I scampered over to see it every time we went to Otasco to pick up hardware or sundries. My parents had to drag me away when it was time to go, the drool stains likely befouling the floor to this very day. I didn’t just want this thing; I craved it. It was 30 inches of streamlined, blue-painted All-American awesome. The thing in question was a no-frills, lever-action Daisy BB gun and I was 7 years old.

My hopeless obsession with the gun was obvious to all who knew me. I spoke of little else. The year was 1973 and I lived in the rural Mississippi Delta. Firearms were as much a part of our landscape as were cotton fields, mosquitoes and pretty girls. My dad/hero lived the example of the manly outdoorsman, and even at my tender age I had already done more than my share of supervised shooting. I just felt it was time to move up to my own smoke pole. While my long-suffering mom might have had her doubts, Dad was on my side.

The object of my affection was marked $7, a princely sum for a 2nd-grader in the age of bell-bottoms and muscle cars. My dad brokered a deal with my mom and me. If I could come up with half the purchase price he would make up the difference. Dad got to earn a little gratuitous hero worship from his firstborn man-child and mom falsely assumed it would take me some time to gather the funds. She grossly underestimated my drive.

I gutted my piggy bank, mounted my bicycle to gather and return discarded Coke bottles at a nickel apiece and scrubbed underneath every couch cushion and car seat I could find. The following week I had $3.50, mostly in pennies, stored lovingly in a paper sack.

We hit Otasco early on a Saturday, my Dad quietly proud and my mom still as yet unconvinced concerning the wisdom of our venture. I had never been so excited about anything in my entire life. In my exuberance to reach the back of the store where they kept the guns, I tripped over my own clumsy feet, my worn paper sack rupturing majestically and spilling its contents irrevocably underneath display racks and merchandise.

The entirety of my brief life hopelessly ruined, I descended into a decidedly unmanly display of tears. In one of those classic Dad moments, my father joined me on the floor, helped me gather as many pennies as was convenient, and assured me he would make up the difference. My love and affection for the man knew no limits. Little has changed in the intervening decades.

I literally wore that gun out. I burned through BB’s by the pound and performed some truly astounding feats of marksmanship with that little shooter. I once took a bumblebee in flight at a range of about 20 feet. I decapitated a sparrow on the wing with a single shot fired spontaneously from the hip. Of course that doesn’t take into account the literally tens of thousands of times I tried to accomplish such things and failed. Do most anything enough times and eventually something amazing can occur.

That pitiful little BB gun with its faux wood-grain plastic stock, fixed sheet metal sights, and rusty exterior served as foundational dogma for my entire life. I went on to buy a cap-and-ball handgun kit at 13, and traded an entire year’s wages from my after-school job for a Colt SP-1 AR-15 some 3 years later. At 0800 on the morning of my 21st birthday in 1987 I stood before our local police chief to ask him to sign the Form 4’s for my first two machine guns.

Since then I studied Mechanical Engineering, served my country as a soldier, started a business building machine guns and sound suppressors, went to medical school and saw more than my share of real gunshot wounds. I also kept myself in ammo by writing for gun magazines. Along the way I raised three kids to adulthood, every day hoping to live up to the example set by my dad. In so doing I learned a few things about guns, kids and life.

Statistics vs. Reality

Anti-gunners are quick to observe our nation loses 30,000 Americans under age 25 to gun violence per annum. That is a nauseatingly large number, but having worked in an inner city ER I came to appreciate the overwhelming majority of those “children” are actually heavily muscled, covered in gang tats and typically intoxicated. They kill each other over women, drugs or simply because they have no strong male figures in their lives to tell them not to. Given the absolute saturation of firearms within that culture already, if indeed a solution to the problem even exists, I assure you it will not be found in gun control.

My own kids grew up immersed in firearms. My boys could fieldstrip and reassemble an AK-47 blindfolded by age 8, but we enforced an inviolate set of safety rules. I encouraged my kids to shoot and train with guns whenever it pleased them, but always under my personal supervision. We did that often and this in itself took a lot of the mystique out of firearms for my kids.

I never want to find myself defenseless in the face of a threat. However, when my kids were small, the fear of an accident outweighed my concern for security. Though we had enough weapons to outfit an infantry platoon, they were all locked away separately from the ammo. We were essentially helpless, but I could not manage the thought of my kids getting hurt. That’s the way my dad did it and I turned out fine.

When the kids got old enough they bought their own guns with their own money. Weapons training was part of our home school curriculum and permission to carry a .22 rifle on walks alone in the woods ranked right up there with getting a driver’s license as a rite of passage. I took my young sons on a road trip to the Knob Creek machinegun shoot in Kentucky when they were old enough to appreciate it. In a veritable ocean of great memories, that “man-cation” was one of the most fun things we ever did together.

Four basic gun safety rules

The National Rifle Association offers any number of excellent gun safety resources on its website. Eddie Eagle is their stylized mouthpiece and these programs are suitable for an individual, a family or a school. Eddie Eagle is meticulously apolitical and is never seen holding a firearm. He is neither pro-gun nor anti-gun. His teaching mantra is “Stop! Don’t touch. Leave the area. Tell an adult.”

While formalized training programs are important, the long pole in the tent is still good old-fashioned parenting. Kids will rise to whatever level of responsibility is demanded of them. Irresponsible parents breed irresponsible children.

You’re never too old or too experienced to outgrow the four basic rules:
1. Treat every gun as though it is loaded all the time.
2. Never point a gun anytime at anything you are not willing to destroy.
3. Keep the finger off the trigger until the target is in the sights and it is time to fire.
4. Know exactly what you are shooting at as well as what’s behind it before you touch off a round.

Enforce these rules ruthlessly. Firearms accidents seldom end well and a mishap with a child will taint every life touching that event for the rest of time.

The American shooting world is awash in external gun locks, gun boxes and integral trigger security devices to make your job easier. Make a dispassionate threat assessment of your household. If your kids and anybody else who might conceivably be present are old enough and responsible enough to live around firearms safely then they should be readily accessible and easily made dangerous. If there is any possibility of access by inquisitive little hands or others of any age whose judgment is in question, the weapons and ammunition must be unequivocally secured. Assess your unique situation then err on the side of safety every single time.

Skill at arms is as much a part of American history as are democracy and freedom, and future generations will forego those skills at their peril. As an individual, be sober about your security needs and plan accordingly while keeping imagination and machismo out of it. Then cherish some quality time with your children or grandchildren. There’s nothing else in the world that compares to being some little kid’s hero. Some well-supervised time behind a gun can earn you that title.

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