Guns have changed everything, especially childhood

By Laura Pritchett

I learned to shoot on the family ranch, as ranch kids are wont to do. My gun education was furthered at a Catholic summer camp, and I still have my paper target proving my marksmanship. Hunter safety classes, and calm, clear-eyed common sense. This was the rural approach to guns I grew up with.

Then it’s a story we all know: Guns became politicized. Polarized. Lobby-ized. Humans are good at inventing things, so guns got more militarized as they turned into weapons of mass destruction. Our laws, sadly, didn’t keep up, because humans can also move quite slowly.

Then, I had children, and suddenly, active-shooter drills were part of their curriculum. And then, on Valentine’s Day 2018, parents across Fort Collins, Colorado, received emails informing us that our children had been in a lockdown drill at roughly the same time that 17 children were being killed in Florida. 

My brain fritzed out with confusion: Here a drill, but in Florida, children were being mowed down. Relief, and yet also great grief. Other mothers were getting different news.

My kids came home, stunned, and recounted their drill instructions, which included advice such as: “If you must fight to save your life, fight with all your might, using anything within reach as a weapon.” 

Yes, kids, please fight with all your might against a grownup with a semi-automatic.

What a sad curriculum. What a sad country. Many of us know this. Many of us keep saying the same thing over and over, and a few loud voices keep pushing back. Why even discuss interpretations of the murkily written Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, written at a time when muskets were the weapon of the day? Some conversations aren’t worth having.

What I am interested in is brainstorming real solutions—with like-minded people who also felt a real crack in their hearts every day that innocent people are mowed down, which, it seems, is nearly every day. A day without a shooting now seems the exception.

It strikes me that besides gun zealotry or idolatry, the other tragedy here is our seeming unwillingness to act. Really act. Act like grownups. My daughter and friends helped organize a walkout to protest gun violence, which spread to other schools. Kids poured out of the high schools and toward the town center, and parents rode their bikes or walked alongside — especially near the coal-rolling trucks filled with counter-protesters that heckled them from the roads.

This was the first act of civil disobedience for most, borne out of a mix of desperation and courage. 

Even as the kids gathered to pass the mic and speak, my heart was sunk even lower. Why? I knew what you know: Nothing would really change. Not until the adults of this country protested seriously, left work, took to the streets. The students protested, marched, wrote letters, made calls, and I watched, knowing. Adults wouldn’t go the distance. There’s not enough will.

It’s ironic: I grew up with guns, but my salient memory of childhood was peaceful summer walks through a green field, carrying a .22 to go practice shooting. Tragically, that is not true for youngsters today. They might not shoot as much, but they’re the ones forced by our irresponsibility and inaction to have it forefront in their minds and hearts. 

So, solutions. I celebrate Moms Demand Action, a group founded by a mother of five right after the Sandy Hook tragedy, based on her belief that all Americans should do more to reduce gun violence. No group has “risen so far, so fast, influencing laws, rattling major corporations, and provoking vicious responses from hardcore gun rights activists,” according to Mother Jones.

Although I’m all for background checks and safety locks, these seem like tiny bandages on a gaping wound. The big thing we can do is ban assault weapons immediately, and, even more importantly, elect gun-sensible politicians who don’t take NRA money.

If not Moms Demand Action, there is the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and  Gun Owners for Safety. All these groups need people willing to spend some time calling legislators, step up, protest.  People like you. People who believe in common sense. People who believe in childhood.

Laura Pritchett is a contributor to Writers on the Range,, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. She is the author of several novels and nonfiction books and directs a program in nature writing at Western Colorado University.

AR-15 Free Float VLCN M-Lok Handguard + STNGR Axiom Red Dot Sight Photo by STNGR Industries on Unsplash

This column was published in the following newspapers:

05/15/2023 Vail Daily Vail CO
05/16/2023 Montrose Daily Press Montrose CO
05/16/2023 Bozeman daily chronicle Bozeman MT
05/17/2023 Glenwood Post Independent Glenwood Springs CO
05/17/2023 Yahoo sunnyvale ca
05/17/2023 Idaho Statesman Boise ID
05/17/2023 south dakota searchlight Pierre SD
05/17/2023 Whitehall Ledger Whitehall MT
05/17/2023 Salt Lake Tribune Salt Lake City UT
05/17/2023 Wallowa County Chieftain Enterprise OR
05/18/2023 Aspen Daily News Aspen CO
05/17/2023 Carlsbad Current-Argus Carsbad NM
05/17/2023 Montana Standard Butte MT
05/18/2023 Helena Independent Record Helena MT
05/18/2023 Laramie Boomerang Laramie WY
05/18/2023 Denver Post Denver CO
05/18/2023 Tucson Star Tucson AZ
05/19/2023 Park Record Park City UT
05/19/2023 Idaho Mountain Express Ketchum ID
05/19/2023 Moab Times Independent Moab UT
05/19/2023 Taos News Taos NM
05/18/2023 Wyoming Tribune Eagle Cheyenne WY
05/20/2023 Missoulian Missoula Montana
05/21/2023 Pueblo Chieftain Pueblo CO
05/21/2023 Herald-Journal Logan UT
05/23/2023 Grand Junction Daily Sentinel Grand Junction CO
05/24/2023 Delta County Independent Delta CO
05/18/2023 Pagosa Springs Sun Pagosa Springs CO
06/01/2023 Daily Interlake Kalispell MT
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1 year ago

