I remember taking my oldest daughter Gracie fishing 14 years ago at Lake Springfield.
We talked about the ducks, geese and boats floating in the lake, her favorite cartoons and the brand-new Barbie life jacket she was wearing.
After about three hours wiggling on a dock staring at a bobber that refused to go under, she exclaimed, “I think all of the fish have gone on vacation to a different lake.”
It was a grand day to be a dad. She seemed to be having a good time, too. No sooner had we packed up the worms and closed the tackle box than she was asking when we could go fishing again.
I guess uninterrupted time with Dad was more important than how many bluegills we reeled in.
After finishing at the lake, I decided to let her pick out a new fishing pole, so I took her to Gander Mountain, which was one of those big box sporting goods stores on Springfield’s south side.
She chose a rod with the cartoon character Sponge Bob embossed on the reel.
After loading the fishing pole into the cart we wandered into the firearms section.
I occasionally hunt, but with three kids and a busy job, I don’t always have the time. In fact, this year is the first time in the last five that I haven’t found myself in a tree stand holding a shotgun and waiting for a deer.
Unlike other retailers that put firearms behind a counter, Gander Mountain, at the time, displayed guns attached to tethers so customers could hold them unsupervised – but not walk away with them.
What I saw that day frightened me.
A couple of junior high kids were playing with a rifle and pointed it toward me, other customers and at my then 3-year-old daughter.
I remembered my father’s admonitions when I was their age:
• “Never point a gun at something you don’t plan to destroy.”
• “Always assume a gun is loaded.”
• “Never count on a gun’s safety.”
I started handling guns when I was 9 or 10. A reverent respect for firearms was instilled in me by my father and older brother.
But I didn’t see that same quiet respect in those teenagers at the store. Instead of tools for harvesting game, they seemed to view guns as macho playthings.
Some of the adults shopping in the gun department weren’t much different.
They were “oooing” and “awing” over guns dolled up to look like military weapons. (The gun control crowd likes to call them “assault weapons” and gun-rights groups call them “modern sporting rifles.”)
There’s a word for all those “assault weapon” add-ons like – bayonet holders, detachable magazines and pistol grips – it is called marketing.
Just as my 3-year-old thought a Sponge Bob fishing reel would be “way cool,” these fellows seemed drawn to firearms with macho doodads attached.
Here’s a few hints, guys:
• They don’t fire off bullets any faster than any other semi-automatic rifle. (They may look similar to military weapons, but they aren’t the same.)
• Wildlife doesn’t care what the gun looks like.
• If you need more than 10 bullets in your rifle, you must be a pretty lousy shot.
Illinois lawmakers are considering legislation that would ban the future sale of “assault weapons” and require the registration of ones already owned. It would also ban the sale of magazines with more than 10 bullets in them.
It’s no secret that firearms are viewed in radically different ways depending on where one lives in the state. My hope, as always, is that lawmakers will listen intently to the concerns of one another and compromise.
But experience tells me gun debates generate more heat than light. One thing I do know is that no one in the General Assembly relishes the thought of innocent people dying.
Some proposed restrictions, such as lengthening the term of firearm restraining orders from six months to a year, make sense. Other aspects of the bill while well-intentioned, will do little to make our communities safer.
A sad reality is that loud demands for gun control mean more guns are sold to people afraid they will soon be banned.
The main problem isn’t what the guns look like – it’s who is behind the trigger.
That’s a problem that won’t be solved by passing another law in Springfield. It can be solved with good parenting.
• Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.