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Richard Shafer, Published February 02 2013

Letter: W. Fargo gun raffle a symptom

The hockey fundraiser featuring a gun raffle planned in West Fargo reminds me of the time I attended a regional high school wrestling meet in Minnesota just north of where a Red Lake High School student had killed nine people and himself in a shooting spree the same year. The gymnasium was full of young wrestlers and their families, and the event also featured a raffle for a new hunting rifle. The woman conducting the drawing was a very enthusiastic school booster who lauded the virtues of the gun.

After the winner, a female high school student, came up to accept her prize, I approached the booster and asked if she didn’t think it was inappropriate to be giving away a rifle in a crowded high school gym so soon after the nearby mass shooting. She seemed genuinely taken aback and said the connection hadn’t occurred to her. With my courage up, I approached the local wrestling coach and asked the same question. He gave me an icy glare and asked, “You’re not from around here are you?” It was true.

Youth and guns

I grew up in a Colorado mountain town in the 1950s. Kids there knew their enemies, and we were well-armed. In good weather, we spent much of our playtime using imaginary automatic weapons (with limitless clips) to mow down imagined Japanese and German enemies. Because we had two adjoining Indian reservations and a booming tourist business based on Indian artifacts, ruins and cultural performances, for us playing cowboys and Indians was passé and seemingly unkind to our Native American classmates.

Hiking alone at about age 10 in the mountains behind our house one day, I came across three older boys around a campfire. They ordered me to start gathering firewood while one directed me with a pointed .22 rifle. I reluctantly gathered their wood and left thinking they were jerks. Although I was young, I had full comprehension of the natural law related to being armed versus being unarmed.

Empowerment

In high school, I joined my high school friends hunting deer each fall. We were less interested in shooting deer than we were in being well-armed, camping out and drinking beer.

Once while I was attending a high school football game as a reporter in another mountain town, I remember several men who were avoiding the $5 admission price watching the game on a hill through their mounted rifle scopes. No one seemed to mind.

I admit enjoying the empowerment of carrying the rifle my father had brought home after two years of combat in Europe during World War II. But at the end of the war, he lost interest in guns. He also lost two close relatives to guns, both lonely men in their late 60s who used them to end their lives.

NRA influence

Local sporting goods stores have high-quality outdoor wear that I enjoy shopping for. But I avoid drifting into the gun sections because of the candy store-like displays of handguns, shotguns and rifles.

It is hard to repress the visceral male urge to be armed and empowered. It also bothers me that anyone with a functioning credit card can be better armed than I am. On two occasions while shopping, I had to walk by tables manned by National Rifle Association representatives who were in a store to recruit new members. Although I tried to resist, I felt compelled to engage the recruiters in discussions about guns and gun control. Some were civil, and some just glared.

When I complained to a salesperson on one occasion that I would rather not have to be greeted by the NRA while shopping, I was surprised that he agreed with me. I hope he still has his job.

I reluctantly support the Second Amendment. But in 2013 it is both anachronistic and overly broad in its interpretation. A way to reduce our 11,000-plus annual gun deaths might be for overly zealous gun advocates to collectively find something less dangerous to embrace, and through mass and voluntary disarmament help America to become a more civilized nation.


Shafer lives in Grand Forks.