Oklahoma Tire and Supply Company) and nobody took much notice of them at all.

    We moved to the ‘big city’ (Alexandria, VA) in 1967 after Dad’s first tour in Vietnam but I think it wasn’t until years later that I even realized that there were people who didn’t own guns (in fact, I may have been in Junior High in Colorado when I looked at a friend with genuine puzzlement and said “your dad doesn’t have a gun?”)

  2. Great post, Brad. My experience was a lot like yours. Some early plinking with .22s and BB guns as a kid but nothing really “took” gun-wise until I was well into my 40s. It was the VA Tech shooting that made me sit up and take notice. I remember reading a post on the comments section in the Wash Post something to the effect of “If just one of those kids was carrying…”. My first thought was “That’s kinda crazy.” My immediate second thought was “Well, wait a minute, maybe it isn’t.” I don’t know who that poster was but he or she is responsible for opening my eyes. Since then I’ve gotten interested in 2A rights, bought a few guns, took some lessons, got my carry permit, etc.

    Looking back, I find it interesting how I was kind of brain-washed all those years. Without really paying attention, the phrases “insane gun laws”, “worst gun violence in the world”, “do it for the children”, “assault weapons”, “evil NRA empire”, and all that other crap just kind of crept into my consciousness and settled in there as “facts”. It wasn’t until I started really paying attention and using my brain that I recognized it for the crap it was. That’s the real danger and insidiousness of the gun-grabbers and their stranglehold on the mainstream media.

    But I’m optimistic that we can turn it around and indeed there has been a lot of progress in the last two decades. But yes, we need to pass what we know onto our kids so the momentum doesn’t sputter out in the next generation. I started a little late with my kids but better late than never. My kids are now in their late teens and early 20s and get out to the range with me regularly. My wife…. well, we’re still working on her.

  3. Growing up in New York City in the 1950s, guns were as foreign to me as anything labeled “Made in Japan.” What got me hooked was my first bullseye. Actually, my second. The first could have been pure dumb luck, but being able to repeat the shot made all the difference.

    It’s really important for kids to have success at the range or plinking in the woods beginning with the very first time they shoot. Too many misses can lead to frustration and indifference. Making a tin can jump consistently, or chewing out the center of a target at will, really gets a kid involved. The right gun (not a .410!), the right distance and the right instruction can make it happen.

  4. I started shooting in the Boy Scouts. The US Gov contributed their training when I was 17. I didn’t collect a fair number until I was in my 30’s but that is because I lived overseas for a long time. I agree that the anti gun message starts in schools very early, and either you get the first impression or the system will.

  5. For me, BB guns from the age of 7 until the age of 22 when I fired a .22 gallery rounds at Rocking Horse Ranch.
    Didn’t own any until the age of 36… not sure why… I’ve been living on my own since the age of 26, but didn’t acquire anything that pushes a bullet until ten years later. I guess it was mostly due a lack of knowing where to go to shoot… there aren’t many ranges around where I live…

  6. Any advice on getting started?

    I grew up in a home mostly indifferent to firearms in general, but I’ve picked up interest in the past year or so reading various blogs like this. Unfortunately, I spend 10 months out of the year in Chicago for college, so I’m a bit lost as to how to properly introduce myself into the world of firearms.

    • Well most places that are a combination firing range / gun shop will rent out guns. I know a local place where I’m from (Cincinnati) only charges around $5 to rent a gun, but you MUST buy ammo from them to use in the rented gun (needless to say, they charge more than if you bought it elsewhere). It’s a good way to try out a few different styles and calibers to see what you like best.

      • I like Target World in Cinci. The staff (most of em at least) will sit there and talk guns, laws and history, for as long as you’ll give em and they have a full auto MP5 you can rent (for $35 + ammo) in addition to a slew of hand cannons. Ohio’s a useless state in general, but If you’re stuck on the wrong side of the river and got the urge to kill some paper, it’s the best place I’ve found

      • You can also be under the supervision of someone who has a FOID. Gun stores wont let you handle one without a FOID though.

        • That’s good to know. NYS is pretty relaxed about rifles, but “gun sharing” is a no-no with handguns if the person trying the weapon out lacks a permit.

    • First apply for your FOID http://www.isp.state.il.us/foid/. It’s simple and I think it costs around $15. They take a month or two to get but it’s not too bad. If you have a car there are ranges in the suburbs that are within an hour of downtown that rent guns. If you have a friend with a FOID, you can share a lane at the range if he has a gun but the places I’ve been won’t let people without their FOID use rentals.

      • Maxons will let you shoot their rentals w/o a FOID as long as your under the supervision of someone with a FOID, and that person is the one who actually rents the gun.

