In the wake of the Colorado high school shooting it has been difficult for people like me to express ourselves publicly without immediately drawing the ire of usually moderate folk.
You see, I love guns. My dad was a collector for as long as I could remember. Except for working on the farm, most of the time I spent alone with him was spent roaming the aisles of gun shows or driving to some distant gun shop to look for a bargain. Dad, a marine in Korea, has a taste for military weapons - especially Springfields, from Civil War to Korean War versions.
I don't share his military background or his interest in collecting. I do share his love of hunting and sporting arms. It always seemed that guns were tools that needed to be used. I like the feel of a well-balanced shotgun in my hands. In these times of political correctness and polarized debates over gun control and crime, you don't often read much about the joy of bringing a Winchester Model 12 shotgun to the shoulder.
If you do, you have to wade through all kinds of ideology about the Second Amendment. When I talk about guns, the only ideological debate I care about is whether big calibers are better for hunting big game than smaller, faster rounds. I don't want to hear about Charleton Heston and Idaho Sen. Larry Craig. I want to talk about Jack
O'Connor and Elmer Keith. For those of you who didn't grow up with your face buried in Outdoor Life or Field & Stream, they were the gun experts.
Keith started his long career in guns as a guide in the Middle Fork country of Idaho. He took Zane Grey, the classic Western writer, deer hunting in 1931. He wrote hundreds of articles and nine books. Keith helped create one of the finest rifles ever made, the Winchester Model 70. He developed the handgun calibers .357 magnum, the .41 magnum, and the .44 magnum.
A plain-speaking former cowboy in a 10-gallon hat who advocated using the biggest caliber possible, Keith was asked once whether a caliber was too large. He was said to have remarked, "You mean it'll kill too dead?" But he'd never advocate hunting with machine guns.
O'Connor, often topped in a fedora, was more refined. He favored flat-shooting moderate calibers like the .270 and 30/06.
What I didn't learn about ballistics, shooting, and gun care from my Dad I learned from reading Keith, O'Connor, and another Idahoan, Clyde Ormond, a retired high school principal. Ormond taught me and thousands of others the basics of hunting and living in the outdoors in his many articles and books.
It saddens me as much as the next person to see that many young people now are more interested in the basics of bombmaking than how to stalk a deer. Weapons technology advances revolve around making guns more effective killing machines that put out more rounds faster in lighter packages, like the Uzi. Sporting arms haven't changed much, and I hope they don't.
But the utilitarian elegance of sporting arms can't hide the fact that they're killing machines. The object of their use is to kill game as quickly, efficiently, and mercifully as possible.
I don't go to gun shows anymore, and I don't keep grenades under my bed for protection as one of my Dad's friends used to do. I lean toward the civility of a well-built ailling, a double-barreled shotgun with a rifle barrel underneath favored by European hunters. I'd rather be in a duck blind than on an urban shooting range.
Do I have a right to own guns? I'll leave that up to the Supreme Court. I do know that my world would be far less rich without the tradition and link to the land they have brought me.
*Rocky Barker is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News, based in Paonia, Colo. He is the environmental reporter for the Idaho Statesman in Boise.