GROWING UP WITH GUNS
What's so different about kids today?
Webmistress, The Cody Express
Several months ago, while on a family vacation, I had the opportunity to debate the gun control issue with well-known talk show hostess (and gun control spokeswoman) Rosie O'Donnell, who happened to be staying at the same resort. The meeting was entirely by chance - she was headed to the fireworks display and we were headed to our rooms when our paths happened to cross. As we passed, she overheard someone in our group mention the Second Amendment Sisters, and the debate was on. Each and every time the logic of our side appeared to trump her argument, she fell back to her emotional appeal regarding the need to keep guns away from children. She seemed perplexed that I - a woman - didn't respond to her impassioned pleas that we must eliminate guns from our society in order to protect our children. I, on the other hand, found it odd that she considered the vast majority of parents in today's society completely incapable of teaching their children about the dangers associated with firearms. And I continue to find it astonishing that so many gun control proponents continue to promote the idea that our children cannot be taught to safely reside in a home where guns are kept. Are today's children all that different than we were? Do kids today really require more vigilance and protection than we did?
Guns in the Home
I grew up in a house with guns. As kids, my sister and I often accompanied my Dad on his Saturday fishing trips. His favorite fishing spots were located on narrow canals off a nearby lake, where tree branches stretched out over the water. It wasn't unusual to see a water moccasin draped over one of those out-stretched branches as we cruised a canal, so Dad kept a loaded revolver in his tackle box. I only saw him use the pistol once - to kill a snake on the bank where we were beached (and it wasn't until I was much older that I came to appreciate how good a shot he was.) That pistol stayed in his tackle box at all times. There was no trigger lock on the gun, the box was never locked and it was kept on a shelf in the carport shed. Both my sister and I knew where it was and could have easily satisfied our curiosity, if we had been the least bit curious. But, we weren't. We had been taught from an early age to respect other people's property. Dad's things were his and we didn't touch them without permission....Ever!
Dad also kept a loaded shotgun in his closet. Again, there was no trigger lock, no lock box, and no safe - just a loaded gun leaning in the back corner of a closet. We knew where it was, but neither of us ever touched it.
We occasionally saw Dad handle his weapons and observed the care he took when doing so. Still, Dad never said much to us about them. He didn't tell us they were dangerous, that they would hurt us or that we weren't to touch them. He didn't have to -- somehow, he managed to convey to us that guns were for grown-ups and that when we were old enough, he would let us handle them if we had an interest. It wasn't any different than knowing that we weren't old enough to drive the car, but that our opportunity would someday come. Leaving his guns alone just seemed to be ingrained. It never would have occurred to us to touch those weapons, any more than it would have occurred to us to take the keys and try to drive the car. The guns simply had no relevance to us - didn't spark the slightest bit of curiosity. We seemed to have an instinctive knowledge that they were adult-only items, that they were dangerous to us, and as a result, we ignored them.
Why are today's kids so different? Today we are led to believe that you can't teach a child about weapons; you must banish them from your house, your parks, your schools; or at the very least, make them unusable for their intended purpose - locked up tight with trigger locks or in safes. We are led to believe that what came naturally to us as children - respect for other people’s property and an understanding of the dangers in our young world - are lost traits in today's children. Are we really incapable of teaching our kids that guns are for grown-ups, or that guns are dangerous and not to touch them? We teach kids not to touch the hot stove, not to run with scissors, not to play in the street and to avoid a host of other activities that could prove harmful. Why is it so different with guns?
We are led to believe that parents who keep weapons in their homes are endangering their children's lives; that tragedy is all but certain unless we rid our homes of guns. If that was true, then there are generations of parents that would probably be most surprised to learn what poor parents they really were; parents who would marvel at the fact that their kids miraculously survived a childhood with a weapon in the home. The fact is that there are generations of responsible parents who, like my Dad, had guns in their homes and children who had been taught, through whatever means, that those weapons were off-limits. Just as there are generations of children who, like myself, respected their parents' property and authority. Do we really believe that today's children cannot learn the same discipline and respect? Are our children really that much different?
