Meridian Star

Columns

December 30, 2012

Understanding the gun culture

MERIDIAN — Like all Americans, I was angered and grieved at the mass murder of school children in Connecticut and insistent that we do whatever necessary to keep violent or mentally unstable people from similar attacks in the future.  

    Much of the media have focused, however, not on the hatred and malice that drove the killer, but rather on fundamentally changing what they term America’s “gun culture.” Largely ignoring the host of negative influences bombarding today’s youth (violent video games, horror flicks, gangsta rap and psychotic prescription drugs), many seem to believe that our inherent right to keep and bear arms was the root cause of the Connecticut tragedy.  

         Having grown up in the so-called gun culture of the South and also having spent my adulthood in the profession of arms, I respectfully disagree. Nothing I have witnessed in either my military or civilian life leads me to conclude that responsible gun owners are a danger to anyone except criminals like the mass murderers we unanimously detest.   

         Owning, shooting and being around guns doesn’t make a man violent. With our cap guns and Davy Crockett muskets (the ones that shot little cork balls), my boyhood friends and I fought Santa Anna at the Alamo, stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima with John Wayne and held off imaginary Russian invaders in our own backyard.  

    We knew the difference between toy guns and real ones and good guys and bad guys. On Christmas at the ripe old age of nine, I got my first actual gun, a Red Ryder. It came with stern safety lectures and dire parental warnings leaving no doubt that it was never to be pointed at anyone — ever.  

    And although my friends and I secretly fantasized that we’d break that rule one day while apprehending a burglar, we nonetheless made it through childhood without ever firing a BB in anger.  

    As teenagers, we graduated to .22s, shotguns and deer rifles. Although we shot literally thousands of rounds of ammunition, we always handled weapons very carefully. We knew that guns, like chainsaws, were deadly in the wrong hands.          Among my peers, how you handled yourself around firearms was an indication of maturity and responsibility, and we wouldn’t dream of threatening anyone with a firearm or waving one around like the gangsters in rap videos or mafia movies.  

         Our neighborhoods were then and are now much safer because we exercised our Second Amendment rights responsibly. And although my guns today are primarily for hunting, I have peace of mind knowing that my family will never be defenseless in our own home.   

         I hope and pray that there will never be another mass shooting on American soil. But I suggest that murder isn’t caused by Remington or Ruger any more than drunk driving fatalities are caused by Ford or Chevy. We have a people problem.      Millions of lost young men without loving fathers to guide them are adrift in a sea of violent images, addictions and self-destructive behavior. They want to be respected but don’t know where to begin and fall for the lie that somehow violence equals strength. In their hands virtually anything — knife, gun, baseball bat or car —endangers us all.

    America has a spiritual vacuum that no amount of entertainment, legislation, psychology or even education can fill. And until that changes, the rest of us have no choice but to protect ourselves.  

    

    Craig Ziemba is a military pilot.  His new book, "A Lily in the Harem," is on sale at the Bible Bookstore in downtown Meridian.

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