Gun Owner Control

gun
I’m in no danger of becoming an expert on guns. I just don’t care about them very much. They seem expensive, dangerous, and essentially useless for anything I might do. I do have one, though, inherited. An heirloom, kept secure and inaccessible, wrapped in swaddling cloth, with no ammunition in the house.

I don’t like ‘em. I figure if Matt Dillon insisted that anyone entering Dodge check his gun at the city limits, I’m with him. I don’t mind people owning them, just that some of the owners insist upon shooting them in public.

My distaste was encouraged by an excursion into the Willamette National Forest. I’d read that I could get a permit to quarry my own slate from any of several quarries on Forest Service land, and needing some paving for a garden path, I drove up into the mountains. Twenty or thirty miles off the paved road, I started hearing the distinctive pop and ping of what I soon learned was semi-automatic weapon fire. Rounding a corner, I found a camo-clad man leaning over his car, pruning the trees along the road with hot lead. I cringed down in my seat and sort of coasted by him.

This was mere prelude. I passed several more marksmen shooting along that road and I zoomed past, anticipating the peace and quiet I’d find in that quarry. The quarry was chock full of riflemen, ricocheting rounds off pretty much every corner of that rock pile. The ground littered with shell casings. The rock face chipped and crumbling; rendered unusable for the purpose I’d intended. No way to even survey the possibility of gathering my own stones.

I exited about as quickly as I’d entered, understanding somehow without anyone explaining to me that any right I might have to survey for paving stones had been trumped by that giggling squad of Sunday snipers. I slipped home without a word, seething a bit.

Those budding marksmen were really no more obnoxious than snowmobilers or trail cyclists, each employing the serenity of nature to make one helluva noise. It’s their right, and I suspect they don’t consider how their right ruins anyone else’s rights. They don’t have to.

When I was in Junior High, I took the mandatory firearms training required to secure a hunting license. My grandpa wanted to take my father, brother, and I up for a little hunt, and I was game. He had a pioneer’s license, having been born in the 1800s and a lifelong hunter, and wanted to pass on the tradition. My dad had once accidentally killed a deer during the Depression. Just up the hill from his home place. He was just a kid, and plugged it out of season with a .22 rifle with a single shot to the back of its head. Needed food. I’d plinked a sparrow once with a BB gun and shot up a few ground squirrel burrows with a childhood friend. Even went quail hunting once. Once. Buckshot’s hard to extract from stiffening quail carcasses.

The training class emphasized curtesy and safety, old-fashioned values. One did not simply open fire on anything. One stalked with the safety on, unloaded that rifle when traversing fences, and kept a steady eye on the surroundings. The only deer I saw when I went on that hunt with grandpa turned out to be my brother. I only had a .22 anyway, but it dawned on me in that moment that I could have killed him just as dead as my dad had killed that Depression-era deer. I caught myself in time to save us both, and divorced myself from that sport immediately thereafter.

I’m more the mushroom hunting sort. Unfortunate that mushroom season coincides with deer season in the woods, and that deer hunters make mushroom hunting kinda chancy. Quite a bit of our public land has been reserved in practice for those armed to enjoy the privilege.

I understand that it’s even now considered uncivilized to prune the roadside foliage with hot lead. Unseemly to litter the national forest with shell casings. I also recognize that nobody’s there to enforce civility thirty miles off the nearest paved road, except the individual gun owners themselves. Most do. Some don’t. Just look at every road sign in hunting country. You might not be able to read the sign, but you’ll see pretty clear signs that more than one or two sighted in their new scope on the damned thing.

Marshall Dillon understood that guns in the presence of people presented a certain risk. He choose, with the consent of the community, to just ban them outright because the risk was avoidable only if the guns weren’t there. He could have banned people from Dodge, but that tactic probably missed some subtle point. I’m fine with responsible people owning guns. The fact that even the most responsible people can turn irresponsible in a heartbeat can’t be helped, not even by assuming that most people are irresponsible at heart.

It should be okay, I say, to register the damned things so if they’re lost or stolen, they might be traced back to their rightful owner. I think it should be okay for society to insist upon certain proven risk-reducing measures. Gun safes. Liability insurance, neither different from insisting that cars have ignition locks and insurance coverage. We have had little luck legislating civility. But quite a bit of luck legislating responsibility.

I wonder what the Sunday sharpshooters would say if the forest ranger arrested them for spooking off a slate surveyor or endangering a mushroom hunter. The courts would doubtless fill with claims of constitutional superiority, and miss the whole point. Go to a damned rifle range if you must. Attend to the territory around you. If a mushroom hunter or a slate seeker shows up, welcome them into your space and mind them damned ricochets. We share the same space. The only effective control over guns comes from the individual owner, but it seems he could use a little encouragement. From a risk management perspective, if my gun got stolen and used for nefarious purposes, I should expect to be punished to the full extend of the law. If my stolen weapon killed someone, God forbid, I should be charged with accessory to murder for not securing the damned and damning thing.

That’s more than I know about gun control. It’s ultimately in the hands of those people that people like me consider to be slightly obsessive fetishists. God bless ‘em every one. They have rights, superior to no one else’s, and responsibilities far beyond us mushroom hunters and slate speculators.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved










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