It turned out I was a very good shot. I still have the target that won me a ribbon in the 4-H competition in 1968. I found it in my scrapbook along with the blue ribbon I received for my banana nut bread that year. I actually have several target sheets in my collection, accumulated over a couple of years of 4-H camps.
I was praised by the adults around me for my shooting abilities and encouraged to practice. I loved hitting the bulls-eye of the target, so I eagerly agreed.
|My award winning 4-H target|
I shot a few cans off the rail, each shell making a satisfying ping as it found its target. I was firing a shotgun that day. I didn't really like it because it was big and kicked me in the shoulder when I pulled the trigger. We were about to leave when my dad pointed to a dark spot on the hillside. It was much further away than the cans on the fence, but he said he thought I could hit it. He said I was a great shot.
I loved being praised for my shooting ability. I don't remember even wondering what the dark spot was. All I remember is lifting the gun, peering through the sight at the spot, and firing. The dark spot disappeared.
My dad suggested we go see what it was. I didn't much care, as I was ready to go home, but I trudged up the dry hill after him, navigating around sagebrush and cactus. When we reached the location where the dark spot had been, I saw them: feathers. Brown and black and white feathers, spread across the hillside.
It was an owl, he said. Its body had probably been blown apart, he said, by the shell exploding inside the bird. I didn't hear anything after that, since my stomach was twisting and I turned and ran, overcome with guilt.
I had killed. I had not intended to kill, but that seemed beside the point. I had done it.
It had never occurred to me that all these shooting lessons were training to be a hunter. I hadn't wanted to be a hunter. What I wanted was the praise of my father and my 4-H leader.
I never picked up a gun after that. In less than a second I had gone from shooting paper targets and cans to being a killer. I could not change what I had done, or who I had become, but I could vow to walk away from the gun culture, the one that glorifies shooting and hunting and vigorously defends our "right" to bear arms.
Advocates of "gun rights" talk about a slippery slope that will ensue if we begin banning certain classes of weapons or types of ammunition. Our right to bear arms will be taken away, they say. The "sport" of hunting will be threatened, they say.
Very little hunting that occurs in our country is undertaken for the purpose of putting food on the table. We need to be honest about the true purpose of this "sport," and ask those who defend hunting why they find it is necessary to kill other living creatures in order to have fun. There is another slippery slope, the one we begin sliding down when we confuse hunting for food with killing for pleasure. This is the truly dangerous slippery slope.
It is true that we, homo sapiens, are predators. Our place in the food chain is at the top and we must kill living things, either plant or animal or both, to survive. Joseph Campbell has said that the one, horrible truth of the cycle of existence that we all must embrace is that other living things must die so that we may live. When we take the life of another living thing for food, in order that we can live, we must do it in a humane and reverent way.
In these few days since the horrific killings in Newtown, Connecticut, many have called for action. Where to draw the line between guns we don't need and those we supposedly do need is being debated. I personally see no use for guns of any kind in our society, except in the hands of the police. A total ban on weapons would be fine with me.