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  • February 19th, 2018


By Joel M. Vance

Once again there has been a massacre shooting in a school by a mentally disturbed youngster with an assault weapon he legally obtained. There is something wrong with this picture. The anti-gun legislation folks immediately blamed the shooting on mental illness and appeared to place much of the blame on the inability or failure of acquaintances and others to report the potential for danger posed by the shooter. It was the old refrain of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

There are several fallacies in this approach, one of which is that with no exceptions anyone who commits mass murder has to be mentally askew, but to approach the problem of wholesale slaughter with an assault weapon by claiming that the shooter is mentally ill and that’s the sole reason for the incident is both stating the obvious and missing the point. Completely sane people don’t commit mass murders. And yes, guns do kill people, but without guns people are unable to shoot other people.
The point behind every one of the all too frequent massacres of innocent people is that those most responsible for finding some way to end the carnage have abdicated their obvious responsibility to do so. Congress resolutely refuses to pass sensible gun restrictions, mumbling, “It’s too soon to talk about it,” and “Let’s wait until all the facts are in” and similar meaningless locutions. It’s not too soon and the facts are in. It’s way past time to get serious about stopping the bloodshed.

I am a gun owner with a dozen guns which I use for hunting and I would oppose anyone demanding that I turn them in or otherwise stop using them for their intended purposes, none of which involve shooting other people. Guns belong in hunting, in shooting sports, and in gun collecting. There is no justification for what amounts to weapons of mass destruction to be acquired by potentially homicidal people. The proposition that the Second Amendment to the Constitution is untouchable is a flawed one.
Remember that the Constitution is a continually evolving document. If it were not we still would have slavery, women would not be able to vote, and you couldn’t stop at the corner bar for a bump and a Bud.
The Second Amendment was created in a time when the only guns were single shot flintlocks and the only people they likely would be used against were soldiers of his Majesty’s British Army and the occasional aggressive indigenous Indian tribes. None of the founding fathers envisioned a time when teenagers, not old enough to buy a beer, could legally acquire an assault rifle and an extended magazine, capable of firing 30 or 40 bullets per minute.
The National Rifle Association deserves much of the blame, abetted by craven congresspeople who do their bidding for whatever reason— probably because the NRA kicks in big dollar donations toward the reelection of those who will do their bidding.

I have been a lifelong hunter and, as I said, currently own a dozen guns, both shotguns and rifles. I mostly am an upland bird hunter as well as an ardent waterfowler. I’ve killed several deer and, aside from my first love of quail hunting, I worship hunting wild turkeys on the chilly ridges of spring. Most of my guns have come to me through ways that would be illegal were proposed changes to gun regulations enacted. I inherited several from my father. I bought several others from friends. I also bought my most cherished shotgun, a 1913 grade 3 LC Smith double barrel at a gun show. I suspect none of these people had federal firearms licenses but I also suspect that common sense would grandfather in the possession of firearms acquired in these ways and before any legislation became effective.

Although Ronald Reagan often is regarded as the ultimate conservative president, don’t forget that Democrat Jimmy Carter was the most ardent hunter among recent presidents, since fabled Teddy Roosevelt chased game all over the world. Reagan’s eldest son Michael has become a spokesperson for conservatives and recently wrote: “Instead of the federal government raising my gas tax 12 cents a gallon and pretending it’s going to be used to fix our highways, why not use the money to hire guards for our schools – and give them guns they know how to use.” I think Reagan has been seeing too many of daddy’s shoot-‘em-up Westerns and would like to see the country revert to a Wild West mentality where everyone is looking for an excuse for a Travis Walk shoot out on Main Street. Instead of using gas tax money to fix the highway infrastructure we can revert all highways to dirt and gravel, adding to the Wild West ambience.
Our daughter, grandson, and two granddaughters-in-law all are teachers and none of the three has any desire to be packing heat in a classroom . I would venture to say that the vast majority of teachers in the country chose their profession with the desire to stand in a classroom and teach young people, not to stand in a classroom as an armed guard.

