Thursday, December 20, 2012

Firearm violence- how we got here

Firearm violence – How We Got Here –and What Do We Do? A historical perspective

Our current pro and anti-gun situation didn’t just rise up and bite us. We set up this scenario when the Industrial Revolution, from the mid-18th Century to the 1850s, made possible the mass production and increased efficiency of firearms. The Civil War used those arms to preserve our Union by shedding a generation’s worth of blood. After the war, we were gunned up, had a chip on our shoulders and wanted a fresh start for our “Manifest Destiny.”

            Our present problems started with a weak post Civil War military, downsized to fight the sporadic Native American Wars and policing the Westward Expansion. Without military contracts, the firearms market was flat. Many civilians were former soldiers and familiar with military pattern weapons that became adapted to civilian needs: hunting, target shooting and self-defense. Cheap handguns glutted the eastern markets due to the low quality of politically-based police departments. Long guns reached out for the plains buffalo, marauding predators, and ethnic cleansing of Native Americans. Led by politicians, our military was poorly trained, poorly armed (troopers had to buy their own ammunition if they wanted to practice), and underfunded. The firearms manufacturers had to funnel their military-tested wares directly into civilian hands.

            Long guns as survival tools were in every wagon headed west. Pistols were virtually useless except in barroom brawls and to bolster the low self-esteem of flawed sociopaths. The six-gun toting myth of the gunfighter was born in the pens of the 19th Century “penny-dreadful” novel writers, many of whom never left the East. The large cattle outfits often didn’t permit their cowboys to own a revolver, because six-guns encouraged trouble and most cattle towns had tougher gun laws than we have today.

            But firearms technology belonged to the military contractors as rapid fire weapons designed to kill as many enemy as possible became a reality from civilian designers like John Browning. The main shift in military weapons came with the 1903 Springfield that went to France with our soldiers in 1917. They were the last military weapons that found a well-suited market in civilian hands. Trimmed of extra wood, the Springfield rifle became a standard on target ranges and in the hunting field.

            The M1 rifle that helped win World War II was the first semi-automatic standard infantry rifle. Built to rugged military specifications, it was too heavy for hunting and was only suited to military rifle competitions. Fire suppression – “spray and pray” tactics --reinforced by studies of World War II conflicts and low training standards needed to pump out maximum troop numbers,  became the military dictum. High capacity clips, high rate of fire, cheap to build, designed for field modification depending on combat mission – all these requirements were met by Eugene Stoner’s M-16 assault rifle and later models built on the same platform. They have also been applied to civilian versions from Colt, Bushmaster, Rock River Arms, LMT, Sig Sauer and others.

             From 1967 to today, military weapons – modified for law enforcement – have been designed for military missions and civilian use. Firearms manufacturers have forced advertising, video games, movies and heroic military imagery into a civilian demand. These manufacturers have turned fear of attack, fear of confiscation, fear of your neighbor and fear of government into selling tools.

Civilians who want these assault rifles (“modern sporting rifles” in manufacturer-speak) have bent over backwards to justify their purchases. Manufacturers justify sponsoring “Three-Gun Matches” (fast-paced rifle, pistol and shotgun) which are great competitions, but serve more as advertising while factory teams compete and gun brand loyalty is trumpeted. The assault rifle is a klutzy hunting companion to lug around all day tricked out with laser sights, bi-pods, flashlights, and interchangeable barrels. Anyone who needs a 30 round clip to bring down a whitetail deer should be spending more time on the range learning to shoot. For decades, we’ve survived with 3-shot maximum capacity magazines on shotguns and nobody complained. Anything more than a five-round magazine is a weapon. The archers and black powder muzzle-loader hunters have the right idea. Learn to hunt as well as to shoot.

Handguns have faced the same marketing of military technology. At one time, the revolver was queen of the side arms. Today, it is a quaint relic – except for the Taurus blasters that fire shotgun shells as well as large caliber pistol rounds. It is the small, flat, semi-automatic pistols by Glock, Baretta, Kimber and others that pack the heaviest loads in the lightest, hard-recoil weapons. Extended 15 round instant-changeable ammunition clips are big selling points as are laser beam and see-in-the-dark sights.

“Be prepared – whatever your mission,” has become the firearms manufacturers’ mantra. Leaving the house to go to work, or shopping, or to the barber, or to relax at a spa, or to find a job – or go to school – has become a gun buyer’s  “mission.” Until you’ve carried a gun for a living, you have no idea what a responsibility that extra weight on your hip or in your purse represents. A poorly aimed shot can kill an innocent bystander 5,000 feet away. There are an estimated 300 million guns in the United States. The most guns are owned by people for “self defense” with the least training. Low self-esteem kids are promised the power of their “heroes” though the magic of firepower. This is where we stand today. What to do?

Dial back the “mission-oriented combat fear mongering” in advertising. Civilian handguns can have a six-shot magazine. Rifles are limited to five-shot mags and shotguns stay at three-shot capacity. Manufacturers shift to target and hunting markets by spending ad budgets promoting local rifle, pistol and shotgun ranges for kids and adults. Make shooting a spectator sport once again with innovative designs, competitions and venues along the NASCAR model.  

American sport shooters are tired of being lumped in with the crazies on both sides of the firearms issue. You don’t take hammers away from carpenters who build a bad house. You train better carpenters. Kids and adults live in a tougher, media-centric world that can be a pressure cooker without understanding and mutual support. Lack of understanding breeds fear.  People build their own personal bunkers against all the bad stuff “out there.” Shooting sports are social recreations like golf, tennis, or running in the morning before breakfast. Homes, schools and workplaces are not supposed to be bunkers. Our society should be worth more than that.


