I first hunted with my father at age 12 and had my first rifle to hunt deer with at 16, a lever-action Marlin 38-40 from the turn of the last century. I still have it.
In high school I was on our rifle team, shooting my father's hand-me-down .22-caliber target gun. As a teen I not only hunted deer but also birds, using a battered bolt-action 410. Later I graduated to a double-barreled Winchester 20-gauge that not only killed birds, for which it was designed, but once also went 75 straight on a skeet range, a feat for which I remain very proud. I still have that gun, too.
So what is my plea? That those of us with guns take another look at the responsibilities of gun ownership and the supposed freedoms we would lose if we allowed - no, demanded - restrictions that would make us all safer. How many bullets do we need to fire at semi-automatic speeds to kill a deer? If three, I suggest further training on the shooting range, or perhaps a new pair of eyeglasses. In fact, one bullet should be enough for a competent marksman. Do we really need a grenade launcher on our AR-15 Bushmaster? And when we kill that deer, do we want a clean kill or do we need dum-dum (hollow-point) bullets to tear the animal apart?
Even if that incompetent marksman really needs to fire many rounds of expanding bullets, we, as better shots and responsible citizens, should consider what those 10-plus-magazine guns with hollow-point shells can do to a classroom of 6-year olds. Why are we protecting the incompetent, or sometimes psychotic, gun owners? That's not us, right? The answer I get is that when we let any gun control into our lives, we will be on the slippery slope to gun confiscation, or to restrictions that invade our Second Amendment rights.
This makes absolutely no sense to me. We are happy to have fishing and hunting licenses, passports to travel abroad, licenses to drive cars, etc. What we get back from these impositions on our freedoms is game wardens and forest rangers, embassies and consulates, traffic lanes and lights, all to protect us and enforce rational laws. My gun-owning rights would be protected, not threatened, if the wackos found it harder to get guns and the guns that they could get, if they slipped through the checks, were capable of killing only a few kids, not dozens.
To me, the NRA's argument - that the answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun - is screwball. Arm the teachers because, when schools are gun-free, they make easy targets? What of churches, movie theaters and shopping centers? Should we arm ministers, rabbis and priests next? Columbine had an armed guard on premises. Enough said.
As to the Second Amendment, if I were a strict constructionist I would note that the Constitution was written when that "well-regulated militia" used muzzle-loaded, rifle-less, black-powder and flint-fired weapons. I am not a strict constructionist, but I believe that the expansion of my personal firepower, thanks to technology, can be tempered by reasonable laws that keep me (sane, of course) as well as the crazies out there from acquiring the destructive firepower of an entire regiment in the Continental Army.
What should we give up to get the peace of mind that I think we and our fellow citizens want? Nothing, as the NRA says? Or should we recognize that, without rational restrictions, after a few more Newtowns or Columbines, the fear of gun confiscation might actually be justified? I am almost - but not yet - at the point of saying that if taking my guns away, along with yours, could save the 30,000 people killed in this country each year by guns, then they should go. But before we get to that point, it is up to us, we gun owners and hunters, to come up with rational ways to keep our guns and hunting rights while preventing more Newtowns.
What could we give up that would be as painless as giving up the sleeves in our hunting vests? How about requiring trigger locks? What about the same regulations for buying guns at gun shows as in gun stores? How about limiting magazines to six shots? What about mandatory gun-safety training before the first hunting license or gun purchase? And why not make ownership of assault weapons or hollow-nosed bullets a felony, but first buy them back at fair prices with no penalty?
None of these easy, simple, steps would impinge on my rights in any way. Yours? Please, let's make this our program. If we do not act responsibly to solve this problem ourselves the rules will ultimately be made by cossetted city dwellers who have never hunted or fired a gun, but who will be increasingly in control of our lives. If you agree with me, call or write our congressman, Bill Owens, and tell his staff that you are a gun owner who is in favor of reasonable restrictions on guns and gun ownership. He is at 14 Durkee St., Suite 320, Plattsburgh, NY 12901, and can be called at 518-563-1406.
Lee Keet lives on Lake Colby outside Saranac Lake.