First I had a BB gun: a Red Ryder lever action with a leather thong hanging from a gold ring on the magazine. Then a Crossman CO2 pellet gun. To a 12-year-old boy of my time, a pellet gun was a bazooka. I could knock a quarter off a log from 20 yards.
When I was 16, my father gave me a bolt-action shotgun. Two friends with fancy pump-action Remingtons took me to a wooded patch near an old barn, where we waged campaigns against tin cans and rabbits. I didn't shoot again until my father-in-law, a dove hunter, gave my oldest son a Browning Sweet Sixteen.
Doves hurtling in black silhouette are like targets in a video game until you pick up a wounded bird, so soft and warm in your hand, to break its neck. My son was a good shot. Once, when a rattlesnake snuck up behind us and I missed the shot twice, he took the gun and saved us with the last shell.
After he left for college, I put my Smith & Wesson 20-gauge on the top shelf of my closet, where it has been for so long. I've forgotten the combination for the trigger lock. I remarried and had young boys again, but I did not teach them to shoot. I think by then I had become ashamed of how easily I killed harmless creatures in my youth. What did that say about me? Nothing I wanted to admit.
A few months ago, my defender-from-rattlesnakes son called to say he was taking his own son to a skeet range. I know he likes my 20-gauge, and I've always told him he could have it, but before I got around to shipping it, 20 schoolchildren were massacred in Newtown, Connecticut.