Tahlequah Daily Press

Get the scoop!

December 27, 2012

Why I taught my 13-year-old daughter to shoot

A few years ago, I taught my 13-year-old daughter to shoot. She had asked to learn, so we took my brother's single-shot .22 rifle out in the woods, set a beer can against a stump and began plinking away.

She had already been taught, as I had been from the age of 6, about handling guns safely, never pointing them at anyone, shooting only in a safe area and so on. What we were concentrating on now was marksmanship: learning to sight on the target, exhale half a breath and squeeze the trigger s-l-o-w-l-y. One shot at a time.

Hunting and target shooting, as generations of Americans used to be told, are not about releasing one's emotions and physical tension with guns, but about mastering them in order to steady the hand and shoot accurately. Schools and summer camps once promoted marksmanship for this reason, as an exercise in self-discipline. This kind of instruction declined in the 1960s, but it used to be as valued and routine a part of growing up as learning to swim.

My daughter knew much of this intuitively. Her corporate-executive aunt shot pheasants in Texas. Her oceanographer mother, who had hunted with her own father as a girl, was a capable wing shot. Her paternal grandfather had led the rifle team at the U.S. Naval Academy and later served as a coach of the U.S. Olympic rifle team. She occasionally wore one of his many marksmanship medals as a necklace pendant.

I had been a gun owner all my life, and though I rarely hunted anymore, I prized what proficiency I possessed. For several years, we spent Thanksgiving with friends in the Berkshires. A regular feature was a high-spirited skeet shoot rivalry in a field while the turkey cooked. My daughter said she loved the skeet shoot because it taught her that guns didn't need to be feared. For those who treat them with care and respect, she learned, firearms in the house are not necessarily more lethal than a sharp kitchen knife.

For a boy in the South, where I was raised - and still in much of rural America - acquiring his first shotgun or rifle was a rite of passage. It signified that a young man had been judged responsible by his parents. He had been taught safe gun handling and marksmanship, and had learned enough self-discipline so as not to be a hazard with his firearm to himself or anyone else.

But that culture is under attack, and the changes go well beyond the dramatic urbanization that has made safe shooting environments harder to access. They are about what guns have come to represent, especially to young men. We've witnessed the insidious growth in recent years of films, television programs and video games glorifying the splattering of human bodies with multiple-shot firearms as a sort of badge of manhood - the macho antidote for even petty annoyances. This is not John Wayne and Annie Oakley with quick-draw six-shooters and trick-shot accuracy. It's the delusion of solving problems in human relationships with massive and messy human extinction. It's about filling the air with metal.

There is no escaping it. Even as we were weeping over the slaughter of the innocents in Newtown_ the assault-rifle butchery of those exquisite little children and their teachers - ads on our television sets were urging us to rush to the latest zillion-dollar creations in blow-them-apart moviemaking. Timed to open for Christmas!

Obviously, not everyone who sees a Quentin Tarantino film turns into a mass murderer, but children constantly bombarded with these images - and the incessant, rapid-fire promos for these movies are almost worse than the movies themselves - grow up conditioned not to the idea of handling firearms safely and responsibly but to fantasies about their blow-it-apart potential. And some of the less mentally stable, like Adam Lanza, will act on them.

To prevent another Newtown, we clearly need better policies on mental health, particularly in tracking behavior and personality problems in adolescent boys. We need faster and more thorough background checks for firearm purchasers. We need more reasoned talk from organizations like the NRA about the responsibilities of gun ownership and less shrieking about Second Amendment rights.

After decades of war, more and more guns are designed for rapid fire and high-capacity magazines. These are basically combat weapons and have little or no place on a hunt or non-military target range. No responsible gun owner I know would object to a ban on assault weapons. After all, federal law has banned machine guns for more than half a century. As for the massive magazines, no hunter needs more than five bullets in his rifle at a time, and pump shotguns are already restricted to three-shot magazines. Anyone with a handgun for self-defense who can't accomplish that with eight shots needs to turn in his pistol.

