The first time I ever laid eyes on the state of Colorado I was a 17-year-old hunter from the Ozark wilds of southern Missouri. My father and grandfather took me out of school to spend time on an elk hunt in the Fryingpan Valley because I “would learn more out hunting than being in school.” I was an idiot. Most 17-year-olds are.
However, I was not so dumb when it came to guns. I knew quite a bit about firearms for one so young. I had been given my first BB gun when I was 5. I promptly shot a sparrow and quickly realized what death was and how little I enjoyed it. However, I lived in an area of the country where hunting and fishing were an integral part of the year’s food supply. I’m horrible at fishing, but I’m a real good shot.
I killed my first deer when I was 10 years old. “Missouri’s Youngest Hunter?” was the caption above my photo in the local paper, posing with the carcass in my lap on the hood of a car. My dad had placed me in front of a tree just before daylight and I sat there and froze for an hour or so before two little deer ran by and I shot one of them in the gut with a .16 gauge slug fired from an old Ithaca woven-wire double-barreled shotgun. My dad had only given me one slug, or bullet, to shoot because as he said, “A good shot only needs one.”
I was lucky to have Dad as a firearms instructor. He took no guff when it came to guns. One time I shot a beer can that was on the ground and the BB ricocheted and hit my little brother in the leg. Of course, the little jerk told on me and I was about to get spanked for aiming my gun at him. I defended myself on the theory that ricochet could go anywhere, but my dad said it must have been pointed in his general direction to hit him. I got spanked anyway.
Pointing a gun in the general direction of anyone was a major violation of gun safety, even if it’s unloaded. First rule: There is no such thing as an unloaded gun. It was ingrained in my mind.
People these days get their firearms training from the movies, if they get any at all. Holding a pistol sideways is likely to bloody your nose, or break your wrist. The gangsters doing it in the movies are clowns. Sticking a gun down the front of your pants is insane simply because it would be pointed in the general direction of something many men directly relate to their gun. The back of your pants is little better. I don’t think as much of, nor am I as sensitive to, my rear end — as much as I may talk out of it.
Anyway, I first arrived in Colorado on opening day of elk and deer combined season and went down to buy a hunting license. I quickly discovered that Colorado required a hunter safety course before I could even begin hunting here. Because it was the first day of hunting season, there was no place to get this hunter safety certificate except Denver. After driving 1,000 miles to go hunting, we had no choice but to travel back to Denver for this course.
Did we complain? Probably. Did it make sense? To a guy who had been killing Bambi for seven years with no regulations on him, not really. Did we comply? Damn straight. It was the law. Not an infringement on our rights. Why did we feel that way? Because in 1978 people weren’t such knee-jerks about the government.
Unless you had a father that was willing to smack your butt for doing something stupid with a gun, or you were in the armed forces, you probably don’t have the training to responsibly own one. Mandating that anyone purchasing a weapon of any kind to have a firearms safety course doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. We try to teach people to drive before we give them a license to do so. Why not do the same with guns?
As with cars, there can be no proof that we have managed to get this education to stick. A license that says you know better than to point a gun anywhere near your brother should be the least that this state can offer to the citizens who don’t want guns pointed in their general direction. Some of us still might get shot like some of us will be hurt in cars, but no one will be able to say we didn’t try.
Firearms safety courses aren’t likely to stop the next disturbed person from shooting up someplace we have yet to dream of, but it would assure the rest of us that responsible gun owners are educated enough to keep their guns out of reach of a child. We would be consoled knowing that firearms owners have learned the basic lesson that all guns are loaded, which might save hundreds of lives per year. We may or may not be comforted that some clown might even quit sticking a gun down the front of his pants.
Colorado would be setting an example by leading the nation in something other than mass shooting statistics. Just because you have the “right” to own a gun, doesn’t mean you have the ability.
Don’t get me started on how you drive.
Email Johnny at firstname.lastname@example.org.