The third Sunday in June is bright. There is a coolness in the shade of the oaks but you can already feel the heat rising on the open grass where men and their sons are on the skeet range and on the trap field below. They are hollering “pull” and are shooting at clay birds and it sounds fine.
Most of the orange clay birds are shattering but some are being missed. After this happens a few too many times someone leans close to their son and offers advice.
“Swing through the bird, son. You’re letting the gun stop.”
The son nods and tries again and the clay bird shatters.
My son is holding my hand and watching this scene with me. He is too young for the shotgun range. He asks when he’ll be able to shoot clays and I wink as I kneel down and tell him not for a few years yet. I point to a pellet-gun range set up for our sons and daughters who are under 12 year of age. We’ll instruct them there and make sure they practice safe gun handling as we give them a positive experience.
We know that “gun safety” isn’t a synonym for “gun control” even though that it is how the media often uses the phrase today. We tell them and make them repeat and then live by the NRA’s three basic rules of gun safety.
Always keep the gunpointed in a safedirection.
Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
Always keep the gununloaded until ready to use.
We know we are showing them how to enter the safe, responsible and mature American gun culture. We are giving them practical lessons that will be with them for the rest of their lives. We know that these lessons will help them if they come across a gun in a friend’s home. We know we are preparing them for life even when we can’t be there to guide them. We wish more people in the media and popular culture understood this.
As this critical teaching gets more misunderstood by the mainstream it is in danger of declining. That could lead to more accidents and other problems. They are smiling and listening to us as we tell them how to properly hold a firearm (even a pellet gun), how to squeeze the trigger and how to handle the firearm in the excitement after a well-placed shot.
The mood is positive, even boisterous, but controlled. This is mature fun. This is learning to control your emotions and to behave carefully and safely. This is a big and real rite of passage.
We know lessons like this have made gun accidents in America fall to historic lows even as gun-ownership rates and the number of firearms in society has steadily risen. We don’t say all that though. That is too much preaching for this Father’s Day event at the club.
My son misses the bullseye and he frowns and asks what he did wrong. I explain that he jerked the trigger and help him with the next shot. The next shot smacks the bullseye and he is so excited he almost turns around with the single-shot pellet gun in his hands. I stop him and tell him what he did wrong. He apologizes. I tell him to also apologize to the other kids lined up at the range. He does so. He then takes the marksmanship really seriously. He has grown up a little more and is on his way to being a safe and responsible adult.
This is normal stuff. This happens all over America at ranges and in rural backyards on Father’s Day and throughout the year. But it is also overlooked and even mocked in popular culture. As this critical teaching gets more misunderstood by the mainstream it is in danger of declining. That could lead to more accidents and other problems.
This topic is particularly relevant this month as it is National Safety Month. TheNational Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for firearms manufacturers, is running ads and more to promote Project ChildSafe, a program designed to teach those who don’t know how to handle and safely store firearms how to do so. The program also provide free safety kits, including gun locks, to gun owners.
When we leave the range my son is bouncing. He has learned a few things and is on his way to being another safe member of the American gun culture. By doing that he has given me the only Father’s Day gift I want.