Take Pre-Emptive Strikes


“It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir,” said the young man with the gun, looking me directly in the eyes. I smiled as I shook his hand, noticing his firm handshake. The powder smears on his sweaty face matched his serious demeanor. He glanced away quickly and said, “I’m sorry sir, I have to go. I’m up.” He moved thoughtfully to the shooter’s box, waited — hands high — and when the tone came moved with practiced skill. Plates fell and he was victorious over a startled-looking adult next to him. The young man, Tanner, was 14 at the time and we were at the Handgunner/STI World Shootoff held several years ago in Montrose, Colorado.

It was my first time there and wouldn’t be my last. I was introduced to literally hundreds of shooters, from virtually every shooting discipline possible. IPSC, IDPA, Bullseye, Cowboy Shooting and you-name-it were on hand. This unique match is a rare opportunity for competitors and casual shooters to compete with anyone regardless of their particular interest. In the final stages, you might find a western-costumed hombre with a single action, toe-to-toe with an unlimited shooter, steel plates in front, waiting for the horn. And sometimes the single action wins.

After three days of shaking hands, walking the ranges and meeting people, I came away impressed. The people I met seemed genuinely interested to meet the new editor at Handgunner and I have to confess, I was genuinely interested in meeting them. There’s an old German proverb that goes: “The eyes believe themselves — the ears believe other people.” What I believe now I saw with my own eyes. There were no surprises, other than the quality of the young competitors I watched.

I couldn’t help notice the concentration on the faces of everyone on the line — but most especially on the faces of those 13- and 14-year-old handgunners. “When,” I asked one father, “do you ever see a look of that intensity on the face of a young adolescent?”

He smiled and said, “Not often, and this sure beats the same face while they have a video game controller in their hand, wouldn’t you say?” I’d say.

This all caused me to mull it over. In conversation with shooters I recalled how I have often been embarrassed to open my own magazine while I eat at a fast food restaurant. While flying on business, I sometimes hesitate to unlimber a Handgunner or Guns Magazine — aware of the effect it may have on the more liberal around me. I hesitated to buy a gun magazine and pay for it in front of a string of shoppers at the Piggly Wiggly. I was beginning to feel as if those magazines were contraband and indeed, they must be, because they are increasingly hard to find on the shelves. Then one day it all changed.

It dawned on me there was nothing wrong with my sport, with my vocation or with my hobby. I was breaking no law. My enjoyment of firearms, of their history, use and collecting, had many positive things going for it. Firearms have given me a lifetime of enjoyment, have protected my thin-hide at times and provided my family with food. Why should I be ashamed? Then I had what my shrink-father calls a “catharsis” — I said to hell with ‘em.

At the match, I was given the opportunity to say a few words and confess I took advantage of the captive audience. I related my new-found attitude. I reminded the attentive crowd to be proud of their shooting heritage, to share their accomplishments, their children’s competition stories, hunting memories and to not be ashamed or embarrassed to be a gun owner. I told them, once I began to spread my Handgunner out in front of me, there were often curious questions from people about guns, hunting and more. I found there are many fellow shooters and hunters out there, also hesitant to be known. More importantly, I found there are many people anxious to have questions answered about guns, and my magazines often opened the door to those conversations. The assembly applauded. I could tell, they weren’t applauding me — but the idea. A “Why haven’t I thought of that before?” look flashed across many faces, followed closely with big, mischievous grins.

I continued the conversation. We spoke of our children and our heritage. I pointed out the young man, Tanner, who sheepishly put his arm up and gave a shy wave. After watching that weekend, I was reminded we hold the keys to our children’s future. If they go on to value our heritage, it will be because we teach them about it. They will inherit our guns, our gear and our legacy, but only if we help them. If we truly care, we’ll do something about it, exactly like those many parents at the match, who were doing something about it. Their kids were there, shooting, competing, trying. “In the arena,” as Teddy Roosevelt said. Not plugged into a video game in a dark room.

If we don’t take the time to build the foundation today, it will all die, now, with us. Don’t let it die. Take pre-emptive strikes. Reach out to new shooters. Demand your local stores stock the magazines you read. And most importantly, pass on the legacy. Today.