Guns and Me

What kind of gun control makes sense?  The national conversation tends to be polarized between staunch pro-gun or anti-gun positions.  To break up polarized thinking and open  dialogue,  sometimes it helps to begin by asking people to tell their personal stories relating to a particular issue.  I’ll start this conversation with the story of my introduction to guns and maybe you’ll join me by telling yours.

My story starts way back because I’m old.  Just after World War II, there was a housing shortage and my family was forced to take refuge in a relative’s summer cottage in rural Illinois.  This house was set amid fields of tall grass, Illinois prairie.  My mother was shocked the first fall we lived there to see pheasant hunters with guns walking through the yard where her children played.  I don’t remember what she did to bring this problem to official attention, but afterward we did not see any hunters in our yard.  Apparently, some boundaries had been set.

We adopted the local gun culture, though.  My father acquired a 12 gauge shotgun and my mother a .410 over and under, which I also learned to shoot.   To make friends and socialize, my parents joined the pheasant hunters wherever the legal hunting grounds came to be.

I made a friend named Sharon whose Dad hunted raccoons; he collected the skins and was saving for a raccoon-skin coat.  The family ate raccoons, too.  My father went along one time on a raccoon hunt but refused to go again because he thought it unsporting.  The raccoons were chased by hunting dogs into trees and then shot once they were trapped there.

This man once brought home a baby raccoon to keep as a pet.  The family called him Billy Coon and kept him mostly in a big wooden barrel.   When he got older he was not so easy to handle.  One day when Sharon let him out of the barrel to play Billy turned vicious.  Sharon found her Dad’s shotgun and fired.  Her aim was perfect even though she was pretty scared and really didn’t want to kill Billy.

I had a cousin, Bob, who liked to visit us so he could hunt squirrels in a nearby farmer’s woods (with permission).  My mother, who did not approve of shooting small animals for target practice, gamely stewed the squirrels for dinner.  They were not at all bad eating.

Living in the country, owning and using guns seemed normal.  And back then, the ideas of vegetarianism and animal rights I entertain today were unknown, at least to the people we knew.

What was your early experience with guns like?  Please comment.


This entry was posted in Community/Environment, Dialogue, Peace and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Guns and Me

  1. Emily Thomas says:

    First of all, thanks for doing this.

    I strongly feel it is important to distinguish between hunting weapons and weapons of war, designed to kill people efficiently and rapidly. The NRA chooses to lump them together, although originally they didn’t — they used to get their funding from hunters, and now it’s from weapons manufacturers.

    I grew up on a farm in Kansas, did some hunting and a lot of shooting tin cans on a fence post with a 22 short rifle. I learned gun safety (i.e. NEVER point a gun at something you don’t want to kill). We didn’t have toy guns, even my brothers, guns were not toys, they were to kill with and had to be handled with due care.
    And yes, you shot animals that you were intending to eat. Or tin cans or targets nailed to a tree. And you knew who and what was in the direction your bullet was going. My father, however, thought squirrels were too beautiful and so they were not to be hunted. But we shot and ate lots of rabbits, raccoons, possums. Yes, they hunted raccoons with dogs — it was more about the tracking skill of the dog rather than the hunt. A raccoon in a gunny sack was dragged along a trail and then set free, and then the contest was if the dogs could track and tree it.
    This is a culture that is mostly gone, especially as we have become more urban. And there is a major price to pay for it. Deer.
    Deer, evolved as prey animals, reproduce rapidly, as do other prey animals (rabbits, mice, etc). A deer herd will double its numbers every two years. We have eliminated wolves, so the only predator left is man — and automobiles. Deer kill more people (through car accidents) than any other animal, by far. They are also destroying the forest ecology by eating anything they can reach — no baby trees grow up these days. They have compromised the ground cover that once filtered rain water as it fell and held it so it soaked into the ground — and into the reservoirs that provide NYC its drinking water — our water quality is beginning to be affected. They are also affecting our song bird population. Most song birds are ground nesters, and there is no safe place for them to build their nests and rear their young any more.
    Hunting is the only possible way to control deer population, deer contraception is too expensive, and unsafe. It can work experimentally in small controlled populations, but not in the wilds.
    I now live up in Orange County, you drive here past all those highways with the deer crossing signs on them. I know deer hunters, but there are not enough of them to enable humans to be a responsible factor in the environment.
    thank you

    • kkanet says:

      Dear Emily,

      Thanks for your sharing and telling your story. We know we have to do a lot of talking to one another on this issue. We felt that starting with stories about how we have experienced guns would be a good start. I never owned a gun, but Ii play cops and robbers, war (WWII) and cowboy, and Indians (many years ago) and had had toy guns which were very important to me in playing those games. I grew up in a small town and many of my friends hunted deer each fall. We even got off a day in school to do this!
      During those days one would see fallen deer on tops of cars and in most cases that would be meat for families.
      I don’t believe it is good for us to place as enemies those who own guns and are concerned about restrictions. Although we could talk about what kind of guns to we need to protect ourselves from someone who would threaten or try to hurt us. Are there any limits? How would them be defined? I would imagine too that we could seek out limits to what makes good sport. Again thanks for your sharing

      Kathleen Kanet

  2. David Thomas says:

    I grew up in the San Francisco area and no one I knew had guns. I did have my great grandfather’s hunting license from 100 years ago for rabbits in what became Golden Gate Park, but my experience of guns was of reading newspaper stories of gangs, domestic violence, and, maybe most personally, of the shooting of School Superintendent Marcus Foster (I had tutored students in his daughter’s class) as one of the first actions of the SLA (later of Patty Hearst fame).