I know an outdoor communicator who once had the audacity to write that an AR 15 (the gun most commonly used to commit mass murder) is not really a hunting gun and he saw no reason that it should be in the hands of anyone. Overnight the wrath of the gun lobby fell on him like 10 tons of lead bullets and he lost virtually his entire source of income. He was fired by a major magazine, lost a television show, and probably other outlets for his talents. In an attempt to make amends, he even went hunting with an AR 15 with Ted Nugent, the wild man of rock ‘n roll, whose philosophy of “whack ‘em and stack ‘em” is about as far removed from the ethical concept of hunting—at least, as I feel it, and as those I hunt with feel it— as you can get and still call it hunting. Measuring the success of a hunt by the size of the gutpile or the weight of the game bag is simply not what hunting is all about.
Anyone who has a glorious day in the field and complains because he or she didn’t get a limit has totally missed the point and might just as well be at home. And anyone who kills a living creature from a quail to a bull elk and doesn’t feel at least a pang of regret has lost a few points off his or her moral compass.
The point of the story about my acquaintance, obviously, is that you don’t tempt the might of the anti-gun regulation crowd without risking retribution. That’s the position that Congress is in where many of its leading members, those in a position to dictate legislation, are heavily supported by money from the NRA. For the record, the most heavily supported Congressman by the NRA is the otherwise eminently admirable Senator John McCain. My own Senator, Roy Blunt, who in my opinion is not worthy to carry John McCain’s luggage, is third on the list of the NRA supportees.
I ask, reasonably enough I think, what is wrong with outlawing assault weapons, cop killer bullets, and any other armament-associated paraphernalia that has no purpose other than warfare? Why not close the gaping loopholes in the sale of guns at gun shows? What’s wrong with background checks and prohibiting the possession of firearms by convicted criminals, the mentally afflicted, and those who fire up warning rockets via social media that they may become a danger to society?

I think it’s a damn shame that society has come to a point where we discuss the viability of arming teachers in the classroom, have to pass students through security checkpoints and treat each other as if we were only seconds away from yet another bloody shooting. We have come a long and discouraging way from the days when I was a kid and you could take a gun to school because you were going rabbit hunting after class. Merle Haggard famously said that they didn’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee Oklahoma, but they didn’t shoot each other there either. Mass murder has become so commonplace that it barely makes lasting headlines anymore and each gruesome story is only good for a few days until the next one, and the inevitable reaction, calling for gun regulations, is even more ephemeral than the bloody story that inspired it.

Now, in the interest of full and complete disclosure, I will admit to a long time bias against the NRA for two reasons. Take what you will from it and feel free revile me as, I suspect, many of the Association members would.

I have been a member of the NRA two different times— the first when I was a young hunter who believed in the prevailing philosophy of the organization at the time which was to emphasize gun safety and the training of youngsters in safe gun handling. There was little if any politicizing by the NRA then and I believed (and still do) in the necessity of encouraging young hunters and teaching them to use guns responsibly and safely.
The second time I joined the NRA was after they rewarded me with a back page column in The American Hunter, one of their publications. It was fun to write about hunting outings, but the column lasted only a few months and they dropped me without explanation. That was an editorial prerogative and while it hurt, it was their choice to pick and choose a back page columnist. The axiom among outdoor columnists is that “nothing is forever.” The vagaries of communication are such that Audubon Magazine also dropped me as a columnist after a couple of years making me possibly the only outdoor writer in history to have been canned both by the extreme right and the extreme left of outdoor communication.

But it wasn’t getting fired as a columnist for the NRA that bugs me to this day— it is that they owe me $500 which I never will see. At the time the NRA was a supporting member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. I won an NRA-sponsored writing contest on small game hunting for which the top award was $500. The NRA had signed a contract guaranteeing money for the honorees in the contest. But OWAA and the NRA got in a fuss over what should have been a minor controversy, which resulted in about a third of the OWAA membership quitting the group, as did the NRA, taking its money (and mine) along with it.
So the whole point of this column in your minds may amount to sour grapes, not worth your consideration. But perhaps the next time there is a mass shooting somewhere in the country (and there will be) at least think about what I’ve said. Get off the case of a bumbling FBI and get on the case of a disastrously bumbling Congress and demand constructive action rather than disastrous inaction.

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  1. Chris Cummins

    February 19th, 2018 at 10:00 am


    Thank you for your column. I agree with you 100% on this. I have no issue with hunting rifles, shotguns, and even handguns. I lived in Alaska for many years and hunted and fished using all three firearms. But, I just don’t see the reason anyone needs an AR-15 with a 30 round clip. Yep, they are fun to shoot, but they have become the weapon of choice for idiots. It’s past time to get rid of them.

  2. Carrie DeValk

    February 19th, 2018 at 3:00 pm


    Yes! And let’s listen to the teenagers, many of whom are protesting loudly for sensible gun laws.

  3. Bill O'Donnell

    February 19th, 2018 at 4:51 pm


    Well said Mr Vance. I thank you for your integrity in the face of the NRA’s dominance of the entire outdoor media environment.

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