Violence in the Media
In the debate on gun control, we occasionally hear about the negative effect movies and video games have on our children, and in some cases, I might tend to agree. Then again, my parents thought the music we listened to was "going to ruin us" and often complained about the content and language of the movies we watched. But those objections were primarily confined to our teen-age years and neither of us has ever been in any kind of trouble. Still, as children, we saw quite a bit of violence on television. We grew up watching the three stooges poke each other in the eyes and smash each other with hammers. Although we were never specifically told that you couldn't really do that to someone, we knew that you couldn't poke a playmate in the eye, as Moe did to Larry, and not hurt him. We also watched Wiley Coyote get blown to smithereens, flattened by anvils and dropped from flying contraptions quite frequently. But somehow, we had the common sense to know that in real life, Wiley wouldn't get up to try to catch the Road Runner yet again. We also knew that if you really discharged a shotgun in Bugs Bunny's hole, he wouldn't come hopping back out.
We watched Ben Cartwright and his boys shoot and kill the bad guys and somehow knew, without being told, that it was just acting. We knew you couldn't really shoot someone without inflicting severe injury. We watched John Wayne kill Indians from a run-away stagecoach and shoot German or Japanese soldiers in WWII. We watched The Rifleman gun down cattle rustlers in the street.
Whether it was cartoons or television drama, we saw a lot of fictional gun violence. Yet, somehow, we knew that it wasn't real. We knew that you couldn't do to your friends what John Wayne did to Indians without really hurting one of them. We knew the difference between acting and reality.
But, today we're told that violent video games and movies are responsible when kids "go bad"; that kids who use firearms to kill and maim have learned the behavior from the violence portrayed in videos, movies and on television. Yet, if the media is that influential, how is it that we knew better? If the media is that influential, why aren't all our kids in trouble? Is it really reasonable to believe that today's children are less capable of distinguishing fantasy from reality than we were? Do we really think that our kids today cannot comprehend the difference between entertainment and real life? Perhaps today's movies and television are more realistic in their portrayals of violent episodes, but if we believe we can't teach our children to recognize the difference between acting and reality, aren't we are selling our kids short? Aren't they are just as intelligent and capable as we were?
Cap Guns, Squirt Guns, and Cops and Robbers
When I was growing up, nearly every kid on my street had an arsenal of toy pistols, cap pistols and squirt guns. We donned our hats and boots, strapped our holsters around our little waists and went to work clearing the world of the bad guys. We were cowboys, Indians, soldiers, cops, robbers, stagecoach drivers, pony express riders and everything else our little minds could dream up when playing with our guns. When our guns weren't available, we used sticks or simply pointed fingers, yelling bang, bang as we ran through the yard. I imagine such a sight would incite incredulous outrage today. But, we knew we were playing. We knew it wasn't real. We knew real guns were dangerous and that we couldn't use one to shoot at a playmate. No one told us -- somehow it seemed to be ingrained.
No one seemed to give a second thought to our play. Parents didn't come running out the door to tell us that guns were bad or to stop us from pointing our fingers at each other while yelling, "Bang!" No one took our holsters and six-shooters away. Our "battles" were looked upon as normal, everyday play.
Today, kids are punished for simply drawing a picture of a gun. We are led to believe that if we teach our kids about weapons or allow them to play as the children of many generations have played, the result will be tragic gun violence. We are made to feel irresponsible if we take it upon ourselves to educate our children about firearms. We are warned that kids and guns don't mix.
If that is the case, why didn't my sister or I (or one of our playmates) take Dad's gun to school and shoot up the place? Why didn't all the play-acting - all those violent "gun-fights" in the backyard - lead us to use a real weapon on real people? According to today's theories, our exposure to firearms, to violence on television and elsewhere, and to toy weapons, should have led to the commission of some horrible gun crime long ago. Why didn't it? And what is so different about today's kids? Why do we need to go to the extremes called for by gun control proponents to protect them? Are they not as bright, as intelligent and as capable of learning the differences between fantasy and reality as we were? What is different today?
It's Not the Guns
Kids have been raised in homes with guns for generations. They have been taught to handle them, to use them, and to respect them, without the tragic consequences we are assured will take place if we don't eliminate guns from our homes and our lives. Kids have played with toy guns, hunted with real guns, watched guns on television and have been exposed to firearms in a myriad of ways without harm to themselves or others.
It's not the guns. And in spite of what Sarah Brady, Charles Schumer, Rosie O'Donnell, and a host of others would like us to think, I suspect they know it's not the guns, too. I suspect they know, just as we do, that the answer to preventing gun violence by children isn't that easy. I'm not a child psychologist or behavioral expert and I wouldn't begin to speculate where the real problem lies, but I do know that if guns were the problem, I (and just about every other member of my generation) would have "gone bad" a long time ago.
I guess we didn't "go bad" because our parents taught us respect - respect for ourselves, respect for others, and respect