When Guns Really Mattered

My sons and their guns

I used to think I could live my entire life without needing a gun.  I didn’t think I’d ever have the occasion to learn about guns or handle them or shoot them.

But my 9-year-old son changed all that.  He’s taken an interest in guns.  He looks longingly into the store called “Gun World” in our hometown, the one with the sign on the door that says “Must be 18 to Enter.”  He asks to stop in the outdoor sports area of every Walmart, Target and Gander Mountain we wander into, just so he can check out their gun selection.  And he’s dying to go to Blackwing Shooting Center in Delaware, Ohio to try his hand with the real stuff.

He talks with great confidence about AR-15s, 9mm pistols, carbine rifles and all the rest.  When he asks me about guns, I just shrug my shoulders and remind him that I don’t have a clue.

During one of our many conversations about guns recently, I was reflecting (while my lips were saying “I don’t know honey…I’m not sure…you should look it up…you should ask our friends who know things about guns…”) that if I had lived where I do now a few hundred years ago, guns would have been an integral part of my daily experience.

In frontier Ohio, a gun protected you and your family, provided food for your table and even functioned almost like a member of the family.  I can imagine a time when you didn’t have the luxury not to have a gun.  But today guns have become a luxury–a hobby for people with extra time and money.  They’ve become a way to blow off steam–perhaps shooting with buddies at the range.  Or a collectible for collectors to collect.

It’s hard for me to imagine that time when guns really mattered.  I hope a time never comes when my kids or I have to rely on a gun to protect us or provide for us.  But the reality is that such a world is always closer than we think.

For me guns can be a subject of interest–something I learn about and get to know like a new friend.  Guns can be a topic of discussion for me and my son (who is always looking for something to talk about with me) and an experience we can share together (he loves to grab our BB guns and target-shoot with me in the backyard).

My nine-year-old and his gun.

For my ancestors it was different.  In the early 1800s, my forebears on the frontier used their guns to shoot their food and their enemies.  My great-great grandfather who fought in the Civil War surely had a rifle or a pistol that was very important to him.  My great-great-great uncle who served in a Kentucky regiment was in a unit known for its sharpshooters.

The most interesting intersection of my family’s history and guns goes all the way back to 1775.  On Saturday, July 22nd of that year, the Committee of Safety meeting in Philadelphia (and including a certain member named Benjamin Franklin) resolved to send a messenger to Joel Ferree of Lancaster County “requesting him immediately to complete the Guns wrote for as patterns; and to know how many he can furnish of the same kind, and at what price.”

This is what remains of Joel Ferree's gunshop near Paradise, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Joel Ferree (1731-1801) was one of the original makers of the Pennsylvania-Kentucky Long Rifle.  His rifles were used on the frontier and in the Revolutionary War.  They were prized for their construction and appearance.  Joel had learned his trade from his father Philip, who was a gunsmith and my eight-times-great uncle.  Over the years, the Ferree family produced many talented and influential gunsmiths (you can read more about them at Ferree Family Gunsmiths).

Even though I’ve never owned a real gun, I’d love to own a Ferree rifle someday.  As I peruse gun shops and learn about the art and craft of making guns, I am amazed by the intricate craftsmanship that goes into a high-quality rifle.  I don’t think I ever would have chosen to learn more about guns, but thanks to my son I have–and it’s been fun.

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4 Responses to When Guns Really Mattered

  1. Julia says:

    Amazing photos. I wonder who you got to take them…? Surely a professional and awesome person.

    • I have an excellent in-house graphic designer and photographer–the most talented I’ve ever come across. She works for peanuts and does amazing work. If you need a referral let me know, but she may not give you as good a deal as she’s giving me.

  2. bronxboy55 says:

    I’m in the same situation, Kevin. My son tries to talk to me about guns, as well as a variety of other weapons, and I just listen with a blank look on my face. I’m sure he knows I have no interest, and that this is a conversation he can pretty much conduct as a monologue. Guns are a significant part of American history, though; there’s no doubt about that. Thanks for another interesting post.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Charles. I feel like I’ve entered a whole new world with this gun thing. All sorts of new challenges. Like often happens, it’s given me new insight to my family’s history. I’m sort of hoping it’s something that passes, though.

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