Letter to the Editor - Feb. 14

February 14, 2011

Armed forces provides guidance on where to draw line on responsible gun ownership

To the editor:

This letter is in response to Art Callaham’s column of Jan. 23. In that piece, Mr. Callaham challenged readers to think about where to draw the line regarding responsible gun ownership.

Let me start by saying that I grew up in the rural, agricultural Washington County of the 1950s and 1960s. There was certainly a gun culture then and it was dominated by long firearms. These guns were usually of single- or two-shot capacity. My father had a double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun he used for hunting small game, and protecting livestock from stray dogs. Today, I still use his ancient .22 rifle to control an always active groundhog population that puts holes in my pastures, and tries to eat my garden.

The gun culture I observe today seems very different from those bygone days. Our evening news is now filled with stories of our fellow citizens shooting each other as opposed to dogs or varmints. The new culture seems to be dominated by a desire to own concealable pistols and military assault weapons of high round capacity. In simple terms, the firepower of today’s gun culture is many times that of previous generations.  

So where do we draw the line? I don’t know the exact point. However, I think we can take some guidance from how our armed forces handle lethal weapons.  

As part of my service commitment, I went through basic training at Fort Campbell, Ky. Much of this duty involved weapons training. The Army took a lot of time making sure each soldier understood how his rifle worked and how to operate it safely.  

In addition, the Army took a number of precautions to assure large numbers of recruits trained safely together. For example, each trainee was assigned a specific rifle for the eight weeks of basic training.

On days when we were scheduled to go to the firing range, our company reported to a locked arms room, and drew our rifles from other soldiers who were assigned the duty of keeping permanent track of our company’s weapons. Woe be it to the soldier who returned to the arms room on a given night with a different weapon than the one with which he started the day.

In addition, during our training exercises, the Army was very tight-fisted with the ammunition. We were given carefully measured allotments for each firing exercise.  When we exited the firing range we were expected to report to our instructors “no brass, no ammo, drill sergeant.” In summary, the Army imposed some reasonable controls relative to the environment in which it operated.  

The point here is that the Army definitely recognized the difference between a battlefield and an army base surrounded by small town America. I’ll reassert that I don’t know the exact circumstances under which our society should insist on some rules regarding gun use.

However, I believe the time has come for reasonable citizens to insist on a sober dialogue about this issue. And the starting point for this discussion is to acknowledge the fact that America is not a battlefield and should not become one for its citizens.

John L. Schnebly

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