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Another Hog Blog Spotlight – Project ChildSafe

February 23, 2016

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that, when it comes to public relations, the firearms industry and lobby has sometimes been its own worst enemy.  While organizations like the NRA have done a reasonably good job at recruiting a strong membership of gun owners, they’ve done so with fairly polarizing tactics and a bit of all-or-nothing rhetoric that has turned away many gun owners, not to mention alienating folks who don’t own, and don’t like firearms.  (I say this, by the way, as a fully-paid Life NRA member.)

The truth is, outside of the “faithful”, most people have formed a lot of ideas about what the firearms industry is about… and to many of those people, it’s not a pretty picture.  A common perception is that the firearms industry is focused only on getting as many guns into the hands of as many people as possible, and to hell with any negative consequences.  So, for example, when a child gets his hands on a gun and accidentally shoots someone, a lot of folks want to lay blame for the problem at the feet of the firearms industry because, “all they care about is selling guns.”

That’s a shame, because it’s not an accurate assessment.

Despite the NRA’s prevalent place in the public eye (and public opinion), it’s fair to say that the NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation) is the real face of the firearms industry in the U.S.  As the trade association of the U.S. firearms industry, with the stated goal of promoting, preserving, and protecting hunting and the shooting sports, the NSSF speaks for most gun and ammo makers, and holds an influential position when it comes to driving policy and public relations for its members.  In that role, the organization has done a number of things that deserve the spotlight… but due to the hyper-politicized nature of the topic, those programs have remained relatively obscure.

One of those programs is Project ChildSafe.  I’ve written about, or mentioned, the project several times over the years (such as here, here, and here), but I feel like I need to keep pushing what they’re doing.

Most people I’ve spoken to, including many hunters and gun owners, have no idea what Project ChildSafe is about.  The handful who have heard of it think it’s a program to give out gun locks… which is accurate enough in a small way.  But that’s not all.

Here’s what the organization says about itself:

Project ChildSafe is a real solution to making our communities safer. More than 15,000 law enforcement agencies have partnered with the program to distribute more than 36 million firearms safety kits to gun owners in all 50 states and the five U.S. territories. Through vital partnerships with elected officials, community leaders, state agencies, businesses, the firearms industry and other stakeholders, Project ChildSafe has helped raise awareness about the safe and responsible ownership of firearms and the importance of securely storing firearms to help reduce accidents and access by unauthorized individuals.

In other words, what Project ChildSafe is about is safe storage, which can include gun locks, but also revolves around education and information.

I had the chance a week or so ago to chat with Bill Brassard, NSSF Director of Communications, and talk to him about the project.  I hoped to get a little better understanding of Project ChildSafe, and what might help get the message out to more people.

One of the first points Brassard made is that the project relies on its partnerships with communities and local law enforcement to promote the message.  “Our goal is to have community partners,” he told me.

The way this works is, the NSSF provides media kits, information, and gun locks to community organizers (usually law enforcement).  The partners then manage and host gun safety events, using the materials the NSSF provided.  The idea is for these partners to manage communication with local media outlets to publicize their local events.  As more agencies and communities learn about the program, they can engage with NSSF to host their own events.

The challenge, he explained, is that in many cases communities wait until something happens before taking any action.  Not that it’s ever too late to get the message about safe firearm storage, but the idea is to prevent shooting incidents before they happen.

The other challenge to this reactive scenario, of course, is that the story becomes about the guns and the tragedy.  As Brassard pointed out in our conversation, the media (particularly the major media outlets) tend to focus on the politics of guns.  To an increasingly cynical public, the NSSF coming in after the tragedy with a safe storage program seems almost disingenuous. The actual message is lost in the uproar.

What is that message?

I asked Brassard to nail it down for me.

“Secure storage is the number one way to prevent firearms deaths,” he said.  “There is a safe storage solution for every circumstance, and every budget.  There is no excuse for leaving a loaded firearm laying around.”

It is absolutely true, as he pointed out, that unintentional shootings have declined steadily over the years, largely as a result of improved education (hunter safety, firearms handling, etc.) and the increased accessibility of safety equipment such as locks, storage boxes, and safes.  Statistics show pretty clearly that safety campaigns have been quietly succeeding, even if most people have not noticed.

But statistics don’t mean squat when it happens to you or someone you care about.  This is why the message of Project ChildSafe is still important.  “Own it?  Respect it.  Secure it.”

If you’ve bought a new gun from Winchester, Browning, Savage, or several others, you have probably seen that little badge inside the box… right there, in the package beside the cable lock.  It’s a great reminder, but of course it only reaches the folks who just bought a gun.

I think, as a tagline, that’s OK.  But personally, I’m more in line with Mr. Brassard’s words.  “No excuse.”

There’s no excuse not to secure your guns.  These days, with affordable biometric hand safes, a lock in every gun box, and even the modicum of common sense, I have a hard time believing anyone who claims they “couldn’t” lock their gun away.  You could.  You just chose not to.

You can’t teach a kid not to pick up a gun.  You can teach a kid that it’s “bad” to play with guns, but no amount of teaching can overcome the juvenile monkey-brain.  If you listen to interviews of the parents of kids who have shot themselves, or shot other kids, almost all of them “thought” their kid “knew better.”  Kids do stupid things because their minds aren’t fully developed.  They don’t really comprehend permanence.  They don’t think Mom or Dad would leave a gun laying around if it were really that dangerous.  It’s just a second… and that’s all it takes.