Gerry Souter, Author of American Shooter – A personal history of gun culture in the United States, Potomac Books, Dulles, Virginia,,

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Exaggeration and Credibility

Rub dirt in your hair. Rend your garments. Curse the heavens. Stand on a street corner with a battery bull horn and proclaim the end of the earth. Or just join the Tea Party, or other bloviating collection of gas bags and erase what marginal vestige of credibility they might have had when they woke up this morning. This is the patriotic bullies' end of the world, who see themselves as the saviors of our ability to own firearms and enjoy shooting sports.

These folks lost the election. The American people did not buy their over-the-top rabble rousing, appeal to the lowest common denominator of uninformed voter style of presenting the pros and cons of an issue. They helped sink the once Grand Old Party with their crude rhetoric, their tragic comprehension of history and their prognostications of things to come that any high school debate team could render moot. Instead of leading the discussion, they herd their acolytes and believers, sweeping along the confused and undecided into what appears to them to be a consensus.

While grown-ups (mostly) debate our financial future in Washington, these single-issue ideologues hop from one foot to the other preaching doom. They are not alone, of course. On the other side of the issue, the equally silly "gun grabbers" who doggedly follow the path that gave us Prohibition in the 1920s, plan and connive to remove all firearms from civilians -- 300 million firearms -- to make our world a safer place. That might have been a swell idea back when the Chinese were still tinkering with gunpowder, but 1100 years later, things have gotten out of hand.

All of the chest beating on both sides has done nothing to ease the burden on the average gun owner who must explain themselves as a sportsman and not one of the aluminum foil hat people whenever they let slip their sport of preference in a conversation.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Compromise Should Call the Shots

It's a whole new world out there. A fresh rain has washed all the soiled PAC money off the streets into the gutter where it belongs. The American electorate has once again cut through the ideologues' rhetoric to weed out the gasbags and constipated bloviators. The woof and stomp drum beat of the tragically off-track, out-of-touch Tea Party silliness has been given the boot for at least four years when the burrowing insects will emerge once again to plague the democratic process.

There, that was fun. I wish it was that clear cut. Like dogs yapping at the wheels of progress (what an image), we will continue to have skulkers loping along bleating doomsday forecasts, claiming election fraud, rubbing dirt into their hair and rending their garments. In the halls of the National Rifle Association PAC, we can imagine lamp cord nooses being fastened to light fixtures above teetering chairs atop tables, and bereft ideologues imploring their Conservative gods for a sign that this betrayal is all part of some mystical plan in the coming post-apocalyptic world. Or maybe not.

Maybe, just maybe some closet moderate might propose that the question of America's firearms tradition will be better served if the hierarchy in their fused vertebrae rigidity, peering out at the real world of shooting sports and our gun culture considers exploring...compromise. Of course the
"C-word" requires at least two parties. Those ultra-liberals perched on the lofty heights of moral righteousness who hide behind pages of slippery statistics and employ the same tactics to remove guns from the American populace as did their predecessors who championed Prohibition and the 18th Amendment have to pull a chair up to the table.

The tradition of firearms ownership and shooting sports should not be the ideological playground of  blustering patriotic bullies, nor the dry and barren desert of sweaty-palm statistic jugglers. There is a middle ground that removes the stigma and celebrates the accomplishments of shooting sports while abstracting the concept of "weapons" for their narrow and necessary applications. Give the C-word a chance and take the majority of American sportsmen and women off the hook.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Post Election Promenade

With the election concluded and Barack Obama back in office for the next four years, we can look forward to enjoying the following results: an end to those lying vicious PAC commercials that most people muted on sight --except for the knuckle-dragging mouth breathers who are today rubbing dirt into their hair, rending their garments, beating their breasts in lamentation and seeking solace in watching Honey Boo-boo reruns. We can also listen to the damp hiss that is the air leaking from Far Right Republican Lock-step Ideologues as they and their agenda for ruling the world behind the trenchantly gullible Tea Party cannon fodder -- who would have us return to dial phones, round-screen TVs, ice boxes and an Apple II in every home playing Space Invaders and featuring Visicalc --- quietly steal back into their bunkers smelling of freshly poured concrete to await the Black Helicopters coming for their guns.

A visit to the NRA Web site reveals tragic wreckage, abandoned conference rooms, shattered IPads and empty paper towel dispensers in the men's room. Champagne bottles sit warm and uncorked in shallow pools of melted ice. Boxes of cigars with open lids are untouched and the 60 ring gauge churchill stogies are drying out. Fox News plays old George Bush press conferences on overheated 55 inch screens while ignored desk computers endlessly scroll Romney Wins! in a for-next loop on their green screens.

As the disco rock band in the rented hall down the street packs up its rotating mirror ball and caterers chip loose ossified chocolate mousse from little cups next to cooled plates of chicken fricassee that imprison forks in gummy puddles, the victory dance is over beneath the now blank video projection screen and the centerpiece of dripping ice sculpture depicting Romney and Ryan giving everyone the "V" for victory sign -- but the index fingers have already melted away, leaving behind no doubt about the message.

It is a time for healing and taking down from the bathroom medicine cabinet those suppositories marked "compromise" and "common sense" and the really big one designed for ideologue acolytes who still believe the world is truly flat and every hunting rifle needs a 30-round magazine.

