Over the last 20+ years, I’ve attended hundreds of events where people dress up in 1800’s attire and, especially the men, carry a “hog leg” or two on their side. At many of these events “shootin” actually takes place.
The majority of these people are shooting real bullets competitively either by knocking down metal targets or putting holes in paper. Others are re-enactors performing Old West scenarios, as well as comic skits. These guys and gals shoot blanks. And even with blanks, they aim to the right or left of the other people in the scenario.
One of the things I’ve been impressed with is the level of gun safety for both the competitors shooting live ammunition and re-enactors shooting blanks.
The only time a gun is pulled from the holster is on the firing line or during a performance. And after a person has completed a shooting event, the pistols are emptied.
Many times the re-enactment shows start with a demonstration of the dangers involved with firearms. They explain that even though they are using blanks, any firearm is dangerous. The groups take an aluminum soda can, and holding a pistol near the can, they fire a blank into it. The can will not only fly about ten yards, it normally ends up in two pieces. They will then take a shotgun and shoot it into an empty gallon plastic milk carton. The carton would also be torn into pieces.
The re-enactment groups also show young people, by demonstration, what they should do if they find a firearm, which is not to touch the firearm, but immediately tell an adult about it.
The number of deaths of adults at the hands of firearms is sad. But the number of deaths of young people is tragic. Other than gang and school vengeance shootings, almost all of the young people who are shot by firearms happen as the result of either the young person, or one of their friends, not understanding that guns will kill.
I can remember getting my first gun as a 10 year-old. It was a BB gun. My father explained to me that it could hurt people and shoot out windows. I never did the former, but I did do the latter. I also remember the punishment.
As well, I can also remember the time I saw a sparrow in a nearby tree. I cocked the gun, aimed and shot. The sparrow fell to the ground. I was as surprised as if I had pointed my finger at it, said “Bang!” and the sparrow had fallen to the ground. I walked over to the bird and picked it up. That was the time I realized guns will kill.
Although I still have firearms, I’m a hunter and I have a conceal firearm permit, I have never pointed a gun at a human. Even when I’m cleaning a gun that is in five different pieces, I cannot point the barrel of the gun at anyone. It is a barrier I will not allow myself to cross.
Today with TV, movies and video games allowing a young person to hold a replica gun and shoot it at a monster that comes back to life the next time they push the start button, kids develop the feeling that shooting a gun is similar to pointing a finger and saying “Bang!” And too many of them find it isn’t so.
I believe each adult — particularly parents of children — whether they have firearms or not, should make sure young people understand guns kill, and teach young people what they should do if they encounter a firearm. If nothing else, take your kids to a gun range and let the range master show them the destructive power of firearms.
Don’t let a firearm be the end of the trail for a young person.
Dakota Livesay is a local columnist and historian. “This Week in the Old West,”appears in The Independent every week, and his newspaper, Chronicles of the Old West is published monthly. Find out more at Chroniclesoftheoldwest.com