The first time I ever shot, it was with Butch. He was a high school student and player on athletic teams when I was a teacher, coach and athletic director. And he was a bit of a pain in the ass, if you take my meaning.
But the shooting took place just this week, more than forty years later, at a gun range in western Michigan. And Butch was a pain in the ass, then as now, because he declines to take anything his former teacher and mentor says as gospel. Imagine that!
Ready to fire the MP-5
Here's how it started. Another former student, also a Facebook friend, posted a long list of things a person might have done - everything from visiting other countries, to being arrested, to shooting a gun - and invited others to mark an "X" beside the things they had done. I took the bait and left the space beside "shooting a gun" blank. Not long after, Butch sent me a message wanting to know how I had gotten to nearly 70 without ever shooting a gun.
So he proposed we meet half way between his home in Detroit and mine in Chicago to spend some time together so he could teach me a bit about guns. We met at the Air Zoo in Portage, MI where there is a fascinating display of wartime aircraft, and had a brief conversation about how to manage the gun safety discussion better before heading off to the range.
Butch brought with him a virtual armory: a couple of 100+ year old weapons, a Remington black-powder revolver (1858) and a Russian battle rifle (1891) that looked and fired like they had been built yesterday, as well as a modern .357 ("Make my day") Sig Sauer automatic pistol. He also brought several other rifles including the M-14, an MP-5, and a lever action .30-.30 like the neighbor kids in Arizona used to kill deer, an act that turns my stomach even to imagine.
I shot them all, and did quite well, thank you very much. I was most comfortable with the lighter, easier to handle weapons, the Remington pistol and the Russian battle rifle. They were fun to shoot. I found the others awkward to handle. Butch said in his review that I am "a patient and intuitive shooter lacking only experience to reach a high level of competence."
Five shots spaced closely together - good shooting!
This was in the controlled environment of a shooting range. I am not silly enough to think I can defend myself with a gun should somebody break into my house. To prevent the stupid tragedies we read about nearly every day, household guns must be safely locked up, the ammunition separate from the guns. The bad guy would do me in before I even got to the key. Loaded guns in the bedside table are how newspaper carriers and teenagers sneaking in late get killed from time to time.
Watching others at this particular shooting range, I noticed they were mostly people like Butch and me. Middle class people of a certain age, enjoying a recreational activity, certainly fitting no stereotype of the "gun nut" who gets off just rubbing his barrel. I wonder whether the NRA with its rabid opposition to even the most reasonable precautions, such as universal background checks, speaks for them.
It's also obvious that these hobbyists handle their weapons with extreme respect for the power they wield, the power of instant death. The range insists on it, but I doubt they have to be told. The bottom line: these gun hobbyists are not the problem. Keeping guns out of the wrong hands is one of the solutions to the epidemic of gun violence we face in Chicago and elsewhere. The big question, of course, is how?
Butch points out there are hundreds of millions of guns in circulation in the United States, more than one per capita, and he's right according to an October 2015 article in the Washington Post. In fact the U.S. leads the world in guns owned per capita by far, with Serbia and Yemen being a distant second and third in rank, according a study cited in Wikipedia. Moreover Butch believes that guns are ingrained in our culture to a such a degree that it cannot be changed.
He may be right about this; I don't have data to contradict it. Based on this view, Butch also thinks the Administration's rhetoric about gun control is ill-advised because it drives people to buy still more guns (the Post article said about 5.5 million were sold the previous year), for fear they won't be able to get new ones. Something like 80% of the guns are owned by 20% of gun owners.
I see this instead as a result of the NRA's efforts to raise money by misrepresenting what is going on. As the President pointed out, just this week, nobody is proposing to confiscate guns from anyone except criminals and others who demonstrably should not have them; and that only after due process. Here's a link to that statement, made, I thought, with utmost clarity and respect to a gun shop owner: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSEoVkl0W30
So I get that a lot of people enjoy the use of all kinds of guns for sport. And while it's not a sport I'm likely to take up, neither is it one I'm likely to advocate interfering with. I don't think the Second Amendment protects people's right to own guns for sport or hunting, or even protecting themselves in their homes. If I thought we could get guns out of circulation in the US, I'd say do it, for the sake of the children. But set aside the Constitutional debate; that's not going to happen.
The racist in me says, if it's only gang bangers and drug dealers killing each other, so be it, let them have at it. But it's not. They are killing kids, and cops, and other innocents. So what do we do? For starters, enforce the hell out of the laws on the books. Unshackle the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention so they can study the epidemic of preventable gun deaths and injuries as the public health problem it is, proposing politically feasible remedies where possible. Use effective universal background checks literally every time a gun changes hands to keep them out of the wrong hands.
For the sake of the innocent.
Unlicensed sellers at gun shows and elsewhere result in at least 22% of buyers purchasing without background checks, according to a 2015 study done jointly by faculty members at Harvard and at Northeastern University.