Cumberland Times-News

March 23, 2013

There’s no reset button on a real firearm

Dave Long
Cumberland Times-News

— It seems that everyone in this country has a solution for gun violence. As a member of a group of people that is facing proposed restrictions to a lifestyle, I would like to outline my plan on this issue.

You start with a boy. I say boy for several reasons, the chief of which is that males seem to be the ones causing most of this heartache, at least in the recent atrocities. So you start with a boy, which in my case was my stepson.

At whatever age that you think is appropriate, you buy that boy a BB gun. For my boy that was 8 years old. This seemingly harmless item is treated just like any other gun, to wit: it is not a toy. You can teach him most of the principles of safety and marksmanship that apply to a more powerful weapon by using a BB gun.

Repetition and consistency are keys in this program, as is discipline. The gun is not to be fired, or touched, without the presence of an adult. Live animals are not targets. Any violation of safety principles are dealt with firmly. I have found that a sharp rap of the knuckles to the back of the head works fine. Subsequent violations, if there are any, also lead to revocation of shooting privileges. That seems to hurt more than the above mentioned rap.

This training ultimately moves on to what we think of as a genuine firearm, in most cases a .22. Now things get real serious. To merely look at the gun safe, much less try to open it, is a most grievous offense.

Somewhere in this part of the training you should let him shoot a bigger gun, say a moderate caliber rifle or a 12 gauge shotgun. When he does you will see a wide-eyed response followed by a “whoa” as the young shooter learns about the awesome power behind the noise.

Years of closely supervised firearms use will teach the boy that a gun is in fact a weapon, not a digital plaything. This will often be enough to teach respect for these powerful implements to a young and growing mind.

If you really want to seal the deal on all of this, take that boy hunting. Boys want to hunt. It is in their nature and if cultivated early can overcome societal influences to the contrary.  

In the accompanying photograph you see my stepson, Hugo, on the right, with hunting companions Lucas and Griffin, sons of my friend Mike Sibole, enjoying a father/son hunt on Presidents Day.

That was Hugo’s first rabbit, and Lucas’ first game kill of any kind. It was special to be part of that accomplishment. Young Griffin shot no rabbits, mostly because his gun was unloaded as he practiced his gun handling skills, closely supervised by Dad.

Besides the exercise and fresh air of a good day outside, these boys expanded their educations regarding zones of fire, muzzle control and looking beyond the target. They learned that communication is vital when hunting in thick brush, for safety sake; real, verbal, communication, thumbs and small screens not necessary.

They are learning something else as well, something a little less tangible yet probably more important. Here is where it gets philosophical, and you might say reader discretion is advised.

Once these boys have some success as hunters, once they have killed a squirrel, rabbit or deer that ultimately ends up on their dinner plate, they have learned a lot about life. Each boy knows for certain that every time he shoots a gun something can happen, something deadly and final. It is not an academic exercise or video game where the results can be changed by hitting the reset button. It is real.

He learns what it means to provide meat for his body. He will soon understand that regardless of whether he eats a fast-food hamburger or a home-cooked deer burger that somewhere an animal has died. At first he may be squeamish and hopefully a little saddened, but ultimately he will feel the pride of having the fortitude to be able to provide that meat himself.

Significantly, along the way he observes that even though an animal may fall over when shot they sometimes still breathe, flop or flap. He learns that blood smells and guts smell worse, dramatically enforcing the lesson that shooting a gun has consequences in real life.

A boy who has learned these vital lessons will not take a loaded gun into a crowded room and start shooting at warm bodies.

The boys in the photo are learning these facts about life, about privileges, and the responsibilities that go with them.

We cannot teach these kids responsible gun ownership by taking those guns away, or painting guns as demons. These particular boys know firsthand just what a gun is, and what it is that a gun can do. They understand consequences, and finality. They are well aware of what can happen when you pull that trigger, and they respect it.

I am very proud of them.

Dave Long is a retired West Virginia natural resources police officer and a frequent contributor to the Outdoors page.