Food For Thought

Food for Thought
by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D., Contributing Columnist
Professor, George Mason University

Guns and Tradition — the Broad Scope

Sitting at my computer, I can see the space that once held the solid walnut gun cabinet I made more than three decades ago. I chose such a beautiful and valuable wood because what the cabinet held was linked to some priceless memories. I don’t hunt or have the cabinet or its contents anymore — they have been passed on as family heirlooms. But the cabinet contained many of my father’s guns, like an old .30-40 Krag bolt-action army rifle that he used to hunt deer. My dad and I spent several days a year in the mountains around Smithport, Pennsylvania, hunting bear and deer. He loved that old gun and I loved it too, not for its killing power, but for the memories it evoked. I can remember the time a big black bear and her cub came by me during deer season. My dad quickly followed to find out if I was scared. I told him I wasn’t, but I took the safety off my .300 Savage just in case.

PistolThe cabinet also contained an L.C. Smith double-barreled shotgun. Dad was really proud of that gun. We would go to Sunday afternoon turkey shoots sponsored by the local sportsman club and the gun’s tight shooting pattern brought home many a slab of bacon and side pot. We hunted ring-necked pheasant in Pennsylvania and the L.C. Smith shotgun could knock them out of the sky from quite a distance. I carried on the family tradition by taking my oldest son John to the turkey shoots, which were sponsored by the local fire companies around Manassas. I especially enjoyed one operated by the Nokesville Fire Company and a fellow educator, Eddie Nelson. So did my son John. He was only 7 at the time and needed to stand on a box to shoot at the target. He always chose shooting window and card number 2. On one occasion the Journal Messenger, our local paper, had come to do a story on turkey shoots. The night was lucky for both John and the newspaper, for he would hit the bull’s-eye, winning both a side of beef and the jackpot. His achievement quickly became the focus of the article and made the local headlines. The story went national and John had his "15 minutes of fame" as his picture appeared in many papers across the country.

The Browning semi-automatic replaced the L.C. Smith when I began hunting quail in Virginia. In the late ’60s and early ’70s Manassas was still rural and had many areas to hunt birds. I had two dogs —Beau, an Irish setter, and Fiver, an English setter — and we enjoyed many a day walking the fields together searching for a covey of birds. I needed the Browning with its improved-cylinder choke to hit the fast-flying quail. When I got home, my 5-year-old son Michael helped me pull feathers from the fruits of the day’s hunt. Mom fixed many a tasty meal.

The Remington .30-06 knocked down several nice bucks, but the Winchester Model 12 shotgun remained nothing more than a collector’s item. The old octagonal-barreled .22 rifle recalled memories too. During the fall hunting season in the 1940s, my cousin Alex had borrowed a .22 rifle from my dad to do some squirrel hunting at the cabin dad shared with several hunting buddies. Alex and his friends foolishly tried to start a fire in the wood stove with the help of gasoline, and burned the cabin to the ground. Alex went back into the burning building to get the gun. The gun still has burn marks from that horrible mistake. This taught us a valuable lesson I’ve never forgotten: Never use gasoline or any other type of flammable fuel to start a fire. There are also many lessons I’ve learned about the proper use of firearms.

I had only one pistol, a Ruger single-six revolver that my wife bought for me when I was trapping muskrats and other furry creatures. I trapped enough to make her a fur stole, a fashionable item at a time when our society was less sensitive to the use of fur-bearing creatures. There are many other stories I could tell, but I think these should be enough to make the point that guns have provided me with a lot of enjoyment. Now, the other half of the story.

 The Other Side of the Coin

My grandfather committed suicide with a shotgun — not the gun’s fault, but more because of the excessive use of alcohol. I never got to meet him. During the Depression years in Chicago, my uncle Joe was shot and killed while attempting to commit a crime with others. My uncle and my mother never had a home life after my grandmother died during childbirth delivering Joe. Mom ended up being reared in an orphanage in Pittsburgh, and Joe was brought up in an industrial boy’s home in New York. His lack of a family life probably contributed more to his death than the police bullet. My mother always said I looked a lot like him.

RifleI have three children and a daughter in-law who are all teachers. School gun violence has me worried about the way many youngsters see the use of firearms. Most are getting their impressions from the media and not from personal experiences like those I mentioned at the beginning of this article. As a society, we certainly can’t ignore that times have changed. Hunting is becoming less an option of enjoyment for the majority of kids. The countryside has changed; subdivisions have replaced farmland, and subdivisions don’t lend themselves to hunting. Children just don’t have the opportunity to obtain the balanced view of firearms that I had growing up in a less-populated world. Yet, the sport of hunting is still enjoyed by many Americans, and that tradition should be valued.
What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor  or to John Bonfadini, 7500 Forrester Lane, Manassas, VA 20109.

The key question is how society can implement safety controls and still retain the tradition. I find no need for assault weapons to continue the hunting tradition. I have nothing against registering guns, but I would mind if someone said I couldn’t keep firearms. The ownership and use of handguns needs to be reviewed. Giving everyone the right to carry a concealed weapon just doesn’t seem appropriate. As an educator, I realize that it’s not the gun that kills people, but rather the individual’s lack of human values that causes him or her to pull the trigger. The gun is no more at fault than the car is in most fatal automobile accidents. Most citizens need the use of a vehicle, but certainly very few need to carry a gun in their purse or under their jacket.

During this political season and in many more to come there will be heated discussions about what should be done to stem the violent use of firearms. Certainly these will not be easy questions to answer, but as an educator I have faith that an educated populace will make the right decisions. We’ll probably all have to compromise a little. Life’s all about merging the traditions of the past with the realities of the present to help guide us into the future. I think the future holds great promise, don’t you?

To all sportsmen, I wish you happy and safe hunting.


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