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.