Monday, October 15, 2007

A Rite of Passage

I sat there thinking about the young man who recently walked into his high school and shot four of his classmates before turning the handgun on himself and ending his life. How many times have we heard that news flash in this country over the past decade?

Yet, there I was with Troop 370 of the Boy Scouts of America, watching the children work towards their shotgun merit badge. We were tucked away deeply in the woods of central Georgia on a private reservation of about 7,000 acres. Our kids, ranging in age from 11 years old to about 16 years of age, were shooting clay pigeon targets using various gauges of shotguns provided by the parents, almost all Dad's, many of whom had served in the Armed Forces over the past 30 years.

Safety was the rule of the day and there was no nonsense in the approach to this exercise. Carelessness has tragic consequences when guns are involved and no one wanted a tragedy to occur during their watch. There was also a fair amount of teaching happening as well. Americans do pride themselves of how well we shoot, and no where is this more evident than in the Southeastern States. We grow up with, and around guns. We are taught to respect the potential damage guns can inflict. We own them, collect and trade them, and even sell them in a huge private market.

So why are we so fascinated with guns? Is it merely our early heritage as some would have us believe? You've heard the stories......early settlers fighting for survival......patriots fighting for freedom......the plot being essentially that guns have made us the independent nation that we are today and cannot be restricted less we restrict those freedoms so hard won.

But why do private citizens have to own guns? Shouldn't a standing Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard, not to mention the Guard and Reserve, be sufficient to to make us all sleep safe at night? And how many of us are truly required to own guns for self protection? Indeed, I know lots of folks who own guns, but I've never known anyone who ever needed to defend themselves with a gun, and that includes some fairly tough neighborhoods in D.C. So, do we purchase and own guns just because we can? Do we think of guns the same way we do fine china or rare stamps?

My Katie is British and the whole gun thing is completely beyond her. The British banned handguns years ago and while shotguns may be owned, they are almost always kept at a gun club instead of the home. Katie would argue that the UK has not gone to hell in a hand basket since the ban, and statistics would seem to support this assertion. Street crime did not rise significantly, nor did home break-in's. Folks just don't seem to be concerned that they are without the "fundamental right to own and/or bear arms".

Anyway, my Joseph took his turn, firing about 2 rounds after about ten minutes of instruction. He then decided that he did not want to continue. A combination of too much instruction/coaching coupled with the recoil from the 20 gauge banging into his shoulder. Oh well, I'm sure his Mom was pleased and since I gave up guns a long time ago (9 years in the Marines and a tour in Vietnam gave me all the experience I'll ever need (or wanted), there was no pressure from Dad to go out and shoot his quota (50 rounds per lad if they wanted to go the distance). Now, for the sake of clarity, we do own a pellet pistol for rodents and snakes and Joseph has a BB gun that he uses for target practice, but we don't own any "real" guns nor is there any likelihood that we will going forward.

I suppose there is no conclusion here. The kids all seemed to enjoy themselves. The parents also enjoyed the day and all in all, there were probably about 2,000 rounds fired. No one was hurt and a number of the lads won their shotgun badges. We had a fun evening and sped away away yesterday morning early so we could get back in time for the Hawks/Portland game.

Still, I think about that child walking into that school and spraying the place with bullets and I wonder about the gun argument and ask myself if we are having the right argument. Perhaps we should have a fundamental right to own and bear firearms. Perhaps it is a tradition that we need to hold on to to ensure a proper perspective on liberty. I can deal with that and I can agree that we don't need to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what our Founding Fathers really meant when they wrote the Bill of Rights. What I cannot abide is this total disregard for the fact that lives are being taken everyday with handguns procured by kids far too young to own guns. Perhaps it is time to re-craft the discussion to include some fundamental safeguards to go with the fundamental rights! The NRA has directed the Boy Scouts of America to no longer label guns as weapons. They are now to be labeled firearms, as if weapons hurt people and firearms don't......stupid distinction if you ask me.

Why can't we draft a set of laws that allow for gun ownership, but require some fairly heavy gun registration requirements; e.g.: having to appear personally at your local police station and having your fingerprints run against the national register.........having the serial number of the gun registered........having the police visit your home and give you some tips on protecting the security of your firearms......and finally, anyone who wants to purchase a firearm of any description must attend a mandatory firearms safety course for a least 10 to 15 hours including some range work to help one understand how to fire the weapon safely. Does any of these requirements impose a undue burden on any law abiding citizen? I don't think so and I think it is about time we got serious about sorting how the gun problem in this country.

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