I remember the first time I shot a real gun. It was nearly fifteen years ago. I was dating this pretty Italian-American girl with long, nearly-black hair. Her father, Mike, walked out of his house one day holding a semi-automatic .22 rifle with a scope and a banana clip and asked me if I wanted to go 'plinking'. Mike was heavily muscled and more than a little imposing with his thick, bushy beard. He looked like a modern-day version of Black Beard the Pirate, sans wooden leg and eye patch. Since I was dating his daughter and his family often joked about their mob connections, I was momentarily worried that he meant to shoot me and bury me somewhere in the woods. Since my mom knew where I was, and there were plenty of witnesses I felt reassured enough to go along with the plan momentarily and say I had no idea what plinking was.
"Come on," he said, gesturing with the rifle to his back field, "I'll show you."
For the next hour or so he taught me how to hold the gun, work the safety and not kill myself. So far I have managed not to screw up that last lesson. He showed me the tricks of shooting through a scope, getting my eye placement correct and squeezing -- not pulling -- the trigger. We shot paper targets and empty pop cans off a fence rail.
I remember the first time I killed something with a gun. It was a little over a year later, on a foggy October Saturday morning. I was squirrel hunting with that same burly woodsman named Mike. A squirrel ran through the dense canopy of limbs and leaves overhead, darted down a tree trunk. I took aim, shot, and collected my prize. Mike and I shot a handful of squirrels that day, then spent the next few hours skinning, gutting and cleaning them. The following day we had a family meal of mashed potatoes and fried squirrel. For the first time in my life I felt as though I had earned my place at the top of the proverbial food chain.
Insert Tim Allen grunt here...
Fast forward fifteen years and that pretty Italian girl is now my wife, and Black Beard the Italian-American, burly-woodsman Mike is now my father-in-law and my favorite hunting buddy. Most of what I know about guns and hunting I've learned from him. With no real father of my own to speak of, he took me under his wing and instructed me in the ways of the woods, love of the outdoors, appreciation for God's creation, and to respect the power of life and death that a gun gives you.
The other major influence in my hunting life would be Lee, my wife's uncle. Lee is tall, lean and one of the kindest men I know. A devoted family man who has spent his life caring for his family, and his family farm, he is one of a dying breed of men who can recall a day and age when hardships of life in the mountains was not defined by a lack of wi-fi access. Lee can talk for hours telling stories of his childhood. Tales of brigands threatening his house in the woods and his grandmother firing a handgun through the wooden front door to scare them away, tales of hunting dogs and pet raccoons saved from the wild.
One of my favorite of his stories involves him hunting as a child. He told me that his mother would send him out to hunt with a single shot .22 rifle and one lone bullet. The rules were simple, shoot and miss, shoot and maim and come home empty-handed and he would get a strapping. See nothing, shoot nothing but return with both gun and bullet and all was fine. Bring home gun, and a rabbit or squirrel, and they got to eat.
Nowadays people would argue that sort of punishment is harsh and cruel. However looking at Lee, the result of such an upbringing, I cannot put myself into a position to criticize when I know him to be one of the finest men I have ever met.
While you may not agree with the instruction, the lesson it taught Lee, which he in turn passed on to me (without the whippings thankfully) was that a gun was a big responsibility. One that should never be taken lightly. In those days, as today, ammunition was expensive, so bullets could not be wasted. And to shoot and miss, or maim, meant you took a bad shot, and that was worse than losing bullets.
To the men who taught me what I know about hunting, life was precious and to be respected. It might seem as though you cannot believe life is precious and still hunt, but it is not the contradiction it may appear at first glance. The belief that life is precious guides those two men, as it does me and the others I hunt with, so that we only take shots we know will kill the animal as quickly and painlessly as possible, and are thankful for anything that gives its life for our table. Before you condemn, consider the last time you were thankful for the chicken that gave its life for your Chipotle burrito?
But unlike no other time in America's history, guns and gun owners have come under fire (pardon the pun). As a gun owner, I can say I understand why. The recent shootings across our nation, have brought increased scrutiny to the foundational principles behind the second amendment and our right to bear arms. Suddenly every disillusioned fool who has ever been hurt or offended has decided to carry guns into schools, workplaces and shopping centers intent on killing everyone they see before they die themselves in some insane blaze of glory.
It sickens me.
Now, the threat of shootings has spread with the recent incident at Utah State University. If you are not familiar with this situation you can read more about it here.
The gist is this. Feminist blogger Anita Sarkeesian was invited to speak at USU. Sarkeesian is the founder of Feminist Frequency, a web series that explores the representations of women in pop culture narratives. Her site also states that she focuses on deconstructing stereotypes and tropes associated with women in popular culture as well as highlighting issues of women being harassed in online and gaming spaces.
In response to this, an unknown person sent an email to USU threatening a violent shooting and killing of teachers, and students along with Sarkeesian. Initially the university and Sarkeesian decided to proceed with speech. However Sarkeesian later canceled, as a result of law enforcement denying her request to have pat downs on attendees and metal detectors installed at the entrances due to it being a violation of Utah's gun control laws.
Sarkeesian tweeted: "Forced to cancel my talk at USU after receiving death threats because police wouldn't take steps to prevent concealed firearms at the event."
I understand her concern.
Since the author of the email remains as yet unidentified, it's impossible to know if someone carrying a concealed .9mm handgun is an innocent bystander with legal possession, or a person intending to kill her before dying himself. However I also understand that you cannot bypass the law for the sake of a speech. Which brings about the crux of the matter at hand.
It is time for gun owners to take part in the gun control debate in the United States.
At the risk of sounding cliche in borrowing from Peter Parker's uncle, it is true that with great power comes great responsibility. Gun owners and advocates as well as powerful lobbyist groups like the NRA should now begin to take a proactive role in discussions regarding gun control. This should not take the form of the typical "My way or the highway" but rather coming to the table to negotiate workable solutions to these sorts of problems.
As of writing this article I haven't seen a single video from Sarkeesian, nor do I know much of her platform. I don't need to. Her freedom of speech is being infringed upon by threats of violence from extremists that do not believe in the responsibility that comes along with the power of gun ownership. As a result, all gun owners are affected whether we like it or not. We cannot simply continue to bury our head in the sand, shrug our shoulders when things like this happen. Situations like this are a concern for all of us, whether you own firearms or not. This sort of thing should not happen, not here, not in the United States. Which is why both sides of this issue should step forward to discuss matters, from a perspective of trying to make a difference and protect the liberties we ALL take for granted.
It doesn't matter if you know Sarkeesian or not, if you own guns or not, or even who you think is right in this situation. The fact that one person (presumably) with a threatening email can cripple freedom of speech should worry us all.