The NRA spent decades as the confident steward of our sport and now it has a chance to serve its members more than the thin gruel of right wing, cynical propaganda, take self interest off the table and return to advance the sport into national recognition and respect.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Whatever Your Mission

"Whatever Your Mission…” Civilian Firearms - from Weapons to Sports 

(From an article published in the GroundReport blog. Sept, 2012)

In a gun magazine advertisement, a militia member, tricked out in copies of army “tactical” gear hefts an assault rifle with a 30 round magazine and strides forward above the text  “…Whatever your mission.”  Today, ads for military rifles and self-defense pistols have intensified, aimed at civilians with images of combat situations combined with text promising deadly capabilities.  
During the history of American firearms, muskets, rifles and shotguns won our independence, defended our lives and property, and put meat on our table. They accompanied our westward migration in saddle scabbards and wagon beds. Whole families learned to shoot as a matter of survival in the 18th century and, as civilization and population growth caused social pressures, the civilian market for firearms shifted from tools and sport to weapons.
When armies and militias in the early 19th century required more mobility and greater volume of firepower, the repeating rifle and the revolver became the cash cow of firearms marketing.  Multishot breechloader carbines and rifles from Sharps, Burnside, Spencer and Winchester joined Colt and Remington revolvers in the great land armies of the Civil War. Spencer, the first successful breech loading repeater, fired seven .52 caliber cartridges. Confederates called it, “That Yankee rifle you load on Sunday and shoot all week.”
            At the end of the war, millions of combat weapons found their way into civilian hands as the West opened up to settlers, speculators and the railroad. With the military downsized, gun marketing followed the westward migration with combat-proven, rapid fire weapons. The revolver and shotgun were touted as necessary for self defense in rough cow towns and the lawless expanses of the prairie. Actually, most cow towns and villages had tougher gun laws than we have today. Some of the large cattle ranches forbade their cowpokes from owning a revolver while on the trail, and many of the firearms displayed in period photographs of “tough waddies on the prod” are the photographer’s props. But the romantic six-gun myth grew.
World War I rekindled military arms development on a grand scale. The Thompson Submachine Gun, designed for fighting in France, arrived too late for the war. Instead, it was marketed to ranch owners for cutting down pesky cattle rustlers. This was the first automatic-fire battle weapon to find a civilian demand during Prohibition.  Murders on the city streets helped fuel a firearms frenzy and even National Geographic Magazine carried ads for Colt handguns, “…to defend your hearth and home.” Throughout the Great Depression, Tommy Guns and six guns flashed and boomed in the hands of motor bandits and peace officers across the country.
            Following World War II, the shooting sport market was flat. None of the conventional war weapons: the M1 rifle, carbine and automatic pistol were suited to civilian use. The Armalite all metal and plastic AR-15 rifle arrived in time for the Vietnam War. Essentially, it is three metal tubes machined from bar stock. This “assault rifle” became a cheap-to-build platform for a variety of military weapons from the M-16 to the current H&K416 Seal Team rifle system. Even with reduced firepower, it promises high capacity, deadly combat capabilities to any civilian shooter…”whatever your mission.”
            Real or imagined, this aggressive mindset has helped polarize the general public’s firearm attitudes and acceptance of sport shooting traditions.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Home, home on the Range

I love the smell of a firearms range in the morning. It smells like...action. Standing at the firing line and peering downrange at the waiting targets jumpstarts my motor. I was 12 when I first laid down on an old discarded mattress that reeked of dried little boy pee and dessicated mouse corpses in a crawl space under an old, old house and looked across the sights of a .22 rifle at a target suspended 50 feet away in a bullet trap, and pushed my first real cartridge into the rifle's breech. My very first shot drilled the center of the bullseye, as did my second and third shots. I was on my way to earning my Boy Scouts Marksmanship Merit Badge and discovering that I was not doomed to be an "also," or part of "the field" who always chases the winner across the finish line. My inability to clobber a baseball, throw a perfect football spiral, slapshot a puck into a net, sink a freethrow, or skate on wheels or blades was not going to keep me down. I could be a contender.

And that's how it all worked out. My shooting skills, resulting from hours and hours of practice and thousands of rounds blazed downrange punched my ticket. That golden time spent at the range allowed me to turn shooting skills into photographic skills ("hold...breathe...squeeze...") -- except with a camera, after I squeezed the shutter, my subject could walk out of the frame. From there, my shooting sports co-existed with my career as an international photojournalist, film and video documentary maker, television and video producer, director and writer -- and finally book author of U. S. Histories, military histories, biographies, fine arts volumes, auto racing and young adult books. In other words, a life of great adventure.

Shooting sports helped me bond with my father, crunching through the fall leaves in search of squirrels, rabbits or pheasants for the dinner table. The range provided a gathering place for some lasting friendships like Diane, the southpaw who could shoot rings around any guy on the line with .22 or a .30 caliber M1 rifle, who earned a Distinguished Rifleman's badge and had a great sense of humor. There was Gavin and Jim and Doc Meissner, the opthamologist and American Legion rangemaster who taught us all how to shoot and grow up while we were still in our teens.

I shoot casually with friends now, but I can still hear his voice, "Keep those muzzles pointed downrange! The longer you hold on a target, the unsteadier you get! Don't ever believe a gun is unloaded until you've personally checked it! More people get hurt on a tennis court or a golf course than on any well-run rifle range!"

Marksmanship is a gender-blind and age-proof sport that should be developed for spectator appeal and spun into the American Shooting Sport League with teams across the country. To realize that vision, we need more ranges and participation in a tradition that goes back to when our country was brand new and sharpshooters were held in high esteem. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Guns -- Power in a Powerless World?

