Monday, February 04, 2013

Knapsack 2-7-13

Notes from my Knapsack 2-7-13

Jeff Gill


Somewhat off-target observations



My relationship with guns is a complicated one.


There are no guns in my house. I grew up with a bunch around, two or three at least, but they were black powder muzzle loading Civil War re-enactor weapons, and as such, not what you worried about an intruder turning on you.


When I went to summer camp as a Boy Scout, I took up target shooting. My first swim test had not gone well at all, and most of Lake To-pe-nee-bee was off-limits to my non-swimmer self. So I took the long walk past the dam and the chapel and out to the far corner of the reserve where the Field Sports department was.


Archery was a tough pull and I was, hard though it might be for some to imagine, fairly short for my peers. But a few hundred yards past the archery range was the rifle range, and the shotgun hut next to it.


We were, I was to learn later, quite fortunate to have Mossbergs to learn on, a good quality .22 caliber rifle with a closed rear sights and an open post at the end of the muzzle. For a simple 50 foot range, with wooden uprights and wire across them bedecked with clothespins, it was all we needed to hang our targets and learn the difference between accuracy and precision.


What I quickly became fascinated by was the ritual act of opening the bolt (click thunk), inserting the brass cartridge into the breech, closing the bolt (thunk click), then raising the butt of the stock to our shoulder and thumbing off the safety (tick), keeping the rifle pointed down range without qualification or variation, because what we now had in our hands was a precision power tool that was ready to operate, and that improperly operated could do serious harm to ourselves or others.


Was my experience unusual, in hearing it put that way over and over? I don't know, but at Camp To-pe-nee-bee and a couple of years later, from Les Hill at Camp Tamarack up in Michigan, that's how I heard it said. A gun is a power tool, like a belt sander or drill press. And in northwest Indiana, where it seemed like most Scoutmasters had lost fingers at Bendix, or an eye at Studebaker, or been crippled in an accident at a steel mill along Lake Michigan, that was respect and fear enough. Part of growing up was learning how to behave around, and operate power tools, and it really didn't matter if you planned to work in the shop later in life, or if your dad was in management or worked out in the yard: we all needed to know basic safety with dangerous tools, and Field Sports was part of that.


Back then, we had "Rifle & Shotgun" merit badge along with Archery, and I got both. You picked which you were qualifying on, rifle or shotgun. More recently, the BSA has created two separate merit badges for Rifle Shooting and Shotgun Shooting, and the Lad has earned now all three Field Sports badges.


We still don't have guns at home. Nor have I ever gone hunting. But I've taken Hunter Safety three times, and plan to take it with my son someday soon. Hunting is common in this area, as are weapons in homes. The breath control and focus it takes to hit a target, at 50 ft or 100 yards (my M-16A1 was serial number 5511359, speaking of things you don't forget), is a kind of calming mediation that belies the violence some say is inherent in firearms and their use.


I don't think we need more guns in our society, and I'm open to all sorts of common sense restrictions on access to them. But I also reflect on Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.'s sage counsel "Hard cases make bad laws," and I wonder about what it would take to prevent some of the tragedies we've seen recently.


The only thing I'm sure of is that I think we all would benefit from taking Hunter Safety. Just to be more aware, and to understand, that if you see a gun, it's loaded, and you handle it accordingly, no matter who says it isn't.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he's heavily armed with trivia. Tell him something new at, or on Twitter @Knapsack.

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