I let my 6-year-old shoot an air rifle for the first time on Sunday. Later that day, the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history took place.
Talk about giving a liberal dude some doubts.
Still, I’m glad I let him shoot.
Throughout my adult life, I’ve been anti-gun. Not just pro-gun control. Anti-gun. As in, I don’t like guns. I prefer my recreational tools to be less deadly in nature. I cringe when I see kids running around chasing each other going ‘bang bang bang.’
We joined Cub Scouts last year mainly because I could tell the people running it are good parents: enthusiastic, smart and – corny but no other word works – loving. If we could be anywhere near the orbits of these people, I thought, my son would be better for it. And so would I.
My son’s first ‘Be a Scout Day’ arrived. Bee-bee gun shooting. Archery. Sling shots. I winced.
It’s not a mandatory event but it’s a popular event, and therefore I considered it important. My stomach tightened. We went.
The rules were laid down in a formal session, where the scout leaders demanded absolute silence.
If you ever see a gun that isn’t yours, don’t touch it, leave the area and tell your parents.
Keep the safety on until you shoot. Never load it till you’re about to shoot. Always point down range.
Then we went right down to the range to shoot. Adults who know about these things were everywhere. My son put on goggles.
He was nervous.
‘Are they real bullets?’ he asked.
‘No, just bee-bees. They’re still dangerous, but not like bullets.’
We fumbled through the loading, the pumping, the safety removal.
As he was about to aim, he asked, ‘Will they come out fast?’
‘Yeah, pretty fast, but it’ll be OK.’
We started holding it one way then I realized we were doing it wrong and I switched his hands around. Then he took aim at a little paper target clipped to a small sign. The sight of my son holding it was surreal.
On the third shot, we heard a ‘thwack.’ He’d hit the sign.
‘Nice shot, Tex,’ one of the scout leaders said. We both felt pride.
Afterward, he smiled for a picture. He was pleased with himself. I also think he was glad it was over. So was I.
The next morning I woke up to news that a gunman had opened fire from high up in a Las Vegas hotel and killed 50 people and injured 400 people at a concert, a shooter’s body count that was unparalleled in modern U.S. history.
My liberal reflex kicked right in. I’d screwed up. I shouldn’t have let my kid shoot. I shouldn’t have gone along with the crowd. Maybe, I worried, this was the first step in a long, unhealthy relationship with weaponry that could end up going terribly wrong.
But then I grew more confident in my decision. I can’t imagine that maniac Stephen Paddock on Mandalay Bay’s 32nd floor had been introduced to guns at age 6 in an environment in which the overriding concern was safety and love for kids. I can’t imagine that, right after shooting for the first time, Paddock went to play ‘Four Square’ with a bouncy ball and had a slushy that left his lips purple. It’s been reported that Paddock’s father was a bank robber.
I thought of something Bertrand Russell wrote about sex and Christianity, and I think it applies to guns, too:
Every boy is interested in trains. Suppose we told him that an interest in trains is wicked; suppose we kept his eyes bandaged whenever he was in a train or on a railway station; suppose we never allowed the word ‘train’ to be mentioned in his presence and preserved an impenetrable mystery as to the means by which he is transported from one place to another. The result would not be that he would cease to be interested in trains; on the contrary, he would become more interested than ever but would have a morbid sense of sin, because this interest had been represented to him as improper…. There is no rational ground of any sort or kind for keeping a child ignorant of anything that he may wish to know, whether or sex or on any other matter.
Exposing my son to guns at age 6 is more likely to prevent a sick obsession with guns than lead to one, I’ve concluded.
Kids know guns exist. Even if we try to la-la-la our way through, they’ll find out more if they want to. Except we might not know about it.
We might not ever know, until an interest has metastasized into an obsession.
Or until we catch the news.