by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, January 5, 2013.)
It was a cold December 2, 1963. The snow was thigh-deep and heavy on the trees. Although I was only 11, my fledgling scouting skills throughout the summer and fall
indicated lots of deer were living on our 22 acres in Scandia, Pennsylvania, so I pestered Dad
until he agreed to include me in the opening day of buck season.
so, so many – and for me –
guns were a normal part of growing up.
I remember Dad letting me hold the rifle while on stand. If that was a violation,
it was an innocent one, and we didn’t see a single deer to tempt me.
Looking back fifty years, it would seem out of order to some people that an 11-year-old would be handed a bolt action rifle just 10 days after a bolt action rifle had been used to shoot President Kennedy in Dallas. I remember Mrs. Wall bracing herself and choking back tears as she told our combined fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classroom that the President was dead.
days later Dad and I weren’t thinking about the Kennedy assassination. We were
thinking about deer hunting.
so, so many – and for me – guns were a normal part of growing up. Often I’d
step off the school bus and scan the back fields for woodchucks before going
into the house. Once in a while, I’d grab a rifle and pop off a shot.
October, I’d rub a foot from a dead rabbit on Mitzy’s nose to get her all wound
up before turning her loose to chase cottontails. (Mitzy was my beagle.) But I
wasn’t a bloodthirsty killer, nor did the rabbit’s foot bring me good luck – I
never killed a bunny until I was 15.
excuse my pathetic shooting skill, I lay blame on the second-rate guns I carried.
My .22 rimfire was an ancient single-shot of some unknown brand, in pretty
rough shape, with half of a Lincoln head penny fixed to the muzzle for a front
sight. Despite its faults, I shot my first woodchuck with that old gun.
first shotgun was a Model 258A bolt action 20 gauge made by J. Stevens. It had
a removable box magazine that wanted to fly to pieces whenever I unloaded it. Miraculously,
I once knocked a grouse out of the air with that decrepit shotgun. My buddy,
Tom Huber, was amazed at the shot I made. I hid my own astonishment by faking a
kids, we were gun owners, and we grew up on television shows that were nothing
like what kids watch today. We watched Matt Dillon bring law and order to Dodge
City, Kansas. We saw a single dad named Ben Cartwright raise Adam, Hoss and
Little Joe with consummate parenting skill. We rooted for the Lone Ranger as he
fought for justice with Tonto at his side, and left grateful people wondering
“who was that masked man anyway?”
heroes, and many more, were the good guys, and we loved them. We admired the
fact that they never pulled the trigger unless the bad guys shot first. We
understood they used guns for self-defense, and self-defense was part of law
my teenage years we moved to town, and I traded for a Model 37 Ithaca 12 gauge pump
at Ted Thelin’s little store on Cobham Park Road. After spending fall days in
classrooms at Warren Area High School in Warren, Pennsylvania, I’d drop down over the hill to our house,
change my clothes, grab Mitzy and my pumpgun, and head back up the hill to hunt
rabbits on school property.
must have carried that shotgun across the football team’s practice field dozens
of times – always waving to Coach Shea – but never once was stopped for questioning.
Accountability came the next day when Mr. Shea would ask, “Did you get any
were the days when people didn’t assume guns were for killing people. Shouldering
a shotgun as I walked across school grounds never needed a second look. In
fact, despite often being armed on school grounds, at graduation I received an
award for character.
doubt everyone agreed about my character, but today a kid can’t get away with
carrying a gun on school grounds even once, for any reason. And be recognized
for character? Not a chance.
were the days when kids were always on the side of the good guys, and we aspired
to be one of them. Those were the days when the bad guys sometimes learned
their lesson, and showed they were redeemable.
were the days when Tonto called the Lone Ranger “Ke-mo Sah-bee,” or “trusted
friend.” Those two men, from different races, were bound by a moral code. And
we were bound to our heroes by that same code – a code that was important to
growing up with guns.