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A life of sensible hunting: Moderate voices need to frame gun debate

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I mostly grew up around guns.

My family moved from Arizona to the Northern Catskills, to my dad’s hometown, when I was 11. By the time I was 14, I couldn’t wait to take my hunter safety course and get my first hunting license.

Unlike my friends, my dad didn’t introduce me to hunting. After he came back from World War II, he never again touched a gun, other than to make sure I understood what I had been told by the hunter safety instructor. After he was sure I wasn’t going to shoot myself or another hunter, he wished me well and let me go my own way.

So I hunted with friends and their fathers, I worked to buy my own rifles and shotguns and I had a dandy time at it all.

I loved hunting upland game birds, especially the ruffed grouse so common in my area. I hunted rabbits and squirrels and turkeys and when I was old enough, deer.

The silent time alone in the woods, moving as silently as possible through Catskill forests, was a part of my growing up that I will treasure forever. The experience very quickly overtook the hunt; I recall being at peace then unlike at any time before or sense. Coming home empty-handed was not really any different than coming home with a brace of grouse, because the hunt itself was more important than taking the game that was my quest.

I never shot anything that didn’t get eaten (which, in large measure, is why I stopped hunting squirrels very quickly in my hunting career). I recall the first deer I brought home, a large spike-horn that I shot with my first .30-.30 deer rifle, a bolt action with iron sights that I seem to recall buying from an old guy in Delhi who knew my grandfather. I dragged that deer for a little more than a mile, with that first buck-fever providing enough adrenaline to make the mile go very quickly indeed. I was a senior in high school at the time.

I continued to hunt until I moved out of the Catskills 20 years ago. But I still have the gun cabinet I bought with one of my first newspaper paychecks back in 1972, and it still has my guns in it, although fewer than it once had. I had a .300 Savage lever gun that I truly loved and that I took a good number of deer with. It had a leather sling and a variable-power scope and inside 200 yards, it was truly a fine shooting gun. I sold that to a collector a couple of years ago, and he allowed how it would grace his collection. I was pleased to sell it to someone who would take care of it the way I did.

So I am still a gun owner and I’m still a responsible citizen. I don’t look at my guns as self-defense sources because they’re unloaded and locked up separate from the ammunition, even though we no longer have any kids in the house, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I decide, when I retire, that I’d like to do a little grouse huntin’, I’ll load up my Remington and head for the woods. I still have a nice little Marlin .30-.30 lever gun that’s a good deer gun within a reasonable distance, in case the urge to hunt deer should return to me.

And I have to say I don’t want the damned government meddling in my business. Of course, there is a three-shot plug in my shotgun, in case I use it for waterfowl, and the old .30-.30 holds five shells in the magazine and one in the chamber. So even with the foolish parts of the Safe Ammunition and Firearms Act, I won’t be breaking any laws. I do have to wonder, though, just how the Legislature let the governor ram through a law that has so many silly components (Seven-round clips? Really?).

Owning a gun is no different than owning a car, and a good deal less lethal. If you follow the law and act responsibly and take common-sense precautions, owning a gun should not be a problem.

Where everything goes off road, however, is when we begin to tolerate irresponsible gun ownership. I agree that having to go through a background check to sell your gun to someone who answered your newspaper or Craigslist ad is inconvenient. But it’s a small inconvenience weighed against the prospect of keeping a gun out of a convicted felon’s hands. Or providing the weapon some guy will turn around and use to shoot his wife.

Because gun violence has become so common in this country, gun ownership has become a hot-button topic. Tempers run high and the dialogue runs hot. At the polar extremes are the fringe National Rifle Association members who say the government has no right to regulate gun ownership and use, and the fringes of the anti-gun crowd who oppose the existence of guns and would be ecstatic to see them all confiscated and melted down.

But in the middle, there are probably about 320 million Americans who have different, far more moderate views. And their voices are the ones we should be listening to; their views are the ones that should frame the debate. Take my guns from my cold, dead hands? Zero guns, zero gun deaths? Somewhere well in the middle of these extremes lies a workable solution.

Perry White is the city editor of the Watertown Daily Times. Contact him at pwhite@wdt.net.

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