I wasn’t allowed to play with guns as a youth. Not a toy cowboy gun or even a water gun. In my home, toy guns were not considered toys. The closest I ever got to shooting a gun was on a rifle range when I participated in the Boy Scouts. We shot a 22 Rifle and it didn’t make the bang that was so expected of guns. We thought of it as a pellet gun for it had minimal kick and made a small hole in the target down range. It was a scouting skill of which the target was a ring of circles, and not a figure of a man.
Later when I enlisted in the United States Marines, I’m sure my parents had their fears of what could possibly happen to me. From a life of protection, I was walking into the most violent situation one could imagine. Many enlist and don’t come home on a liberty pass, but in a pine box draped by an American flag. But there I was, being trained by the US Government to be a killer. A killer by hand-to-hand combat tactics as well as the killing by conventional weaponry. I’ve shot a number of weapons systems….the ones that put little holes in things, and the ones that put big holes in things. Guns and ammo….these are not toys. They will really make a mess of things. And eventually, I would become the highest rating of shooters in the Marines, an Expert. That means I can put a bullet in someone’s head on target from 500 meters away. But that’s what combat soldiers are expected to do….kill. That’s not what we expect for 12 and 13-year-old kids.
I never had an appreciation for violence. Even when I was an active Marine in an infantry unit, I hated training. It was a thrill to many of my fellow Marines, for to many of them, it was like hunting in the country. Put on some camouflage paint, sit in the bushes and wait for some innocent deer to walk by and….bullseye. They loved that stuff. I was ready to get the drill over so I could get back to being creative. To me, I just assumed, when the time came, I’d be as violent as I needed to be. That time never came, and although we always looked for Charlie, Charlie was never found. Still to this day, the only fight I can ever remember in my life was a little punching and shoving on a school bus in elementary school. After four-years of combat training in the Marines, I hope the day never comes of which I have to use that training. I really don’t know what the result will be…so I avoid violence at all costs. I usually prefer flight over fight.
Today’s youth have a really bad deal. Too many of them don’t have the parental protections from what they see and appreciate. Violence is everywhere. It’s in their faces 24-7. If its not family members fist fighting, it’s violence in the music, on the TV, and in the neighborhood. Many have seen dead bodies moments after they’ve succumbed to the death angel. Some have seen friends shoot friends. Others have seen friends shoot at police. Some have even seen police shoot and kill their friends. It’s a tough thing to weigh on a child’s psychology. Many of us adults think its very easy to counsel and encourage youth with kind words and even motivational speeches. However, the reality is….most of us, even Veteran soldiers like myself, never grew up with the amount of violence on TV, on the radio, and social media. We really can’t know how many of these kids are feeling emotionally because, clearly, we didn’t grow up this way and there’s really no way we can say “I know what you’re going through.” Some probably can, but many just can’t.
What is the solution? We are definitely facing a measure of Damage Control. Frederick Douglass once quoted that it’s easier to train young minds than repair broken men. In many instances, the young minds are already broken. So what do we do? Do we blame social media? Do we blame video games? Do we blame the guns and gun makers? I think we have taken a turn in our social order of which everyone wants to live like they want and no one wants to be accountable for their actions or their opinions. Young parents can’t take all of the blame because many of them were never fully kids. They were parents as a teenager, as were their parents. So who really knows whats right for them?
We have a natural instinct for violence. Self preservation is in our human nature. Many of us were taught how to balance our emotions in terms of right and wrong, when to defend and when to walk away. Many weren’t. To those who were not told that playing with guns is not for kids, they are in trouble. For those who were not told that you don’t resort to violence when you get upset, they are in trouble. And because they are in trouble, all of our lives are in danger, because a bullet from a 13-year-old kid kills just the same as one from a 20-year-old trained soldier. The appreciation for violence has to end. If it doesn’t, the youngest of us won’t be playing with a water gun….they will be spraying bullets from an AK-47.