By S Martha Montevallo
February 2007

Firearms, rifles, side arms, six shooters, pistols, cannons, machine guns, shotguns, Kalashnikovs, artillery pieces….. They’re all guns. Dangerous? No more so than an automobile or a chain saw or even a hammer. The dangerous one is the person who without training or instruction picks up the firearm.

I got my rifle for my tenth birthday, a second hand .22 caliber Savage target rifle with decals of turn of the 20th century nudes on the stock which had been shortened by an inch. I was thrilled. My father taught me to shoot and to clean and care for my rifle. He was meticulous about safety as I learned to be. We fired at paper targets and I was pretty good.

We lived in Kentucky where there were plenty of squirrels. One early Sunday morning he took me with him to get a mess of squirrel. We sat with our backs to a tree absolutely still and quiet. After a while Dad whispered, “There he is, Honey, see him?” In the next hour or so he brought down one after another, with one rifle shot each, five or six. We took them home where my mother skinned and dressed them which seemed normal to me then and outrageous to me now.

By the time I was fourteen I had a telescopic sight on my rifle. That made it even more fun and easier to see where my cluster was on the paper targets.

At an orientation when I started college at the University of Louisville we were advised to ‘be a joiner.’ I hadn’t been, but decided to take the advice. I joined the radio club and was – amazingly enough – a girl announcer for our programs broadcast each week from a local radio station. I became a twirler with the band and I joined the rifle club where I found myself the captain of the girls’ rifle team – not from leadership – but because I was the best shot.

On Saturday we fired at an indoor range at a high school. It was the first time I was permitted to take the rifle out by myself. Our coach was a non-commissioned officer in the Army Reserves, low key and strict. He could and sometimes did require us to recite whichever range rule he called for by number before he would issue ammunition.

It was 1940/41. I took the bolt out of my rifle, put the rifle in its case, and when I got on the streetcar to go to the range held the rifle in one hand and the bolt in the other. Getting on the streetcar with a bowling ball or a tennis racket would have been the same. Few if any feared a cased rifle with its bolt removed. I don’t know where this fear of an inanimate object has come from. And yet my gut feeling is that it is the result of ignorance in the sense of not having information. I wonder how many ‘accidents’ with firearms are in families that hide them and forbid the kids to even think about them rather than teaching the kids what they are and how to handle them. Replace fear of the firearm with respect for it. Replace fear that the child will find the hidden firearm with respect that s/he can be taught to handle it safely.

The only thing I ever fired at was a paper bull’s-eye target. I have little patience with those who fire at bottles, cans and especially signs. All my children have had the National Rifle Association training which augmented the training and philosophy they received from their father and me.

It distresses me that so many people fear firearms knowing nothing about them except that they ‘shoot bullets.’ It’s not the gun that is the culprit – it’s the person who picks it up. Respect for firearms and the sport of shooting, I believe, would go a long way toward reducing accidents with firearms. I suspect that a youngster who has had the opportunity to practice the sport of shooting would want to preserve his record and would have more respect for self and firearm.

Even a five year old can be taught that a firearm is a piece of equipment that has a place in the home as does the stove and knives in the kitchen and the bathtub, all of which can be just as deadly. Teach the reason for owning and the proper handling of firearms. Take the mystery out and substitute knowledge and respect.

Copyright © 2007 by S Martha Montevallo

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