I tend to avoid topics such as this one. It’s not that I have an issue with controversy, I just try not to polarize people. Politics today do enough of just that. I’m not even sure I have written about the president. But recently, my views on some things have taken a surprised turn. And it’s the change and how it came about that I would like to share with you now.
I grew up around guns. My father was an avid hunter in his youth and a proud gun owner. He took my oldest brother hunting when my brother was a young child. As the story goes, my brother shot a rabbit and wept with regret. My father stopped taking his children after the rabbit incident and soon ended his hunting career. As a result, I grew up around guns but never exposed to them. I saw them behind glass, but they were never fired in front of me. When my father passed, I sold off his gun collection. I saw no importance or use in his old hunting rifles and shotguns. I had two young daughters and thought of their safety. When the school shootings began to gain more and more traction in the press, it became apparent to me that America had a gun problem. Our oldest was involved in a walk-out at her school to raise awareness for the shootings and the need for gun control. When I was told, I was proud of her activism. Then something extraordinary happened. Hurricane Florence came, and the family was forced to evacuate. We stayed with my wife’s brother, on his farm up in the mountains of Pennsylvania.
It was as if a great tornado had lifted us from Oz and sat us down in Kansas. Without a doubt, my brother-in-law is the proudest, Christianest, gun-totin’est redneck I have ever met. He greeted us at the door with his camouflage “Make America Great Again” baseball cap. From previous experience, I know he is particular about his baseball caps. His holstered .45 caliber sat at his waistband, a silent protector waiting to smite whosoever may dare to trespass against him. And yet, I could not deny the love in his heart. My wife’s family was on vacation when the storm hit and had to end their vacation. But then, they refused to allow us to stay. They knew Florence was going to be bad. They made sure we would travel with them, in case we needed help with the unexpected trip. We were offered lodging and food. My own family expresses “concern,” but never like this. It’s not often I have witnessed such compassion in people. But before we walked in, we and the girls were told there were guns throughout the house. Don’t touch. We walked in, and a rifle was leaning against a wall, next to the door. I would find that there were, in deed, guns everywhere. A gun-fearing family of liberals was staying in a small armory. It was like going back to my childhood and removing the glass.
We were showed to the room we would be staying in. My wife and I noticed a pictures of Jesus on the wall and looked at each other. My brother-in-law is true to his beliefs. We talked of many things during our stay, and guns came up. He didn’t want to simply change my mind; he wanted to teach us gun safety. He had been shooting since the age of four and knew that experience was the key. We finally assented, and my daughters and I were taught the basics. First, never point a firearm at anything you do not intend to kill or destroy. Second, never put your finger in the trigger guard until you are ready to fire. He took my daughters and I out to the range and gave us each a turn with the .22 rifle.I was shown the various parts of the rifle: safety, stock, barrel, magazine, magazine release, chamber, bolt, bolt lock, etc. I was shown how to hold it, aim, and was allowed to fire a few shots at a target. For some reason, I was expecting much more recoil, but it had just enough. Most of all, I was completely unprepared for how much fun it was.
After the .22, my oldest and I were allowed to fire a .45 handgun. After the first shot, my daughter handed it over. It nearly knocked her over. I emptied a magazine and declared my favorite. Afterwards, I fired an AR-15, and then moved on to a shotgun. I learned that there are semi-automatic rifles that are simple, quite safe, and very enjoyable to fire. I also learned shotguns really are just small cannons. It was an amazing experience and far more pleasure than I anticipated. We spoke afterwards on how Hollywood romanticizes guns, the media demonizes guns, but both fail to capture the reality. My brother-in-law told me he feels terrible for the victims of the shootings across the nation but wanted me to understand it has nothing to do with the guns, themselves. I agreed with him and began to wonder if this whole gun issue was much more complicated than it seemed.
After returning home, I spoke to a liberal friend about my experience. She agreed that shooting is fun, but she gets worried about safety and the types of guns that are legally out there. I mentioned that we had two kids in a house full of guns during our trip. And yet, there were no incidents. We agreed that perhaps one of the issues is education. Perhaps if people witnessed what a gun felt like and did, there would be less desire to see it in video games and movies, where they are detached from consequences. I don’t know. But I’m a little less liberal after that trip. In fact, I’m no longer calling myself by one name or the other but allying myself with both. If we don’t start looking past labels and examining actual issues and getting to know people beyond their politics, we are never going to heal this country’s wounds. I’m grateful for my liberal family and friends, and I’m proud of my conservative family and friends. All of them have something worth teaching and offering the world. My liberal friends tell me “there are hidden dangers in firearms.” My conservative family members tell me, “yeah, they’re expensive and addicting as hell!”
Regardless of your politics, I love you all,