Go ahead, control my guns

A bow-hunter talks gun regulation.

 

Recently, I completed an all-day field course for archery hunting, a necessary prerequisite to purchasing a license to hunt elk, deer and other big game with a bow in Montana.

To earn the right to acquire a license to hunt with a bow, I had to demonstrate sufficient knowledge of the history of archery, safe bow-handling techniques and principles of shot selection, all this to show that I would be able to avoid hurting myself or my hunting partners and that I was capable of a quick, humane kill of the hunted animal. The field course was preceded by an online course and mandatory exam.

When all was said and done, I easily spent 18 or so hours getting certified, and I was happy to do so because a bow and arrow is a deadly weapon, and hunting is a privilege.

Kansas Tourism/CC Flickr

Then the news of the mass murder in Orlando, Florida, saturated the news, and I was left contemplating a bitter irony. While it took me days to prove I was capable of hunting wild animals in Montana, I could — without a minute of training or background check — enter any number of stores across America and walk out minutes later with a fully loaded, high-capacity rifle designed to mow down humans.

This experience has put the question of rights and responsibilities at the forefront of my mind. When people talk about gun control, they talk a lot about gun rights. But if owning guns is a right, it also comes with responsibilities. It boggles my mind that this is a contested principle.

The premise of the archery course that I took is that there’s a broad public interest in ensuring safe, ethical bow hunting. No one wants people wounding wildlife or slicing open their fingers on sharp, broad-head arrows. So we make hunters take a course to get certified, demonstrating that they’ve learned how to stay safe in the wild.

The same principle is involved in driving a car. There’s a broad societal interest in ensuring safety on the road, and so we all have to take a written test plus a driving test to get a license to drive.

Why is it so hard to accept the idea that society has the right to erect parameters around gun ownership, especially in light of the broad public interest in preventing the death and injury of innocent people? Gun violence last year killed over 12,000 people in the United States. That number is breathtaking. Compared to any other developed country in the world, U.S. gun-related murder rates are orders of magnitude higher.  

I don’t for a second think that gun laws alone will prevent malicious or mentally unstable people from doing horrible things. But suggesting that the easy availability of firearms in the United States — including military-grade, semi-automatic assault weapons designed to kill many people very quickly — is not a factor, is delusional.

The game warden who taught my course explained that the certification requirements and laws designed to keep bow hunting ethical in Montana came from the bow-hunting community itself. The bow hunters wanted to protect their experience, and so they worked with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to come up with intelligent regulations.

Compare that to the controversy over any proposed gun control laws, and the way that gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association instantly act to obstruct any and all reasonable requirements for gun ownership. It’s long past time for the gun community to devise solutions to help keep guns out of the hands of criminals, terrorists and anyone else intent on committing violence.

Until they step up, I find the NRA’s stance unconscionable and the whole debate about gun rights ridiculous. If you really believe that the government is out to take away all guns from average Americans, or that freedom means that individuals have the right to stockpile military-grade weapons for Armageddon, then I say you’ve been hoodwinked. You’ve been fooled by an industry that, much like the tobacco industry, has everything to gain by selling more and more of its lethal products.

If tougher gun control laws require people to jump through more hoops to get a gun, is this really a problem? The inconvenience that legitimate gun owners might face when they want to buy weapons pales in comparison to the hardships endured by families that suffer the horror of losing someone to an armed attacker.

The Second Amendment talks about a “well-regulated” militia alongside the “right to bear arms.” We have erred on the “right to bear arms” side of the equation for decades. It’s high time we paid attention to the well-regulated part. 

Amy Frykman is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. She is a clean-energy consultant in Bozeman, Montana.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at betsym@hcn.org.