And it’s not just kids.  That gun you keep by the bed for “security” isn’t very secure while you’re at work.  The shotgun in the closet… just keeping it out of sight doesn’t keep it out of reach.  This is how guns make it to the streets and into the hands of criminals.

Look, if you have a carry gun (and a legal right to carry it), then carry it.  Don’t leave it laying in a place where someone can walk off with it.  If you don’t want to pack it, then store it.  Lock it up.  Do us all a favor.  Do yourself a favor.

There’s no excuse not to.

Learn more about Project ChildSafe on their website at http://www.projectchildsafe.org.

 

 

 

 

 

Firearm Safety Video From Project ChildSafe

March 27, 2015

There have been times when I’ve been critical of the NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation), but one thing that organization does that I think is absolutely invaluable and positive is their Project ChildSafe program.  It’s designed as an outreach project to gun owners, as well as folks who don’t own guns, to provide firearms safety resources and education with a focus on youngsters.  Project ChildSafe is good, solid information without any overarching political propaganda.  The only agenda is to keep the kids safe, and to promote responsible firearms use and storage.

Along with resources available online, such as guides and printable documents, the Project has also released several well-produced videos.  The most recent one just came out, and it’s all about talking to your kids about guns.  While I couldn’t get past the parallels to sex education or drug awareness videos (it uses a similar, simplistic model), it does present some pretty good talking points.  I think too many of us gun owners take these things for granted, and the video is a good reminder that kids need to be reminded.  Keep the conversation going, even if you think your youngster already knows it all.  Even if you’re just repeating yourself, the fact that you take the time to do so lets the kids know that you take it seriously and that you think it’s pretty important.

Anyway, check the video out, and if you’re interested, have a look at the Project ChildSafe page to find more videos and resources.  And spread the word…

Safety…. I Dunno… Third?

January 9, 2017

Well, here’s something I didn’t expect to be doing right now.  I didn’t expect to be updating the blog, and I certainly didn’t expect to be writing about waterfowl hunting safety.  But here I am…

It struck me though, as I just read another piece about duck hunters dying on the water.  Three hunters and a dog drowned out on Corpus Christi Bay, during a small craft advisory.  This is one of those things that’s worth writing about.

Just a week ago, I was horrified to read about a young father and his 5 year-old son, drowning during a hunt in Texas.  It was the child’s first hunt, and any of us who are hunters can probably imagine how excited both father and son were for this occasion.  And then, for it to turn as it did… I mean, how do you even wrap your head around a tragedy like that?

There aren’t a lot of details about this, except the father and son were found in the water, near their capsized boat.  Their dog had made the shore, and apparently led the searchers back to the bodies.  Neither father nor son was wearing a life jacket when the bodies were recovered.

I have a morbid habit of trying to put myself into the minds of people in those situations, trying to imagine what they went through as it was happening.  It’s painful, especially in a situation where you know it took some time to play out.  The boat capsizes, and dumps father and son into the frigid water.  There’s the terror and shock of the actual event, of course.  For the child, there must have been a terrible wonder that, suddenly, the world is not safely in his dad’s control.  And then, for the father, the realization that he has put his child in that situation.  For all the good intentions, he knows this is his fault.  I can’t help wondering if dad had a final, remorseful realization that he did not make the youngster wear a life jacket… or that he wasn’t wearing one himself so he could save the child.

Of course, I can’t know any of this.  Maybe, mercifully, both the victims were instantly knocked unconscious and had no time for terror or self-recrimination.  I can only project from my own experience.  And I know that I almost never wear a life preserver when I’m duck hunting.  This could be me.

A life jacket, by the way, isn’t a guaranteed survival tool.  Waterfowl season takes place in the winter, when water and air temperatures are dangerously low.  Hypothermia and cold water shock are responsible for many deaths every year, even for hunters and fishermen who are wearing proper flotation gear.  In harsh conditions, the only thing a life jacket will do is make it easier for the recovery team to find your body.

But the fact is, a person weighted down with heavy clothing, ammunition, calls, and whatever else doesn’t stand much chance of surviving long enough to become hypothermic if he’s dumped in deep water.  I’ve gone overboard in hip boots and in waders, and I can speak first hand to what happens when they fill with water… and the fact that I’m still speaking at all speaks to how lucky I have been.  I can give some credit to self-rescue techniques I learned as a child (thanks, Boy Scouts of America!), but truthfully, there’s an awful lot of luck involved in my continued existence.

And still, knowing this, I almost never wear a personal flotation device… even in winter, when loaded down with gear, hunting frigid, rough water.  What the hell is wrong with me?

That’s an open question, I guess, and there are probably lots of viable answers.  But let’s not go there.

It used to be that flotation devices simply weren’t convenient to wear with hunting gear.   Life jackets and vests were bulky, immobilizing, and often, orange.  None of these things made for better duck hunting.  They were uncomfortable.  They made it hard to shoot or maneuver in the boat or blind.  And, unless they were well camouflaged, they spooked birds.  It’s no wonder that some of us who hunted “back in the day” chose to forego the insurance of a PFD.  (I do recall a coat I once owned, called the “Float Coat” or some such, made by Stearns, that had built in flotation.  It was uncomfortably bulky, but it seemed to work well, was camo, and waterproof.  I wore that thing out, and haven’t seen one like it since.)  I’ll also add that nobody made us wear them, when we were younger.  None of the adults I learned to hunt from wore them, and they never pushed me to the habit either.

These days, though, there are all sorts of options available for the safety-conscious sportsman.  Many of them are tiny and unobtrusive until you need them.  Some have quick-inflation with CO2 cartridges that can be manually, or even automatically triggered.  You can slip one on with a belt, or a low-profile harness that goes right over your heavy coat.  Of course, some of these can be pretty pricey, but considering what most of us already spend on waterfowling gear, is that really a valid deterrent?

So, here’s where this leads…

First of all (and this isn’t new for me), any time you’ve got a kid in the boat, that kid should be wearing a PFD.  This is actually law in some states, and I feel like it should be law everywhere.  Kids don’t always make the best decisions for themselves, and they’re even worse when their models (grown-ups) don’t practice what we preach.  The kid gets a life jacket or vest, or the kid stays ashore.

But what about us “models of appropriate behavior”?

I expect that this is not unique to me, but there’s probably a subconscious, stubborn, macho reason to resist wearing a PFD.  It’s past time for me to get over that.  I am not going to become a PFD evangelist or anything, but I do think wearing flotation gear on the water is something more of us should really be considering… especially when the weather and water are cold and rough.   With that in mind, while I’m not willing to make this some sort of 2017 resolution, I am going to make the extra effort to use my gear (stuff I already have, by the way) more consistently… especially when I’m out on deeper water, such as the river or waterway.  Want to join me?

 

 

Securing Our Guns In The Home – Firearms Safety And Kids

June 21, 2013

Guns aren’t toys. 

It seems silly that I’d even have to write that statement.  Is there a single one of you reading out there who doesn’t recognize this simple fact? 

Of course, if I were writing this for youngsters I wouldn’t think it silly at all.  In fact, I’d consider myself criminally remiss if I failed to teach kids to treat firearms with the utmost of respect and care.  It’s not about fear of the gun, but fear of what it can do.  I’d feel obliged to demonstrate proper handling, and drill those basic safety rules over and over.  By the time I got done, I’d expect my small charges to be able to quote the manual right back to me.

But even with that training, I know better than to expect them to always make the best decisions.  They’re kids, after all.  While it’s arguable that even some adults aren’t always intellectually or emotionally mature, children have the excuse of their age… and sometimes they do things that, to us grown-ups, seem really, really stupid. 

Like playing with guns.

This is why we as adults… parents, mentors, guardians… need to take special care to never allow children access to our firearms without appropriate supervision.  Does this seem as self-evident as my opening line?  It should, but apparently not all adults get it.  Some folks apparently think their children “know better”.   And too often, tragically, they find out that they were wrong.

Look, this isn’t about capitalizing on recent news stories to pile onto some grieving parents.  It’s about reminding the rest of us that, “hey, it could happen to you too.  And it doesn’t have to.”

I’m all for teaching kids to shoot.  I’m fine with buying your six year-old a Cricket or a putting a .410 under the Christmas tree for your eight year-old.  Learning to shoot can teach a lot of quality lessons, such as responsibility, discipline, and coordination.  It’s a good thing.  But you also have to teach them that these things aren’t toys… they’re not playthings.

The key is supervision.  When the shooting is done for the day, teach the youngster to clean the firearm and put it away with the grown-up guns… preferably in a safe, or a locked closet.  At the very least, store the gun with a trigger lock or cable.  Don’t trust the youngster.

Kids are slaves to impulse.  No matter how well a child is taught, or how well-behaved that youngster may be most of the time, they slip up.  I don’t think they can help it.  For whatever reason, that little sense of right and wrong gets skewed and they do something they know they shouldn’t be doing.  If he sneaks into the kitchen and nabs a cookie before dinner, that’s one thing.  But if he goes into the closet and grabs that slick little .22 to show off to his friends… well that’s another thing altogether.  The consequences can, very literally, be life changing.

And it doesn’t have to happen.

While I firmly believe it is every gun owner’s responsibility to be a  firearms safety expert and advocate, I recognize that some folks might need a little help. 

In 1998, the NSSF created a program called “Project ChildSafe“.  While a big part of the program is education, the organization also worked to provide free gun locks and safety brochures to parents.  Originally, the project was funded with matching money from the federal government, however; as those funds dried up, the shooting sports industry chipped in to keep it alive. 

With recent events and firearms safety and regulation all over the headlines, the NSSF has updated the campaign.  But please, shelve your cynicism.  The Project ChildSafe site is not a political podium.  It’s not layered inside and out with gun rights dogma or propaganda.  It is, strictly, about firearms safety… and especially about safety for our children.  The site offers resources to parents, gun owners, and educators who want to learn and teach more about gun safety… and those resources are free. 

Check it out.  Share the link.  And most importantly… just think.  Kids are kids.  It’s our job, as adults, to protect them.

NSSF Teams With Association For Suicide Prevention To Reduce Firearms Suicide Rates

August 10, 2016

It seems to be a recurrent theme from folks who dislike and fear firearms.  “The gun industry is just sitting back, raking in profits.  They don’t care about the people who are killed or injured by guns!”

I understand it, of course, since the truth is that efforts by organizations like the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) don’t generally get a lot of publicity.  Folks outside of the gun industry probably have no idea, and even many firearms owners are pretty much in the dark. Most people don’t know, for example, that the NSSF is on the leading edge of the industry in efforts to promote safety ( such as Project ChildSafe), efforts to educate firearms dealers to prevent crime (e.g. the “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” program), and efforts to work with the Federal government to improve the quality of background checks (e.g. the FixNICS initiative).  What people do hear is when the NSSF echoes the NRA hardline on certain firearms issues.