But the problem is not guns alone.

Those who believe it is often tell us that there are more guns per capita in the United States now than ever before. Almost anyone who was alive during the late 1940s will dispute that claim. Virtually every serviceman who served in World War II returned with at least one firearm, and many brought home dozens. If you doubt that, ask a veteran. Most brought back at least their service .45. Many who had been in combat believed that their gun had saved their lives. Where I lived in Virginia in those days, we had dozens of young children on our block, and every family I knew had at least one gun in the house.

Though most were hunting shotguns, there were plenty of handguns as well. But deaths and accidents were rare - so much so that the FBI didn't even keep figures on gun deaths until the 1950s.

When I was at the University of Virginia in the late 1950s, a great many students had guns in their dorm rooms or cars. Most were shotguns used for hunting after class, but handguns were kept, even in bedside tables, as valuable possessions. There were no rules against them because, as amazing as it seems today after massacres such as those at Newtown and Virginia Tech, I never heard - before, during or after my four years there - of any gun at the university used or even displayed as a weapon. We drank as much and had as many fights then as young men do now, but to have produced a weapon to settle one would have been considered both appalling and unmanly. It was just unthinkable.

 The biggest change is not in the availability of guns but in the culture that surrounds them.

Let's suppose some of those Hollywood superstars who have made mega-millions from splatter-shot movies held a news conference and announced that they wouldn't do it anymore. Tom Cruise, Sylvester Stallone, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and others have more than just influence: If they turned down gratuitously violent films, producers couldn't raise money to make them. Many of these stars have been active politically - some self-righteously, some earnestly - in save-the-world efforts. Why not ask them to save our world? Isn't it worth a try?

A current ad campaign for the very gun - complete with an extended magazine - used to slaughter the children of Newtown touts the Bushmaster as a way to earn "Your Man Card." Suppose these movie celebrities starred in ads emphasizing that no gun makes a man - it only requires that he learn safety, discipline and restraint. Suppose even NRA spokesmen called for less fantasy gun violence on screens and noted that the real badge of manhood is what one doesn't do with a gun. We need an onslaught of such ads.

This is especially important in urban areas, where high-capacity handguns in particular are all too available, regardless of any laws, and only social pressure - fueled by the repeated sight of small coffins and paralyzed victims - can make a permanent dent in a macho street culture of firearm predation.

That day in Louisiana when I was teaching my daughter to shoot, a male cousin her age heard the shots, wandered by and asked if he could shoot, too. When I welcomed him to do so, he returned with his own rifle. I tried to ignore my discomfort with its assault-rifle appearance and gave him the same instructions I'd given my daughter - take careful aim, squeeze the trigger slowly and concentrate on hitting the beer can with just one shot. Then I gave him several cartridges.

He wanted nothing to do with marksmanship. He began firing from the hip as fast as he could. He was playing Rambo. He wanted to fill the air with metal.

 That was the end of our shooting that day.

               

Ringle is a former Washington Post essayist and cultural critic. He lives in Washington.

 

1
Text Only
Get the scoop!
  • Why a see-through mouse is a big deal for scientists

    A group of Caltech researchers announced in Cell Thursday their success in making an entire organism transparent. Unfortunately, this isn't any kind of "Invisible Man" scenario: The organism in question is a mouse, and the mouse in question is quite dead.

    July 31, 2014

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Grandstands feel a little empty at NASCAR races

    Two decades after NASCAR started running at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the crowds have thinned considerably. It's probably no reflection on the sport's massive following, which stretches from coast to coast, but it surely doesn't NASCAR's image help when the cameras pan across all of those empty seats.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • The virtues of lying

    Two computational scientists set out recently to simulate the effects of lying in a virtual human population. Their results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, show that lying is essential for the growth of a cohesive social network.

