Young Americans have no way of knowing how much we have given up in the way of freedoms due to the never-ending propensity of Congress to pass laws as if they were the answer to everything. One law that radically changed how firearms are bought and sold in America was the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act enacted in November 1993.
Federal laws were already on the books prohibiting certain classes of people from owning firearms, but the Brady Act brought us background checks. Among those prohibited from owning or even having guns after implementation of the Brady Act were those under 18 years of age. When I wanted to give my grandsons shotguns, like my father and grandfathers did me, I had to give them to their fathers with a federal form recording each transaction.
My family life may not have been typical throughout the United States, but it certainly wasn’t exceptional outside of the major metropolitan areas. I know we old guys like to talk about the “good ole days” so you’ve probably heard some of this, but I like to remind people how important it is to at least slow down, if not stop, the erosion of freedoms we experience at the hands of progressives.
The summer I was seven years old my family moved onto a small farm that had a 3-acre pond filled with bass and bluegills surrounded by a wooded area full of squirrels. The whole family fished that pond every Saturday and we had fish fries every Saturday night. When summer ended, and hunting season began Dad gave me the shotgun that was his as a little boy and began patiently teaching me to hunt squirrels. I say patiently, because the key to hunting squirrels without a dog is finding a good spot and being very still until the squirrels start stirring.
That first year I only hunted with Dad. But when the next season rolled around I was trusted to hunt alone. I was eight years old. That single shot .410 shotgun was the only gun I had until I was 11, but that year I acquired not one, but two, .22 rifles. I spent part of that summer on the rifle range at boy scout camp earning NRA junior marksmanship awards. As the camp season ended some of the camp’s aging rifles were offered for sale as surplus. I bought two of the rifles I had been using for my qualifications, a Remington 514, bolt-action single-shot and a magazine-fed Marlin 70. No adult was required for this transaction and the cost was a whopping $2 for the Remington and $4 for the Marlin. I still have both of those guns today and enjoyed practicing my gunsmith skills replacing lost or worn parts to make them excellent shooters.
That same October Dad gave me his Winchester Model 12 16-gauge pump. I was in the 5th grade. Dad simply said I’d use it more than he would so I might as well start taking care of it. My cousins and I hunted squirrel, dove, quail, duck and deer. Two of my uncles had bird dogs, one a pointer and the other a setter. Both men were cotton farmers and cattlemen. Between “laying by” and picking time, hunting was a priority to put meat on the table. I hunted with my Winchester pump, one of my cousins had a 20-gauge Franchi, the other two had Sears and Roebuck double barrels. My uncles both owned Browning A5s which to us were known simply as Browning Automatics. That was the shotgun the adults had and the kids longed for. I didn’t get mine until I was well over 60.
The first gun I bought myself was .22 High-Standard Double-Nine revolver. I started working at an early age and at 15 had earned enough money to walk into the local hardware store and plunk down $45 to make that gun mine. No kidding. No paperwork. No questions, not even, “Does your Dad know you’re buying this gun?” Of course he did. What kid would try to hide something like that from his father?
We didn’t have gun stores in the small towns. We bought guns at hardware stores, Sears or the Bait Shop, which was a general-purpose sportsman’s hangout with a coffee bar/lunch counter for bragging and tall tales plus minnows, worms, rods, reels, ammo and a few guns for sale.
Hunting to put food on the table wasn’t the only thing my cousins and I did with our guns. We shot Crows and Blue Jays that attacked my grandmother’s pecan trees. Christmas time always came with a special request to gather Mistletoe for decorations. Gathering Mistletoe was done by shooting it out of trees with a .22. The trick is to aim carefully at the base of the Mistletoe sprout and if you place your shot correctly, the parasitic plant comes tumbling down.
Shooting a .22 into the trees required great care and even as youngsters we were taught we were responsible for every shot fired and warned that a .22 round could travel a mile or more. We knew to never fire a rifle or pistol without a suitable backstop. Most of us youngsters dreamed of owning a Savage 24 over/under with a .22 barrel on top and a .410 barrel on the bottom. If the squirrel was out on a limb with no suitable backstop, we could shoot him with the .410 barrel. But if he was in front of a good backstop, you could save a lot of meat by a clean .22 shot to the head. Well, we all believed we could do that, but buying that over/under was out of reach for most of us.
Every family I knew owned a shotgun for every male member of the family, and most families had a .22 rifle. If they were serious deer hunters, they would own some type of centerfire rifle. My dad didn’t hunt deer so instead of a rifle I hunted deer with slugs in my shotgun.
One of the badges of manhood for a young man was a pickup truck with a gun rack in the back window. Mine was a 1950 Ford F1 and my gun rack held one of the .22s and the 16-gauge pump. We drove these trucks to school with guns in the rack and parked them unlocked with the windows down and the key in the ignition. There was a Gun and Rod Club at school and if a kid was lucky enough to have acquired a new hunting gun he was expected to bring it to school and show it off during the Gun and Rod Club meeting.
Plinking was a favorite pastime and something I often did with my girlfriend who enjoyed shooting as much as I did, but had no guns in her family. Finding shooting places was never a problem. You could drive out of town on any road and within a mile or two you could find a place to pull off and shoot against a solid clay bank or into a sand ditch or gully. The northeast section of our county was mostly National Forest, which at that time had no rules against shooting anywhere. After all, it was public land. Ammo was cheap, 50 cents for a box of 22 short, 55 cents for a box of long and 60 cents for long rifle.
My mother’s family were all cattlemen and farmers with adjacent farms, so I could walk out the back door and walk or ride a horse all day and never leave land that I wasn’t welcome to shoot or hunt on. We hunted when the seasons were open, other times we shot for fun. One favorite pastime was dropping soda cans or lightweight bottles from the upstream side of a bridge over a creek or small river then going across the bridge to the downstream side and shooting to sink the cans as bottles as they floated past.
My dad had a Smith and Wesson Model 10 which he kept in his sock drawer. He got it because he was empowered to enforce game laws in the state, but he never carried it. I knew where it was and felt free to take it on hunting, fishing, camping, or just rambling trips for snake protection or for a bit of higher powered plinking.
Those of you reading this who take today’s environment in stride may think it would be dangerous to return to a lifestyle as I’ve described it. Others who live in rural areas may still be able to experience a lot of what I’m describing. Thank God we still have some open lands and places to shoot. When I moved to the city 40 years ago, the fact that I had to pay to find a place to shoot was a shock. Now there are two gun ranges back in my small town in Mississippi. National Grasslands and National Forests have rules and limits on where you can shoot. Landowners lease their land for hunting rights.
Buy some land if you can. Teach your kids to respect and use firearms and vote to protect our freedoms, especially the first and second amendments.