Gun Control? People Control? How To Teach?

Twenty-four years ago, I had a thought about “gun control.”

Back in 1994, a young guy brought a gun to an after school dance at the DuBois YMCA. My younger daughter had been at that dance.

Nothing further of substance happened. The gun was taken, the youth was handled … nobody got killed.

But quite a few people, myself included, were bothered.

“Gun control” bothers me. I wrote a column back then, arguing that we need people control. Guns are tools, dangerous tools (as are chain saws and dynamite), but tools nonetheless.

My guns cannot kill anyone right now. Impossible. Cannot happen.

Why not?

I take sensible precautions.

The details are my business. There is a reason why “concealed carry” works better than open carry for self-defense while avoiding rash challenges: Nobody really knows who is carrying what. That breeds restraint, or ought to.

As I write this, nobody is within reach of my stored guns. That is effective “gun control.”

Therein lies the truth of the cliche, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” In 50 years as a journalist, 75 years of living, I have never heard of a rifle, shotgun or handgun spontaneously exploding. I have heard about loaded guns, usually rifles or shotguns, discharging after having been carelessly leaned against walls or vehicles. That was not “spontaneous.” It was stupidity, caused by people, not the guns themselves.

I do believe in sensible limits to the Constitutional right (not privilege) of “bearing arms.” My limit stops well short of legal ownership of an M1A1 Abrams battle tank in combat-ready condition. Heck, my personal right to bear arms stops well short of ownership of a semi-automatic or full-auto rifle, shotgun or handgun — not because of the Constitution, not because of any laws, but because I am a Clint Eastwood fan and I myself made the don’t-own decisions.

“A man’s got to know his limitations,” Eastwood’s character, “Dirty Harry” Callahan, iconically said in the movie “Magnum Force,” along with “Nothing wrong with shooting as long as the right people get shot.”

I know my limitations. I know that, at my age and skill level, I am not trustworthy that “the right people” would get shot or the wrong people would not get shot were I to cut loose with a rapid-fire weapon. I stick with more deliberate firing rates. You might choose differently. That’s OK — if you know your limitations.

My personal “gun control” comes back to what it always comes back to, which is “people control.”

In that long-ago column, I revisited my lifelong close association with guns. Why, I mused rhetorically, had I not shot and killed one of my best friends, Pat Hartnett, during our childhood? Pat and I were thick as thieves, with one exception: He walloped me, or nearly so, just about every day for five or six years.

I knew where Dad kept Grandpa’s revolver. At age 10, I secretly played with that revolver. To my retrospective horror, I could have used it to shoot Pat.

Then again, Pat and I shared confidences. I knew that Pat also knew where his Dad kept the .30-30 deer rifle, and Pat secretly played with that weapon. I had access. He had access.

So … deterrence through childhood acceptance of the theory of mutually assured destruction?

I wrote in 1994 that such might have been the case back in 1957 or so when Pat and I engaged in our daily wrestle-punch-grab tussles.

But I also wrote, back in 1994, that Pat and I stopped short of grabbing guns because we knew something else at first hand.

We knew that dead is dead.

By 1957, both Pat and I had hunted. He had killed deer. I had killed squirrels and grouse. We had seen them die (death by shooting is usually not instantaneous, movie versions aside). We had cut them open, seen what bullets or shotgun pellets did to internal organs. We had seen deer hung on clothesline T-poles, great red holes gaping where their innards had been.

I wonder about the school shooters. Did they know, at first hand, that dead is dead?

Most of us know as children that Wile E. Coyote does not die during those thousand-foot falls while pursuing his cartoon nemesis, the Road Runner. Coyote does not die because Coyote does not live. It is a cartoon, fiction. Movie “deaths” are fiction, too. The “victims” get up and go eat lunch or supper, get on with their lives.

But in real life, dead is dead.

There is something sobering about holding a dead squirrel, or positioning a dead deer for evisceration. What is happening is final.

I don’t know if knowing that at first hand would deter pre-adult school shooters. I do think it solidified my knowledge that using guns to settle fights is unacceptable in real life.

How, though, do we teach that?

Therein lies a good part of the solution to what we need to do for “gun control.”

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Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: