Note to readers: Scott Reeder first wrote this column nine years ago. Much has changed in those years. His oldest daughter is now 12 and has two sisters. But much hasn’t changed. The nation’s debate on the role of guns in society continues.
SPRINGFIELD — I took my 3-year-old daughter, Grace, fishing the other day.
We talked about the ducks, geese and boats floating in the lake, her favorite cartoons and the brand-new Barbie life jacket she was wearing.
After about three hours wiggling on a dock staring at a bobber that refused to go under, she exclaimed "I think all of the fish have gone on vacation to a different lake."
But since then, she has begged me to take her fishing again.
I guess uninterrupted time with Dad was more important than how many bluegills we reeled in.
So I took her to a "big box" sporting goods store and let her pick out her very own fishing pole. She chose one with the cartoon character SpongeBob embossed on the reel.
After loading the fishing pole into the cart we wandered into the firearms section.
I occasionally hunt, but more often than not with two kids and a busy job I just don’t have the time.
I have about as much passion for the 12-gauge shotgun locked in my closet as I do for the hammer on my workbench or the tire iron in my SUV. They are just tools, nothing more.
This retailer didn’t put firearms behind a counter like in most stores. Instead, the guns were attached to tethers so customers could hold them unsupervised — but not walk away with them.
What I saw that day and in an earlier visit to the store, frightened me.
A couple of junior high kids were playing with a rifle and pointed it toward me and other customers.
I remembered my father’s admonitions when I was their age:
— "Never point a gun at something you don’t plan to kill.”
— "Always assume a gun is loaded."
— "Never count on a gun’s safety."
I started handling guns when I was 9 or 10. A reverent respect for firearms was instilled in me by my father and older brother. I see that same deference to guns in my nephew and many other young hunters.
But I didn’t see that same quiet respect in those teenagers at the store. Instead of tools for harvesting game they seemed to view guns as macho playthings.
Some of the "adults" shopping in the gun department weren’t much different.
They were oooing and awing over guns dolled up to look like military weapons. (The gun control crowd likes to call them "assault weapons.")
There’s a word for all those "assault weapon" add-ons like — bayonet holders, detachable magazines and pistol grips — it is called "marketing."
Just as my 3-year-old thought a "SpongeBob" fishing reel would be "way cool" these fellows seemed drawn to firearms with macho doodads attached.
Here’s a hint, guys:
— They don’t fire off bullets any faster than a regular hunting rifle.
— Wildlife doesn’t care what the gun looks like (and neither does your wife.)
— If you need more than 10 bullets in your rifle, you must be a pretty lousy shot.
— It’s OK to go out in public wearing something other than camouflage — really.
And to urban lawmakers who keep trying to ban "assault weapons:" these guns aren’t any more deadly than what hunters have carried for generations. And the more you shout, the more guns are sold to people afraid they will soon be banned.
The problem isn’t what the guns look like — it’s who is behind the trigger.
That’s a problem that won’t be solved by passing another law in Springfield. It can only be solved with good parenting.
Have all the good parents gone on vacation?
- SCOTT REEDER is a veteran statehouse journalist, who has covered government for almost 30 years. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area, where he lives with his wife and three daughters. He can be reached at ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.