As I write this I’m sitting outdoors, in bright sunlight, feeling safe and secure. Thirty yards away, locked in the trunk of my car, is the handgun I sometimes take hiking with me.
It’s a .38 revolver that belonged to my grandfather. My father gave it to me after my grandfather passed away.
I don’t have much call to use it. I’m not much of a recreational shooter, and I can’t imagine it would be any count for hunting. I’ve always preferred a long gun for that reason alone. If I can’t shoot a squirrel or a deer with it, I haven’t seen much sense in it.
As for home protection, in my own experience I’ve found the click of a pump-action shotgun is sufficient to send most prowlers on their way.
But, since I inherited this handgun, I’ve taken to carrying it with me sometimes; particularly when hiking or foraging in an area where I’ve seen coyote or bear sign. Like every other piece of equipment in my hiking kit, I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.
The gun, like my pocketknife or cigarette lighter, is a tool. And like any tool, it can be dangerous in the wrong hands.
I wouldn’t set my four-year-old loose with a pneumatic hammer, and I wouldn’t let him play with this gun – even unloaded. Besides the fact that it’s probably too heavy for him to heft, I have a whole slew of lessons to impart to him before we can even think of allowing him to touch this gun or any other.
He needs to have an understanding of the responsibility that comes with using this tool. The kind of understanding his grandfather imparted upon me, and that my grandfather imparted upon him.
Someday I’ll teach him to use it – if he wants to learn – and how it can be used to harvest a meal, but always at the cost of a life.
That’s the important lesson. Every bullet loaded into that gun, each and every one of them, has the potential to take a life. A songbird. A squirrel. A rabbit. A deer.
With that potential comes a huge responsibility.
Unfortunately it’s a responsibility that not everyone is equipped to handle, but it’s one each and every one of us bear in a society where we’ve made gun ownership sacrosanct.
I’m not here to argue whether it should be so or not; it’s the law of the land. Though some of us may read the Second Amendment differently than others, and have our own opinions about what the founding fathers intended or what they’d say about the social ecosystem today, private gun ownership is allowed under federal law. It isn’t likely to change.
But we can’t keep pretending that events like the Monday morning rampage in Louisville are anomalous uses of these deadly tools any longer. They unfortunately happen way too regularly now for any of us to chalk them up to outliers and anomalies.
We can’t keep acting on the assumption that everyone with access to these tools is equipped to handle the responsibility of doing so.
Guns aren’t going anywhere. Politicians aren’t going to make any changes as long as they can use these tragedies to score partisan points and drive fundraising and voter turnout.
The responsibility needs to be on us as gun owners. We need to take the lead on this. We need to be willing to accept some minor inconveniences if it means that it saves lives. Maybe those are instant background checks. Maybe it means waiting periods. Maybe it means disqualifying anyone convicted of a violent threat from purchasing new guns for a set time.
I’m not sure what form it should take. But it’s something we need to decide as responsible gun owners.
If we aren’t willing to do that – if we aren’t willing to keep our children safe, if we aren’t willing to put up with whatever minor inconveniences can make sure they, and their parents, come home safe at the end of the day – if we can’t do that, we’re being irresponsible too.
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