The right to owning a firearm is not a gift

Published 4:35 pm Saturday, May 18, 2013

Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster

I did a bit of research before writing this column, not enough to make me an expert, but certainly enough to know I could kill someone faster with a withering stare than I could with a single shot musket in 1791 when United States citizens were granted the right to bear arms.

I read enough to know that everybody wants a date with the second amendment and she’s bought and sold like a…well, let’s just say most of those dates start like this.

“What’s your name, honey?”

“What do you want it to be?

Sorry if I offended some of your Sunday morning sensibilities.

But I also read in the New England Journal of Medicine that in this country guns kill twice as many young people as cancer and 15 times as many as infection. That’s what I found offensive. We should all find that offensive because we are not a country of child soldiers and roaming militias — yet. We’re a country of Brita water filters and preschool waiting lists. We should be better than this.

If we can’t agree on background checks, what constitutes a well-regulated militia, whether guns kill people or people kill people — at last check people killed people with guns — then can we at least agree that we should keep guns out of the hands of kids?

I’m not talking about the teenager who’s taking a gun safety course this year, so he can go deer hunting with his dad. I’m talking about children, like the 5-year-old in Kentucky who shot his 2-year-old sister with a birthday gift. Now that little girl is dead.

The gun used in that particular accident is marketed to children as “My First Rifle” by Keystone Sporting Arms. It’s a small single shot .22-caliber rifle called the Crickett, and it even comes in pink for the precocious little girl out there who wants to shoot someone too. We should be better than this.

I grew up in a house of guns. There were guns hanging by the woodstove in the basement, guns hanging over the fireplace in the family room and way upstairs there was a room with guns sprouting from every available patch of wall. Surrounded as I was by rifles, shotguns and handguns, I never noticed them. They belonged to my dad and weren’t mine to touch, so I didn’t. None of them was loaded except for the one in the nightstand next to the bed, but I didn’t touch that one either.

Lately I’ve been wondering why I left the guns alone. There were lots of things that belonged to my dad that I wasn’t supposed to play with, but it didn’t stop me from breaking the crystal on his pocket watch or losing one of the pearl chopsticks he brought back from Japan.

My dad didn’t think guns belonged in the hands of kids. He’d learned to use a gun early because he didn’t eat if he couldn’t shoot his dinner. That was the Great Depression, and his rifle wasn’t a toy. It was a tool of survival. I didn’t have to hunt for food. Therefore, I didn’t need a gun in my hand.

I wasn’t allowed to have toy guns either. In the summer my squirt toys were in the shapes of fish. When I did have a toy that shot ping-pong balls or some other innocuous ammunition, I couldn’t point it at anything but a target. Pretending to shoot a person or animal, with my finger, a stick or any killing device my imagination could create was forbidden.

These days we consider candy cigarettes a disgrace even though it’s still our right to smoke. We wouldn’t give our kids play bottles of whisky, though it’s our right to drink alcohol. So why do we give children guns, pretend or real? We should be better than this.

My dad taught me a valuable lesson. I knew we had guns in our house because it was our right to have them there, but that right wasn’t a gift. Rights are responsibilities. Very early in life children learn that they have certain privileges simply because they are born in the United States. Whether they spend their lives earning what they’ve been given depends on their parents.

We won’t put an absolute end to gun accidents between children simply by doing away with toy guns and real guns marketed to kids, but if we never hear children yelling, “Bang bang! You’re dead!” to each other again, maybe that’s a start.

The little girl who was killed by the Crickett rifle had a name. She was Caroline Starks. No matter what side of gun control we’re on, we have no business mopping up her blood with the Bill of Rights. We should be better than that.

 

Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at alikloster@yahoo.com, and her blog is at alexandrakloster.com.