“Humans are good at inventing things, so guns got more militarized as they turned into weapons of mass destruction”

FWIW, firearm technology has not change that much, in real terms, for well over a century. The AR15 itself hasn’t changed much since its first introduction in the early 1960s. Mechanically, and in every real sense, it remains pretty much the same. And for that matter, semi automatic rifles predated it by decades.

What has changed, however, is the marketing and the following atmosphere. Somehow, the marketing went from an emphasis on hunting arms and sporting arms, to an emphasis on “personal defense”. Some of that was always there, going way back, but it became heavily weighted to the concept that you needed to be armed at all times. As this went on, the atmosphere nearly became on in which potential customers were nearly told that they should expect to be involved in the Battle of Stalingrad at any moment, if not in the advertisements, in the firearm’s press. Ironically, a firearm, the AR15, which was regarded as junk by servicemen who were first issued it in the Vietnam War, went on to become a nearly mandatory must have item for thousands of people who purchased it based just on its latter acquired aura.

What to about this now is hard to envision, but one thing can be predicted. If we reach the point where long term firearms restrictions are passed into law it will be ironically the case that it will be in no small part due to those who sold so many people on the concept that they had to have a weapon suitable for urban combat. Had the marketing, and the firearm’s press, stayed away from this in the first instance, this likely never would have been the case.

1 year ago

Perhaps folks should be pushing for better and more policing, stronger families and more effective public school education to create stronger foundations for establishing and maintaining healthy society and law and order. If we look past the emotion to the facts, the two areas where progress is most needed are (1) Mental health awareness & support for the suicidal and (2) urban gun violence (mostly semiautomatic pistols). “Assault Rifle Bans” [particular long rifles?] is a somewhat illogical and emotion-based bogeyman of a political slogan designed to stoke passions and manipulate voters when instead they should be telling everyone to get educated. Suicides and urban gun violence are where the vast majority of gun deaths occur. What exactly is an “assault rife”? note: The “AR” in AR15 stands for “Armalite Rifle”, not assault rifle. “Assault” is catchy but is simply an improper, inaccurate term. The M16/M4 is the current iteration of issued military individual weapon and it is different from civilian “AR15-style” models chiefly in that it has a 3-round burst capability whereas civilian equivalents are semiautomatic (a round is fired with every trigger pull until the magazine is empty, like most/many modern civilian hunting rifles, shotguns and pistols)…hence the need for an emotive “Assault Rifle” sobriquet as there would be absolutely no chance of banning the spectrum of semiautomatic civilian weapons commonly used by hunters and others involved in shooting sports and recreation. The 2nd Amendment isn’t particularly vague which is why it continues to withstand all efforts to misinterpret it in the courts: it is rooted in a fundamental right to bear arms that, believe it or not, is one of the pillars that makes America what it is. It is as valid today regarding modern weapons much as 1st Amendment applies to radios, TV and internet and the 4th Amendment applies to video surveillance. Personally, I believe each state should do what it can to deal with its own challenges. What works in Lusk WY or Bettles AK might not work as well in Chicago or Los Angeles and vice versa.

Nate Gillies
1 year ago
Reply to  Wiley

Eugene Stoner invented the AR-15 for the military before the M-16. The AR has always been a military assault weapon as it was engineered and designed to be.

The AR-15 is to men what high heels are to women. A way to get attention and feel powerful and sexy. It rarely works for either.

1 year ago

Thank you Laura! This is the sort of personal reflection we could all stand to do. Someone once asked me to count all the experiences I had had with guns and more specifically, gun violence. Gun violence? I thought. I hadn’t had any experiences with it. How many people actually had? Then I started with innocent memories like laying on the ground to learn to shoot a rifle when I was all of five. That led me to realizing that actually crawling on the porch floor to miss gunfire at that same age and being held up by gun point at a Dairy Queen when I was a teenager did not not count just because the trigger wasn’t pulled, or the bullets missed my baby brother and me. More and more near misses, rural and urban were counted then. Family members and friends had actually been shot, or shot at others. It has escalated since I first counted, and lost count. Gun Violence? Who actually knows anything about that? If you live in America, you probably do.

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