Nearly all the gun owners I know wonder how the world took on the character and flavor of Alice in Wonderland, especially in the last 20 years of the 20th century. By this I mean that up is down and right is wrong, and wrong is so horribly right these days, especially when it comes to guns. It wasn’t so long ago that kids took shotguns to school because they’d already been hunting that morning; it never crossed the minds of those youngsters to take potshots at their fellow classmates. Now, even high achievers take 9mm handguns to class and fire off a few rounds at their chums. One such miscreant, when asked why he did such a horrible thing, could only utter, “I don’t know.”
How utterly perfect and pure that statement is, showing us—unintentionally—what a void there is in his soul, his character, and his life.
And what a contrast between him and the schoolboys of yesteryear, some of whom I got to meet recently at the Houston Gun Collectors Association. A Gun Tests reader named Kevin Winkle invited me to the early-December HGCA meeting, and it was at that meeting where I relearned why I got in the gun business in the first place. And it’s also where I hit on one central reason why we seem to be losing so many battles over our right to keep and bear arms.
Let me set the scene. HGCA meetings are held north of Houston’s downtown area in an S.P.J.S.T. Lodge’s massive banquet area. We walked in the doors and to our right, people were standing four deep to get tickets to eat barbecue. Past them were dozens and dozens of tables filled with gun enthusiasts talking, laughing, and having a great time. On about every fifth table, an exhibitor had guns, knives, or swords on display. Some of the items were for sale, some were there simply as conversation pieces.
I noticed immediately that many of the HGCA members were 25 or 30 years older than me; there was much more salt than pepper in their hair. During dinner, I sat next to a WWII vet named Dick who told me about how he acquired his first M1 after the war, and how he had become an HGCA member about the same time. Also, the club’s newsletter lamented the recent passing of a shotgun gunsmith named Les Freer, who was well-known in the Houston shooting fraternity. And some of the other attendees I knew personally were retired.
These were men and women who had grown up around guns decades ago, and who, despite “tut-tutting” by the fashionably shallow, still enjoyed being around guns. Holding them. Learning their history. Buying them. Trading them. They still had the joy that only figured wood and moving metal can bring, an appreciation for a tool that combines artistry and precision and function like no computer ever will. Guns fed these people, guns protected them against an unfriendly world, and guns animate them still.
In a phrase, guns are still fun, and it is that edge that I and many other people have lost. We must regain it, or the anti-funners, which rhymes with anti-gunners, will overrun us.
Is this simplistic? No, I don’t think so. For proof, you can turn to nearly any portion of the debate about guns and see where we have gone awry. It is my impression that the NRA has for many years lost its focus on member services, such as hunter education, competition, collecting, and the like. Being an NRA member used to be fun. Now, my NRA number identifies me as part of a constituency, not as a gun fan.
I’ve seen similar wrongheadness personally. The club I belong to, Bayou Rifles, recently voted to shut down its shotgun division, the fastest-growing segment of the club with several hundred members. The reason? Misguided members of the board of directors were irritated that shotgunners were asking questions about how the club’s funds were being spent. Rather than answer a few questions, they voted to throw all the shotgunners out.
These sorts of actions don’t serve to increase the numbers of shooters—which in my view is the solution to all of our problems. We no longer have fun with our guns; thus, we don’t attract new blood to our game. We don’t introduce our acquaintances to the sport. We don’t instruct our children and take them shooting for fun, and we certainly don’t invite their friends along.
If you’ve wondered why we seem to be losing our rights in so many different areas, then walk in the bathroom and take a look at the guy who’s responsible. I know I haven’t done all I can by inviting people out for a round of clays or to plink. And I haven’t shared my fascination with precision guns as widely as I should. I simply haven’t had enough fun. How about you?