For Dad, a gun that put food on the table and killed varmints was a necessity. But who really needs a military-style weapon and high-capacity magazine?
When Dad went off to college, to help pay his way he worked for wages in the university dairy and joined ROTC for tuition credit. That’s when he got the NRA marksmanship patch he kept pinned to the door of his gun closet.
It’s a great piece of ’30s memorabilia. I still have it.
For as long as I knew him Dad had three firearms: a .22 rifle for hunting squirrels and rabbits, a 12 gauge shotgun for upland birds and waterfowl and a bolt action high powered rifle he used for deer and varmints.
In his mind the primary purpose of any firearm was to put meat on the table, or keep critters from getting our meat and eggs.
And for the occasional pruning of overhanging tree limbs rubbing the roof of the house.
We ate almost everything Dad shot except for the tree branches, coyotes and fox. In those days varmints overran farrowing pens and chicken yards and competed with hunters for game. There was actually a bounty on predators that hunters could collect at the county courthouse.
Rifle and shotgun cartridges were expensive. That was partly why Dad believed in making every shot count. Put him in a duck blind next to some city slicker with a shiny $2,000 shotgun, and it was a good bet Dad and his Browning 12 would end up filling the limit for both of them with an equal ratio of ducks to spent shells.
He demonstrated time and again that a fancy firearm is no substitute for shooting skill and a full game bag.
There was no room in Dad’s tiny gun cabinet for revolvers or pistols. As far as he was concerned, they were useless and dangerous. If a firearm didn’t put meat on the table, it was just an expensive paperweight. Assault rifles were one and the same as far as he was concerned, because they were short barreled, inaccurate and expensive to shoot. The way he saw it was that if the first shot wasn’t on target, what good would five or 10 or 20 more do? And even though the magazine of his Winchester Model 70 held 5 cartridges, he never loaded more than one shell at deer hunting time.
That’s because as far as he was concerned taking one buck meant firing one shot.
Raised as I was it’s hard to understand the need some people feel for assault rifles. A gun, any gun, is just a machine that directs a projectile toward a target. That target can be a piece of paper, a tin can, an animal or a person. If you’re hunting animals it’s generally in the wide open spaces where, if the first shot goes wrong, it alerts the prey, making second and third shots even tougher.
Hunting people seems to be different. Murderers can make all the noise they want.
I’m not the hunter Dad was. Just the same, I taught my sons what I know about hunting and shooting. I’ve even plunked with a grandson or two. I believe in responsible shooting and firearm safety because I’ve seen first hand what happens when someone isn’t taught to handle a rifle responsibly. The result is bad.
Even worse is a nut case in the city with a grudge and a rifle.
It used to be that farmers could buy a few sticks of dynamite in town. When I was a kid Dad kept a 50-pound canister of explosives grade ammonium nitrate in the shop for blowing stumps out of the ground. And I can remember watching a farmer create a drainage ditch with nothing but explosives. The shock wave hit me in the chest like a giant fist.
It was awesome.
Today, no one seems to think explosives are a God given right even though we once had the right to own them. That’s a responsible attitude given the mayhem they could create.
So why do we fight so zealously to own certain types of powerful firearms with less real usefulness than explosives like dynamite?
One reason might be our distrust in government. A few people talk about the possibility and need for armed revolt to “take back the country.” That’s what is happening in Syria, where rebels continue in their attempt to overthrow the country’s leadership. And movies like Red Dawn popularize the notion that an armed populace would help to repel foreign invaders. In Red Dawn a group of high school students narrowly escapes being machine gunned by Russian and Cuban paratroopers. They head for the mountains with a pickup load of supplies and ammunition. Eventually they begin a guerrilla war, but they do it with bows and arrows, hunting rifles, shotguns. Those are exactly the same types of weapons Dad would have chosen.
Even those nations most often pointed to as successful examples of citizen possession of firearms, nations like Switzerland and Israel, where military service is mandatory, have stopped allowing veterans to return home with service weapons.
Once firearms were controlled, the suicide rate of Israeli soldiers declined.
Speaking as a gun owner who has handled firearms all his life, I have to say I think the main reason people oppose limiting ownership of military weapons and large capacity clips is not because they need them. It’s because they want them.
If you truly need a 30-round clip, then chances are 50 rounds would serve you better. And if 50 is good, wouldn’t 250 be better?
There’s no end to it.
If Dad were here now he’d probably put the whole thing in perspective with his simple view on shooting. That’s what he always did during hunting season. In fact I know exactly what he’d say.
“One shot, one deer.”
Richard Oswald, a fifth generation farmer, lives in Langdon, Missouri and is president of the Missouri Farmers Union.