“Don’t pull the trigger, just gently squeeze the trigger. When you pull the trigger too hard, it jostles the gun a little and changes your shot.”
That was me, Uncle James, teaching his young nephews how to shoot at the Grob Getaway vacation last week.
It was one of the many family fun festivities we all participated in.
The vacation included roasting marshmallows while singing songs around a campfire, among many other things. The nephews took Uncle James to school on the ping-pong table, but their Uncle James and their mother teamed up and dominated on the bean-bag field.
There were rides in a horse-drawn cart and some interaction with nature — as well as a few trips to town to explore shops and a brewery. Time had been set aside to do some fishing, but unfortunately, that time was dampened by a sudden thunderstorm, so their Uncle James and their grandpa, Papa Butch, did some fishing on our own later in the week.
And of course, there were the aforementioned shooting lessons.
It was just a B-B gun, because the nephews are still a little young to be handling a real gun. Maybe in a couple of years it will be a 22 rifle or even a small shotgun. The B-B gun had been a Christmas present for both nephews from me eight months ago. It was of the Red Ryder variety, similar to the one in that Christmas movie where the goofy kid with the glasses constantly gets told that he’s probably going to shoot his eye out.
There weren’t going to be any eyes shot out with Uncle James around, that was clear. I insisted that, even though it was just a B-B gun, it would at all times be handled safely and correctly, as if it were a real gun. The nephews heard this and wondered if Uncle James had lost his mind, but then looked to their own dad, who nodded seriously and agreed that Uncle James was right. The message was clear — real gun or toy gun, it doesn’t matter — if it isn’t handled safely and correctly, there will be no gun, because it will be taken away.
Of course, I had to test the thing out first. I nailed the bulls-eye on the first shot, then had to show off and nail it several times in a row, just to impress the nephews and convince them that their uncle knew what he was doing. It worked, they seemed impressed, and they listened better.
Later, I missed a few shots. I’d like to say that I missed on purpose to show my nephews that even good shots sometimes miss, but the truth is, I just missed.
“Get your elbow up, parallel with the ground,” I said to a nephew as he lined up his shot, and as I said it, I remembered my dad — their Papa Butch — telling me the same thing when I was their age.
Guns have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I have cherished that. My family bonded through hunting and shooting, and I sometimes wonder if I’d even know my cousins or my own uncles had we not gotten together throughout my adolescence and young adulthood every weekend, every fall, every year, to pursue ducks on the Mississippi Flyway; pheasants, quail and partridges in sloughs and picked cornfields; and deer on the wooded edges.
Though the ultimate goal was eventually killing something and eating it, there was so much more to it than that. Stories were told, life lessons were learned, recipes were exchanged. Puppies were born, raised and trained into hunting dogs. Those hunting dogs were also family dogs, and those family dogs were beloved as they aged — and mourned when they died.
We learned how to talk with farmers and convince them we could be trusted on their property, carrying guns among their cows. And those cows — well, let’s just say that we learned that sometimes cows are mean.
We also learned that guns are dangerous things, to be respected and handled correctly, never to be intentionally or inadvertently pointed at another human being. If you did that at one of our hunting outings, you lost your gun — and the respect of your hunting party.
Guns have been always used to commit crimes, obviously, but it pains me to see the trend that’s developed over the last 20 years — guns being used by young people to kill other young people in schools. I am from a family of teachers — and am married to a teacher — and everyone I know, at one time in his or her life, has been a student. It makes me angry, with the school year about to begin, that I have to worry about people I love getting shot at a school.
Say what you want about the next generation, complain away about how entitled and naive and coddled they are, but keep in mind that these young people are among the first to ever have to legitimately worry about getting shot and killed just for going to school.
This says much more about our generation than it does about theirs. Collectively, we’ve failed at our most important job — teaching our young people respect for others, respect for life and respect for themselves.
I won’t go into the whole gun control debate, because there are far too many people on both sides of the issue shouting obscenities at each other and accomplishing nothing, and it gives me a rage headache.
And the thing is, both sides of the debate are wrong — sometimes they’re just a little wrong, sometimes they’re stubbornly, stupidly wrong — but they’re all wrong.
There are a whole lot of things we can do about gun violence and school shootings, but they never get done, because everyone who isn’t dying is busy screaming.
That’s a bad example, and that’s what’s wrong. The solution starts with a good example.
My nephews are young, and they’re impressionable. They watch their mom and dad closely — and their Uncle James, their Papa Butch, their Nana Lois, their Aunt Michelle — and they don’t know it, but they’re looking for lessons. What they see in us is what they learn.
By the end of the vacation last week, my youngest nephew had hit the target nine times out of 10 shots.
He kept his elbow even, he gently squeezed the trigger, and most importantly, he handled his B-B gun safely and correctly, as if it was a real gun. He never intentionally or inadvertently pointed it toward another human being. If he’s like his Uncle James, he’ll remember that shooting lesson for the rest of his life.
Thanks to his mom and his dad and his Papa Butch and his Uncle James and all the others, my nephew respects guns, and more importantly, he respects other human beings.
I know that it’s just a start, but I’ve done my job here.
Now you do yours.