The author is a regular contributor to Voices.
Forget for a moment that everything has to be political. I was having dinner with some friends and our conversation went back to what we did as kids. It’s an old-people thing. The conversation began over how kids today don’t even look up from their cell phones for some 12 or more hours a day. I told my granddaughter it’s a shame, with only one shot at life, to spend that many hours literally wasted doing absolutely nothing. But I digress just a bit.
When we were growing up, we did something called play, and we did it outside. And some of us did it with guns. It was nothing to go to Sears and buy a .22-caliber rifle and then to wander through your neighborhood with it as you made your way to the park to shoot squirrels. I would spend hours, alone, working my way up San Roque Creek and plink at this or that and get lost in the splendor of the trees and rustic landscape. I never once for a minute was concerned about anyone else being concerned that a 12-year-old was carrying a gun shooting at things. I had completed a safety course, knew how to shoot and how to be careful handling the rifle. My grandfather had also been a great teacher. I loved not only the pleasure of handling the gun, but it also provided entertainment for me, outside. I, of course, enjoyed the regular stuff like tree climbing, skateboarding and the other kid games. But I really enjoyed shooting. To this day I still love the feel of a gun and firing all the different kinds.
In later years I began to hunt, and I enjoyed that for a while. It wasn’t until I shot a small buck from about 500 yards and had to do some hiking to bring it back. When I arrived, it was still alive and its dark eyes looked at me and what I saw was “Why?” I haven’t killed anything since then. But I’m not against hunting and would so in a heartbeat if I had to survive.
I shot that buck right along Highway 101. I was visible for all traffic to see and I was visible when I pulled out my pistol and put the dear down. In the “old days,” I would drive away from a hunt with the rifle in the back window of the truck, sometimes still loaded. I know, sounds crazy today, but it was ready for a buck who may make a quick appearance. I would park in plain sight with the rifles in the window. I never once feared that someone would break in and steal them. And I never, ever thought my guns, or any guns, would be used in some form of mass shooting.
Back in those “old days,” you could mail-order a gun, which the United States Postal Service would deliver to your house. Think about that for a minute. A handgun going through the postal system and dropped off at your house. Not a thing was thought about it. Millions of kids like me grew up with guns, never even considering using them for anything else except target practice or hunting. Most of us were taught by our parents or grandparents. Guns could lay around the house or stored in unlocked gun cabinets, the bullets right there alongside.
So I need to ask the big question: What went wrong? First of all, the ones doing these mass shootings are not cut from the same cloth I was, or of the millions of other law-abiding citizens who still enjoy their guns and continue to educate and take their kids to shoot for fun and hunt. They are not the problem, and they are by far and away the majority of gun owners. I’d say that 99% of gun owners have never shot, never intended and never will shoot another human being.
So, then, what’s happened to the mental stability of those who lose it and turn to mass shootings? Where did they come from? And why now and not 40 years ago? What has changed in our society that makes men, and it’s always male shooters, step off the psychological ledge and decide that taking innocent lives is a good thing?
I truly don’t have the answer, and like all of us, we come up with our theories. You might think there has to be something much more influential that none of us can put a finger on. Or maybe there’s not. Maybe it’s just with over 350 million people, there are more bad seeds per capita. I could spend pages coming up with possibilities, and there are dozens, but that’s not the point of this column.
The point I’ve been trying to make is that guns never were and have never been the issue. It’s the mentally deranged ones who use them. We’re not wired to commit murder or even kill ourselves unless something hasn’t gone haywire. And like a spark in dry brush during strong winds, once it starts, it’s hard to stop. We can’t find all those sparks before they cause their harm. And no amount of preaching, gun regulations or even gun takeaways is going to fix the brain of someone who wants to do harm.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t find ways to keep the guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, but making it seem that all gun owners are criminals won’t fix a thing. And they’re not just for target shooting and hunting. I know of an 85-year-old woman who was asked if she was concerned about a recent rash of break-ins. She replied, “No way, I have a gun. I’ll just shoot him.” If criminals or crazies think their targets are armed, that’s a bigger deterrent than any gun regulation. As Ronald Reagan said, “Peace through strength.”