Guns in Three Acts
This post should really be three smaller posts but in the interest of not being too greedy with the symposium I’m going to mash them together. I hope readers will indulge me…
The first hunting I did with my father was chasing rabbits on our small farm here in Kentucky. During those hunts my dad carried an old JC Higgins twelve-gauge made by Sears and Roebuck. He had picked it up second-hand in 1969 when the country kids at Murray State convinced him to go hunting with them during a holiday break. When we were hunting together I had my own gun and never gave his much thought. Then he passed away in 1996 and my brother and I inherited his gun collection. Even then we didn’t care much about the twelve gauge, being more interested in other guns like his deer rifle and a slick 9mm we had secretly coveted. The twelve sat in my gun safe for over a decade, only being brought out occasionally to shoot a few clay pigeons at a cookout. Two autumns ago I was thinking about selling the shotgun so I could buy something more to my tastes. The Higgins was a beast, quite heavy with a poly-choke on the end of the barrel and a thick wooden stock. But the pump-action was the smoothest I had ever seen, the gun practically operating itself. I decided I would take it out in the dove field on opening day. If I could kill five birds with it I would keep it.
Those first five doves came quick. I have always been a very average wingshooter but that was a banner day. I was shooting so well I decided to stay with the Higgins. Five birds quickly became ten. A limit of fifteen was in sight. Now at this point I should mention that I had never shot a limit of doves before. My personal best was thirteen hunting over a sunflower field in perfect weather. My average shooting had now become something else. What was more impressive was I had no cripples, which is rare. Every bird was hitting the ground stone dead. So I kept going and with the end of our shooting day not far off I scratched out number fifteen. My excitement was predictably off-the-charts. I missed my dad more than I had in a long time. I wished so much that he could have seen what I did that day.
This story, while important, is also a cheap way to score points. Talk about a personal success, pluck the heart strings with tales of my departed father and use sentimentality to make a plea for guns. But it is unnecessary. As Will recently said in his gun post, “The iconic hunter will never be challenged. Everybody knows this.” I’m not worried about my hunting being threatened by gun regulations. What I think my story illustrates though is that for gun owners, we have all sorts of emotions tied up in our firearms. The darn things will last 200 years if you take care of them. About how many things we inherit can we say that? Guns tell a story. My father, brother and myself all took our first deer with the same rifle. God willing our grandchildren will do the same. I don’t think the other side is obligated to recognize this, but they would be wise to do so.
As I thought it would be, Sandy Hook was the main topic of discussion in our duck blind on the morning after it happened. I brought up the idea of a ‘gun culture’ and my friends, men who have hunted together for nearly two decades, were universal in agreement. There IS a gun culture, but it is fractured and only loosely affiliated. For hunters guns are a tool we use in pursuit of our sport. Our little society isn’t built around guns, it’s built around hunting.
On the other end of the spectrum are people who use guns to commit acts of violence. I’m sure some love guns too, though thankfully I do not know any of them personally. Still, for them guns are also tools. Tools used by a group that has a very real disregard for human life. In between these two bookends are all sorts of other subgroups. Recreational shooters, collectors, gun dealers, militia types, historical re-enactors, Hollywood, ordinary citizens who want protection, doomsday preppers, law enforcement and the military. In my case and in many others these groups overlap. I also shoot recreationally. I know hunters who are militia types. I have friends who go to the range once per year to make sure they can still handle the gun they bought to protect their family and then the gun goes back in the closet. I know guys in law enforcement who also collect guns.
A common theme I have heard repeated from some of our commenters during the symposium has been about ‘gun nuts’. When pressed to elaborate some cite anecdotal tales about drunk hunters or the creepy kid down the street or the jackass that waved a loaded gun around at a party. Others talk about men with ego problems using guns to shore up their masculinity. They talk about militia types stockpiling AR-15s and thousands of rounds of ammunition. I have been honored that most have said to me, “YOU aren’t the problem, we know you are responsible.” But I’m a gun nut too. For those of us that hunt, we like (love) guns. We enjoy shooting. We talk about guns more than our kids sometimes. We drool over table after table of firearms at the gun show, even if they are guns we would never purchase ourselves.