The gun is a dumb, powerless instrument. Unlike a golf club or a tennis racket, a gun relies on its user's intent rather than imposing its specific intent, or context on the user. Guns have one specific function, to hurl a projectile at a target. Shoot at people, you have a weapon. Shoot at clay, paper, steel, other inorganic targets, or hunter's game and you have a sporting firearm. This synergy between the target and the gun, in turn, confers power on the shooter.If the target is another human being, the power is life or death. All other targets reinforce the power of  eye, hand. muscle and mental acuity, an athlete's skills.

The history of the gun has caromed back and forth between its imposed function as weapon or sporting firearm, adding in its early decades, "survival tool" until enough domesticated animals could be bred to eliminate hunting as a life-sustaining necessity. Specifically in the United States, as population swelled, the huge variety of social customs and the separation of economic classes caused conflicts that too often escalated into disastrous wars. Just as the space program moved technology forward in great strides, warfare accelerated development of the gun. The expertise in producing weapons for the military trickled down into the civilian market: modular design, carbon fiber components, laser sights, rail mounted accessories and varieties of ammunition designed for maximum impact and minimum collateral damage.

As the gun manufacturers realized greater market share in military-style firearms, their advertising and marketing began conferring the skills and power of the professional soldier in combat upon the civilians who bought watered-down variations of these weapons. The manufacturers, with the help of the NRA, used fear of street crime, radical groups, rape, pillage and rampage to equate civilian life with a combat zone. Leaving home in the morning added a ritual to plucking the car keys off their hook next to the back door; now the citizen also tucked a .45 caliber Glock, Kimber or S&W pistol  into a concealed belt holster.

This testosterone-dipped marketing fantasy reached into entertainment, video games, and many facets of pop culture: fashion, language and sports. We gradually became a more violent society by osmosis.

The most tragic benefactors of this trickle-down violence are the kids trapped in geographic ghettos where every day is a struggle to stay off the bottom rung of the social ladder. In desperation, they buy into the myth that the gun confers power in a powerless world. They are trapped in an abandoned society, cast adrift by social scientists, academics and passion-driven do-gooders who actually believe removing 270,000,000 guns from American hands will solve the problem. These are the same people who gave us Prohibition in the 18th Amendment. On the other side of the coin, the patriotic bullies goading on the manufacturers and raising money for Political Action Committees to terrorize legislators are just as foolish. Their woof and stomp pit bull antics embarrass their membership of sportsmen and women. No one wants to be tossed into the same pit as the militia yahoos, aluminum-foil hat people, or other crazed types wielding the Second Amendment as a club.

Both of the extreme ends of the gun control issue use the same argument forced on the kid who wants a job, an education, a chance at a better life and some self-esteem. Instead, he is fed the lie that the gun confers power in a powerless world.      

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Phony gun buy-backs a political non-event

Voluntary Gun turn-ins like the latest set for June 23 are largely a politically motivated attempt to look like the local government is doing SOMETHING to eliminate gun violence. In American Shooter, I wrote, "...Politically cynical buy-back programs were tried by City Hall, paying Chicagoans to turn in guns for $100 gift cards. These buy-back efforts always produced a pile of trash and the gangs get spending money to buy ammunition."

Little has changed as Mayor Emanuel pushes this same tired tactic. The littered table tops at police stations where the buy-backs are displayed for the media are rarely covered with an arsenal of street crime weapons. According to Steve Chapman, a member of the Chicago Tribune editorial board in today's Sunday Tribune, (6/17/12) "The people who participate are generally those who are the least dangerous. Those who are most dangerous have no motive to participate. So when the buy-back is done, the number of armed criminals will most likely be unchanged." As Chapman further points out, "...a pistol used in the course of armed robberies will pay for itself many times over. A $100 gift card won't."

A few old plinking rifles, A grocery store bag full of dusty, cheap automatic pistol knock-offs with clips rusted into the grips and revolvers that require a hammer to open the cylinder make for great scrap, but hardly represent the Glocks, Mac-10s, Taurus, Kimber, Colt and Desert Eagle street-carries shoved into baggy pants waistbands and hoody pockets.

The police and politicians are still casting too wide a net, hauling in more sporting firearms and fewer real weapons with each trolling expedition. This is another reason why we need a disconnect between sporting firearms and the needs of the police and military. We need more rifle and pistol ranges to train civilian gun owners and sports competitors in the rigors of marksmanship, firearms safety and responsibility. Today, draconian range building rules are insuring that the people who own the most (concealed and open carry) guns have the least amount of training -- and that's a recipe for tragedy.

What we need is a resurgence of firearms sports and competitions to get us back to our roots and away from the virulent extremist tub-thumping.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Women and Guns - Fear to Promote Sales

An excerpt from American Shooter

The 1980s became the decade for peddling handguns, long guns, shot guns, and anything that would go “Bang!” to women. Collaborating with the NRA, gun manufacturers’ designers, advertising agencies and media shills set out that women must be armed.
            The high ticket sell point on the prefrontal lobe of the male-dominated firearms market was “rape.” All women feared rape. Fear of “radicals” and “troublemakers” had fueled gun sales in the South during the height of civil rights confrontations. Fear of having the Second Amendment carjacked by skulking liberal socialists fired up millions of people who had a gun moldering away in a dresser drawer, night stand, or basement closet. Sportsmen, target punchers and militia members fired up their typewriters with letters to legislators and Op Ed columns in the media. Fear of that loss blazed from the pages of the American Rifleman Magazine’s editorial pages. Now, the Big Gun turret swung in the direction of women as they were targeted by the testosterone bubbling gun world.
            To allay any concerns that male NRA members would soon be attending Tupperware™ parties or carrying man purses, the NRA Personal Protection Program Director, Tracey Martin said in 1988: "Millions of intelligent, self-reliant women have chosen to defend themselves." And if the female members of NRA were looked upon as beer-swilling, tattooed, ball-busting rednecks in biker drag, that was also a misconception. In articles and advertising women were portrayed as competent, pleasant, no-nonsense folks who, besides being a businesswoman, high power shooting champion, or former Dallas Cowboys Cheer Leader could also defend themselves. That was the key comment from all the quoted female shooters: “I can defend myself.” Believe that, because in an NRA sales instruction pamphlet  titled, “ A Question of Self-Defense” the NRA text against a blood-spattered background warns, 

