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Things were so different

Published August 31. 2013 09:00AM

I'm 8 years old, and lying on my tummy, the scuffed toes of my Keds scraping the dirt. I breathe in the damp, earthy scent of the surrounding woods as I reach into a small cardboard box of shiny brass 22 bullets.

I carefully load a bullet into the chamber of the rifle I'm holding, snap the bolt closed, and aim at a paper target some 15 yards away.

I try to hold as still as possible so I can center the site at the tip of the barrel as perfectly as possible.

My sights lined up, I wait for the voice of Susan, one of my favorite camp counselors, to give the order to fire. I hold my breath, then slowly exhale as I gently ease back on the trigger. The loud crack as the bullet spins down the barrel still startles me, even after six weeks of almost daily practice.

After each of the children in my group fires, we each put down our rifle and stand up. Given the OK to check our targets, my best friend Judy and I race to the paper targets to see how we did. After comparing our targets, we pick up the scattered shell casings, and then clean our rifles and put them back onto the racks.

Later, sitting cross-legged on my bunk bed in our rustic wooden cabin, I write the required letter home, proudly sharing my good score with my gentle, pretty mother, herself a darn good shot.

The previous summer, a teenage neighbor, Teddy, pinged my leg with a BB shot from his garage window as I stood in my back yard. The matter was promptly addressed by my father, who had a chat with Teddy's father. Teddy apologized to me, and his prized BB gun, a recent Christmas present, was noted for its conspicuous absence for the following month or so.

No one called the police, nor did my parents sue Teddy's. As far as I know, a chastened Teddy, once his gun was returned to him, shot only at paper targets and the tin cans he lined up against the side of the garage.

Lesson learned.

How dramatically our society has changed since that summer 54 years ago.

Try to imagine either of those scenarios today. Lawyers representing camp owners would be dropping from heart attacks brought on by liability suits, and Teddy would have been hauled off to jail.

I often wonder why there were so few incidents of teenagers intentionally shooting classmates, family members or strangers in the 1950s and 1960s, when guns were much more prevalent and gun safety was rarely a topic of discussion. A rifle rack in the living room, or in Dad's den, was commonplace then.

I certainly don't have the answer. Is it the increasing fragmentation and alienation of our nation as a whole? Is it because civil discourse on every level has devolved into overreaction and screaming matches? Is it because parents and children now go their separate ways right from the start, with few families even getting together for meals? Is it our children's relentless immersion in violent video games, movies and television shows? Is it that the government has taken such unprecedented control of parenting? Is it the economy?

Who knows?

But whatever the reason, I think we'd better get to work to figure out how to change it.


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