To do my own tiny part, I think it’s worth sharing the press release I just received from the NSSF.  I think it’s simple enough that it doesn’t require my interpretation.  Here it is, in its entirety:

NEW YORK, N.Y. – A new partnership between the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the nation’s largest suicide prevention organization, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation® (NSSF®), the trade association for the firearms industry, will allow for both organizations to embark on a first-of-its-kind national plan to build and implement public education resources for firearms retailers, shooting ranges and the firearms-owning community about suicide prevention and firearms.

According to recently released data by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of all suicides were by firearm in 2014, and suicide accounted for almost two-thirds of gun deaths in the same year. In addition, 90 percent of suicide attempts with a firearm are fatal. By working together to develop and deliver suicide-prevention resources, AFSP and NSSF hope to help stem this loss of life.

“This partnership has been a true collaboration since we started conversations last year. AFSP sees this relationship as critical to reaching the firearms community,” said Robert Gebbia, AFSP CEO. “One of the first areas identified through Project 2025 was a need to involve the gun-owning community in suicide prevention. By joining forces with NSSF, we reach both firearm owners and sellers nationwide to inform and educate them about suicide prevention and firearms, and offer specific actions they can do to prevent suicide. Through Project 2025 analysis and the work of this partnership, we know that this public education has the potential to save thousands of lives.”

“The firearms industry has long been at the forefront of successful accident-prevention efforts and programs aimed at reducing unauthorized access to firearms. Since two-thirds of all fatalities involving firearms are suicides, we are now also in the forefront of helping to prevent these deaths through our new relationship with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention,” said Stephen L. Sanetti, NSSF President and CEO.

Currently, the two organizations are collaborating on this initiative through AFSP’s firearm and suicide prevention pilot program, which involves six AFSP chapters, located in Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri and New Mexico. The goal is to take the program nationwide within two years.

I always encourage folks to think for themselves, do their own research, and learn about issues with a skeptical eye.  This is no different, and I wouldn’t blame the cynics in the crowd who will look for some sort of self-interest on the part of the industry.  But I think it’s important to be aware that the leading organization representing the U.S. industry, the NSSF, is doing some solid work behind the scenes to reduce firearms death, injury, and crime.

NSSF Open Letter re: President Obama’s Statements On Gun Control

January 26, 2016

In a moment, I am going to share a full-page ad from the NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation) with a small grain of salt. I am not in lockstep with everything this industry organization has to say. I think, at times, the NSSF has pushed the bounds of reason (e.g. using misleading and unbased information to garner opposition of the lead ammo ban). By and large, though, the NSSF is extremely consistent in what it is… a foundation to represent and promote the interests of the shooting sports industry. Understand and accept this, and their messaging is logical and en pointe.

What is presented in this “Open Letter” is pretty much spot on, and while I’ve heard a lot of anti-gun voices contesting these points, it is difficult to deny the facts.

The NSSF has, indeed, taken a wide variety of actions to address illegal firearms sales (pushing for NICS enhancements, promoting the “Don’t lie for the other guy” campaign against straw buyers, etc.), promote and enhance firearms safety (firearms training for retailers, Project ChildSafe, gun lock campaigns), and encourage the enforcement of existing firearms legislation.

It’s also a fact that many of the Presidential statements on gun control, as well as those from some other Democrats, have misrepresented the realities of firearms commerce and availability in this country. They have done so, relying on the viral nature of misinformation to spread across the uneducated voter base. Unfortunately, the NRA has such low credibility (because they too often use the same tactics), that any counterpoint they offer is dismissed out of hand by the general public. That’s the NRA’s own doing, though… their own diseased chickens, come home to roost.

Nevertheless, in the interest of offering up a counterpoint to the vocal and widespread arguments of the anti-gun contingent, here’s the NSSF’s “open letter” to the President.  Take it as you will, keeping in mind the source… and feel free to offer your rebuttal here if you’d like.  However, I am unlikely to dive into a deep argument about the 2nd Amendment or firearms regulation on this site.

And, as always, if it gets ugly I’ll apply the Delete key with extreme prejudice.

 

2016 SHOT Show – Day End Wrap Up

January 19, 2016

Well, the noise level is dropping by a few dozen decibels as the crowds are filtering out toward the taxis and shuttle buses.  Day One of the 2016 SHOT Show is pretty much winding down, although probably not as fast as I am.  I didn’t have high hopes of accomplishing much today, but I actually got around to more than I’d expected.

Apologies for the use of Press Pack images, but as mentioned earlier, I left my camera in NC.  I did take photos and video with the GoPro, but my USB port is being finicky.  In other words, real-time photos just aren’t gonna happen right now.

It started in the New Products room, which is usually one of the best places to get a feel for what I’ll see on the floor.  Well, unless you want one more of a million ways to customize your AR, I can’t say that this visit was particularly productive.  Scattered in and amongst the uppers, actions, barrels, and accessories, there were a couple of products I thought might be worth following up.  Unfortunately, a technical glitch cost me my list of products (you use a bar code scanner to mark the things you want, and then there’s a printer at the exit where they print out your list).  I’m pretty sure, for example, that I did not flag a $3000 thermal imaging weapon sight or the Century Arms C39v2 AK pistol.

