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Several incidents in the past year have really started me thinking
about firearms safety and a citizens rights under the Second Amendment.
The first incident occurred in the spring when my wife and I were coming
back from shopping. As we drove up the road to our house we heard
gunfire coming from our neighbors back yard. These are not people you
would normally think would have a gun. As I walked into their back yard
I saw four people, my two neighbors and two other people who turned out
to be relatives. They had been taken in by the Y2K scare and had bought
the guns for self protection. The way they had set the target up was in
direct line with the pasture where our two horses were. I ask them if we
could adjust the angle of the target, which was no problem, and then ask
what type of firearms they were shooting. They had a slug gun, a
revolver, and a semi auto pistol. Watching them handle these weapons it
quickly became evident that none of them had any idea of what they were
doing. To me nothing is more frightening than an untrained individual
with a loaded gun. My first thought was that these people had no
business owning guns. My next thought was who am I to be the judge of
that. Since I had several years in the military as a weapons instructor,
I volunteered to teach them how to handle their weapons.
Several days after Christmas I was at a store in my area that does a
large volume of weapons sales. As I looked around at what was being
offered for sale a man approached me and ask if I could tell him the
caliber of a particular pistol. After talking with him for several
minutes it was easy to determine that he had no knowledge about
handguns. He told me that he had fired a shotgun one time and that was
the extent of his experience. I suggested to him that he might want to
enroll in some type of shooting class before buying a handgun or any
other type of firearm. I later saw him looking at a semi auto pistol
with a salesperson. My first thought was that I was glad he didn't live
around me. Then I thought he lives around someone, is that person safe.
There is much in this persons demeanor that I can't put into words, but
it made want to go over to the salesperson and say 'Please don't sell
this man a weapon." My next thought was to do that would violate his
Constitutional rights and that is something I would not do to anyone.
On the way home I got to thinking how do we as supporters of the
Constitution and the Bill of Rights balance those rights against safe
gun handling. Don't get me wrong, I know that even the most careful
handling of firearms does not mean that no accidents will occur. As a
farm boy I can't remember a time when I didn't have a firearm of some
type. I was constantly admonished by my grandfather about gun safety and
by the time I was drafted into the Army I thought I was pretty
knowledgeable about firearms, but found I still had some things to
learn. Firearms safety is a constant learning experience. It comes from
learning all you can about a particular weapon and handling that weapon,
first unloaded and then loaded. It is also constant conscious effort on
an individuals part to insure that every thing done with that weapon is
done in a safe manner.
So what is the answer? Certainly it is not the federal government
intruding further into our lives and further eroding our freedoms. I
agree with the philosophy that if you give up a little freedom the
government will come back and ask for more. Several years ago we were
told that the government only wanted to ban "assault weapons and large
capacity magazines". Now they are talking about semi auto pistols and
rifles, even if that weapon was designed for hunting. So if we say, as
gun owners, we agree to some type of training program before we purchase
a weapon what would be next? In my state when we apply for a concealed
carry permit a background check is done by the local police department.
The police chief in my town takes it one step further. When I got my
first permit he ask me what my experience with firearms was. He stated
that not having experience would not justify denying a permit, but he
would set me up with an experienced shooter who would give me some
training. With my background I did not need to take him up on his offer,
but gave him my ok to use me for a coach if the need arose. You know, I
did not resent his question in any way. In fact I thanked him for being
concerned with my safety. That could be one answer, another one could be
just taking a new shooter under your wing and teach him/her about
firearms safety. Sitting here reading this I just realized one answer to
the man in the gun store would have been to ask him if he would like to
learn about firearms safety and offered to teach him.
I really feel that the major portion of the answer to this question
is personal responsibility. I think it begins and ends with that. I
don't pretend to have all the answers but I will state a proposal that I
could live with. I could see a convention of firearms owners (delegates)
selected from each state. These delegates would be from all walks of
life and represent all shooting disciplines. Free of the government,
HCI, NRA, or any other group. They would set the standards that each
individual must meet before they would be allowed gun ownership. I can
hear the howls for my head now. Yes I know what the Constitution says. I
have been studying it for more years than some. I also gave a good part
of my life defending it, plus a little sweat and blood. If push comes to
shove you will find me standing on the line defending it again. I think
we need to realize that when the Founding Fathers wrote and signed the
Constitution, life in this nation was very different. A firearm was a
tool used for defense and feeding your family. I am sure most young men,
and women on the frontier learned at a very early age how to handle
firearms. Does that mean there were no accidents? Of course not, but I
would be willing to bet, if records were available, that per capita
population that accidental shootings were almost non existent compared
with today. Why? Hell, if I knew most every person carried a gun I would
make it my business to make sure he/she handled it safely.
The question I put to you who disagree with me, is, would you
rather police yourselves or down the road have the government do it? I'm
not talking about criminal use of a firearm, that's a whole new subject.
I'm talking about safety and cutting down accidents with firearms. If we
as gun owners reduce drastically the number of deaths caused by unsafe
acts, it would sure go along way to defusing some of the rhetoric we
hear from the anti-gun crowd. For that matter, to hell with the anti-gun
crowd, if we saved one life it would be worth it. How many times a year
do we hear of a child getting a hold of their parents gun and either
shooting themselves or another child? How many times do we hear of a
person injured or killed in hunting accidents? Every one of these
incidents gives the anti-gun crowd something else to sensationalize and
use to convince the general public that guns are evil and need to be
removed from the hands of law abiding citizens. We as law abiding gun
owners need to shoulder some of the responsibility and do what we can to
improve gun safety in this country.
As I said I don't claim to have all the answers. My proposed system
of a self imposed training criteria prior to gun ownership is just that,
one idea. Hopefully you who read this will generate other ideas. I think
we as gun owners need to look in our own households and insure that it
is a safe environment for our children. We need to educate our children
and start them at an early age down the path of safe gun handling. As I
said before, take a new shooter under your wing and make sure he/she is
totally safety conscious before that first round goes down range. I
don't intend to lose my guns. I think we all know what that would mean
to the citizens of this country. We would live in constant fear because
the criminal element would still be armed and we would forever be under
the thumb of an ever growing federal government. What keeps us free is
armed citizens. We need to become safe armed citizens.