On the rural roads and farm land sections of the middle Midwest, far from the cities and suburbs, a boy could take his favorite shotgun, loaded and on safety, and walk down the dirt highways… headed to nowhere in particular.
The bottles and cans tucked into the filth of the county grader ditches were the most likely victims. A shot or two, or two-dozen, rang in the scorching afternoon sun, with mild indifference from the surroundings. Even the small game didn’t seem to be afraid, given the wideness of the landscape, and the short chances that any bullet might find an intended mark. The smell of gunpowder mingled with the aroma of the fields. The powder smoke scent was sweet—aggressively so, and making new air was part of the fun of the full power of life and death.
I thank the ineptitude of long ago when I remember the majestic Jack Rabbits that ducked and swerved from my bullets. Many more individuals of “target game” escaped my aim. That is a good thing
My dad shot a hole in the wall of his gunroom one afternoon. We heard a loud report and Mom let out an, “Oh my God!”
We ran to the lower level where Dad sat safe, but stupefied, and a little angry.
He looked up at my brother.
“Dad, I haven’t touched your shotgun.”
Dad was holding the gun in his lap. A cleaning kit lay adjacent to his chair. He was cleaning the damn thing, and he did not do the thing he had drilled into us. He did not check the chamber.
The hole was substantial. We got on our knees and looked at it. You could see the scarred brick past the wall surface. I imagined desiccated flesh and burnt blood.
My brother was excited and a little frightened. All of us felt the rush of relief after all was understood to be safe and OK.
“Crap Dad! Good one!”
Dad was incredulous and suddenly serious.
“This is not good. We have to check every thing, and I will figure out a system for doing that.”
After the wall incident, we all seemed a little less excited about blasting the hell out of things. The differential between sheer fun and unexpected, violent death seemed to shrink, and the calculations regarding our dominion over nature were less relevant. The use of a gun was more an act of careful ritual, than an open sanction to lay waste to the fields and forests.
Knowing the lessons from the accidental wall shooting, I continued to go hunting with friends. It was more of a social spectacle with high and low drama than a practical expedition.
During one expedition we had a dram or two as we walked through a local river forest. We could hear snapping of twigs, so we knew deer were present. Although we were equipped for small game (we carried 22 cal. long rifle firing rifles), we understood a deer could be killed with a well-placed shot.
After some time, no small game seemed to be around, and boredom was rising. I saw movement to my left. There was a reddish swath of color amid several scrub bushes. I lowered my rifle and aimed at the colored mass. I squeezed the trigger. It was on safety. At that moment, the colored mass leaped from the bush into the open forest floor.
It was our buddy Scott! He had trailed us and was hiding at a safe distance, until we had stopped earlier to look at some tracks. Scott, in his dear-colored cap had unknowingly moved ahead of us and had to double back.
I had almost killed him…
One of my close friends in Chicago talks about the time in the 50’s when he and his schoolmate used to take their rifles, in carrying cases, on a city bus to their school every morning for early target practice.
Around that same time in my old neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago, underneath the 18th Street Bridge at Canal, the local kids hunted pheasant in the undeveloped prairie, not more than a mile from Downtown! They, like my friend and his schoolmate, were well versed in the use of a firearm… careful, and responsible.
Times change and with them important mentoring is lost. With gun sales, possession and use, the cities are now more problematic. Some have banned handguns and assault weapons (something I support), only to have the ban overturned, i.e. Chicago. In the 80’s and 90’s several suburbs passed laws limiting the ownership, sale and transportation of hand- guns and assault weapons. The debate, passing of laws, and repeals will surely continue…
In a society that understands the importance of Driver Education, it is plausible, and quite possible to require education on the use of firearms. The technology of the automobile mandates, on principle, the need for educated and experienced use. Cars are potentially deadly, and demand care, acquired skill and common sense in their integration into society.
Regardless of the continuing outcomes of the gun debate, the mass shootings occur and continually surprise us in the choice of the murderer's venues. Assault rifles increase the carnage, with handguns, easily concealed, sweeping up the straggling victims. It is horrible beyond our imaginings, and much of it is within our power to prevent.
Does it not make sense to regulate the sale, transportation and use of firearms strenuously in every state, with extensive background checks?
Does it not make sense to educate students in the use and issues surrounding firearms, as we do so carefully with Driver Ed?