This blog is about reading great books, but there is another conversation going on right now, and I feel like there is something missing from it. I will continue talking about the books, but will add a few other thoughs into the mix.
Since the mass shootings at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, there has been a lot of talk about gun control. The discussion has devolved into two irrational camps shouting at each other.
On the pro-gun control side, the argument is that guns are only for killing people and have no place in private hands. On the anti-gun control side, the argument is that people need to own guns for self-defense, fighting foreign invaders, or defending against a tyranny imposed by our own government.
These arguments do not represent me, and I don’t think they take into account most gun owners in the United States. So, I want to talk about why I own guns to maybe add something to the discussion that has been unheard.
In my house, right now, we own two .22 caliber, bolt-action rifles. One was left to me by my grandfather, and the other I bought for my wife. We own these guns because we wanted to take part in summer biathlons and be able to practice outside of races.
For those who don’t know, the summer biathlon combines running and shooting. The winter biathlon combines cross country skiing and shooting. It is an exciting sport to watch and participate in because it is a race determined both by speed and skill.
In the summer biathlon, I run an 800-meter course, and come into the shooting range. There I have 5 shots to hit five targets at 50 meters. If lying prone, the targets are the size of a silver dollar. If standing, they are the size of a compact disk. The targets are steel knock-down targets, so when they are hit, they flip from black to white. The competitor knows instantly if they have hit or missed. For every miss, before you start the next 800 meter run, you have to run a 100-meter penalty loop. It pays to run fast, but it also pays to shoot well. There are five loops plus penalty laps from four shooting stages.
This sport is a wonderful challenge because you run as fast as you can, and then you need to calm your breathing and heartbeat and take your best shots. It is a test of physical fitness and your ability to center yourself.
While doing this sport, I have met a lot of wonderful people who are concerned about two primary things: safety and fun. Before every event, there is a safety lecture. The two rules are nobody gets shot and everyone has fun. The people are interested in helping one another learn a new sport and get better at it. They are not gun nuts, they are athletes.
I have also had the good fortune to be on the summer biathlon course with an Olympic athlete from the winter biathlon. This is not because I am so good. It is because the sport is democratic enough that Olympians will come by local competitions.
My wife and I tried biathlon because she had seen it at Salt Lake City Olympics. We had borrowed guns from the host club for our first event. In the car on the way home she said to me, “We have to get rifles. We need to practice.”
So we got licenses and bought her a rifle.
Since then we have joined a gun club to target shoot to prepare for the summer events. We’d like to do the winter biathlon at some point as well. We have also talked about doing just target shooting events. The sport of target shooting develops discipline and self-control, traits that can carry over into other parts of your life, and the practice of maintaining your equipment, your guns, further improves that discipline.
I am not alone. There are a lot of gun owners like me out there: people concerned with sporting and personal excellence. But we are left out of the gun debate. I will write more on the issues surrounding the topics of guns in America to explain how someone in my position sees these issues. But next time, I will explain exactly how I got a license to own a gun.