Mt. Vernon Register-News

Community News Network

December 21, 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
Community News Network
  • The case for separate beds

    The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 17, 2014

  • Raw oysters spike U.S. rise in bacterial infections, CDC reports

    Raw oysters, so good with hot sauce, increasingly can carry something even more unsettling to the stomach: A bacteria linked to vomiting, diarrhea and pain.

    April 17, 2014

  • Low blood-sugar levels make for grousing spouses

    Husbands and wives reported being most unhappy with their spouses when their blood-sugar levels were lowest, usually at night, according to research released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Missing a meal, dieting or just being hungry may be the reason, researchers said.

    April 16, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.51.22 PM.png VIDEO: Toddler climbs into vending machine

    A child is safe after climbing into and getting stuck inside a claw crane machine at a Lincoln, Neb., bowling alley Monday.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • portraitoflotte.jpg VIDEO: From infant to teen in four minutes

    Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester’s time lapse video of his daughter, Lotte — created by filming her every week from her birth until she turned 14 — has become a viral sensation.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Victimized by the 'marriage penalty'

    In a few short months, I'll pass the milestone that every little girl dreams of: the day she swears - before family and God, in sickness and in health, all in the name of love - that she's willing to pay a much higher tax rate.

    April 15, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Google acquires drone maker Titan Aerospace to spread Internet

    Google is adding drones to its fleets of robots and driverless cars.
    The Internet search company said it acquired Titan Aerospace, the maker of high-altitude, solar-powered satellites that provides customer access to data services around the world. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

    April 14, 2014

  • E-Cigarettes target youth with festivals, lawmakers say

    The findings, in a survey released Monday by members of Congress, should prod U.S. regulators to curb the industry, the lawmakers said. While e-cigarettes currently are unregulated, the Food and Drug Administration is working on a plan that would extend its tobacco oversight to the products.

    April 14, 2014

  • Why Facebook is getting into the banking game

    Who would want to use Facebook as a bank? That's the question that immediately arises from news that the social network intends to get into the electronic money business.

    April 14, 2014

Twitter Updates
Facebook
Stocks