Since the New Products list provides something of a map for my visit to the floor, I was left a little rudderless (and yeah, I could have shouldered my way through the khaki clad hordes to try another list, but really?).  So I wandered.  I had a couple of specific things in mind, so I figured while I looked for those, I’d just see what stood out to me.

garmin_rino650First of all, I slid by the Garmin booth to see what they’ve done with the Rino.  The Rino, for those who don’t know, combines a FRS radio with a GPS navigation system.  If you’re talking with someone else on a Rino, it will post their location on the map, which is a cool feature when you’re in big country or out on the water.   The latest version, the 650t, still does this with many performance improvements and extra features over the many years since I bought mine, and still lists for about the same MSRP, $549.   I do like the USB port for upgrades and updates, as well as charging.  I also like that it allows you to upload files to other Garmin users.  So when you tell your buddy to bring the horses, you can send a picture of the big bull you just shot, while the Rino transmits your coordinates for the pick up.

Earlier, I was bemoaning (again) the absence of nice wood in gunstocks.  Yes, the synthetic stocks are great stuff, but it’s still nice to enjoy the beauty of a well-finished piece of lumber.  Purely by accident, I stumbled into the Ithaca booth.  On display, right at the front, was one of their new bolt-action rifles, stocked in an classic piece of maple, tiger stripes and all!  When I spoke to the rep and complimented the beautiful work, he informed me that not only are they offering fine wood on their rifles and shotguns; they are offering custom stocks for other firearms as well.  Who knew?

Wild West Guns Co-PilotMany years ago, I found a customized version of the Marlin Guide Gun, manufactured by a company called Wild West Guns.  They’d turned an already solid rifle into a really cool (in my mind) piece of weaponry.  It was designed, initially, for bush pilots and Alaskan hunters who needed something portable (did I mention it’s a take-down rifle) in big bear country.  I think the one I looked at was chambered in .50 AE.  Anyway, the company has done a lot since then, and when I saw their sign on the booth, I had to slide by and drool a little bit.  The guns have gone through some iterations, but something I thought was really cool was that they now have their own chambering… the .457 WWG.  This is basically a magnum 45-70.  According to the rep I spoke to, it will also shoot standard 45-70 ammo, as well as (in single feed operation) .410 shotshells.  That’s a lot of versatility, and if you think of this as a backcountry survival rifle, that’s a lot of options available for everything from smacking small game and birds for the pot, to keeping the grizzly bears at bay.  It doesn’t come cheap, though, at $2979.00.  But what good things do?

There are a few other things that I will get to later, because they’ll take more than a few hundred words.  But if you want a teaser, one of those things is a new offering from Morakniv.  You may (or may not) remember I reviewed their Bushcraft knife a couple of years back.  This new knife, the Garberg, promises to be even stronger and more versatile.

I also spoke with the folks from DRT ammo about their non-lead, controlled expansion, frangible bullets.  I wasn’t all that thrilled with my previous frangible experience (it was not DRT ammo), but the rep told me that they’ve made some improvements specifically to resolve some of the issues I had.

Finally, I stopped by the NSSF Project Childsafe booth.  I’ve written about this project before as well, but I think it’s time to take another look.  I’ve planned an interview with a representative from the organization this time, and hope to offer a little more insight into what they are all about.  In the meantime, check them out for yourself.

That’s it for now.  They’re running us out of the Press Room.

I Was Going To Join Backcountry Hunters And Anglers But…

September 8, 2014

I’m really not a big “joiner”.

I’ve been a part of a handful of organizations of course, over the years, but I don’t really spend a lot of time looking for new causes.  When it comes to conservation and hunting organizations, I’m particularly cautious about throwing my hat in the ring until I understand a little better what I’m getting tied up with.  For example, I’ve been a member of Ducks Unlimited since childhood (my dad bought my first few memberships, and I sort of kept it going from there).  I know the work that DU does, and I really like their focus.  It’s the same reason I joined California Waterfowl when I was in CA.  They do good work with minimal, overt political agenda.  A few years ago, after some hemming and hawing, I decided to send a few bucks a year to Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation… mostly on the same grounds.  RMEF is focused on elk and elk habitat, and that’s what I want my donations to go toward.

Recently, I’ve been looking into a fairly new organization, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.  When I first became aware of this group, I was pretty sure it was something I may want to join… at least inasmuch as dropping the annual membership fee, and maybe attending the annual “Rendezvous” when I could.

It sounded like the organization shares a lot of the same values as I do.  In particular, we share a passion for the backcountry and wilderness areas, as well as a desire to protect them.  Even though I don’t spend as much time hunting and wandering public lands as I used to, I am a strong believer in the need to keep those lands open and accessible… not just for hunting and fishing, but for everyone.

