Attending school in Bradford, nothing could seem more natural than discussing hunting, fishing and related outdoor activities with my classmates. We couldn’t start hunting until age 12, but some of us tagged along on Saturday hunts with family members before the “legal” age, eager to experience the outdoor adventures we heard of.
Often, the talk on the school bus or the cafeteria involved hunting, shooting and the various weapons we used, especially as we got older and participated more in the hunting lifestyle. By the time we attended high school, quite a few guys were driving to school on their own. It was common to see rifles or shotguns in the rear window racks of pickup trucks in the school lot.
A couple of chance encounters recently brought back a lot of these memories. While waiting at a car dealership for maintenance on our vehicles, I had a nice visit with an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in quite a while. We somehow got on the subject of our misspent youth. He grew up in a small town in New York state and although he’s a few years younger than me, our experiences seemed to be very similar. He told me that he and his friends would often explore the nearby creeks in the summer, fishing and catching snapping turtles. They sometimes gave the turtles to the owner of a local restaurant, who apparently made a great turtle soup which he shared with the boys.
I never knew this man in his younger days and I didn’t know if he had any hunting experience, but I do know he is a gun owner. As we talked, he brought up the subject of how he and his classmates often brought their rifles or shotguns to school, to be kept in the principal’s office until the end of the school day, when they would go hunting. This was apparently out of concern for the guns being unattended in the parking lot, preventing theft.
There were no serial numbers recorded, and no name tags were even affixed to the guns. He didn’t recall that anyone ever checked to see if a gun was loaded (in N.Y. state!). The guns would be retrieved by the students who simply walked into the office and pointed out their weapon which was then returned to the teenager.
A short time after this conversation, I was at a social event when I happened to meet a nice fellow from my high school graduating class. Once again, I never knew if John was a hunter in his earlier years, but in reminiscing, he mentioned the long-serving coach of the high school rifle team, Dick Giddings, and our national championship shooters. He also recalled all the guns in the parking lot or brought into school lockers for safekeeping during the day.
After more pleasant trips down memory lane, I asked a question that has been working on me for years. We had obviously been in the company of teenagers with access to guns, as had our previous generations. In addition, it was a fair bet that a lot of boys had a pocketknife in their coat or pants pocket, but knew they were not to have it in sight on school property. There were no problems that I recall in schools filled with many hundreds of kids at a time, in spite of the ready access to all these weapons. Although not often expressed in words, the responsibility taught and implied seemed to have a good effect on those entrusted with such tools by their parents.
So what happened? For the past 20 years, the disturbing regularity of school-related shootings and violence have shocked us and left us searching for answers. This is not meant to be a political forum of any kind; it’s no secret that I am a supporter of the Second Amendment and the right of competent people to defend themselves. But I’m a bit baffled by what has happened in the past couple decades.
In spite of the rhetoric on both sides of gun issues, I’m sure of just a few things: kids are going to school just like they always have. Guns are present like they always have been, although more restricted. People marching with signs have not helped the situation. Passing more laws has not helped. If you are so inclined, you can pick up a copy of the summary “Pa. Laws Pertaining to Firearms,” which is about 127 pages of dry reading about gun laws in our state alone. I guess if a person is willing to commit murder and ignore the most serious laws and penalties, they won’t be deterred by lesser crimes and punishment.
We’ve all heard the speculation as to the decline of society, morals, etc. Violent video games, social media and pressures, lack of parental guidance, mental health issues, drugs; the list goes on. So what’s to blame? I don’t have all the answers, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the fault of the old shotgun that sat in a kid’s locker, waiting for the end of the school day to go out on a squirrel hunt.