GROWING UP WITH GUNS
What's so different about kids today?
months ago, while on a family vacation, I had the opportunity to debate the gun
control issue with well-known talk show hostess (and gun control spokeswoman)
Rosie O'Donnell, who happened to be staying at the same resort. The
meeting was entirely by chance - she was headed to the fireworks display
and we were headed to our rooms when our paths happened to cross. As we
passed, she overheard someone in our group mention the Second Amendment Sisters,
and the debate was on. Each and every time the logic of our side appeared
to trump her argument, she fell back to her emotional appeal regarding the need
to keep guns away from children. She seemed perplexed that I - a woman -
didn't respond to her impassioned pleas that we must eliminate guns from our
society in order to protect our children. I, on the other hand, found it
odd that she considered the vast majority of parents in today's society
completely incapable of teaching their children about the dangers associated
with firearms. And I continue to find it astonishing that so many gun
control proponents continue to promote the idea that our children cannot be
taught to safely reside in a home where guns are kept. Are today's
children all that different than we were? Do kids today really require
more vigilance and protection than we did?
Guns in the Home
I grew up in a house with guns. As kids, my
sister and I often accompanied my Dad on his Saturday fishing trips. His
favorite fishing spots were located on narrow canals off a nearby lake, where
tree branches stretched out over the water. It wasn't unusual to see a
water moccasin draped over one of those out-stretched branches as we cruised a
canal, so Dad kept a loaded revolver in his tackle box. I only saw him use
the pistol once - to kill a snake on the bank where we were beached (and it
wasn't until I was much older that I came to appreciate how good a shot he was.)
That pistol stayed in his tackle box at all times. There was no trigger
lock on the gun, the box was never locked and it was kept on a shelf in the
carport shed. Both my sister and I knew where it was and could have easily
satisfied our curiosity, if we had been the least bit curious. But, we
We had been taught from an early age to respect other people's property.
Dad's things were his and we didn't touch them without permission....Ever!
Dad also kept a loaded shotgun in his closet.
Again, there was no trigger lock, no lock box, and no safe - just a loaded gun
leaning in the back corner of a closet. We knew where it was, but neither
of us ever touched it.
We occasionally saw Dad handle his weapons and
observed the care he took when doing so. Still, Dad never said much to us
about them. He didn't tell us they were dangerous, that they would hurt us
or that we weren't to touch them. He didn't have to -- somehow, he managed
to convey to us that guns were for grown-ups and that when we were old enough,
he would let us handle them if we had an interest. It wasn't any different
than knowing that we weren't old enough to drive the car, but that our
opportunity would someday come. Leaving his guns alone just seemed to be
ingrained. It never would have occurred to us to touch those weapons, any
more than it would have occurred to us to take the keys and try to drive the
car. The guns simply had no relevance to us - didn't spark the slightest bit of
curiosity. We seemed to have an instinctive knowledge that they were adult-only
items, that they were dangerous to us, and as a result, we ignored them.
Why are today's kids so different? Today
we are led to believe that you can't teach a child about weapons; you must
banish them from your house, your parks, your schools; or at the very least,
make them unusable for their intended purpose - locked up tight with trigger
locks or in safes. We are led to believe that what came naturally to us as
children - respect for other people’s property and an understanding of the
dangers in our young world - are lost traits in today's children. Are we
really incapable of teaching our kids that guns are for grown-ups, or that guns
are dangerous and not to touch them? We teach kids not to touch the hot
stove, not to run with scissors, not to play in the street and to avoid a host
of other activities that could prove harmful. Why is it so different with guns?
We are led to believe that parents who keep
weapons in their homes are endangering their children's lives; that tragedy is
all but certain unless we rid our homes of guns. If that was true, then
there are generations of parents that would probably be most surprised to learn
what poor parents they really were; parents who would marvel at the fact that
their kids miraculously survived a childhood with a weapon in the home.
The fact is that there are generations of responsible parents who, like my Dad,
had guns in their homes and children who had been taught, through whatever
means, that those weapons were off-limits. Just as there are
generations of children who, like myself, respected their parents' property and
authority. Do we really believe that today's children cannot learn the
same discipline and respect?
Are our children really that much different?