Here are the key points from the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers mission:

  • ORV Abuse: BHA works to protect traditional, non-motorized hunting and fishing experiences and the lands that support those activities. While we recognize that Off-road vehicles (ORVs) are useful tools used by many people, BHA works to protect fisheries, clean water and wildlife habitat from excessive motorized traffic and abuse. BHA educates the public on proper and legal use of ORV’s and the importance of enforcing fines and regulations for illegal use that impact fish and wildlife habitat, migration, and breeding.
  • Gas, Oil, and Mining: Oil and gas leasing is important economic activity, but America’s hunger for energy must be balanced with our responsibility to pass on healthy land and water for future generations. BHA will address energy development projects that impact fish and wildlife habitat, migration, breeding, and sportsmen’s hunting and fishing opportunities, by educating decision-making agencies, legislative bodies, and local stakeholders. Mining: We all use minerals in our daily life and mining is important. However, if done irresponsibly, mining can leave lasting scars that pollute water and degrade habitat. BHA will address mining projects that will impact fish and wildlife habitat, migration, breeding, and sportsmen’s hunting and fishing opportunities, by educating decision making agencies, legislative bodies, and local stakeholders.
  • Education and Outreach: Part of BHA’s mission is to educate people about safe, enjoyable and sustainable backcountry hunting and fishing. In particular, we educate the next generation about this ancient tradition. The Backcountry Journal, our quarterly publication available to all members, and our national gathering, the North American Rendezvous, are our main educational activities. The Backcountry Journal is a 16-page glossy magazine with educational stories, hunting and fishing tales, project updates, and public land issues updates. The Rendezvous is a weekend of camaraderie, hands-on seminars, speakers, banquet dinner and auction. BHA also visits numerous sports shows around the country to visit face to face with local sportsmen about the issues they are facing and the work BHA is doing in that state.
  • Backcountry: BHA’s members greatly value the remaining undeveloped, natural areas of our national forests and other public lands. We work to maintain the backcountry values of solitude, silence, clean and free flowing rivers and habitat for large, wide-ranging wildlife. We work to deploy a variety of legal and administrative tools to maintain those values, including the Wilderness Act, where appropriate.

I can’t find much to argue with there.  I “Liked” the BHA on Facebook and started following the discussions.  For the most part, I appreciated what I was seeing.  There seemed to be a mix of folks sharing backcountry experiences and some discussion of important issues, such as the movement to handover ownership of Federal public lands to the states… or worse, to privatize public lands.  The very idea that the states can, or will, manage these huge public lands is naïve at best, and generally ridiculous.  That’s a cause that seems, to me, to be pretty damned well worth fighting for.

So I started fondling my checkbook.

But then the conversations took a different tack… the conversations turned to contentious, ethics topics like high fence hunting, banning drones, and long-range hunting.  And, as with any discussions of ethics, the holier-than-thou, elitists showed their true colors.  I put my checkbook away.  This was going to require some more consideration.

I read some of the BHA leadership’s comments in regards to these topics with some dismay.  It isn’t so much that these guys express their opinions.  I value that, even if I don’t agree with them.  What bothers me is that the organization appears to be willing to leverage the power of its membership (and the members’ dues) to influence laws and regulations which, to my mind, have nothing to do with the focus on backcountry hunting and angling… or with the protection of the backcountry.   Drones, for example, are an issue about which the BHA has been quite vocal.  They have lobbied legislators and state governments to enact bans on the “use of drones for hunting.”

Now, generally, that doesn’t seem all that bad.  To the general, uneducated public, it seems like the use of drones for hunting would be a bad thing.  But the truth of it is that drones are a non-issue.  I’ve written about it before (here and here, at least) so I’ll spare the extended discourse… but in short, the drones available to the general public are barely useful as hunting tools in any way that would provide a meaningful advantage to hunters in any setting.  In the real backcountry, they’d be about as useful as tits on a boar hog, since you’d have to carry the damned things in, deal with limited battery life and range, and manage the additional challenges of operating a line of sight system in rugged country.

What’s worse is that most of the legislation is vague and barely enforceable.  It’s a waste of time, energy, and money… and it has almost nothing at all to do with the concept of backcountry hunting and angling.  (I do, however, agree with certain restrictions on these devices in national parks and other places where the thoughtless and inconsiderate operators are negatively impacting the experiences of other visitors… not to mention harassment of wildlife.  But that’s really a different thing… more akin to problems associated with OHV use and mountain biking.)

And then there are the divisive topics like high fence hunting.  Again, there’s nothing wrong with having the discussion.  There’s nothing wrong with having a strong opinion, one way or the other.  But unless the BHA can make a damned, solid argument about how this debate has any real bearing on the backcountry, I question the value of the organization’s involvement.  Let the individual members hash it out to their hearts’ content, but is it really in the best interest of an organization to segregate itself from a fairly significant potential constituency by taking some arbitrary, moral/ethical position?  Where are these guys headed, in the longer run?  Do I want to give my money or my name to that organization?

Don’t get me wrong.  These organizations absolutely should be involved in issues that are relevant to their mission statements, no matter how controversial (as long as their positions reflect the will of the members).  For example, RMEF has been very active in the discussion about delisting wolves and hunting them to control their numbers.  It’s a hot and divisive subject.  But it makes sense that RMEF would take a stance, because failure to control the wolves could very well upset all of the progress RMEF has made in restoring elk and elk habitat… not to mention the impact these predators would have on other species.  This is right in line with the organization’s Mission Statement.

And I have no issue when organizations like the Pope and Young Club or Boone and Crockett want to take a strong position against practices like high fence or long-range hunting.  They can set their ethical standards as high as they like, because they are using those standards as rules for inclusion in their record books.  In this case, it makes sense to draw firm, ethical parameters (because that’s what rules are, isn’t it?).  And if you join one of these groups, you know what you’re getting into.  That’s why I am not involved with either of these organizations.

With Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, I get the feeling that they’re stretching a little too far.  Maybe it’s because there’s a perceived need to make a splash, and hot topics like drones and high fence hunting get a lot of attention (and thus, drum up more membership).  Or maybe it’s that some of the BHA leadership want to follow their personal agendas and drag the organization along with them.  So they take a popular position on a hot issue, and it plays well with the general, knee-jerk activists on social media.  It gets people talking.

