It’s a small, private Ohio college. The academic standards are high, and the tuition is even higher – more than $50,000 per student per year. It makes the few thousand dollars my father paid for me to attend a state university many years ago seem a paltry sum.
Recently, I was asked to participate in a three-person panel discussion at the college titled “Gun Culture and the Second Amendment.” It seemed the students – mainly from affluent families on both the East and West coasts – wanted to learn more about what makes us Midwesterners tick, why many of us believe we need guns. I had no idea what to expect, but I was willing to give it a shot, pun intended.
The first question directed to me by the moderator was “Why do you own guns?” I remember beginning my answer by mumbling something about the fact that it was my Second Amendment right but as I looked at the room full of students and faculty seated in front of me I could see their eyes begin to glaze over with boredom.
“This isn’t working,” I told myself. Then suddenly the thought came to me: Tell them a story.
“But I personally own guns because I enjoy target shooting and hunting,” I said. “And I very likely own guns today because my father did before me.”
I could see the audience begin to re-engage.
“When I was a young boy,” I continued, “I remember my father showing me his small collection of rifles and shotguns and instructing me never to touch them. ‘When you’re old enough,’ he’d said, ‘I’ll teach you how to shoot and hunt.’ And he did.
“At first, I ‘hunted’ without a gun,” I told the audience, “simply following my father through seemingly endless brushy fields in search of cottontail rabbits and ringneck pheasants. Eventually, I graduated to carrying a small single-shot .410 shotgun, and then a 12 gauge.”
“I remember both the first rabbit and first pheasant I ever shot. We took those game animals home and Dad showed me how to clean them and my mother prepared them for our Christmas dinner. Wild game on the table became an annual Christmas ritual at our house after that, a tradition we enjoyed together as a family for years to come. I’ve since passed that tradition along to me family.”
When I finished by short story, I saw some members of the audience crack a smile and not their heads. Maybe they finally understood. Maybe they finally got an inkling that firearms can be something more than the cold instruments of death carried by soldiers, police officers and gang members. Maybe they realized for the first time that firearms can be one of the links that forge a lifelong bond between parents and children, even grandchildren.
When my two sons were teenagers, I taught both of them to shoot and hunt. And even though they are now grown men with families of their own we still enjoy getting together for those outdoor activities. The good-natured ribbing that comes with occasionally missing an easy target is part of the fun.
I’ll be the first to admit that target shooting and hunting are not for everyone. But I also believe that everyone should know how to at least handle a gun safely. I’m now beginning to teach my young grandchildren those basic skills, knowing that someday – whether they become shooters and hunters or not – they will encounter a firearm.
And when that time comes, possibly at a friend’s house, will they have the knowledge to handle that gun safely? Will they insist their friend to the same? And will they have the good sense to not touch a firearm if they don’t know how it works? I’m doing all I can not to make sure those things happen.
Driving home from the college panel discussion, it dawned on me how powerful a personal story can be – the images it can convey. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. The greatest teacher who ever lived taught by simply telling stories. He called them parables.