I read with interest Liberty Island contributor Audie Cocking’s essay about her family history with gun ownership, and the tragic death of her friend. The piece resonated because mine is a similar history, and the takeaways from both the essay and my experience reinforce two core truths about gun ownership and the Second Amendment.

Thankfully, no person close to me has ever been hurt by a firearm. But the closest I ever came served as a wake-up call to the possibility. My young adult daughter was waiting at a bus stop in a dicey Portland neighborhood one weekend night because a transfer route was the only route in service that late from her job.

Two youths drove up and the one in the passenger seat leveled a handgun at her. These reprobates were probably just trying to scare her, but she came home crying, saying she’d honestly thought she was going to die that night.

I was alarmed, wanted to notify the police, but my daughter adamantly and emotionally didn’t want me to do that — I’m still not sure why and it upsets her to ask about it.

What I am sure of, what I have always been sure of, is that I have never blamed the gun or access to guns for gun violence. My sense is that anyone (given the neighborhood they were probably gangbangers) who would cowardly frighten a young woman like that would likely be the kind of individuals that would find a way to get a gun even in the most restrictive environment.

I grew up in a home where guns were an almost daily fact of life. A family whose patriarchal grandfather had a massive bear rug — taxidermist-preserved head included — mounted on his living room wall. I have early memories of a stag deer hung in the garage, taken on my father’s favorite hunting ground, public lands outside Yosemite National Park. The venison ended up in the freezer and made the occasional dinner for months.

As a youngster I’ve laid low in cold duck blinds and accompanied my father on quiet walks in forests all over the West Coast. I’ve been left to hunker down when my father needed to stalk alone.  I’ve plucked the feathers off ducks from wetlands near Tracy, California, and picked through all manner of roasted wildfowl looking for embedded buckshot. Dad, a Casper, Wyoming native, eventually tired of rifle hunting, turned to bowhunting, and brought down a twelve-point stag for the taxidermist.

It wasn’t just hunting. As my father begin climbing the ladder of success in the grocery business, his first assignment as a Safeway store manager was an ancient old market in West Oakland. Thereafter, a .38 Magnum police revolver was under the driver’s side seat of our Buick. My mother didn’t hunt, as a full-time mom she gathered and cooked, but with Dad gone for long stretches, she knew how to handle a pistol.

More drawn to arts and culture (not that you can’t be drawn to both) I wasn’t interested in sports shooting or hunting as an adult, but the firearms safety and training classes I’d taken made me confident—should the need arise—in my ability to protect my own home in urban Bay Area neighborhoods.  The NRA stickers on several exterior windows to this day will hopefully dissuade criminals and prevent me ever having to use my gun for home protection.

Past achieved confluence with present in m my 31-year-old son, a crack shot with multiple types of firearms.

So, like Ms. Cockings, I learned from a very early age through adulthood to be safe with guns, and comfortable around responsible gun owners and their firearms.

President Kennedy’s assassination in Nov. 1963 was the first dark coloration of my perception of firearms—I blamed loathsome Commie sympathizer Oswald, not his rifle. Then, in 1966, Whitman went up in a University of Texas tower and killed fourteen. James Earl Ray’s cowardly assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968 was a shocker, and then, only short months later, the assassination of presidential candidate Robert Kennedy and the vile countenance of Sirhan Sirhan.

As Dylan sang, the times indeed seemed to be changing, societally and culturally. These acts had a profound effect on me as a teen, but never, I can honestly say never for a split second, did I blame the guns. Likely due to my lifetime exposure to the responsible utilization of firearms, the idea that the weapon was responsible, and that the solution might be to confiscate or restrict them, never crossed my mind.

Finally, the ultimate cultural deathblow, John Lennon, and the execrable excuse for a human being known as Mark David Chapman. It was 1980 and the progressive ideological drumbeat that the guns themselves were the problem began in earnest.

In the cases mentioned above, I believe that each of these killers would have gotten their hands on a handgun or rifle and carried out their heinous acts. So too with the contemporary perpetrators of horrific mass shootings and tragic loss of life that have gripped the national consciousness and rent the fabric of civil society.

The answer is not to enact slippery-slope laws and restrictions that hamper men like my grandfather, father, and son from exercising their Second Amendment rights.

After decades of witnessing the most horrific gun violence possible, and while I believe there are steps that can be taken to minimize these incidences, my position on the gun rights issue is fundamentally unchanged, and can be summed up by two foundational beliefs:

Exposure to responsible gun ownership from an early age makes one less likely to blame a firearm for the violent acts committed with firearms.

A sincere belief in the old cliché: if guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns.


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