But what I see, standing here with my wallet in my hand, is a bad case of scope creep (or mission creep, if you prefer).  I see a message at risk of being diluted.  And I see an organization that may not be quite clear on where it wants to go… or even where it wants to be right now.

And so, here I am.

I recognize some basic realities… not the least of which is that my individual membership in BHA really isn’t going to amount to much one way or another.  I’m not some mega-rich patron with the potential to fund big programs.  I’m not a widely read outdoors writer with an audience willing to go where I point (and spend their money while they’re at it).  I’m just some guy… albeit, some guy who really likes the idea of a conservation/environmental organization founded and directed by hunters and fishermen that is dedicated to the protection of our wild places.

But I also recognize that, to borrow from Tyler Durden, I’m not a unique and beautiful snowflake.  If I’m thinking these thoughts, then someone else is probably thinking them too.

 

 

 

Thoughts On The Christmas Gun, Ralphie, And Avoidable Tragedy

December 2, 2013

Red Ryder advertisementWhen I started thinking about writing this post I couldn’t get past mental images from the movie, A Christmas Story.  You probably know the one.  All Ralphie (a juvenile Walter Mitty) wants for Christmas is a BB gun… and not just any BB gun, but the “official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot, range model, air rifle!”

His dream, however, seemed to be thwarted at every turn by the admonition, “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

I hate that movie.

I just never understood the allure of fiction that seems to hit so close to home.  The travails of a middle class, suburban family and the way Christmas always seems to draw such a sharp distinction between the responsibilities and realities of grown-ups and the self-absorbed fantasies of children… well, I can’t see why anyone would think that’s funny.  That’s hard, dark stuff, man!  Hearts are broken…. dreams shattered… the poignancy of lost innocence and the bitter resentment of adults toward the carefree joy of youngsters… it’s an ugly, ugly thing.  It’s not funny.  It’s mean.

I think I was about eight years old when I got my Red Ryder, and yes, it was a Christmas gift, hidden behind everything else at the back of the tree.  I knew what it was.  My parents knew I knew.  But I didn’t get to open it until every last thing had been pulled from under the tree… the socks, underwear, and flannel shirts.  It probably wasn’t even the New Year before I was hit by my first riccochet (and not my last).  I don’t even remember what I shot… only that it was impermeable to BBs and rejected my shot, sending it back at my head, post-haste.  Of course, the incident went unremarked in the family history.  The tiny red mark faded long before I returned home to the call of the porch light.  No one ever knew but me.

Do I digress?  Maybe a bit, but I think not.

It’s December now, and that means time to start looking seriously at Christmas gift giving.  Firearms are on the top of the list for many a hopeful recipient.

For various reasons, it seems like more and more parents are giving firearms to their youngsters, and the manufacturers are stepping up to provide for this market.  There are the traditional, youth offerings from companies like Crickett or H&R, but the “serious” gun makers are also getting deeply involved.  There are youth guns from Browning, Weatherby, Remington, and many more.  Youth models on the AR platform are also available for young shooters.

I think it’s pretty cool, although I sometimes feel a twinge of jealousy when I see a 10-year old sporting his new deer rifle.  I was 12 before I was allowed to have a “real” gun, and that was a shotgun.  My dad was extremely safety conscious, and he didn’t believe a kid should be shooting a centerfire rifle (or even a rimfire without direct supervision).  I wasn’t even allowed to shoot slugs, except when hunting from an elevated stand, and seated next to my dad or grandfather. My first handful of deer fell to 20-gauge, #3 buckshot.

When I finally got my first deer rifle at 15, it wasn’t a 30-06 or even a .243.  It was a Winchester Model 94 Trapper, in .30-30… a short-range, relatively low velocity rifle.  Of course, it was perfect for the coastal swamps and bays where I hunted, but all I saw was that it wasn’t the sexy, long-range piece of gunmakers’ art I’d been drooling over in the catalogs.

My dad’s justification was, again, safety related.  The coastal plain of North Carolina is about as flat as any place you’ll find in the US.  While the swamps and forests can be pretty thick, the truth is that there aren’t many geographic features that will reliably stop an errant bullet.  This is significant enough that some counties in NC actually require centerfire rifle hunters to use elevated stands (at least 8′).  Despite my solemn oaths to only use my rifle from a tree stand, my dad was savvy enough to know that a 15-year old doesn’t always have the wherewithal to pass up the occasional, unsafe shot (truth is, a lot of “adult” hunters don’t have the restraint).  That .30-30 would discourage me from taking long shots, and if I did, the bullet would still be in the dirt within 400 yards.

I chafed at what I saw as overly-restrictive rules, expecially because so many of my friends didn’t seem to be so encumbered.  But looking back, of course, I see the wisdom (isn’t that always the way?).  I think about some of the things I witnessed or heard about, and it’s honestly a bit of a miracle that none of my friends seriously injured themselves… or anyone else.

Gun safety.

I expect most of us think we’re pretty good about it.  We consistently observe the rules ourselves, and we demand the same from the people with whom we hunt.  I’m pretty certain that I could ask every hunter I meet if they consider themselves safety conscious, and every one would answer with the affirmative.  Muzzle control, trigger etiquette, target identification… they all come as second nature to each of us as we spend more time afield and at the range, and become more and more familiar with our firearms.