    July 31, 2014

  • lockport-police.jpg Police department turns to Facebook for guidance on use of 'negro'

    What seems to be a data entry mistake by a small town police department in western New York has turned into a social media firestorm centered around the word "negro" and whether it's acceptable to use in modern society.

    July 31, 2014 3 Photos

  • Sunburn isn't the only sign of summer that can leave you itchy and blistered

    You've got a rash. You quickly rule out the usual suspects: You haven't been gardening or hiking or even picnicking, so it's probably not a plant irritant such as poison ivy or wild parsnip; likewise, it's probably not chiggers or ticks carrying Lyme disease; and you haven't been swimming in a pond, which can harbor the parasite that causes swimmer's itch.

    July 30, 2014

  • Rodden, Danny.jpg Sheriff accused of lying about relationship with prostitute

    The sheriff of Clark County, Ind., faces an eight-count federal indictment that accuses him of lying about paying a prostitute for a sex act and giving her a badge so that she could claim a discount rate at a hotel.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Sharknado.jpg Sharknado 2 set to attack viewers tonight

    In the face of another "Sharknado" TV movie (the even-more-inane "Sharknado 2: The Second One," premiering Wednesday night on Syfy), there isn't much for a critic to say except to echo what the characters themselves so frequently scream when confronted by a great white shark spinning toward them in a funnel cloud:
    "LOOK OUT!!"

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Sideshows involving Rice and Dungy stain NFL's image

    Pro football training camps should be all about, well, football. But the talk around the NFL is about Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's two-game suspension, Tony Dungy's indelicate remarks about Michael Sam and Jim Irsay's largesse. What kind of league is Roger Goodell running?

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • linda-ronstadt.jpg Obama had crush on First Lady of Rock

    Linda Ronstadt remained composed as she walked up to claim her National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony Monday afternoon.

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    July 30, 2014

  • Can black women have it all?

    In a powerful new essay for the National Journal, my friend Michel Martin makes a compelling case for why we need to continue the having-it-all conversation.

    July 30, 2014

  • 20140727-AMX-GUNS271.jpg Beretta, other gun makers heading to friendlier states

    In moving south and taking 160 jobs with it, Beretta joins several other prominent gunmakers abandoning liberal states that passed tough gun laws after the Newtown shooting.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fast food comes to standstill in China

    The shortage of meat is the result of China's latest food scandal, in which a Shanghai supplier allegedly tackled the problem of expired meat by putting it in new packaging and shipping it to fast-food restaurants around the country

    July 28, 2014

  • Dangerous Darkies Logo.png Redskins not the only nickname to cause a stir

    Daniel Snyder has come under fire for refusing to change the mascot of his NFL team, the Washington Redskins. The Redskins, however, are far from being the only controversial mascot in sports history.  Here is a sampling of athletic teams from all areas of the sports world that were outside the norm.

    July 28, 2014 3 Photos

Poll

Do you think "blue laws" related to Sunday alcohol sales in Oklahoma should be relaxed? Choose the option that most closely reflects your opinion.

Alcoholic drinks should be sold Sundays in restaurants and bars, and liquor stores should be open.
Alcoholic drinks should be sold Sundays in restaurants and bars only; liquor stores should stay closed.
Liquor stores should be open Sundays, but drinks should not be served anywhere on Sundays.
The law should remain as it is now; liquor stores should be closed, and drinks should be served on Sundays according to county option.
No alcohol should be sold or served publicly on Sundays.
Undecided.
     View Results
Tahlequah Daily Press Twitter
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
Netanyahu Vows to Destroy Hamas Tunnels Obama Slams Republicans Over Lawsuit House Leaders Trade Blame for Inaction Malaysian PM: Stop Fighting in Ukraine Cantor Warns of Instability, Terror in Farewell Ravens' Ray Rice: 'I Made a Huge Mistake' Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers Small Plane Crash in San Diego Parking Lot Busy Franco's Not Afraid of Overexposure Fighting Blocks Access to Ukraine Crash Site Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida Workers Dig for Survivors After India Landslide Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN
Stocks