We have all heard the useful saying, “Walk a mile in their shoes.” How many people who are for more–even severe–gun laws have walked a mile in a gun owners’ shoes? And vice versa; how many NRA members have walked a mile in a “gun-grabbers” shoes?
I have done both, and I’d like you to walk those two miles with me.
That is the subject of today’s 10-minute episode.
In the military, I saw guns as tools. Decades later when I went to a friend’s home and saw a large glass-front, long gun case in his living room, I was taken aback. I did not know if he was some sort of nut case; hey, he and his wife had two young boys living with them. Later, a good friend of mine, a former Marine Captain, encouraged me to join the NRA. I had the same nervous, “Who is this guy?”, feeling.
I was not completely anti-gun, but living in Silicon Valley, I was not in gun-friendly territorty. Even then (After 30 years, I left to return to Colorado in 2008,), the overall attitude there was, at best, guns, yuch; at worst, guns are evil.
When I was 13 or so, I went out with some of my Dad’s friends to do some skeet shooting. You shot clay pigeons with shotguns as practice for duck hunting. Some do it just for the fun of it. After all, skeet shooting is one of the gun-centric Olympic sports. I thought it was fun, and was certainly different from anything I had done before.
My next experience with guns was in the Army. Guns were tools; no one was pro-gun, or anti-gun; we just learned to use them and take care of them. And for a valuable skill, how many people do you know who can take a rifle apart and put it back together again–blindfolded? Useful, perhaps, if your gun jams in the dark in a combat zone–but pretty useless anywhere else. But it did build discipline and confidence. As did the live fire training.
My next encounter with firearms was in the mid 60s, when a friend of mine needed to sell a Colt Trooper, a .357 Magnum revolver, along with a ton of accessories, cheaply. I did not need a gun, and certainly not one this powerful, but it was a good deal, and I was happy to help a friend. It was good 30 years before I ever touched it. But I kept it.
When my friend, the former Marine Captain, invited me to go to a local range with my two eldest sons, then about 13 and 15, I thought I would take my revolver along. I knew that it needed to be cleaned, at the very least. But how to do that? I had never been into a gun store, and was not quite sure what to expect. Was I going to be met with a bunch of gun nuts with rifles slung in front of them–at the ready? The very nice folks at Imbert and Smithers gun store in San Mateo, CA, took a fair amount of time to resurrect the firearm, gave me some tips, and charged me for nothing but the ammunition I bought. The four of us, my two sons, me and the Captain, had a fun and very, very safe time. Including blowing up some soda cans with a .357 magnum.
Some time after that, my wife and I were visiting friends, a young couple with kids in preschool, who ran a ranch in far Northern California. In their living room, they had a glass-front gun case with several long guns clearly visible. That made me nervous, and I wondered if they were some type of around the bend gun lovers. It did not get any better when he started talking about going deer hunting locally, then cutting the animal up and sharing it with his family. I was wondering if he was some sort of Neanderthal, and he was talking about being grateful for the fresh meat.
My thinking about guns changed radically when I moved to Colorado Springs. I made lots of new friends, many of whom hunt birds, deer, elk and bear. It was quite natural to them. And their guns were just tools. It was then that I made a connection between their hunting and mine. I have never hunted on land, but I have done a fair amount of spearfishing, both on SCUBA and breath hold. I prefer a pole spear, much shorter range and less hitting power, but it suited my needs. With a pole spear, you have about a 6′-7’ range; you see all the action, including the animal as it struggles and dies. That never seemed wrong to me. Hey, I eat fish in restaurants and from grocery stores, and I know when I go spearfishing that there is no collateral damage. No by catch; nothing else gets killed along the way. Clean and pure; I killed only fish that I wanted to eat. As do my hunter friends; only the tools were different.
Friends introduced me to the joys and practicality of going to one of the local shooting ranges. In the years I have been doing that, I have not seen one cowboy, and nary an NRA fire-breathing nut. Everything is about safety. And more safety. The NRA stresses safety. Gun shops stress safety. Gun ranges stress safety. And how to use a firearm defensively, with rule one being never, ever use a firearm unless it is absolutely necessary to defend your family or yourself. Are you in a local 7-11 with your gun as it is being robbed at gunpoint? If at all possible, get you and yours out safely without even drawing your firearm. If you can, get out; don’t be a cowboy.
It has been observed that I changed a lot when I moved to Colorado, with the point of change being my support for guns. Fair enough; in San Mateo I had one gun, and rarely hiked; in Colorado Springs I have several guns, and hike a lot. I also have an under bed gun safe, where I keep a tactical shotgun. I take it out every night, and put it back in the morning. Every night. It is loaded, and I am ready to shoot if I identify a dangerous intruder. Since it is highly unlikely that I will face a 2 AM intruder, I have been asked why I bother. I start my response with a question in return. “Do you have fire insurance?” “Well, so do I. And I have had fire insurance on my dwellings for about 50 years–and counting.” I see that shotgun as insurance. And unlike my fire insurance policy, I can take the shotgun to the range, often with family or friends, and enjoy myself. And if I wish, I can sell my home defense firearms; I cannot sell my old fire insurance policies.
Am I beginning to get today’s point across? My attitude toward guns changed as my experience with them and my knowledge of them increased. I changed; the guns did not. If you live in an area where people have little knowledge of guns, and the prevailing attitude is anti-gun, you will likely be anti-gun. If you live around people who safely enjoy guns, and see them as some combination of entertainment and tools, you will see firearms very differently. Experienced gun owners and users need to be tolerant of those who have anti-gun beliefs due to their circumstances. Anti-gun people need to be equally tolerant of those who are very comfortable with guns due to their training and experience.
Ah, training. Training is not the key; re-training is. Occasional instruction and frequent practice. Frequent and consistent. Using firearms is not like riding a bicycle; shooting safely and accurately is a perishable skill. It is like showering; instruction and practice are needed on a regular basis. This episode’s feature image is my target from a recent Intermediate Handgun class at Magnum Shooting here in “The Springs”. Decent accuracy, but I had to learn and relearn a lot. And I will be back for more classes and practice soon.
Don’t go get a Concealed Carry permit and think you’re done. The permit makes you legal, but it does nothing to make you either safe or effective. Only training and consistent practice can do that.
I have walked a mile in the anti-gun shoes, and a mile in the pro-guns shoes. Which mile are you walking? Do you know anyone else in the other mile? If not, go find them, and learn.
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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.
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