I like guns. I respect their blunt efficiency, and I think they’re sleek and cool, especially in the films of Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah and Quentin Tarantino, even if they lack a certain personal, swashbuckling flair. But there is no rational reason for the general populace to be armed with assault rifles and extended magazines.
While I’m not naïve enough to expect our blustery but weak-kneed Congress to enact substantive gun control change, anything that makes it more difficult for criminals, crazies and general morons to get their hands on firearms is welcome. To paraphrase my mother (but substituting G.I. Joe action figures or Lucky Charms for guns), guns are not a right; they are a privilege. And too many Americans have grown a little bratty over our national lenience and need to have their toys taken away (and probably a good spanking as well).
Gun supporters’ interpretation of our Founding Fathers’ intent with the Second Amendment is somewhere between impressionistic and delusional, but nowhere does the U.S. Constitution guarantee your right to bear an AR-15 with a high-capacity magazine. This is why we have Call of Duty, people.
On this fine, spring, Colorado weekend, we left the noise of the city for a deeply treed stretch of Pike National Forest. We set out on the opposite side and just down the road from a public shooting range to a barrage of semiautomatic gunfire.
I thought of the day some years ago when, working for a newspaper in Montana, I walked an expanse of Gallatin National Forest with a ranger discussing an elk study; we passed adjacent to but some distance from a designated shooting area as semiautomatic fire erupted. The ranger flinched, as did I.
“Sounds like Vietnam,” said he, a veteran of that war. He shook off the jolt and shook his head as the hail of gunfire continued. “People wouldn’t want those things if they saw what they were intended for. And they don’t need them. We haven’t seen mastodons or invading militias in ages.”
When it comes to shooting on public lands, I have mixed—but increasingly oppositional—feelings. I understand that hunting is a necessary evil for a number of man-made reasons (including that our desire to pave over, build on and leech every mineral we can from our home planet as if we have a second one, or even a timeshare, has displaced and forced closer contact with wildlife; that we have eliminated all the apex predators that naturally kept populations of other creatures in check; and that some people simply like to kill things with guns and are willing to pay money to do so). And theoretically, a public shooting range provides a place to learn responsible gun use while also serving as somewhere bored rednecks can go where their potential for harming others is presumably limited.
The problem with shooting on public lands is this: There are too many idiots who don’t play by the rules.
Every single time I’ve ventured into the wilderness near a public shooting range (and too often when I’ve hiked and camped far from a public shooting range) adjacent trailheads and recreation areas have been littered with the remains of clay pigeons, spent gun shells, shards of splintered trees, empty (bad) beer cans, broken glass and other detritus. I have seen bullet-riddled “No Shooting” and “No Hunting” signs (I like to think these were shot with a dumbass sense of humor as opposed to defiance and anger); shredded frozen-pizza boxes (nothing says fun like guns, High Life and raw DiGiorno); cigarette butts (Smokey the Bear is the one who should bear an assault rifle); and discarded diapers (!).
According to the Forest Service, recreational shooting and target practice are generally prohibited “within 150 yards of a residence, building, campsite, developed recreation site, or occupied area … or on a National Forest System road or body of water adjacent thereto … or place whereby any person or property is exposed to injured damage as a result of such discharge.” (Also: “Into or within any cave.”)
Additionally, the Forest Service asks shooters to consider the use of nontoxic, biodegradable clay pigeons and fiber-wad shells; to “pick up all litter including spent shells;” to not shoot trees; to shoot toward a natural backstop; and “to look around before you shoot … People can appear suddenly in your sights.”
Within 20 yards of the thoroughfare from whence we ventured into Pike National Forest on Saturday, and near a marked Forest Service road, the earth was covered with gun shells, garbage, and pigeons partial and whole (some people need the practice). The din of war weapons escorted us into the woods and echoed throughout the otherwise peaceful day, during which we saw neither Kevlar-clad elk nor signs of North Korean assailants; it is a sad fact that many of my fellow countrymen pose a more imminent threat than Kim Jong-un.
In 2012, Pike National Forest cleaned and closed two quarter-acre areas near Colorado Springs previously open for target practice due to what one official called “consistent close calls” and “an imminent public safety issue.” In 2011, also in Pike National Forest, hunters shot a dog that was hiking with its owner, mistaking the Malamute mix for a coyote (so much for the basic hunting rule to be sure of what you’re shooting at). In 2009, the Rampart Range in Pike National Forest was closed after a man was accidentally—and fatally—shot (just like in grade school and at my place of employment, a lone act of aggressive ineptitude results in the punishment of an innocent many). A few months ago, we drove by residential property amid Pike National Forest land near Bailey, Colorado, that was surrounded by signs pleading with people to mind their targets: “No Shooting Please,” “Our House has been Shot Many Times.”
It is unrealistic to eradicate guns, or to expect that regulations will eliminate all of the hundreds of yearly hunting accidents and thousands of other accidental shootings, or prevent every motivated lunatic from attempting a mass shooting. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to limit their access to people who pose a threat to society.
Even Hunter S. Thompson, a firm believer that gun ownership was an American right and who personally maintained a sizable arsenal, said in a 1997 interview with The Book Report, “A lot of people shouldn’t own guns.”
Of course, added Thompson, who lived bordered by forestland near Aspen, Colorado: “Guns are a lot of fun out here.”