While the recent tragedy in Las Vegas to many may not seem to be an "outdoors" issue, to me anything gun-related has the potential to become an issue to outdoorsperson such as myself. While one man ended the lives of, at this writing, over 50 people, the state of Wisconsin will soon send approximately 600,000 men, women and children into the woods with loaded guns. Sadly, there seems to be a fatality or two every year - many of which are heart attacks from an elderly hunter attempting to drag a deer out of the woods solo or a hunter getting accidentally shot ascending or descending a tree stand without properly securing their weapon.
But we, as sportspeople, do not have mass shootings in the woods. I know, the media has made a point of declaring the shooter was a licensed hunter. I am not sure how that is relevant. My point is, of course, it is not the gun that is the danger.
One of my favorite shows as a child (which is not even in the same zip code as the "safe space" society we live in today, and maybe that is why it continues to be a favorite) was "All in the Family." I remember an episode where Gloria, the daughter, was so incredibly distraught and asked Archie if he knew how many people were killed by guns every year.
"Would it make you feel any better, little gourl, if they was pushed outta windas?" was his response. It brought a bunch of laughs at the time, but it really speaks to the cause of so many senseless deaths. It matters little whether a person is killed by a bullet, a car or a cast iron frying pan. Another saying I have heard too many times to count cites the number of card-carrying NRA members and the fact that if we were the problem, you would know about it. I think we all understand it is not the gun that is the problem.
We also, I think, understand that no one is going to "take away our guns" - although attempts to limit them may be the first of 1,000 cuts, as the saying goes. I am sure I am not the only sportsperson who owns several guns and has an eye on so many others. Are they all practical? Are they all meant for hunting? Absolutely not. But all of them would be fun to shoot at a target range.
My dad owned a small cannon when I was a kid. We did not hunt with that. It was rare we hunted with his Hawken. We never hunted with the four-barrel "poker pistol" he and I built together from a kit. But were they fun guns? Of course. In my younger years I owned both an AK-47 and an AR-15. Both semi-autos with 30 round clips and folding stocks. One, as I remember it, had a hellfire trigger - legal back then, but I am sure no longer. Was I planning to shoot up K-Mart? Uh, no. But they were fun to shoot. I get that, if no one had guns, no one would get shot. But that's like saying making meth illegal will keep people from getting addicted ... oh wait ...
What I cannot see, and hope I never see in my lifetime, is an entire group of people having things taken away from them due to the actions of a few "bad apples." Would you take your son's skateboard away because a neighbor kid kept skating into traffic, putting drivers and others at risk? Probably not. This is a simplistic example, of course, but it smacks of the same mentality.
All of this provides little solace to those families affected by this tragedy. Please do not think that is lost on me. It definitely is not. I feel for those families who have been affected by gun violence at any time and any place. But, I cannot help but think someone, somewhere, maybe society as a whole, failed Stephen Paddock. Perhaps I am wrong, but I do not think that is the case. There was obviously some sort of mental illness at issue.
Mentally healthy people do not plan or carry out an attack such as the one witnessed this past weekend. As each of these tragedies unfolds, there seems to always be at least one person who knew - who knew something wasn't right - who knew something of the impending doom. We have started to prosecute drug dealers and others who provide a lethal dose of a narcotic to an individual who dies from ingesting that drug (which I will go on record to say, I think is totally wrong. Personal responsibility must come into play at some point if we are ever to recover as a society), so what about the people who knew a gunman was a ticking time bomb? What about those who read a manifesto - not that there was in this case, but this has been the case in the past. Are they somehow responsible as well by that same logic? They had first-hand knowledge that something was amiss. Yet none of these people attempted to reach out for help for a person they professed to care about.
Yes, I am sure there are success stories, the ones we don't hear about, the ones that don't make the news because they never happen. Maybe we need to hear about those. Maybe we need to hear about the kid who didn't go shoot up his high school because there was someone there to help him through his struggle. Maybe we need to hear about the jilted lover who didn't kill his entire family and 15 of the neighbors, or the fired employee who found a positive outpouring for his feelings of betrayal and didn't seek retribution in a violent way.
Maybe the kid's uncle took him to the trap range. During the time they spent learning to blow clay targets to pieces, they talked about life and what was important. Maybe the new divorcee took a weekend trip to Lake Michigan with his buddies for the fish-of-a-lifetime trip, bonding and finding new avenues for his stress. Maybe a former co-worker reached out to that fired employee and took him out grouse hunting, where he was reminded the value of a life and to give thanks for what he had. Maybe those were the first steps back to mental health for those folks.
I think we need to have more conversations about mental illness and fewer conversations about gun regulation. I understand there are difficulties in the way and patient confidentiality and all of those important things that get in the way of those conversations. I am not saying those things are not important. I am saying we need to remember to take care of each other. We need to remember that everyone is struggling with something. Maybe if we take just a few minutes to find out another person's struggles and to attempt to help them through hard times, maybe there will be less of this.
With the explosion of social media and ubiquitous online presences, we have ceased to become human to one another. We have ceased to have value. Those of us who hunt, fish and spend time in the outdoors - we understand that value. We understand the traditions that have been passed down to us will die with us unless we pass them on. Maybe it is because, when you get out on the woods and waters, you slow down. You remember what is important. You view things differently. The healing powers of nature, as they say. While I would send up a prayer for those affected by this week's senseless violence, I would send up several in the hopes we would learn to help one another again, to pay attention, and to get involved.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at email@example.com.