  7. “If you are involved in your kid’s school, you might want to start making inquiries as to what programs they offer for gun training, marksmanship, and shooting sports.”

    While that sounds like a good idea, I have a feeling that a large portion of the country would either get yelled at by the Principle or possibly even have child services called on them. You have to remember even if you live in an area that’s not anti-gun, most of the training teachers receive teaches them that guns are evil.

  8. Nice article, good read.

    I grew up in NJ with indifferent, yuppie-ish parents, so that’s my excuse. Didn’t own a gun until I moved to PA only 4 months ago.

    But my first time firing was when I visited Las Vegas with my father when I was 14. I obviously couldn’t gamble, so there wasn’t much for me to do in such a city. I saw a pamphlet in an attraction kiosk for a range where you can rent guns and my mind was blown. My father took me there after much begging and I fired off a Beretta 92f, an AR-15, and a .44 magnum. Good times.

    Then it was home to the Peoples Republic of New Jersey. For the next ten years the only shooting I did was when I went back to Vegas one more time, and when I visited a friend in Arizona. Then I finally moved to a proper American state and here I am.

  9. I grew up in a household where guns were present but out-of-bounds without proper supervision. My father was a career non-com in the Army and a Vietnam Vet. When I was six my mother had an evening shift at the base theater and I stayed with dad at his unit’s shop because he had the role of Duty Sargeant. His buddy was working the counter at the unit’s small arms locker and I was given my first leasons on proper gun handling from a grizzly old sargeant and a Colt that was probably older then my dad. And this is why the first handgun I purchased when I turned twenty-one was a 1911A1.

    I was given my first BB gun at ten for Christmas (I still have it in the gun safe next to the 870 Wingmaster dad gave me when I turned eighteen). My father taught me to shoot with that and later a .22 revolver when I was twelve.

    We never hunted… Dad didn’t consider it a real sport because the deer didn’t have a gun. But my reward for doing all my chores was to go to the base’s pistol range once a month until the day he retired and we had to move to the Sheriff’s indoor range.

    My wife is in similar shoes. Her father was an officer with the local agency and a scout master. She knew how to shoot and didn’t bat an eye when I suggested she get her permit and a small-ish carry gun.

    The point? Because of the time I spent with my father target shooting I cherish firearms because it keeps me close to him. Even if I am a better shot then he is.

  10. My “no guns” childhood story has a tragic ending. My grandfather was an avid hunter and shooter, but for some reason, none of his three sons shot or showed any interest (he must have not taken them shooting). Therefore, my dad had no interest in guns, and we never had one in the house. Granddad died and left behind a cache of guns. My cousin and I, being 14 and 13, hunted high and low (Granddad hid them in secret places) and found them all, including an unissued GI 1911 wrapped in plastic he “liberated” from the Pearl Harbor armory in the days after the attack. Except for the 1911, we had no idea what any of the guns were. Years later, after I got into shooting, I asked my dad to describe his father’s guns, and based on the descriptions, figured he had some real treasures — an M1 Garand, a Ruger Standard, and an early issue Mini-14, among the 1911 and others. “What happened to them?” I asked. “Oh, my brothers and I sold them all, and we gave the Colt .45 back to the Army.” “How much did you get for them?” “About $300.”

    The moral? TEACH YOUR KIDS ABOUT GUNS!

  11. Are you SURE you’re not really a 40-something web marketing dude from western Canada? Because your experience sounds almost identical to mine, except rather than a .410 and cans, it was a .22 and gophers.

    “Wanna get the next generation to have a positive feeling about guns? Get ‘em while they’re young.”

    I submit there is one entertainment outlet that is not only gun-neutral, it’s gun-friendly – video games. Kids today grow up with (virtual) M4’s and HK’s in their hands: It’s up to us old farts wise elders to safely channel that enthusiasm for virtual guns into the real thing.

  12. “Looking back, I’d have to say there were two factors missing from my gun education: the fact that my father had virtually no interest in guns, and that there were few educational experiences I had that involved guns.”

    I think you hit it there – those are key factors. My Dad wasn’t really into guns, but he did get us BB guns and taught us safety. I think the key factor for me was the high school rifle team I joined in 1961. We had an indoor range, and used those great Winchester Model 52D bolt actions (.22LR). That was the experience that got me to realize a gun is a precision tool, and far more than a toy. It was also a great lesson in personal responsibility at the age of 14 – the bullet was your responsibility when you pulled the trigger; it wasn’t the coach’s, or the team’s, or anyone else’s.

    That’s why I believe shooting is a truly “adult” sport (especially for kids), and why (when done right) it can teach personal responsibility, unlike all of the others that are basically throwing/hitting a ball around. OK, I will give you archery, but that’s still shooting.

    The Second Amendment recognizes a serious right for serious people.

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