By Ted Wachtel
When I was 12 years, old I chose “riflery” as an optional activity at an overnight summer camp I attended in Pennsylvania. Merriam Webster defines riflery as “the practice of shooting at targets with a rifle.”
On the first day of riflery, the college age instructor, however, didn’t even take us to the rifle range. Instead, we sat under a tree as he told us stories—horrible and emotional stories—about gun accidents, which shocked us. He told us how foolish behavior, like pointing a seemingly unloaded gun at someone in fun, resulted in injury and death. He taught us, before we fired a single shot, the most important thing a person can learn about a gun—that it can kill people.
The instructor so impressed me that I never forgot his name: Jack Pickleman of Watertown, New York, was certified by the National Rifle Association—the NRA—as an instructor.
I was so proud of the NRA marksmanship medallion I earned shooting targets that summer. I think of Jack whenever I have used my clunky old .22 caliber rifle—which is rarely—on the rural property where I live; to kill a rabid fox in my backyard, or the invasive groundhog who undermined my porch with his tunnels and kept evading the trap we set.
Thanks to Jack and the NRA, I am a responsible gun owner. I carefully hide my rifle from my grandchildren, and store the ammunition in a separate location. And I invite responsible gun hunters onto our property to keep the deer population under control, so that those large herbivores don’t destroy our woods.
I learned to shoot in the years of the good old NRA—when it was dedicated to hunters, target shooters and gun safety. Before it was taken over by the gun manufacturers and paranoid people who think they’re going to use their guns against a hostile U.S. government that they fear will disarm them and take away their freedom.
Can you imagine, if that were true, trying to stand up to an armored tank or an Apache Attack Helicopter with an AR-15 rifle?
Every time someone like Obama gets elected to office, gun sales surge, on the fear that the government is coming for our guns. Every time someone like Trump gets elected, sales plummet, most recently causing the Remington Arms Company to contemplate filing for bankruptcy.
The gun manufacturers and paranoids have pushed the NRA to advocate the silly argument that gun control is a slippery slope; that you can’t put any limit on access to guns, however mild and probably ineffective, because we will inevitably slide down that slippery slope toward losing all of our guns. I appeal to the millions of NRA members who are not paranoid, to consider a new perspective.
But for the exciting rush that one gets from shooting rapid-fire rounds from a powerful semi-automatic weapon—and I am not making fun of the feeling—you don’t need weapons like that to hunt or shoot targets or protect your home; nor will such weapons readily stop an evil military force. Might we consider giving up those kinds of weapons, as gun owners have in other countries, for the sake of our fellow citizens?
Today’s NRA only serves to make Wayne LaPierre and other mouthpieces for the gun industry fabulously wealthy. Oh, how I long for the days of the good old NRA, when it was dedicated to making us safer, rather than endangering us.
– Ted Wachtel, gun owner