In the wake of the Columbine shooting tragedy in Littleton Colorado in 1999, I wrote a column published widely, including in the Christian Science Monitor, explaining why I still loved guns.
I wrote about following my Dad, a decorated Korean War veteran, to gun shows as a kid. I recalled how he taught me to hunt on our farm. I talked about the joy of bringing a Winchester Model 12 shotgun to the shoulder and the smooth action of an old Parker double barrel.
I also wrote that I had no interest in getting into a ideological discussion around the 2nd Amendment. I preferred then, and I still prefer heated debates about whether big calibers are better for hunting elk than smaller, faster rounds.
A lot has happened since then.
The Supreme Court has cleared up the debate about American’s constitutional right as individuals to own guns. Massacres like Columbine also have turned into an epidemic leading up to the heart-wrenching shooting of 20 children and eight adults at the Sandy Hook school in Connecticut a week ago.
The United States is now deep into a discussion about how to stop the epidemic and naturally a new look at gun control is a part of discussion along with mental health and the larger cultural issue of violence in entertainment and video games. President Barack Obama has convened a panel to put together a legislative package.
The panel will consider whether to address the 40 percent of gun purchases, mostly at gun shows, that go on without background checks, reinstating an assault rifle ban and banning high capacity magazines or clips.
Personally, I started going to gun shows again since Columbine with a friend who was just beginning to get into guns and hunting. The sporting arms I loved as a kid were there along with the military arms my father loved as a collector of Springfields, rifles built for every war starting with the Civil War.
There also were hundreds of assault rifles and banana clips that could hold dozens of bullets. There were the survivalist books and guides and an almost universal fear that Obama had a plan to take their guns or stop them from buying ammunition.
That’s one of the reasons the gun industry has been a bright spot throughout the recession. It’s also the reason why it will be hard to have a logical discussion about guns even with the 2nd Amendment issue resolved.
This gun culture has changed from my youth from one based on hunting to one focused more on the guns themselves. The explosion of virtual reality video games, like those Newtown killer Adam Lanza played for hours, where participants shoot hundreds of adversaries, is an offshoot of this modern gun culture.
As Congress begins this new discussion I hope they reflect on what has come before. The 1968 Gun Control Act regulated guns like they never had before after the shootings of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.
That law, which most gun owners thought violated the 2nd Amendment, built up the National Rifle Association and unified them. The late Idaho Sen. James McClure made changing the law his top priority beginning as young Congressman.
In 1986 he succeeded with the passage of the Firearm Owners Protection Act, which reopened interstate gun sales, owners to carry their guns without registration across areas where its required and allowed ammunition shipments in the mail among other things.
He accomplished this using reason, logic, skill and by reaching across to the very people who opposed him, gun control advocates. That’s why the same law banned full auto machine guns and the parts that that can turn a semi-automatic rifle into a machine gun.
As I said, I’m a gun owner who doesn’t like to get into the ideological debate over guns. I would much rather argue whether Salmon cowboy and guide Elmer Keith, who invented the .44 magnum, or flat-trajectory .270 caliber enthusiast Jack O’Connor of Lewiston had the right ideas.
As a journalist, I don’t take sides so it’s easier. But now gun owners are going to have to make their case about what’s good and what’s bad about the modern American gun culture.
I hope they use McClure as their guide.