            “You're a woman. Someone's going to rape you. You'd better buy a handgun. People buy handguns out of fear, and rape is perceived as what women fear most.
            'Tell them what rape is,” the pamphlet shrieks,  “Be graphic. Be disgusting. Be obscene. Make them sick. If they throw up, then they have the tiniest idea of what rape is!”
            Another NRA pamphlet titled “It Can Happen to You” shows the picture of an elderly woman and the text oozes:
            “In nature, the predator preys on the weak, the sick, the aged. It stalks. It waits patiently for the precise moment when the victim appears defenseless. Then, it strikes...There is no way of telling a criminal predator by the way he looks. He might be a potential suitor.”
            A 1987 self-defense advertisement shows a man in a stocking mask beneath the headline, ”Should You Shoot a Rapist Before He Cuts Your Throat?"
            And a further warning and admonition sums up the potential dangers:
            “The days when you thought you'd never be the victim of a rape--that it ‘can't happen to me’ – are over. We all know of friends or family who have been raped, beaten, robbed or burglarized by thugs who don't think twice about hurting someone. You might be the next victim.”[i]

Now, shut your eyes and imagine an ad that reads, "It's a beautiful day to work out. What will it be: the golf course, the tennis court or the rifle range?"

[i] Pamphlet texts quoted from: Josh Sugarman, National Rifle Association - Money, Firepower and Fear, Violence Policy Center, 1992.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Archery Ticket to Higher Learning

I know this blog is about our gun culture and "Liberal in the NRA" and the schizophrenic nature of our sport's image (weapons vs sport), but at this point, I must digress. While paging through my Chicago Tribune yesterday, I tripped over a long article with photos about archery. What stopped me is the association between archery and education. You can get a college scholarship through excellence with a bow and arrow. It seems that interest in archery is growing as a sport and as a ticket to college, especially since our last Olympic Archery team was slaughtered in their last appearance. Schools have been intensifying their search for bow and arrow talent as school administrations have shown approval.

Now, in the course of America's sports history, college rifle and pistol teams once were training grounds for marksmen and women -- even though the NRA frowned on European metric targets and ranges. When I was in high school, our ROTC battalion had a rifle team, of which I was co-captain. We were doomed to somewhat mediocre performance by the army surplus 1920 Springfield .22 rifles that were hardly tack drivers. However, at the senior year's sports award banquet, my team mates and I were able to step forward and receive our sports letter to sew on our school sweaters along with the other jocks. That was the first time my Dad ever applauded me and my ticket was punched as a lifelong marksman.

We haven't been exactly world beaters at International firearms competition. It would be nice if schools could revive interest in rifle and pistol marksmanship at the scholarship level if we can bring the sport back to public recognition as a character builder and disciplined pursuit as practiced by today's marksmen and women. I have no sour grapes against archery. I have a beautiful hand made 75 pound recurve in my closet, which only needs a set of matched arrows to resuscitate. Good for archery, but rifle, pistol and shotgun marksmanship should be rewarded with the same push as other traditional sports -- especially with a league of our own.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Dad...Let me show you..."

Father and son (or daughter) walks in the woods are fond memories for many shooters with a little snow on the roof. My Dad and I spent many hours crunching through fall leaves and meandering down cornrows with shotguns in  the crook of our arms. More often than not, at the end of the day the war surplus canvas game bag we carried held nothing but our empty coffee thermos and balled-up wax paper that once wrapped our lunch sandwiches. Maybe we tossed a few wormy apples in the air for each other just work the guns and smell the powder smoke in the crisp fall air, but the walk and the talk were the big features of our gun culture "hunting" trips into the farmland north of Chicago.

The rifle range at Fox Valley was a different matter -- that was strictly business. While we had gone there often with our shotguns and .22s to blast clay targets and clink tiny steel discs at the plinking range, other trips were with the American Legion Junior Rifle Team toting our M1 .30 caliber rifles to shoot for score and qualification rankings. I had made it all the way up to NRA and military Expert as had the other members of our small  team. On one occasion, we drove the long distance from Chicago's South Side to the Algonquin, Illinois range to practice before a big military/civilian meet to be shot at Fort Sheridan. My Dad came along for the first time.

After we had all fired our qualifiers for the Army "C" course, and had been pushed around pretty good by the recoil of that heavy infantry rifle, Doc Meissner, our coach and an old Camp Perry gunny asked Dad if he wanted to shoot the M1. The last time he had fired a center fire rifle was in the Navy -- an '03 Springfield bolt action in California on a qualification range in 1940, just before he was mustered out of his second hitch. Sixteen years had gone by and when Doc handed him the rifle and a clip of 30-'06 cartridges, I could see -- even at the young and stupid age of 16 -- that he was uneasy. He hefted the long slab of wood and steel like it was an alien thing. All my life, Dad had tried to show me how to do things, with varying degrees of success. Now, I found myself stepping up and saying, "Hey Dad, let me show you..." and helping him slip into the army arm-loop sling.

