Shooting, including hunting, tactical training, and target practice, is both enjoyable and educational. It is a good way to enjoy friends and family, and to provide for and protect yourself and those you love in times of need. Safe shooting should be a core skill for all interested Americans.
Last week I went to the gun range to shoot with one of my sons. Over the years, members of our family have spent many hours on ranges and hunting grounds from Alaska to Germany. Shooting is a useful skill and a pleasant pastime, and we were glad to find the range open again after COVID-19. As we use our weapons, we try to keep several factors in mind:
- Firearms are dangerous and learning to handle them requires a seriousness uncommon in many parts of American life.
- Firearms require training and scrupulous adherence to what you have learned. Unlike tests in school, it is not adequate to “cram,” pass the test, and forget what you have learned. The penalties for mistakes are high.
- Firearms require self-control. Getting the right stance, hold, and sight picture, squeezing the trigger, and learning not to flinch when flames leave the barrel, the roar sounds, and the gun recoils, takes time and practice. Yet each step is required to hit one’s target and avoid injuring others (“collateral damage”).
- Firearms require discipline. The most important lesson in gun handling is knowing when not to shoot. These decisions are impacted by laws, the state of the weapon, and the state of the individual firing. Alcohol and/or drugs on board are contraindications to firing.
- Firearms require humility. Brandishing a weapon in a store, just because you own a weapon and want to look cool, is ridiculous. Having the ability to harm someone else is not a power to flaunt, or even enjoy, but a burden to be borne. Firearms instantly escalate any situation for everyone involved, and calm communication becomes that much more important.
- Firearms require time. Safe storage, regular practice, and adequate cleaning are part of firearm ownership and use. Everyone in my family who has used guns have trained on them and cleaned them.
- Firearms require money. Guns are expensive, and ammunition is more expensive. Depending upon the round, shooters can burn thirty cents to a dollar or more every time they pull the trigger. However, the penalties for not practicing can be much higher.
Perhaps our current aversion to guns in Western civilization is related in part to our failure to understand these realities about guns. Perhaps it is due to our decreased need for firearms during this period of peace and unprecedented economic prosperity. Perhaps it is related to a power grab by certain segments of our society. Perhaps it is a combination of these.
An example is telling. About eighteen months ago, a group of mostly male engineering majors from a university in the United Kingdom visited a local school to collaborate with mostly male American engineering students on a project. The British students asked to “do an American thing” and go shooting during some free time. Their British instructors replied, “under no circumstances….” One wonders why shooting is “an American thing” as opposed to a British, German, or even worldwide thing. One also wonders why their request was flatly denied, with so many professional ranges and highly skilled instructors in the area. By contrast, two hundred years ago, learning to use firearms was basically a rite of passage for boys in Europe and North America.
Gun Control in the Western World
The English Bill of Rights (1689) promises citizens “the right to have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law.” Though written to address religious inequities and provide rules for succession to the throne, this document affirms the peoples’ right to defend themselves. The British Firearms Act of 1920 began to restrict firearms possession and use, a process which has continued through today.
Possession of weapons such as guns was generally unrestricted in the Holy Roman Empire (modern Germany). The Treaty of Versailles after World War I imposed the first major restrictions on civilian possession and use of firearms. Article 177 stipulated:
“Educational establishments, the universities, societies of discharged soldiers, shooting or touring clubs and, generally speaking, associations of every description, whatever be the age of their members, must not occupy themselves with any military matters. In particular they will be forbidden to instruct or exercise their members, or to allow them to be instructed or exercised, in the profession or use of arms. These societies, associations, educational establishments and universities must have no connection with the Ministries of War or any other military authority.”
To comply with the Versailles Treaty, the Weimar Government in Germany passed the Regulation on Weapons Ownership which required that all firearms and ammunition in the country were to be surrendered immediately at the pain of five years imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 marks. Laws have loosened a bit since then, but Germany still has some of the toughest gun control laws in the world.
Gun rights and gun control are major political issues in the United States. Hunting and military service have traditionally been the venues in which young men received formal weapons training, but both are declining. In 2016, only 11.5 million Americans hunted, down sharply from 17 million in 1982. Military experience is also declining. In 1955, 2.1 million Americans were on active duty in the US military, out of a population of 172 million (1.2%). In 2016. 1.3 million Americans were on active duty in the US military, out of a population of 323 million (0.4%). Simultaneously, the number of handgun owners and concealed carry permit holders has increased, presumably for defensive use of handguns. In juxtaposition, these facts beg the question, “how are all of these people getting trained and retrained in the use of their guns?”
The US Bill of Rights, in this case, the Second Amendment right to bear arms, is a cornerstone of the freedom of Americans. My goal in this article is to maximize the safe use of firearms and minimize the tragic consequences of gun homicides, suicides, accidental deaths, and injuries. Law abiding citizens should have guns and criminals should not have them. Smart legislation, effective and repeated training, improved engineering of weapons, and a host of other factors will help us achieve our goals as a nation.
 BILL OF RIGHTS . An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown, Constitution Society, accessed 26 May 2020, https://constitution.org/eng/eng_bor.txt.
 Firearms Act, 1920. Accessed 26 May 2020. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1920/43/pdfs/ukpga_19200043_en.pdf.
 TREATY OF PEACE WITH GERMANY (TREATY OF VERSAILLES), accessed 26 May 2020, https://www.loc.gov/law/help/us-treaties/bevans/m-ust000002-0043.pdf.
 Natalie Krebs, Why We Suck at Recruiting New Hunters, Why It Matters, and How You Can Fix It, Outdoor Life, https://www.outdoorlife.com/why-we-are-losing-hunters-and-how-to-fix-it/.
 Is the US military getting smaller and older, and how much should we care? Center for a New American Security, https://www.cnas.org/publications/reports/is-the-u-s-military-getting-smaller-and-older.