Tools and Toys

A nine year old girl shot and killed an instructor on a gun range in Nevada yesterday.

Here's a picture of my son with the products of his first big date with a plasma arc welder. He's older than nine, of course, but he started using air hammers, drill presses, and hammer drills when he was around eight. He started using a die grinder when he was ten. These tools are useful, but can maim or even kill if handled poorly.

So why does this not feel the same as putting a automatic weapon in a little girl's hands? Yes, an Uzi is a dangerous object with notorious muzzle climb that a small child is inherently going to have trouble controlling. By comparison, a hammer drill has a much more limited potential to get out of hand.

But that's not the salient point. A hammer drill is a tool for making holes in concrete and such. That's what we use it for. I taught my boy to use it so he could do real work with it around the place. An Uzi, in contrast, is a weapon of war. There is no target shooting class you can use an Uzi in, certainly not in full-auto. Blowing through a clip on an Uzi is not a sport. A civilian shooting an Uzi is taking a soldier's tool and treating it like a toy. Part of what seems so wrong about the Nevada shooting is that the little girl wasn't learning the sport of shooting: she was playing the game of war with a real weapon, and the weapon worked as designed.

I'm guessing my mom learned to shoot when she was around nine. I learned when I was a little older than that. I like going to gun ranges and shooting guns. If I didn't have a bad feeling about killing things, I'd probably hunt. So I actually kind of understand why parents would take their nine year old girl to a gun range. Kind of. Maybe twelve would have been better. And I understand that guns are pretty important to them, so in the same way I want my son to know the tools so he can be a maker and make things, they want their girl to be a shooter. I cringe at the idea of putting firearms at the center of your identity, but I can't pick for somebody else.

But treating weapons as toys is a problem, and this incident shows one reason why. There is a little thrill of focussed attention that never goes away when you are handling a dangerous object, but if that thrill becomes the point, and you start needing bigger and bigger hits of it, then your hobby is more than just a hobby. This is so far away from target shooting as a sport. There is no sport here, only playing dangerous games.

Condolences to the survivors of the incident in Nevada.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Well put. My dad was a 4H marksmanship leader when I was around 11 or 12. He was a life long hunter and it was my formal introduction to the safe handling of firearms. I became an accomplished marksman, but first learned the "ten commandments of firearm safety". It is too bad that this young girl wasn't given appropriate instruction, and that the range master wasn't providing proper supervision. In addition to the adult losing his life, the girl will go through her life with a heavy load.