I sat cross-legged next to him on the shooting mat as he worked through a bad trigger flinch, dry-fires and finally turning red flag misses down at 200 yards into hits in the black circle. Not much was ever said about that afternoon at the range, but later, in my senior year when I was invited, along with the ROTC rifle team at South Shore High School, to the Sports Lettermen's Presentation Ceremony, he came along. When we six had all received our letters to be sewn on our senior blue and aqua cardigan sweaters, He was grinning when, for the first time in my life, he applauded me.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Pssst...Hey, buddy...

I was reading today about the dearth of rifle and pistol ranges in the city of Chicago even though the City Council approved their opening. Sounds like a good deal until you read the restrictions concerning "where" a range is permitted to exist. Running down the list of "forbidden" locations ("within 1,000 feet of a school" -- hell, when I was a kid on the South Side, we had a rifle range IN our high school), it appears only a concrete bunker built on an artificial island way offshore in Lake Michigan would be suitable real estate. Now, THERE's a use for abandoned Northerly Island!

Sportsmen and women are asking why do we have to drive 40 miles outside the city to receive firearms instruction classes demanded by the city to obtain a gun permit? Why are ranges barred from being built near any human habitation? Do City Council members fear shifty gun owners in long overcoats standing on street corners trying to peddle firearms along with their Rolex wristwatch knock-offs, or selling guns out of car trunks in alleys...? Oh, wait, that's what's happening now.

We need more rifle and pistol ranges and more instruction locations where adults and young people can plug back into an American tradition. We need rifle or pistol teams to get at least as much newspaper sport section space as local Bass Fishing tournaments! And I love bass fishing. Shooting sports are great character builders requiring practice, physical skills, responsibility and rigorous respect for the rules of safe gun handling.

Let the gun worshiper patriotic bullies woof, stomp and bellow while the anti-gun crowd slithers around with their sweat-stained statistic pads. The rest of us can just keep working to take back our sport.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

.38 Caliber Therapy

Ever have a day when you felt everything you touched turned into poop and you just had to leave for an hour  with your favorite Smith & Wesson .38 Special Military and Police five-screw Hand Ejector six-inch barrel revolver, fully nickel-plated with reddish walnut combat grips and pump half a box of wadcutters down range until the black circle in the middle of that target was just a big ragged hole? I feel better just writing about it.

Of course, exorcising demons is only one use for heating up a perfectly innocent firearm. Some mornings at the 100 meter rifle range, beneath the cool corrugated ceiling and loading your first clip of the day one shell at a time with a nine o'clock wind on your cheek, the day holds nothing but promise. The problem is, not enough shooting sportsmen can enjoy these simple pleasures whenever they wish. There are not enough ranges.

We need more pistol, rifle, and shotgun ranges. It seems odd to me that people get into bidding wars to live right off the fairway of a golf course. One fella got his retirement wish right downwind from the Tee box of the club's 16th hole; a nice brick home with a patio just off the master bedroom. On his second day in that lovely residence, he stepped out in his pajamas into the perfumed grassy breeze, stretched, yawned contentedly and then performed a perfect half tuck forward roll with a pike layout, assisted by a high velocity Titelist golf ball to the back of his cranium. For months afterward, he spoke in tongues and swore he saw Jesus with his dead cousin Ambrose. That could never happen at a properly run rifle range.

More decent firearms sportsmen and women are being needlessly injured every day as hapless targets on golf courses, or lunging for a baseline backhand at the tennis court. Hamstrings, concussions, pulled this and torn that, all injuries that could be prevented by spending more time on a safe firing line.

Read American Shooter, learn about our gun culture and help turn this mess around.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

"Weapons" or "Firearms"

No sooner did I finish the last post than I tuned into an interview on-line of Bill Maher by Piers Morgan. Normally, I love Bill Maher. Piers Morgan sails on neutral waters with his whiney British accent, but okay. They were discussing guns and the gun culture in the United States. Maher likened guns to his antibiotics. He accepts his pills, but he doesn't "love" them, doesn't polish them, doesn't worship them. They are there if needed. Morgan whined about having 300,000,000 "weapons" in the United states and that shut everything down for me.

All weapons are not guns and all guns are not weapons. A gun is designed to fire a missile at a distant target. Not a distant head, or a distant chest, or foot, or other body part. A knife is designed to cut -- not designed to cut throats, or commit hari-kiri. Just to cut. We make a gun or a knife a weapon. Fewer people are hurt on a rifle range than on a golf course, or a tennis court each year.

The police and military design guns to be weapons, because defending lives and property is part of their jobs. In some countries miliary service is compulsary and a military rifle is in every family closet and young men and women are trained in its use. We don't do that. There is a disconnect in the U.S. between "weapons" for the police and military and "firearms" for the general population -- or there should be. Gun manufacturers have chosen to beat the warfare drum and promise military superpowers to whomever buys one of their weapons. Testosterone-dipped Americans are brain-washed into buying the Rambo concept and every once in a while one of them goes off the tracks on onto the 10:00 PM news.

American Shooter supports the idea of that disconnect between military and police "weapons" and "firearms" for American sportsmen and women. The distinction is important if we are to return to our traditional roots.

