My husband used a 303 Lee Enfield long rifle when he was 9. This discipline, learned at his military school, has assisted him throughout his life.
At military practice, this long rifle was issued to him for target shooting. He learned to clean it, load it, march with it and fire it. All boys were given the same tuition, and, in groups of ten, they were shown a target, some 200 yards distant. Once in position on the ground (and not before) they were given live ammunition. He found out that he was a quite a reasonable marksman. There was never an accident or incident during his seven years.
Indoor target practice was with a .22 rifle. The target would suddenly snap up about 30 yards away, and the idea was to try to hit it before it disappeared again. Again, there was never an accident or an incident. Guns were not playthings.
Once, on manoeuvres on the moors, blanks were issues for the Lee Enfield. Knowing what real bullets would do they wondered: what would a blank do? It stripped the bark from a sapling at close range, much to their astonishment. This hammered home the very important message that they held a tremendous power in their hands. Confidence, knowledge and understanding grew.
Such trust in those so young depends on extreme alertness: on a system of watchfulness and awareness, and being able to transfer the message of safe and dangerous handling. There has to be total understanding and respect of the weapon that is carried. Today, guns are considered “bad”: but are they? Or is it lack of education?
When life took him the Arctic, the knowledge he had gained from his school was essential for survival.
Fast forward 10 years.
He arrived in an Inuit settlement. There were no roads, shops or the possibility of growing your own food. Money was useless here. You ate whatever you managed to shoot or catch on a fishing pole. Vegetarianism was not an option. The rules were that you never took more than you needed and that your environment was essential for survival. Anything you carried into the Arctic, you brought out again. This was elemental to the way of life.
At 19, because of his training, he had the ability to go out every day with a rifle, shotgun or fishing pole to feed the family of three generations of Inuit who had taken him in. He walked for miles: and he found that he hadn’t truly known what hunger was in Britain. He believed he had known: he thought everyone had.
But real hunger – when the gut is empty and there is no means of satisfying it – is something which cannot be described. However, in these conditions, it focussed the mind, and he discovered that his aim was better when hunger had sharpened his sight. Missing the target was not an option. He has described his feelings of utter despair when he returned empty handed after hours of searching. His training was essential to another people in another time.
Such training wouldn’t be legal now.
People might get hurt.
Health and Safety would not only protest, they would explain in chapter and never-ending verse, why it was impossible.
Oh, and a group I call the “What If “Brigade would discover doom and disaster in contemplating the possibility.
Newspaper headlines on gun crime are sensational: but many crimes or accidents occur through ignorance or madness. An educated and sane person in charge of a gun is not dangerous. We have merely fostered more ignorance and madness.
Inspiring for me is that, without Health and Safety or a nanny state, hundreds of kids and many instructors had the discipline, confidence and trust in each other to do this thoughtfully, carefully and successfully.
These elements promoted both skill and the awareness of safe use.
That such expertise assisted others, whose survival is much more tenuous than ours, displays how to use a gun effectively, caringly and sparingly.
© Linda Jane McLean