My age is classified in the category of Senior. Does that by itself suggest anything about my understanding of modern guns? No, it does not. Just checking for any preconceived bias. By chance I have owned guns in one form or another for about 35 years. In 1976 I shot Marksman on a police combat course with a four inch stainless steel Ruger Security Six 357 Magnum. That was a mouthful, but it points out that modern guns are very different than the arms defined in the 2nd Amendment. And that was 35 years ago. Modern guns of the 21st Century are just plain scary.
I should qualify that I live in rural Missouri. I see farmers regularly hiking the land, unarmed and unafraid. The bears and wolves are long gone. The only predators around here are the McElroy’s. Many years ago the locals set up a proper shooting range out by the town dump. You would not know the dump was around – it is over the hill and through the woods. A proper shooting range has adequate mounds of dirt between ranges, all targets are located in front of hills – the dirt catches the spent round. Our range has three course choices, 25 yards, 50 yards, and 100 yards. People practice with hand guns on the shorter ranges and often sight in their new deer rifle on the 100 yard range. It works pretty well for everyone.
In the 1970’s the magnum was the big deal for gun enthusiasts. Our society had become mobile, the bad guys drove muscle cars and the police shifted from the standard 38 caliber to the more powerful 357 Magnum. A 357 can literally crack the engine block on an automobile. Back in the 1970’s my friend had a re-loader and we enjoyed evenings reloading ‘wad cutters’ for target practice. Both of us were card carrying members of the ACLU and the NRA. At that time there was no conflict of interest.
So life went on and this past summer I took two of my grandsons out for target practice. They were both 9 years old. It was important to me to be the person introducing the children to guns – I wanted to be sure they had a proper understanding of gun safety. I had not been to the target range in about twenty years – and I was shocked at the changes. The geography was the same, 25, 50, and 100 yard ranges. But the people and the guns were entirely different.
I noticed right away that the range was more crowded than in the past. There were folks there with no shirts, prison type tattoos, and some serious firepower. (After I retired I taught an evening class to prison parolees.) Their weapons were semiautomatic handguns, mostly 9 mm and 45 cal. One guy was bragging to his friends about the kick of his new 44 magnum. There were assault rifles on nearly every shooting bench. I’ll grant that these were probably not outfitted for full automatic use, but they were not grandpa’s deer rifles either.
Back in the days of reloading we used to scavenge lead from the dirt behind the targets. We could melt it down and pour new bullets. Those were great times of frugally pursuing all aspects of gun ownership. When I took my grandsons to the range I took three coffee cans so we could each scavenge some lead. There was very little lead in those hills. What I found were all manner of jacketed shells. Copper and steel are molded around the lead to prevent the collapse of the bullet – they are designed for penetration – and I am talking about penetrating body armor. While the boys were fascinated and asking many questions about the variety of spent bullets – I was aghast at the change in the shooting public.
The people I saw at the range in the summer of 2008 were serious high powered gun enthusiasts. They were not there for simple target practice. They were not there for gun safety practice. They hardly understood the rules of a proper shooting range. They were there because they wanted to feel the power of their weapons. They wanted to feel the power and they wanted to find out what kind of destruction their weapons could inflict.
These men did not have new cars or trucks: I would even venture that some of their weapons cost more than their transportation. Shooting a round of the very expensive ammunition for their weapons would cost more than filling their gas tank. I am not talking about one or two of the many folks at the range – Perhaps all of these men fit in the category of extreme gun owners.
I don’t understand the allure of these weapons. I once shot a deer at 300 yards with a 1935 bolt action Remington 30-06. Not a bad shot for a seasonal shooter. I am an advocate of wildlife management by granting State Licenses and state regulation of hunting seasons. We ran all of the predators off so now we have to manage the deer population. It is what it is – I am not making any judgment about what was done before – only about what needs be done now.
I have taken many young men hunting, teaching the proper use and safety with guns – and teaching them to respect the wildlife. There must be a specific purpose in shooting an animal – most notably for food and wildlife management. I have taught young men to field dress a deer, and we have completely butchered two in my experience.
The folks I saw at the shooting range in the summer of 2008 were not interested in wildlife management. They were not going deer hunting, or any other kind of wildlife hunting, with their modern weapons and equally modern ammunition.
There was a time when the National Rifle Association was honorable and necessary. They were a sure place to turn for gun safety and conservation management. Today the NRA exists to protect the folks I saw at the shooting range, down by the dump, in rural Missouri.
11, April, 2009. A follow up post has been written here.