Woof and Stomp Truth Management

On February 28, the Chicago Tribune published a canned feature called the "Truth-O-Meter" from an outfit called Politifact that analizes claims and statements made by politicians and their chums in an attempt to discover some grain of truth amid the rhetoric. Wayne LaPierre, boss of the NRA spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference. LaPierre claimed President Obama "endorsed a total ban on the sale and possession of all handguns." Based on a 1996 Illinois state voter multiple questionnaire, which the then candidate for the Illinois senate staff said he never saw, someone typed "yes" after a question on banning all handguns. This yellowing antique "evidence" in the sweaty hands of the NRA Truth Managers triggered a feeding frenzy culminating in the concept  that the president is just "biding his time" to get re-elected in 2012 and then he springs into action to unleash a holy war on all gun owners. To date, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence has given the president flunking marks in his views on gun banning and every survey known to man verifies this fact. President Obama should be judged by the only two playing fields that count: his actual statements and his actual record not by the aluminum foil hat people who use the Internet like a dirty hand towel.

While writng American Shooter and about our gun culture, I laid out my idea of shutting down this hopping from one foot to the other with savage glee every time some fragment of soggy-bottom logic happens to align with ideological stars and the torches are lit for another Muggles Parade. Mixed metaphor aside, American Shooting Sportsmen and women are developing a tin ear where hate and meaness are the tools of debate. Let's use our resources and imagination to let the public in on our traditional and character-building sport. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Never is Heard a Discouraging Word

Have you ever been to a firearms practice range and heard anyone heaping disparaging commentary upon another shooter? Has anyone ever seen another shooter boistrously drunk? Have you ever been asked to leave because of loud foul language or rudeness to fellow shooters? Ever pitched a fit over a missed shot?

Me neither.

I'm not saying that the occasional whispered epithet has not escaped our lips when when a shot failed to cut the 10 ring, or a clay target floated off like a great orange bird into the trap range burial ground while your cloud of number 11 shot continued to punch a hole in the sky. All of us are relatively human. We are all prone to fits of self-deprication -- but they are usually just that. Take that measuring stick to a football game, a golf course or a tennis court and run your survey. There's something about the skill of marksmanship, combining a high level of physical and mental control in an act that is so totally exposed and solo that directs rage over a bad performance inward. When we're at the range cradling that wood and metal shooting machine, we bring our party manners. This is something you teach kids like the First Tee program in golf and junior programs in tennis and some of the solo heat team sports.

Shooting is a solitary communion between the shooter and his gun, part of a tradition that is in the American Shooter DNA from the earliest man to hurl a missile and bonk a mammoth. Track and field athletes know about it. On that field of competiton they are part of a brotherhood of solo performers. A shooter is no less an athlete when he or she steps up to that firing line and plants the shooting boots. Ask a dust-streaked, sweaty, red-faced three-gun match shooter if marksmanship is physical.

And think of how you would feel if your last shot was followed by the roar of a crowd and a trip to Disneyland? If you want to put patriotism on the line, remember, we were once a nation of marksmen and women and were proud of it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Kindred Spirits in Shooting Sports

When Gordon Morris Bakken was asked by my publisher to pen a short blurb for the back cover of my book, American Shooter, he instead did me the honor of going all in on a "foreward." He followed my model by making his work a review laced with patches from his own life, growing up with firearms and passing that love of the outdoors and marksmanship to his son. When he wrote for the back cover:

“An informative and enjoyable excursion, both historical and personal. Souter sets out
the problem of the polarization of public debate about guns. He seeks to separate 'myths and truth’ and ‘insights and blunders.’ This book is not about the Second Amendment
controversy. Yet Souter explores the nature of our gun culture and how deeply ingrained it is,
both personally and individually, and broadly throughout American society.”
I felt a kindred spirit. We both love the sport of firearms marksmanship for the skills required and for the camaraderie of our fellow sportsmen and women. We both started out as kids toting .22 rifles and still enjoy the crunch of trail breaking leaves under our boots and the faint scent of gun oil in the crisp fall air. It is a nice feeling to be in the company of a learned gentleman with enough alphabet soup after his name to be comfortable in any academic circle and yet he is grounded in the real world. One day, I hope we can meet in person, maybe stand side by side and drop the hammer on a few distant targets. Until then, I can only thank Gordon Morris Bakken, B.S., M.S., Ph.D, J.D.  Professor of History, California State University, Fullerton 

Firearm Owner Flagillation

Do you own a firearm? Is it buried in a drawer, hidden in a closet, camouflaged to look like an artsy lamp, or locked in a gun safe in a secure undisclosed location? Are you embarrassed that you own one or more firearms? Showing off a new set of golf clubs, a composite tennis racket, or a tricked-out mountain bike doesn't take a second thought. But taking down from its pride of place on the dining room wall rack, a custom stocked 30-06 Winchester bolt action rifle with an eight power telescopic sight, well, that's just plain creepy. When you load your cased shotguns into the trunk of your car to go to the trap range, do you notice your neighbors shooing their children inside as if you were the neighborhood designated sex offender? Have children stopped coming to your house on hallowe'en?

All of the above are common in the U.S. today because of the melding of riot and rampage, murder and mayhem that must be dealt with by the police and military, and the law-abiding ownership of firearms for the express purpose of enjoying the shooting sports. Even though approximately 200,000,000 guns are in American hands today, most people have been conditioned to fear firearms. But a gun on every hip is no solution -- it just announces the gun toter's fear, or aggession no longer veiled.

