I’m a lifelong ‘gun guy,’ but the Florida shooting has changed my mind

On the early morning of Feb. 15, the Labs, the setters and I headed to the shop, where we hung out for a few hours. The ritual includes listening to the 550 AM Anchorage radio station, an ESPN affiliate that airs a show from South Florida. It's a program hosted by a very bright fellow who doesn't really like to talk about sports much. Rather, he talks of social and cultural issues in a humorous and intelligent manner and he isn't afraid to get controversial.

But that morning he told his listeners, who were no doubt expecting it, that he would not be discussing the recent school shooting in South Florida, and wouldn't entertain calls or other talk of it. He added that there was no reason from either side of the gun control debate and it was impossible to have a reasonable discussion of the subject.

The rhetoric of the extreme ends of the argument demands attention, as sensationalism always does. The shootings continue, and it seems as if much of the population backs away, knowing that any attempt at reason will bring abuse on social media. Perhaps worse, the broken bodies of children aren't even cold before the extremists start firing insults across the bows of the fallen. It's disgusting.

Instead of reasonable discussion and problem-solving, the extremists lock onto the object, the black gun or AR-15. One side argues that no one should have one — the other, that everyone should. And yet these two extremes find themselves in agreement on some of the things that could, perhaps, solve some of this. It seems the only way to be heard is as a member of one "camp" or another.

The reports on the deranged perpetrator (if you can walk into a school and shoot children, you are deranged by any definition) indicate there was something not right with him. There were multiple police visits to his home, and an internet posting that he was "going to be a school shooter" was brought to the attention of the FBI. The warning signs were there, as they almost always are.

So, for argument let's say the FBI or the local police, armed with this knowledge, swooped in and removed his guns and insisted he be evaluated and kept under close watch. In an instant, one extreme side would scream a violation of civil liberties. Just because he is clearly mentally deranged, he still has rights. The other extreme would holler from the roof about his inviolable right to own his guns. After all, he answered the questions on the yellow form and passed a background check that made him fit for gun ownership.

Some may recall that a while back, a man who committed another mass shooting in Florida had previously had contact with the Anchorage Police Department and there were some questions of his mental state, but not enough to take significant action.


Individual judgment, for fear of accusation of police misconduct or heavy-handed judicial decisions or even hurting someone's feelings, has been all but removed from the equation. Erring on the side of caution has been usurped by individual freedom, even at the cost of children's lives.

The pro-gun extremists offer that there are already gun laws that would keep citizens safe if they were enforced. The other side wants more gun laws and ignores the reality that some places with strict gun laws also have high crime rates.

But none of that matters much. Since the millennium, it is as if people have become gun-crazed. Well over 10 million AR-15s have been put into public circulation and gun purchases were at record numbers until the Trump administration took over and the fearmongering promoted by the gun industry didn't hold as much water.

Isn't it ironic that the gun control lobby and its promotion of politicians who were in favor of gun control prompted the most significant influx of private gun ownership we have ever seen? Not hunting guns or target-shooting firearms, but the civilian equivalent of commando weapons promoted by the motion picture industry that glorifies them. Assault-type firearms are in vogue these days.

For most of my life I never bought the idea that what people saw on TV or in the news molded their behavior. For me it never did, but it seems I was being a bit naïve. It now seems clear that people are influenced by what they see and some are willing to act it out. And the means to do so is readily available.

I can't explain why this most recent tragedy in Florida has tipped the scale for me. I know I've had conflicting emotions regarding guns in America for the last ten years or so. Always being a "gun guy," I've made some of the rhetorical arguments that I now find distasteful.

But as one goes through life and something slaps you in the face often enough, you get tired of it and you start looking for ways to make it stop. Every news story that comes across the wire involving these mass shootings is a slap in the face. People are turning what I have loved, respected and honored into something evil. Shooting children in their schools, for God's sake.

The new, unspoken mantra of the hunting world is that no matter how distasteful a particular hunting act might be, so long as it is legal, we are supposed to support it. I don't agree. It is the same with the gun world: Gun owners are to be defended at all costs. I don't agree with that either.

I've written about the AR-15 and assault rifles in general in the past. I've alluded to having a distaste for them in the hunting world. But I've pointed out some of the virtues they may have for folks who do use them and say they're not assault rifles if they're not capable of automatic fire. I was staying in role. The truth: It disturbs me to see these guns, used in mass shootings, having any connection to the hunting and sport shooting world.

I'm not buying it anymore. I'm stealing away, running from camp, out into the darkness where one resolves issues with clear thought instead of cheerleading. The phrase so often touted — "Guns don't kill people; people kill people" — may be technically true, but it only echoes around the graveyards of the dead if we aren't doing something to stop those people.

We Alaskans who use guns in daily life for hunting, target shooting and personal protection seem insulated from the rest of the world. We cringe when anyone suggests gun control measures that may be perceived as a threat to our lifestyle.

Alaska is among the few places left in America where people do use guns in their daily lives. Alaskans are not giving up their guns without a fight. But that doesn't mean we can't start a reasonable dialogue.

I write this as a challenge, not to gun control advocates or to the pro-gun lobby, but to you, the reasonable men and women who own guns for hunting, for sporting purposes or simply to protect yourself and your loved ones. The challenge is to brainstorm and come up with reasonable and viable solutions to the gun problem in America.

Like the radio host suggested, a reasonable conversation is unattainable with zealots. It's time for the reasonable people to be heard.

Steve Meyer | Alaska outdoors

Steve Meyer of Kenai is longtime Alaskan and an avid shooter who writes about guns and Alaska hunting. He's the co-author, with Christine Cunningham, of the book "The Land We Share: A love affair told in hunting stories."