by B.B. Pelletier
Before I start, I have some announcements.
I wanted to update you on my situation. My medical condition is good. A new internist has taken charge of my case and is getting things done at lightspeed compared to what’s happened in the previous 3 months. I may return home today.
I need some help from you guys. I’m writing a short story about the BB gun wars that were fought by kids from the 19th century until about the 1980s. I’ve researched the topic for a feature length article in Shotgun News that was published a few years ago, but I’d like some additional stories. If you have any stories, please send them to me.
Today I want to address the role of parents, in regard to the shooting sports. Actually, you’ll realize this relates to a lot more than just the shooting sports. I’ll use a lot of my own experiences because that’s safe ground for me.
My own parents protected and shielded me from firearms when I was very young. My father owned a Benjamin 107 air pistol, but he never allowed me to touch it. In fairness, I was only nine when he passed away, so perhaps things would have changed had he lived, but I’ll never know for sure.
My mother grew up with brothers who had firearms and BB guns as kids, but she had been terrorized by a neighbor boy who shot his BB gun at the windows in our house, so she developed an aversion to them by the time I came along. It was from her mouth that I first heard the phrase, “You’ll shoot your eye out!”
When I was a boy, the American wild west was very popular, and I was encouraged to play Cowboys and Native Americans…er Indians. Since I’m part Algonquin — the blond-haired, blue-eyed tribe from the French Canadian territory — I’m allowed to make a joke like that. I was given cap guns and cowboy gear and my heroes were Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy.
But guns that shot things were strictly off limits. In my case that turned guns into objects of desire. This doesn’t happen with all kids. It is driven by the personality of the kid and can take many directions. Some kids can develop a deadly fear of the forbidden objects. I’m sure the home environment has a lot to do with this, but the personality of each individual child is also a big factor.
When I turned eight in 1955, space became the big thing. I watched Captain Video on TV and was given lithographed ray guns to play with. So although firearms and airguns were forbidden, the subject of guns was not. That will be different in every home.
Let me speed forward and skip all the other fads like Davy Crockett and Gunsmoke and go right to the important turning point. My mother sent me to an NRA-sponsored firearm safety class. Having no father at home, I was impressed by any man who took the time to explain things — especially if they dealt with the shooting of firearms.
In that class, I was taught proper gun handling, a lesson that stuck with me all my life. We finally got to shoot some Winchester 52 rifles (a .22 rimfire target rifle) at targets, and I made scores that were impressive. They told my mother I had a gift for shooting, which was only natural, since she had been in a wild west carnival show as a young woman. She sold lariats in the show and was something of a trick rope dancer. She was also a shooter — a fact that had remained undisclosed until this point.
What I didn’t understand until decades later was that I was growing up. My mother was watching me and giving me what she thought I needed and could handle at the appropriate time. In retrospect, she was very supportive of my desires, but also cautious of my immaturity
Now I’d like to contrast my upbringing with what I observed in other kids at that time. I saw kids whose parents didn’t pay as much attention to what they did like my mother did. Many times, these were the boys with the BB guns. They were also the boys with the broken bones and stitches. They were always at risk because no limits were being set for them.
Let me give you one illustration of this. When I was a teenager, I had a school friend over to my house. We lived on a three-acre plot that abutted several large farms, so I could shoot .22 rimfires in our garden. My friend and I were doing just that, and I was downrange to change the target when BAM! The kid had fired at the target with me just four feet away. I said, “What the hell are you doing? I’m downrange!”
“I wasn’t shooting at you. I shot at the target.”
If I’d been hit, I’m sure his parents would have called it an accidental shooting. But it was no accident. This was an untrained kid who had grown up like a weed, without training or supervision. By this time in my life, I was subscribing to Guns & Ammo magazine and reading Elmer Keith. What this kid did was beyond my ken. Yet, it really happened just that way.
That gave me insight into the fact that all kids are not raised the same. We didn’t call it parenting back in my day, but that’s what it was. It was done to instill maturity, values and a sense of responsibility in the younger generation. But as I observed, it wasn’t done equally, and the kids didn’t all grow up with the same values. Later in college, I saw even more dramatic examples of the failure to raise kids.
But this report is really about teaching the shooting sports. As I said before, it’s up to the upbringing and to the personality of the kids involved. There are plenty of good parents out there doing right by their kids. They don’t all agree on values, so each kid receives a different value set for his or her life.
But there are also far too many weeds just growing up on their own. Wolves in the wild have better parenting skills than the parents of these children. And the worst thing is that you can’t tell by looking at them. However, their actions speak volumes, and you can tell pretty quick who hasn’t been raised right.
The trouble is, once raised, not a lot can be done to change things. So, proper parenting is extremely important.
Incidentally, when I was raising my two boys, I shot with them a lot. Today, neither one cares much about the shooting sports, but at least they know how to be safe. So the desire wasn’t passed on, but the training was.