Too many kids are taught that respect comes from the barrel of a gun while a kid who learns that marksmanship skills and safe firearm handling are valued and rewarded builds self-esteem not the fear in the gut from phony street "justice." The United States was once a nation of shooters and earned respect toeing the mark. It can be that way again if the patriotic bullies and false prophets of doom take a seat, have a cold beer and let the adults get on with it.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Putting on Kevlar Undies

My publisher, Potomac Books in Dulles, Virginia came up with the PR tag line: "Liberal in the NRA" to beat the drum for American Shooter. They believe it is a provocative oxymoron that will engage the curiosity of readers and cause money to magically fly from wallets and purses into the booksellers' cash registers. While I hope this is true, the term makes me feel like Buster Keaton in that Civil War movie where he crosses between the two battle lines wearing half of a Union Army uniform and half of a Confederate Army uniform carring a flag similarly divided. All fighting stops -- until the wind changes direction reversing the flag --  and everyone starts shooting at him.

This clever label suggests I stand between the political PAC that uses patriotic arm twisting to achieve its self-serving agenda cloaked in the guise of defending the Second Amendment and a collection of over-educated rabble who tilt at windmills with loopy statistics in an attempt to rid the world of firearms. Not a great place to be standing without a full set of Kevlar undies.

When I set out to write American Shooter, I approached the subject from two directions. As a historian with 50-odd books from mainstream publishers on bookseller shelves in the U.S., the history of America's gun culture is a rich subject filled with irony, excitement, humor, tradgedy and sharply drawn opinions. The other approach was as a marksman from age 12 when I earned my Boy Scout merit badge. That achievement, for a kid with low self-esteem, mediocre sports skills, average student abilities and few prospects for a life of blazing success, punched my ticket, gave me a hand up. At that time, I became a Junior National Rifle Association member and have remained a member ever since. This bipolar organization is still the effective steward of our sport.

A "Liberal in the NRA" does not stand for a political position as much as it does for seeking ground between the polarizing extremes of patriotic bullies and sweaty-palmed, Chautauqua tent drum beaters of the stripe that gave us the 18th Amendment back in 1920. To me, a liberal is the opposite of a lock-step ideologue. I'm supporting a solution that everyone can live with as long as those who push hate and division as their chief debating points can shut up, sit down and enjoy a nice cold beer while the adults in the room explore a couple of positive win-win ideas.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Shooting is like sex, but without the humiliation

American Shooter gave me the opportunity to dig through a carton of spiral-bound journals dating back to teen years (yes, those are on paper, not on animal skins written in sheep's blood -- I'm not that old). This excavation showed me (a) what a windy goon I was between occasional bursts of inspired literary elegance and (b) how many adventures, trials, victories and important decisions in my life trace back to a substitute for sex in a basement when I was 12 years old.

Sliding a greased bullet into a rifle's breech, easing the bolt forward in its receiver channel and locking down the handle; aligning the sights on a black circle target of concentric rings 50 feet distant and applying pressure to the trigger with my breath held in my throat, waiting... The mechanism's sear drops from its notch and the firing pin darts forward like a snake's tongue. Ignition. A puff of released gas and the bullet spirals out of the muzzle, corkscrewing down range to punch a hole in the paper target. Whap. Release. Unlock the bolt handle, withdraw the steel cylinder to the rear bringing with it the spent and empty brass cartridge case until the mechanical ejector snaps the case free of the extractor's grip and, like the sucked-dry husk of a dead insect, the brass shell shimmers briefly in its flight and then disappears into the darkness as another of its kind is slipped into the rifle's still-smoking breech. Score.

My first shot was a bulls-eye, dead center of the target, a "pinwheel" in shooter jargon. After years of failure at virtually every sport known to man (except possibly Buzkashi headless goat carcass racing, the premier sport of Afghanistan) Mom and Dad finally had a keeper!

What about the "sex" part? Try sliding bullets into the lubricated breech of a fine rifle or well balanced pistol with the anticipation of pumping those hot slugs down range at a distant target and try to not think of sex. Sure, once the process of shooting begins, your libido becomes entangled in the foreplay of trigger control, breathing, grip and lining up those pesky sights, but brother -- or sister -- you are caught up in an adrenaline-fueled orgasm of shoot and reload until that last round leaves the muzzle. You are spent, but unlike sex, you can begin again right away, time after time after time...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Liberal in the NRA

That tag assigned to my new book "American Shooter" (Potomac Books, Dulles, Virginia) by my publisher fairly describes my situation thrust squarely into the center of America's current gun culture. Gun ownership has long been a hotbutton topic in the United States, and the National Rifle Association has the reputation of being an organization of primarily politically conservative members.

American Shooter provides a unique look at gun ownership, handgun bans, shooting sports, and the controversy over how to interpret the Second Amendment from the point of view of a liberal gun owner and enthusiast.

I examine the history of firearms in the United States, from the settlers who carried matchlock muskets ashore at Jamestown to the citizens who purchase guns in record numbers today. Recent Supreme Court decisions that uphold the right to bear arms have galvanized citizens on both sides of the debate, making the gun issue hotter than ever.

To provide a personal view, I weave in tales of my own experiences with guns, including sport shooting as a young man, hunting and bonding with my father, and facing the smoking end of a muzzle as an international photojournalist.

American Shooter is both a history and a personal journey that traces the path of American gun ownership culture from the Revolution to today. It recounts how the country has lived with guns from the flintlock hung over the fireplace to the concealed-carry, laser-sighted Glock semiautomatic pistol tucked away in the hidden pocket of Mom's purse.

This blog invites opinions, memories, debate and recognition that exclamation points do not necessarily make the exclaimer correct. Also, I admit that I was wrong once back in 1947 and I never forgot the humiliation, so if you judge one of my opinions to be pure unrepentent stubborness, you are probably right.