I am deeply saddened every time I hear of a gun tragedy occurring in our great nation. I become even more saddened, every time I hear that the laws which control the use of guns in our country, by law abiding citizens, become stricter.
I have been a gun owner since I was 16 years old; guns were in my home since I can remember. I knew to handle them only when going hunting or target shooting and with an adult present. They were stored and transported unloaded at all times. I have belonged to several local hunting/gun clubs and have owned handguns, rifles and shotguns. When I went to high school I was involved as a member of the rifle team. Students shot competitively for best target score against other schools from the local areas. Small caliber rifles were secured and stored on school property and each school had an indoor rifle range. We were taught the safe operation of these guns, gun handling and no one was ever injured ... least of all shot ... while using them.
Now, recent tragedies perpetrated by individuals with purported mental illness have raised concerns once again, with some of our citizens and politicians regarding the use and control of guns in our country. I can't tell you that any of these individuals have attended gun safety or training courses. I can't tell you if any of them know the difference between a rifle or shotgun, a single shot or semi-automatic firearm. I can't tell you if they have ever legally owned a gun or have spent countless hours in gun clubs or at rifle ranges, learning how to properly use the gun, while shooting at targets and under the guidance of a licensed firearm instructor. I can only tell you ... I have.
I have owned what the general public would term hunting arms ... shotguns, 22 caliber rifles and the like. I have also owned military ''assault'' type rifles; single shot, black powder pistols ... like the ones the cowboys use in movies ... and state-of-the-art, semi-automatic handguns. I keep them locked in safe places when not in use and I don't store ammunition close by. I have tried to be a responsible firearms owner and use my guns properly.
I believe that laws pertaining to improper misuse of any gun should be strengthened. I say this with remorse, as I also believe that every time a new gun control law is passed we lose more of our constitutional freedoms and the right to bear arms. I will not entertain the debate of whether individuals should be allowed to own a gun, if all guns should be banned, if semi-automatic ''assault'' rifles should be made illegal to own. I guest that's for the politicians and lawyers to decide. I only know that every time a shooting tragedy occurs, I feel more like a criminal in the public's eye, as if wanting to legally own a gun makes me somehow ''defective'' in today's society.
I personally don/t believe that outlawing firearms ... any firearm ... will remedy the gun violence situation, as it currently stands today. Criminals are criminals and they will obtain what they want given enough opportunity. Is it such an inconceivable notion that punishing the criminals, the individuals responsible for committing these heinous actions, could affect any changes to all of the violence which might occur in the future? How is the application of confusing state rules and regulations regarding gun laws, licensing bureaucracy, fees and taxes and the red tape associated with purchasing a gun helping any of these matters? Are we trying to punish the legal gun owner ... or the criminal ... with the illegally obtained gun?
My sincere condolences go out to the victim's families, who have, unfortunately, had to endure so much of this country's gun violence through first hand experience. It becomes even more emotional, for everyone involved, when innocent children are the victims. What if some of the teacher in the school had been armed with concealed handguns? What if they had been property trained to use t hem? What if the shooter had not had access to the guns to commit this terrible crime in the first place? Unfortunately, we will probably never know all of the ''whys'' and ''what-ifs.'' What I do know is that tragedies like this will continue to occur throughout the United States and throughout the world unless we all take action for the control of our own guns and firearms and accept personal responsibility for their safe and intended use.
Bradley D. Troutner is a resident of Westfield.