Gun safety is a serious responsibility. A life may depend on it.

A .22 bullet that was taken from a moose

I shot my first moose when I was 7. I grew up with guns. There was one on the porch, several in the kitchen closet and a couple in my parents’ bedroom. By the time I was 6, there was a .22 and a .410/.22 over/under in my bedroom. They were all loaded. The porch gun had one in the chamber — always. My dad said if a gun wasn’t loaded, then a pipe would be a better weapon because they swung easier.

Kids in my neck of the woods took guns to school in their trucks in case they wanted to hunt on the way home. I realize this way of thinking does not fit in the world we live in today. Why do you suppose that is?

There probably are some fairly well-thought-out theories on this. But, most likely it is a simple fact that very few of us have the same need or use of a firearm in the same way we had 50 or 60 years ago. Our family lived on the edge of the woods. The loaded gun on the porch was to keep hawks off our chickens. I hunted grouse and rabbits after school.

My dad had me shooting at tin cans when I was 5. My supply of .22 shells was almost unlimited. I could shoot anytime I chose, as long as I asked first. The .410/.22 was ammo-less for the first year. I was encouraged to carry it when I went for a walk. The idea was for me to be comfortable with a firearm and always know where the barrel was pointing.

A gun should always be pointed at the dirt unless one is planning to shoot something. A firearm is deadly. There is no such thing as a toy gun. Cap guns, dart guns and even water pistols are bad news. These “toys” teach terrible habits. People get shot and nothing happens. Kids learn that it is OK to point guns at things — just for fun. Should we wonder why little kids shoot each other accidentally?

We have easily accessible guns in our house. My girls don’t have much interest in them; a gun is just one of dad’s tools. Dad does not take his gun out and target practice for fun, any more than Dad would grab a shovel to pointlessly did a hole and then fill it back in. That doesn’t seem like fun. Play is not associated with either tool. The firearm kills things for food, and in rare cases, is used for protection. The shovel makes callouses. Taking a life, be the life grouse or moose should have no relationship to fun and games.

In the well-known film “A Christmas Story,” the kid asks for a BB gun for Christmas. His mom declares, “you will shoot your eye out.” Dad saw to it that the boy got his BB gun. Dad was wrong. Mom got it right. The kid was lucky because he wore glasses. The message in that movie was the same as most other movies: Guns are not dangerous. Ralphie, the kid in “A Christmas Story,” received no instruction on firearm use. The movie leaves you with the happy ending. Reality might be different.

All who grew up around kids that had BB guns are aware that this pointless little gun meant lots of sparrows were shot and left lay. We have firearm safety classes in Alaska. These classes are required for hunters in most of our roadside hunting units. Rightly so. Any kid that has been properly introduced to guns could breeze through one of those classes with their eyes tightly closed. Sadly, that is rarely the case in society today, even in Alaska. Parents don’t teach gun safety, they teach firearms are scary and not to be touched.

That creates curiosity. Curiosity is what killed the cat — right? I want to toss a thought out there, for the sake of discussion. Parents can teach gun familiarity. Safety is a natural product when one sees the damage even a small caliber cartridge can do. Or … we can teach that guns are strictly a tool. Our firearm is used to collect food, much the same as a trap. The gun does not point at one’s foot, nor does a trap get set off with a finger on the pan. It is possible that either of these two methods will work. A gun can be a familiar companion on a woodland hike, or a valuable tool in the right setting. Problems may arise when teaching falls somewhere in the middle of those two premises. Parents, gun safety is your responsibility. Take an active role in your child’s development around firearms; a life may depend on it.

John Schandelmeier

Outdoor opinion columnist John Schandelmeier is a lifelong Alaskan who lives with his family near Paxson. He is a Bristol Bay commercial fisherman and two-time winner of the Yukon Quest.