    Now I live in a rural Alaskan town. For reasons of domestic harmony, I don’t hunt – my wife is a vegaquarian (plants plus seafood). But I enjoy hiking 40 miles in a day, camping, cooking, and learning new skills, so I’m popular to have along on a hunting trip. Here, guns have uses as a tool – get a moose each year, shoot a feral dog harassing livestock, subdue a large fish (really. A 100+ pound halibut is dangerous to have flopping around on deck). Guns are generally not used in stranger-on-stranger violence. A local armed robbery is quite a remarkable event – once very few years at most. Are they used in domestic violence? Of course. In drunken arguments between people with a sorted history? Yes. But I don’t imagine myself being involved in such incidents.

    And then there is the, call them what you will – Y2Kers, preppers, conspiracy theorists, paranoid loners, militia members, or “North Roaders” – there’s a lot of overlap among those groups. We have FAR more than our share, per-capita, due to Libertarian laws, cheap land, and, frankly, some have moved away from so many places, there’s no where else to go. Do most of them end up shooting up the local hospital? No. But one did – in a work-place-violence type of attack. It is this demographic with which I have the most concern, emotionally. There’s a guy at the hardware store who says he owns >100 guns. He probably does. And he sees NO place for government to put any restrictions on that – the “slippery slope” paranoia. My sense is that this group has usurped the NRA’s potential role as an advocate for responsible sportsmen, and converted it to an extremist group. No one I know hunts with a handgun – bolt-action (non-semi-automatic) rifles are far more accurate and powerful and the ethic among many hunters is to “know your target” and NOT take a shot if you have any question about it being a clean kill.

    But note that I qualified my statement above as my emotional concern. Logically, from a public health perspective, the whacko with scores of guns only rarely shoots up a school, a theater, or a Congresswoman’s meet & greet. They get tremendous media coverage, but just like single-home fires displace far more people each year than mega-storms do, individual cases of domestic violence and “gang-banging” take far, far more lives. These are the crimes associated not with “assault rifles” but with handguns concealed by a thug or whipped out in a moment of passionate conflict. Statistically, guns in your house make you LESS safe but I’m the only unarmed and truckless man I know in my town. If we are trying to avoid mass shootings, maybe assault rifle bans can help a bit, but better mental health care and the media NOT turning these people into celebrities would help much more. If we are trying to save lives, let’s consider instead how to have fewer guns in fewer homes. I note that drunk driving just isn’t tolerated the way it was 30+ years ago. Wearing your seat belt is now just a given. Your children won’t let you NOT recycle. Attitudes can change over a few decades and I think we should look at ways to change attitudes. If the bumper sticker “Lots of guns = a small dick” was as common as “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” that would be a start.

    Everyone will not agree on a comprehesive package of new laws. But I think we could get a super-majority to take certain incremental steps in helpful directions:

    A federal “good guy” ID system with a high bar (no felonies, no fish&game violations, stable address, hunter safety course completed) that offers something EXTRA. Perhaps a rebate on target-practice rounds’ taxes. Simplified shipping/purchasing requirements. Make being a responsible gun owner a status with privileges – airlines have their silver, gold, platinum level elites with extra perks at each step. People like being recognized and rewarded.

    The elimination of “Saturday Night Specials” 35 years ago was a good step. I remember newspaper ads for $25 guns. It is good that those are not available now. How about a sliding scale of taxes – the less a gun costs, the more it is taxed. The MORE a gun costs, the more it is subsidized. We do that through CAFE with car fuel consumption because we want (slightly, unambitiously), higher mileage cars. Then you have the sportsmen and collectors on your side. And you tax the gang-bangers and the white-trash (sorry about the racial stereotypes there) to fund it. Just like taxing cigarettes more highly doesn’t change adult habits much but hugely influences teenagers. What about your kid’s first .22 rifle? Maybe you tax and rebate within categories with handguns and non-precision guns subsidizing the ones more typically owned by responsible gun owners.

    Once an (essentially) minimum purchase price is set (through taxation that subsidizes upper-end guns), wide-spread buy-back programs could be started. When you can’t get a handgun for under $250, you start buying back at $50. For a year. Then $75. Then $100. If someone sells a .22, .38 or .45 to buy some meth, I’m good with that. I’m real good with that.

    There are some rounds and calibers that are predictably used mostly for target practice or hunting. There are other rounds that, while you can target shoot with any gun, tend to be more anti-personnel rounds. The biggest difference is between handguns and long guns. But assault versus hunting rounds are clear in some cases. If you want to target shoot AND you use the most accurate kind of gun (a bolt-action rifle), then ammo is cheaper for you. If you want a cheap (and quiet) .25 semi-auto pistol, the ammo will cost A LOT. Over time, the types of guns in peoples’ hands will shift to guns less likely to be used in criminal and D-V settings.

    Give people choices – buyback or not. Make some calibers cheaper. Old rules or new. For responsible owners – more lenient rules. Make it a give&take instead only a take.

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