America is at a tipping point. As one Parkland Florida student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas passionately stated, “The children of America aren’t going to wait any longer for the country’s adults to lead – they have failed us.” The sleeping giant of the emerging generation is beginning to awaken and when it does, everything will change. Millennials are rapidly losing confidence, respect, and value in a government they perceive to be irrelevant and impotent. The issue of school shootings and gun reform has become the alarm clock for a generation who has recently been empowered to lead the way to lasting national change. I, for one, am proud of them and will stand with them, realizing that the America they are growing up in today is far different than the one my generation experienced.
The America I grew up in was a nation supporting a population a third the size of what it is today. Hunting, fishing, and gun ownership was a wholesome matter without the stigma of mass shootings and human injustice. As a young boy, most of my friends owned BB guns by the age of ten, a 22 by the time they were twelve, and a shotgun for bird hunting or a deer rifle by fourteen. We all took hunter safety courses as a rite of passage. We learned how to safely crawl through barbed wire fences without shooting ourselves and how to properly load and unload a rifle, but never considered a gun as a weapon of self-defense. That idea was not even on our radar. I shot my first deer at age fourteen, packed it four miles to our cabin, and butchered and wrapped it for the freezer with my father’s guidance. Hunting, for me as a teenager, was a rich and necessary part of life. It was something my dad used to teach me responsibility and the need for conservation. To this day, I still own the same old 30-30 Winchester and double barrel (hammered) shotgun I had as a kid. In fact, they were the guns my dad used when he was a kid and the shotgun was my grandfather’s before that. For me, guns have been an issue of legacy and identity. The thought of having them taken away would be tragic. All that said, I still stand with the kids of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I believe it’s time for some common sense gun regulation in a world that is not the same as it once was.
A matter of common sense:
I do not believe that gun reform is the same thing as gun control. Reform doesn’t mean to abolish but to improve an old form. Like the kids from Parkland, I believe fully in the Second Amendment but see no value in ordinary citizens possessing guns designed specifically for the sake of military assault. Common sense gun reform doesn’t threaten the right to bear arms, but should restrict them from getting into the hands of wrong people. Restricting certain weapons is nothing new. At some point our government decided that an ordinary citizen didn’t have the right to possess a fully armed military tank, a grenade launcher, or a machine gun; that was common sense. I’ve heard the argument that rifles like AR-15s and AK47s make good hunting rifles. My thoughts about that are twofold: One, anyone needing a rifle like that must be a very poor shot. Growing up, my dad taught me the value of taking one accurate shot so meat would not be wasted. My second thought is that a truly sincere sportsman wouldn’t feel comfortable knowing that a person using such a rifle would be hunting in the same woods. Accidents happen even when people think they know what they’re doing. When the second amendment was written, people were still using one-shot flintlock rifles. Even if they were being used as weapons of war, they could only shoot one person at a time before going through an intensive process of reloading. The second amendment was written at a different time in history with a very different world view.
Another issue of common sense concerns the arming of school teachers. I was a school teacher myself for twelve years before I entered the ministry. I’ve always been competent and comfortable with guns, but the idea of a teacher packing one around day after day in a classroom makes little sense to me. I know I wouldn’t have felt right about it. I chose the teaching profession to empower young people and teach them something. I believe having a gun would dramatically impact the dynamics of a teacher / student relationship. No handgun I know of is a match for a semi-automatic assault rifle. Guns are dangerous under normal circumstances, but when people are full of adrenalin and fear, anything can happen. Engaging in a firefight in a public school hallway or classroom with unskilled, inexperienced, non-police or military personal is a formula for a greater disaster. As a teacher in the 1970s, I actually did have an encounter with a student pointing a gun at my gym class. He was an unstable kid and to this day I shudder at the thought of what could have happened had I been armed. The gun turned out to be a pellet rifle and, had I been armed, I could have easily shot and killed him. The thought of what could have happened that day still leaves me at times in a cold sweat.
It saddens and sobers me when I reflect on how much the world has changed in my lifetime, but it is the reality of a changing social climate, and maybe it’s not all bad. We are experiencing a changing of the guard. A new generation is rising up and wanting a say in the world in which they live. The Baby Boomers are already losing the grip of authority and control and will shortly be too weakened as a generation to fight for old ideologies. Millennials, and the generations which are on both sides of them, will soon be in charge. Their world view is different simply because it has been formed by a very different life experience. For them, shooting massacres on American soil must come to an end. Organizations like the NRA will lose their influence on a generation who are not willing to compromise human safety for the right to bear every type of lethal weapon.
I am a seventy-year-old Baby Boomer who has enjoyed living during an amazing season of American history. I, like so many of my generation, have confused freedom with entitlement and in my fear of losing that, have dug my heels in. However, in recent years I’ve softened. As I watch the Millennials rise up, demanding a say in the world in which they live, I find myself feeling hopeful and proud. They remind me of my own generation in the 1960s who also protested after seeing many of their friends die in a war we deemed as unjust. We, too, blamed our government, demanded change, and in the end saw reformation. It is how our nation has carried on over the years from one generation to the next and seeing young people awaken, rise up and make a stand gives me hope for a promising future.