Violence in the Media
In the debate on gun control, we occasionally
hear about the negative effect movies and video games have on our children, and
in some cases, I might tend to agree. Then again, my parents thought the music
we listened to was "going to ruin us" and often complained about the
content and language of the movies we watched. But those objections were
primarily confined to our teen-age years and neither of us has ever been in any
kind of trouble. Still, as children, we saw quite a bit of violence on
television. We grew up watching the three stooges poke each other in the
eyes and smash each other with hammers. Although we were never specifically told
that you couldn't really do that to someone, we knew that you couldn't poke a
playmate in the eye, as Moe did to Larry, and not hurt him. We also watched
Wiley Coyote get blown to smithereens, flattened by anvils and dropped from
flying contraptions quite frequently. But somehow, we had the common sense
to know that in real life, Wiley wouldn't get up to try to catch the Road Runner
yet again. We also knew that if you really discharged a shotgun in Bugs Bunny's
hole, he wouldn't come hopping back out.
We watched Ben Cartwright and his boys shoot
and kill the bad guys and somehow knew, without being told, that it was just
acting. We knew you couldn't really shoot someone without inflicting severe
injury. We watched John Wayne kill Indians from a run-away stagecoach and shoot
German or Japanese soldiers in WWII. We watched The Rifleman gun down
cattle rustlers in the street.
Whether it was cartoons or television drama, we
saw a lot of fictional gun violence. Yet, somehow, we knew that it wasn't
real. We knew that you couldn't do to your friends what John Wayne did to
Indians without really hurting one of them. We knew the difference between
acting and reality.
But, today we're told that violent video games
and movies are responsible when kids "go bad"; that kids who use
firearms to kill and maim have learned the behavior from the violence portrayed
in videos, movies and on television. Yet, if the media is that influential, how
is it that we knew better? If the media is that influential, why aren't all
our kids in trouble? Is it really reasonable to believe that today's
children are less capable of distinguishing fantasy from reality than we were?
Do we really think that our kids today cannot comprehend the difference between
entertainment and real life? Perhaps today's movies and television are
more realistic in their portrayals of violent episodes, but if we believe we
can't teach our children to recognize the difference between acting and reality,
aren't we are selling our kids short? Aren't they are just as intelligent
and capable as we were?
Cap Guns, Squirt Guns, and Cops and Robbers
When I was growing up, nearly every kid on my
street had an arsenal of toy pistols, cap pistols and squirt guns. We donned our
hats and boots, strapped our holsters around our little waists and went to work
clearing the world of the bad guys. We were cowboys, Indians, soldiers, cops,
robbers, stagecoach drivers, pony express riders and everything else our little
minds could dream up when playing with our guns. When our guns weren't
available, we used sticks or simply pointed fingers, yelling bang, bang as we
ran through the yard. I imagine such a sight would incite incredulous outrage
today. But, we knew we were playing. We knew it wasn't real. We knew
real guns were dangerous and that we couldn't use one to shoot at a playmate.
No one told us -- somehow it seemed to be ingrained.
No one seemed to give a second thought to our
play. Parents didn't come running out the door to tell us that guns were
bad or to stop us from pointing our fingers at each other while yelling,
"Bang!" No one took our holsters and six-shooters away.
Our "battles" were looked upon as normal, everyday play.
Today, kids are punished for simply drawing a
picture of a gun. We are led to believe that if we teach our kids about
weapons or allow them to play as the children of many generations have played,
the result will be tragic gun violence. We are made to feel irresponsible
if we take it upon ourselves to educate our children about firearms. We
are warned that kids and guns don't mix.
If that is the case, why didn't my sister or I
(or one of our playmates) take Dad's gun to school and shoot up the place? Why
didn't all the play-acting - all those violent "gun-fights" in the
backyard - lead us to use a real weapon on real people? According to
today's theories, our exposure to firearms, to violence on television and
elsewhere, and to toy weapons, should have led to the commission of some
horrible gun crime long ago. Why didn't it? And what is so different
about today's kids? Why do we need to go to the extremes called for by gun
control proponents to protect them? Are they not as bright, as intelligent and
as capable of learning the differences between fantasy and reality as we were?
What is different today?
It's Not the Guns
Kids have been raised in homes with guns for
generations. They have been taught to handle them, to use them, and to
respect them, without the tragic consequences we are assured will take place if
we don't eliminate guns from our homes and our lives. Kids have played
with toy guns, hunted with real guns, watched guns on television and have been
exposed to firearms in a myriad of ways without harm to themselves or others.
It's not the guns. And in spite of what
Sarah Brady, Charles Schumer, Rosie O'Donnell, and a host of others would like
us to think, I suspect they know it's not the guns, too. I suspect they
know, just as we do, that the answer to preventing gun violence by children
isn't that easy. I'm not a child psychologist or behavioral expert and I
wouldn't begin to speculate where the real problem lies, but I do know that if
guns were the problem, I (and just about every other member of my generation)
would have "gone bad" a long time ago.
I guess we didn't "go bad" because
our parents taught us respect - respect for ourselves, respect for others, and
respect for them.
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