A letter to my California friends about Montana, guns and culture

Last night we attended a lovely reception for my aging in-laws in honor of their long patronage of Western art. We viewed everything from Charlie Russell paintings to traditional doeskin dresses. How fitting then was it that the reception was held at a shooting club. Entertainment included the shooting of trap. I was captured in photo while shooting, and Echo my daughter declared the image Facebook worthy. But a concern rose in my mind, so I wrote this letter. 

Dear California friends,

We Montanans stand with you in your grief and outrage at the recent violence in Santa Barbara. We share your concerns about gun safety. As my daughter posts these photos of me shooting. I am concerned you will consider it insensitive in light of the recent tragedy. So I offer the following thoughts.

I think these type of photos are apt to translate very poorly on the current national stage.   It is not difficult to confuse issues of guns in California, guns in the tragedy versus guns in Montana at a shooting club. I want you to know I have given it some thought, on whether I should, out of sensitivity, ask Echo not to post pictures from the party. I decided rather that I would let happen what would naturally happen, especially since her posting is out of a sense of pride and celebration. 

Something up here in Montana feels naturally resistant to violence of that particular nature. Sure we have our rare crazies like anywhere else. Up here though they more often than not leave society and hole up in the mountains. Observing more generally, one finds there is a modicum of knowledge and more importantly a code of honor associated with firearms that has not exported to more urban places with weapons. Perhaps this is related to how we educate our kids. Hunter's Safety is taken here by the majority of kids when they turn eleven. It is several nights a week for several weeks, conducted by Fish Wildlife and Parks together with the schools. It is a really big time investment for the parents and kids and a colorful community rite of passage. There is a small but important book given to every person during the program. It is called " Beyond Fair Chase" and it is about the ethics and traditions of hunting.  Consider having a look. 

Maybe the secret sauce is the social cohesion all this engenders. Here, guns signify responsibility and together with hunting, and a bit of independence. At the same time, hunting means family time, gatherings of friends and magnificent meals. 

Hunting culture teaches several other things worth mentioning. It puts one deep into nature, illuminating both its grandeur and intimacy. It requires teamwork, planning, patience and perseverance. It makes graphic the power and potential violence of weapons and hints at the horror of war and crime. Lastly, It brings ordinary people close to loss of life. I have heard more than one cold wet, weapon burdened hunter come in and wonder how war or massacres could have ever taken place. In this setting, hunting seems to sensitize us to these realities, rather than desensitize. People, nature, life and death are brought into close juxtaposition and we come to understand them better. 

I feel Montana voices are especially important in the discussion on weapons related violence. It is my hope that lessons from hunting culture can contribute something toward making cities safer.



California girl transplanted to Montana