I’ve been a shooter for most of my life, beginning when I was about 4, shooting BB guns in the back yard with my mom and older brother. When I turned 8, my brother and father presented me with my first .22 rifle, a single-shot bolt-action, hand-me-down, and I actively shot that as often as I could. A year later, my father gave me a brand new Browning lever-action, repeating rifle for my Birthday, and I have actively been shooting that rifle every chance I get for almost 50 years.
Growing up, I spent many afternoons after school, wandering the hills behind our house, hunting rabbits or shooting targets. In my teen years, my family was often at the range shooting benchrest matches or spending Sunday afternoon shooting skeet.
After a tour in the Army, I got serious about my shooting, working in one gun store, while living in a room in the back of another. That’s when I got heavily into action shooting, spending all of my extra money on ammunition, and going out shooting 4 or 5 days a week, with competitions on weekends.
Not only have I been an active shooter for over 50 years, I have routinely carried a personal protection sidearm for over over 30 years. In all of that time, I have never shot a hole in a floor, ceiling, or wall.
I have certainly never shot another human being, or come close to shooting another human being, either intentionally or unintentionally, and I have never even put a hand on my sidearm in a threatening situation.
I’m an active shooter. Not as active as I once was, and not nearly as active as I would like to be, but an active shooter nonetheless. And I hate the fact that law enforcement and the media have stolen the term “active shooter” to apply to deranged murderers attacking innocents.
Not only has a perfectly good description for me and millions of other recreational and sport shooters been purloined and redefined, the term now seems to apply to criminals who don’t use guns.
Late last month, a deranged young Somali refugee, who had expressed frustration about people being afraid of him simply because he was a Muslim, decided to prove those people’s fears about the “religion of peace” correct by driving his Honda Civic into a crowd of fellow Ohio State University students, then jumping out of the car to hack and stab people with a large butcher knife.
In the moments after the attack, the school sent out an “Active Shooter Alert” instructing students and faculty to “Run, hide, fight” until the situation could be resolved. The media followed the school’s lead, reporting that an “active shooter” had injured at least 7 before being shot by campus police.
This led to former Democratic Party vice presidential candidate, Tim Kaine, sending out a tweet saying that he was “Deeply saddened by the senseless act of gun violence” at OSU, and offering condolence to the victims and their families.
Two hours later, Kaine corrected his error, long after the media had realized their mistake, but the use of the term “Active Shooter” to describe any deranged criminal on a destructive rampage, remains the norm.
Most people don’t give the use of this term a second thought, especially when applied to someone who is actively shooting people in a criminal attack. In that circumstance it seems like a fairly accurate description, but to me, it is not only inaccurate, it is insulting.
It is inaccurate because it does not include any direct suggestion of criminality, using “shooter” to infer that, and it is insulting because by doing this, it implies that shooting is a criminal activity. Don’t call a rampaging murderer a shooter.
Call him a rampaging murderer, or a rampaging attacker, or even a criminal shooter or violent gunman. My brother Chris and our friend Alan Korwin both object to the use of the term “gunman,” making the point that it is part of the sensationalist and glamorizing vocabulary that the media too often uses.
But the term has held negative, criminal connotations since at least the 1860s, so I’m willing to let that one slide. The term “active shooter” on the other hand, has only come into vogue as a description of a mass murderer in the past 20 years or so.
It began gaining traction in the wake of the Columbine atrocity, and has now become so ingrained in the vernacular that it’s even being applied to attackers who are “shooting” with cars and knives.
Maybe I’m being overly sensitive and should just retreat to my safe space where I can pretend like this is all a bad dream that will go away if I wish it hard enough or whine loudly enough.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for me since unlike many of today’s college students and other Hillary Clinton supporters, I’m an adult, and a realist. Calling rampaging attackers “active shooters” is easy and accepted, so it’s not likely to go away anytime soon.
Nonetheless, I refuse to participate in this misappropriation of terms, and I refuse to abdicate the proper application of “active shooter.”
As George Orwell noted; “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” I am an active shooter. I hope to be a more active shooter going forward, and to remain an active shooter for many years to come.
To all of my fellow active shooters out there I say, stand firm. Don’t let them shame you from who you are. Shoot on brothers and sisters. Be proud. Be loud. Stay active. And shoot! Shooter ready? Stand by…
Jeff Knox is a second-generation political activist and director of The Firearms Coalition. Founded by Jeff’s dad, Neal Knox in 1984, the organization provides support to grassroots activists in the form of education, analysis of current issues, and with a historical perspective of the gun rights movement.