Mike was my good friend and hunting partner. At age 12, our parents allowed us to ride our bicycles in the country to hunt for dove or quail. People that saw us thought nothing of it because such sights were common as we pedaled down Main Street with our shotguns across the handlebars and food, water and ammunition filling the wire basket mounted over the front tire of our bikes.
Sgt. Walsh, the venerable old policeman who issued parking citations from his three-wheeled motorcycle, would often motion us over and ask, "If you limit out, could you drop a few off at my house? My wife really knows how to fix up a delicious meal of quail on rice."
If two 12-year-old boys, or anyone for that matter, tried the same thing today, they would probably find themselves surrounded by the local police if not a SWAT team, even though they wouldn't have broken any laws that I know of.
Much has changed in the last 40 years and family values are probably at the top of the list. Many children are raised in broken homes. Where children used to spend seven hours a day interacting with their parents, they now spend less than 10 minutes, while schools and day-care centers are given the burden of teaching our children proper values.
What children see on television has changed for the worse and most video games are scored by who can kill the most opponents in the most gruesome way possible.
I guess it's easy to see how these sad and terrible school shootings can happen but should we blame the guns when killing can also be done with a knife, rock, hammer, car or plane. Killers will use whatever weapon will allow them to complete their task.
From all the publicity surrounding the terrible school slayings, including the tragic interviews of parents who lost their children, you would think child shootings are on the rise but actually the reverse is true.
FBI statistics from 1999 show the number of victims murdered by firearms dropped by a whopping 37 percent since 1995.
According to the National Safety Council injury facts report, accidental firearm fatalities in the United States declined to an all-time low of 700 in 1999 and represents the lowest number since recordkeeping began in 1903. Much of this decrease can be attributed to the effective and numerous firearm educational and safety classes taught by thousands of volunteer local law enforcement, state Fish and Game, National Rifle Association, Boy Scouts and 4-H instructors.
A fatal gun accident, particularly when it involves a child, often makes state or national news. This gives the impression fatal gun accidents are more prevalent, that gun accidents are increasing and civilian gun ownership needs further regulation and restriction.
Statistics from the 1998 National Safety Council injury facts report show fatal gun accidents among children were very rare. Looking at the report for accidental deaths among children ranging in age from newborn to 14 years revealed 2,600 automobile deaths, 850 deaths from drowning, 580 pedestrian deaths, 570 deaths from fire, 200 deaths from suffocation by ingestion, 160 deaths from falls, 110 deaths from poisoning and finally 110 deaths from firearms. Five hundred other deaths from multiple causes accounted for the remaining deaths.
That means firearm accidents for children up to age 14 accounted for only 2 percent of all deaths in this age group.
Recently Australia forced its gun owners to give up their guns. A year later armed robberies have increased 44 percent. Break-ins increased drastically as well as assaults on the elderly, since the criminals now are guaranteed that their prey are unarmed.
Do we need more stringent gun laws? I don't believe so. The facts don't show a need for it. Maybe we should spend the same time, effort and money on driver safety, water safety and teaching kids how to cross the road. That's where we could really save lives.
Outdoor Tales writer Al Kalin can be reached on the Internet at firstname.lastname@example.org