Familiarity.  We know what that breeds.  Contempt… usually demonstrated through complacency.

I know it happens.  I catch myself doing it, and I have observed it in others… often (but not always) directly proportional to the length of time they’ve been hunting.  I think some folks just don’t know any better, some don’t realize, and many others have just begun to relax their diligence since nothing bad has ever happened to them.  Personally, I may be a little more diligent (and less tolerant) than some because I have had a couple of very close calls that were only mitigated by my adherence to basic safety precepts.

It’s one thing, and bad enough, when we become complacent about firearm safety ourselves.  It’s another altogether when we reflect that complacency to our kids.  When we give guns to children, there is no room for lacksadaisical.

Maybe I’m a reflection of my dad, and maybe that’s a good thing or maybe not, but when it comes to kids and guns, I believe in absolutes.  There is no try to be safe.  You are safe or you are not, and if you are not, then you lose the privilege of using the gun.  We can try again later, but until the lesson sinks in, the shooting is over the moment that muzzle covers an unintended target, or the finger goes inside the trigger guard while the gun isn’t pointed downrange.  Gun safety, in my opinion, is too serious for “three warnings” or constant leniency.  The potential consequences are simply too significant.

But even when we’re sure we’ve drilled safety into their young heads, we can’t stop there.  It’s one thing for a kid to know better.  It’s another thing altogether for them to consistently follow the rules… especially when no one is there to catch them at it.  You may think you have the best-behaved kid in the world, loaded with responsibility and intelligence.  But listen to the interviews of parents after some kid shoots his best friend while showing off his new rifle, or when some youngster gets into the closet and finds dad’s pistol and accidentally blows his brains all over the bedroom.  Those parents thought their child knew better too.

And here’s the thing.  The kid probably did know better.  But that didn’t stop him from making a bad judgement call.  The reason it didn’t stop him is because he’s a child.  Without diving into an extended discussion of childhood development and psychology, suffice it to say that they simply don’t reason like an adult (should).  Their perceptions of cause and effect aren’t really consistent, and the concept of irrevocable consequences is largely unformed.  The thought of death, or especially of causing death, is abstract… it’s just not real.

An adult may think he has impressed the idea that “this is not a toy” on a kid, but the truth is, to a kid, everything is a toy.  The gun, then, is merely a toy with special significance.  For some kids, it’s simply impossible to resist that tabu, especially if they can use it to satisfy their own curiousity, or to increase their esteem among peers or siblings.

“Look, this is my gun I got for Christmas.  It’s not a toy.  It’s very dangerous.  Here’s how you put the bullets in.”

Bang!

Another mother sobbing for her dead baby.

Sorry, this conversation has drifted a long way from a stupid comedy about Ralphie and the ridiculous lamp.  But has it?

We all laughed, at least a little, when he bounced that BB off of the sign and cracked his Coke-bottle glasses.  It had been so long foretold, it was simply inevitable.

But isn’t that how real tragedy happens?  What makes it tragic isn’t always what actually happened, but what could have happened to prevent it.

Look folks, we all know better… even if we don’t always do better.  But when it comes to our kids, don’t they deserve more than that?

Here are some thoughts to consider:

Supervise your children any time they’re around firearms. 

  • I don’t care how responsible you may think your own little “Ralphie” may be, kids should not be left alone with firearms.  They sometimes do things they don’t even know they might regret, and that’s a lesson I don’t think any of us wants to teach the hard way.
  • How old is “old enough”?  I don’t know.  I think it varies from one kid to the next, and from place to place… but seriously, at the very least think more than twice before letting a pre-teen run loose with a gun.
  • Even when you do turn them loose, provide an atmosphere of supervision.  Remind them of the safety considerations and then set and enforce rules.  Let them know that if they violate those rules, the best they can hope for is to lose their shooting privileges.  The worst is unthinkable.

Lock up those guns.

  • If you honestly believe your kid would never mess with the guns just because you told him not to, you are deluded.  It is as simple as that.  I know from my own childhood experience, from my friends, and from my friends’ kids, prohibition simply doesn’t work… even with the real threat of a serious ass-whipping as a consequence.
  • There’s simply no excuse not to lock them up.  If you can’t afford a safe, use a lock.  The manufacturers give away trigger and cable locks when you buy a gun, or you can pick one up from almost any sporting goods store for well under $10.  Or go to the Project Childsafe website and locate a local source for a free lock and safety kit.
  • If you believe you need an accessible firearm for home defense, consider one of the quick-access biometric safes.  They’re not that expensive these days. If you can’t afford that, then at least lock the gun away when you’re not where you can see it… or keep it with you as you move around the house.  The news archives have way too many stories about kids who died because dad’s loaded gun was unprotected in the bedside table, even while mom and dad were right in the next room.

Demonstrate and practice safe firearm handling.

  • Nothing teaches a kid good or bad habits better than observing a mentor.  If you model the behavior you teach, kids tend to make a positive association with those behaviors.
  • Vice versa, if you are a slob with a gun, your kid will become a slob with a gun, no matter what lessons you think you’re teaching.  And just because you got away without killing yourself or someone else, your youngster may not be so lucky.
  • No one… neither child nor adult… respects the “do as I say, not as I do” approach.

So go on out there and get your kids that new rifle or shotgun for Christmas.  Teach them to shoot and hunt, and all the things that go with the shooting sports… including woodsmanship, patience, responsibility, and respect for and appreciation of safe gun handling.

 

 

 

 

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