When you have a groups of millions of Americans that are tied together by only one thing, a love for guns, you have a very complicated thing to try to manage.
While the libertarian argument for less intrusion and less government oversight is appealing, it’s also not realistic. How many hardcore libertarians are spending dozens of hours each week beaming their personal information all over the internet? We all have driver’s licenses, social security, debit and credit cards. Leaving a trail behind is nearly impossible to avoid. As for registered guns, millions of us own them. For the person who truely fears a UN roundup of guns these registered firearms are like poisoned fruit within our gun collections. So it is my inclination to dismiss concerns about a universal registry. Does that mean we need one? Maybe.
I have been reading gun data since I wrote my first position paper in English 101 a lifetime ago. While a lot of facts can be disputed, one detail is inescapable: handguns are a problem. The statistics are hard to pin down but my research shows handguns are used in nearly 80% of all gun crime. They are mostly bought legally, through straw purchases, and then passed on to criminals. Furthermore, an ABC study shows that 1% of the nation’s gun stores sold 57% of the guns used in crimes. A large number of these are handguns, favored by criminals for ease-of-concealment. So what do we do?
Today my position on handguns is becoming less tolerant. I’m not ready to call for a ban, but I am willing to endorse universal registration for handguns. That means simply, if you have own a handgun, you get it registered. If you get caught with an unregistered gun, you face an unpleasant legal penalty. No troopers knocking down doors in the middle of the night. If Uncle Sam wants to do a buyback at the same time, I’d be okay with that. What I also want to see is a serious crackdown on trafficking. We have several gun trafficking lanes in the US: the South-to-North corridor being the largest. There is legislation available to aid in the interdiction of gun movement and yet the federal government has done almost nothing.
As I have noted in dozens of comments in the past week, going after assault weapons is nonsense. They account for less than 2% of all gun crime and they are no more harmless than many of the hunting rifles gun-control proponents say they want to leave alone. I am convinced that anyone supporting an AWB is either lying about their longterm goals or completely uneducated on guns. Likewise, the cops-in-schools proposal of the NRA is ridiculous. School shootings, while tragic, account for .06% of all gun deaths in the last 10 years. These two proposals are political theater, nothing more. I’m in favor of real solutions that respect gun rights while also acknowledging the realities of gun crime. I want to strongly consider ideas like microstamping ammunition, a measure which I believe has great potential. I’d like to see a much greater push for gun safety classes, perhaps even going so far as to require them in schools.
Hunters and gun owners have prided ourselves greatly on what we have accomplished with conservation efforts. Ducks Unlimited protects far more land than Greenpeace or the Sierra Club. So why can’t we apply our expertise to the problem of gun crime? It’s time for us to step up and be vocal. It’s time we challenge certain assumptions on both sides of the aisle. If we can’t get trafficking and handgun crime under control with registration and interdiction efforts, maybe we need to give those guns up. Or end the senseless Drug War that has made criminals feel the need for guns in the first place.
I finished this post around 11pm, the night before I headed out on another hunting trip. My truck will be packed with plenty of ammo and two guns, one of which is a handgun. I feel like a hypocrite even suggesting we might need to ban handguns someday. I like my pistol. My wife likes it too and as an old-timer once told me, “Never get rid of a gun your wife likes to shoot.” But those feelings are irrelevant. The only way to move forward on seriously reducing gun crime is to be willing to accept a reduction in my liberties if necessary. I have no doubt my libertarian friends will take me to the woodshed for that, but it’s how I have always felt. Rule of law trumps the rule of the mob. America’s gun criminals are that mob and I’m willing to trade in a little of my freedom in order to see that mob brought to an end. Founding Fathers be damned.