I grew up with guns so let’s talk about gun safety

I grew up in southern West Virginia, where the hunting culture is deeply embedded in our psyche. In my own family, my uncles never missed a deer season. In fact, all my guy friends skipped school on the first day of it to be with their fathers. My own stepfather, a former sniper in the Army, shot more than his fair share of deer.  Then in his old age, he picked off squirrels to feed a pair of nesting hawks in our backyard.

Gun safety was taught in my house

All of us knew how to shoot a .22. Gun safety was paramount. Everyone knew how to clean their guns, unload them and store them. My uncle’s guns and compound bows were in a safe harder to crack than Fort Knox. And my grandmother had a clear rule that if you killed it, you cleaned it. So after my cousin killed a squirrel at the fine age of 8, my grandmother stood over him until he finished the job. After seeing those tiny bones, guts, and gore, he didn’t hunt them anymore.

West Virginia, like many of the southern states, also has a high rate of poverty. More than 16 percent of its population experience hunger. Wild game is sometimes the only meat in many families’ freezers because they can’t afford store-bought beef. In fact, since 1992, hunters have donated over one million pounds of venison to the hungry back home.

So yes, I believe Americans can hunt legally. It’s our culture in the South.

But, owning hunting rifles is far different than using the semi-automatic assault rifles in school shootings by unstable people who should never have a gun in the first place. There have been 27 school shootings this year. There have been 119 school shootings since 2018. There have been over 200 mass shootings in 2022 alone. There are 400 million guns in our country, with 20 million of them being AR-15s. And we have the world’s loosest gun laws.

Trust me, you don’t need an AR-15 to bring down a six-point buck or armor-piercing bullets, or a 30-round clip to destroy its meat. Are regular folks who hunt going to be bent out of shape if there are background checks for criminals to keep their community safe? I seriously doubt it. In fact, over 80% of Americans support background checks. But let’s talk statistics.

• Firearms are the leading cause of death for children and teens. This is a uniquely American problem. Compared to other high-income countries, American children aged 5 to 14 are 21 times more likely to be killed with guns, and American adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 are 23 times more likely to be killed with guns.

• Approximately 3 million American children witness gun violence every year.

• 4 to 7 million school children experience active shooter lockdowns every year.  In the school year of 2017-2018 alone,  4.1 million students endured a lockdown. After these events, regardless of age, most children struggle with sleeplessness, nightmares, anxiety, headaches, stomaches, separation anxiety, loss of control of their bowels, anguish, rage, perpetual fear and many develop chronic PTSD. Some go on medication for their symptoms and many never recover, escaping their pain through alcohol and drugs.

• 1 in 4 mass shooting victims were children and teens. More than 3,500 children and teens are shot and killed and 15,000 more are shot and injured every year.

• Every day more than 40 children lose a parent to gun violence.

• Every day 110 Americans are killed with guns & more than 200 are shot and wounded with an average of 40,620 deaths per year.

• Every month, an average of 70 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner. Nearly 1 million women alive today have reported being shot or shot at by their partners, and 4.5 million women have reported being threatened with a gun by an intimate partner. In more than half of mass shootings over the past decade, the perpetrator shot a current or former intimate partner or family member as part of the rampage as reported in Uvalde and Sandy Hook. Stalking is a predictor of lethality in intimate partner relationships: One study found that 76 percent of intimate partner homicides and 85 percent of attempted homicides of women were preceded by at least one incident of stalking in the year before the attack.

• 58 percent of American adults or someone they care for has experienced gun violence in their lifetime. In fact, one of my uncles was shot by his girlfriend’s ex-husband and dragged into his house. Fortunately, the doctors saved his life. But a neighbor who was driving his daughter to school was shot by his former father-in-law and died in front of his little girl. Both incidents could have been prevented if background checks for criminal activity had been law.

The answer to these staggering numbers is not more thoughts and prayers. Nor is it arming teachers. As a former English teacher myself, the last thing I needed was a 9mm in my desk drawer that a curious child, frustrated teenager, or riled-up parent could get their hands on. And according to several studies,  “hardening” schools does not work either.

The only thing that will work is electing officials who believe saving our children is the most important task they have.

A seven-year-old should not be texting his last wishes, cowering under a desk; a nine-year-old in Uvalde shouldn’t be begging 911 to send help, nor should our middle-schoolers or teenagers be lobbying Congress or marching in the streets for their safety because the politicians don’t seem to have any inclination to protect them.

It’s our job as parents to let our elected officials know that we are tired of seeing these tiny coffins and school grounds covered with teddy bears commemorating the dead. Call or write your representatives today. Demand at the very least background checks, mandatory safe storage laws, and red flag laws.

We have to protect our kids. If we don’t stand up for them and gun safety, who will?

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Alexis Azria

Alexis Azria, a dedicated mom and passionate humanitarian, writing about the parenting issues and ethical dilemmas we face daily.

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