Wednesday, May 01, 2013

My First Rifle

Years ago, I read The Adventures of Bobby Orde by Stuart Edward White.  I suppose that few young people have heard of him these days, but his stories about late 19th and early 20th century America were part of my youth and have something to do with my love of the outdoors and what they used, somewhat euphemistically, to call the Pioneer Spirit: woodcraft, love of nature, the urge to preserve and enjoy it and ability to get along away from civilization and its expensive comforts. 

Bobby Orde grew up near a logging camp in Michigan and winning a shooting contest brought him a Flobert Rifle; an inexpensive single shot .22 rifle made for boys as a "first rifle."  Of course, this being a story and being a story from an era when that Pioneer Spirit was very much alive in a rapidly urbanizing America, Bobby learns, through owning it to be a man, to take responsibility for his actions regardless of the consequences.  Indeed, learning to use a firearm responsibly is still a rite of passage in some parts.  Yes, those parts still exist even if invisible to the Urban majority for whom making a fire in the rain isn't a vital skill.

People still collect the Flobert, cheap thing though it was when new and they still spruce up and restore the Ithaca 49; First Rifle to a subsequent generation. I bought one in 1963 for 18 bucks at a Hamilton, New York hardware store. Those manufacturers are gone and too many kids are too absorbed in iPods and X boxes and cellular phones today to venture out into the real world of planet earth -- but not all of them.  Some still have nostalgic parents, some families live to hunt and fish and enjoy the wilderness and still try to instill that outdoorsman's "Pioneer Spirit" in their kids. A good part of our largest state feed their families with a rifle. Watch Swamp People and see where your alligator Guccis come from.
So anyway, let me introduce you to Crickett rifles -- they're meant for kids, but smaller adults buy them. They even come in pink, for the girls.  "My First Rifle" reads the website.  For people in the vast empty spaces of America and yes they still exist, that first rifle is still an experience, just like the first bicycle, the first fishing pole, and to each of those there is a time and a place.  Cumberland County may be the place, but the time is hardly appropriate for a 4 year old. A year after being given a Crickett rifle, he shot his two year old sister with it.  She died soon afterward.

The family didn't know the gun was loaded, said the Lexington Herald-Leader  Perhaps you've heard that said before. They were used to leaving it in the corner. “Just one of those crazy accidents,” said the Cumberland County Coroner.  I call it reckless endangerment. I call it involuntary manslaughter.  I call it the end of a family, the beginning of a lifetime of shame and anguish. This isn't the story of someone learning to take responsibility, it's the story of  stupidity, irresponsibility and negligence.  The shooting will be treated as "an accident" but it wasn't.  Leaving a loaded, unlocked gun where a toddler can get it is criminal in many states and so it should be. Having guns in a house where there are children is questionable, even when they are locked up. Not teaching your kid never to aim a gun at anyone, is unforgivable -- teaching them to never assume it's unloaded, never to pick it up and hold it anywhere but at a shooting range with adults present. . . well I don't have to continue, and how much can you rely on a 4 or 5 year old to understand the danger anyway?

Background checks aren't going to prevent things like this, nor waiting periods nor registration nor magazine restrictions. Kids getting at legally owned family guns have been the cause of  recent acts of mayhem at Columbine and Sandy Hook and elsewhere.  The only way these artifacts of stupidity can be addressed is through education or elimination.  There is no way to eliminate guns and there is no responsible agency to promote education, now that the NRA has become an anti-government militia. So perhaps the people who talk about individual responsibility Vs. Government regulation can come up with an answer since teaching such things is what My First Gun is all about?

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