My father believed there are two kinds of men. There are the hunters, who are real men by the proof that they hunt. The others are non-hunters, and I’ll leave his opinion of them to your imagination.
The men in our family were raised to be hunters – bird hunters to be exact. Being the first-born male, I started hunting with him at a very young age. I was hauled out of bed at three in the morning, dressed warmly, fed breakfast, and arrived at his favorite duck blind while it was still dark. We would scatter his large collection of decoys into an unobstructed clearing in the lake, return to the blind, keep our eyes on the sky, and then wait for the first signs of light.
Those are some of my favorite memories of being with him. In hushed conversations, he spoke to me about growing up and being a responsible person in life. He gave advice that only when I became an adult would I understand. Before long, the birds were spotted and I would use the duck caller, but dad used his perfect hand-over-mouth sound, and down they would come. I learned without question that I could never be as good a shot as he was.
As I got older, I wondered aloud to him why we didn’t deer hunt. We had the rifles but never went out. He had two reasons. The first, in his opinion, was that deer hunting wasn’t real hunting because deer follow their trails and are predictable, so where was the sport? The second was more profound. There are many responsible deer hunters, he would say, but then there are some men with rifles who go out into the woods with the need to kill. He did not want himself or any of his sons to be another story in the local newspaper about being the latest ‘accident’ of being mistaken for a deer.
I understood this many years later when I took my family and our golden retriever down a long dirt road deep into the woods where a friend was building a house with his own hands. We climbed out of the car and wandered around at this very remote building site, when three hunters with rifles over their shoulders were wandering past on a low ridge overlooking us. Unaware how far their voices were traveling, I heard one say to the others, “lets shoot the dog.” My heart stopped. If he killed the dog, he would then have to kill us! I rushed my family and our dog back into the car as fast as I could and took off, not knowing if a bullet might hit the car or one of us.
My father was a loyal and patriotic American, and because he was an aeronautical engineer who worked with the Navy on jet fighters, he also knew armaments. He knew what every one of his jets could carry and their machine gun capacity. One day I went with him to the Naval Air Station where he had a large house trailer fixed to the ground not far from the tarmac. It was always loud with jets taking off and landing. Unknown to me, he also knew much about the world because he had access to classified material. On that day of my visit, I later learned, he was standing there at the classified “TWIX” machine when he read that the Soviet Union was sending missiles to Cuba. Without being told a word, I was taken home and he went back to the base. His squadrons would be among the first deployed.
When I finally heard of the showdown between America and the Soviet Union, I was very frightened and told my father that we needed to get our rifles ready because some of the neighborhood boys said that the Russians were going to invade America. They will be in the streets gunning for us! He sat me down and quietly told me not to be afraid or to believe any of the nonsense I was hearing. It will never happen. The Russians will turn around, he said. They will turn around because they are not so stupid as to pick a fight with the greatest and strongest nation the world has ever known. We don’t need to get our rifles out. Everything will be fine, he said, because we lived in America and our government will protect us. Of course, he turned out to be right.
My dad called it. He was a genius!
I tell you all of this because my father, a patriot, a hunter, a Republican, and an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment, did not believe anyone but the U.S. military should ever own or have access to semi-automatic assault rifles. There was no place for them in the hands of civilians. He believed in background checks for all gun owners. This patriot and hunter knew that assault rifles were not for hunting. To put such weapon in the hands of people like those who were impersonating ‘deer hunters’ would be inviting disaster and carnage. Any talk of the National Rifle Association would lead to his well-reasoned and rational dismissal of an organization that preyed on the fears of the ignorant.
Most of all, this patriot and hunter believed that it was unfathomable to think or even consider the need to own semi-automatic weapons to defend oneself against our government. The notion that greatest democratic nation in the history of planet Earth would ever turn against it’s own people was preposterous. End of discussion.
My father, the patriot and hunter, passed away more than twenty years ago. He, of course, knew all about what could happen. He foresaw Sandy Hook and all the other atrocities if assault weapons were not banned, guns and rifles easily obtained, and background checks were not the law.
My dad called it. As I said, he was a genius.