Three Boys, Two Guns, One Sheriff
I know many of you are less than enamored with guns.
Absolutely despise the carnage that results from their improper or illegal use.
Here’s something you should know. Law-abiding gun owners hate it even more.
So, rather than spouting statistics for 800 words or so, I thought I’d tell a story. Maybe get us past the slogans and whatnot.
In the summer of 1963, my cousin Pete Macaluso and I spent two weeks in a small Louisiana town with another cousin, Ernie Drake.
We were all fourteen and every bit as hormone-soaked, peer-pressured, and terrified of embarrassment as any of today’s teenagers.
One afternoon, we decided to go shooting. Back then, this was a perfectly normal idea in rural areas of the country.
My parents had given me a .22 for Christmas. In 1963, you could buy one through the Sears catalog if you wanted. I’d brought mine with me. Ernie had one too. We needed ammunition and ended up pedaling our bikes to town carrying the .22’s on our handlebars. Not a lifted eyebrow anywhere along the way.
After buying the ammunition, we headed for a nearby river and began shooting at branches, cans, beer bottles, and whatever else floated by.
While we were shooting, quite a few cars drove past. Most people took no notice, but one or two adults waved.
A bit later, another car came by. This one stopped. It was the sheriff. He got out and asked what we were doing.
“Shooting at stuff in the river.”
“Being careful, right?”
He asked to see my .22.
“Here. Let me give you a few pointers.”
He stayed for a while and, when he left, said: “You boys have fun, but don’t let me hear that you got in any trouble.”
Once again, “Yessir.”
Wasn’t even remarkable.
These days something’s different and it isn’t the guns. We had easy access to them, but there was never any thought of using them on anyone. Too, when I got that gun, my dad taught me how to use it and made it clear I’d better never treat it like a toy. Relatives, neighbors, teachers, scoutmasters, and (when I bought ammunition) complete strangers hammered home that same idea. It was societal reinforcement and it worked.
Another thing I quickly deduced was that, if anything bad ever happened, the buck was going to stop at my rear end.
At the low end of the scale, I knew that if I ever did something stupid with that rifle, there was going to be hell to pay. If I ever damaged anything, “hell” was going to look pretty inviting. Stunningly clear was what awaited me — legally and otherwise — if I ever injured anyone.
Responsibility and accountability.
We three boys didn’t think in those precise terms back then but we knew what they meant. Unfortunately, those twin concepts are fast disappearing in today’s culture — with predictable results.
So, instead of continuing to pass law after law based on the theory that guns are the problem, might we consider other ideas? As a start, might we look to restoring respect for the laws we have, strengthening the family, reintroducing the authority of teachers, ridding ourselves of drugs, and eliminating the trash and violence that pervades much of today’s entertainment? Might we tackle the human part of the equation that makes an inanimate object work? Might we try breathing life back into those two dying terms?
It took years for society to get to where it is today and, given the behavior of many of today’s “role models, such an effort probably wouldn’t start with them. It would be up to us — parents, teachers, religious and community leaders, adults of all stripes.
Because it isn’t guns that kill (if it was, Switzerland would be an abattoir). They never have. They never will. And we know it.
Responsibility and accountability.
It’d take one hell of an effort to bring them back. But I know people who grew up around guns and who never once posed a threat to society. You do too. That should tell us something as to where our efforts might best be placed.
By the way, regarding those three boys. Ernie became a judge. Pete owns a very successful business. I ended up a ne’er do well — a writer. We all married. We all raised kids. None of us has ever been arrested. None of us has ever harmed another person or damaged anyone’s property. And, to this day, we all own and use firearms.
But it’s always the guns.
Larry Simoneaux is a husband, father of three, keeper of two (cat and a dog), hunter, fisheman, and a freelance writer living in Edmonds, WA. He spent a career at sea both in the Navy and with NOAA as a commanding officer of research vessels. He retired in 1998 and is now the general manager of an aerospace machine shop.