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Between the Lines: Gun debate affects real people, not just pundits

Like many American children, I spent a lot of my childhood “playing guns” in my neighborhood, emulating my hero Davy Crockett.

I won the Indian Wars and died heroically in defense of the Alamo — all in the comfort of my backyard.  

Though I have fond memories of these games, until recently they were my only encounters with firearms, imaginative or otherwise.

To figure out where I stand in the gun-control debate, I spent my first day back in Athens learning the basics of shooting with Lloyd Culbertson, treasurer of the Athens County Friends of the NRA.

As Lloyd drove us up a winding road toward the shooting range, he explained to me his skepticism toward gun reform.

“I sympathize with those parents and grandparents of kids who were lost at Sandy Hook. I have youngsters of my own,” he said. “But these ‘solutions’ presented by politicians aren’t solutions at all. They will take the guns away from law-abiding citizens.”

Avoiding further conversation about politics, I made some small talk, learning that Lloyd had long been involved with shooting sports. In fact, he was responsible for teaching all 4-H shooting instructors in Ohio and had been nationally certified since the 1990s.

I turned my head and looked out at the hillside.  

“Dang, this guy is good,” I muttered to myself.

Sometimes, though, learning from the best doesn’t translate into guaranteed success.

As Lloyd unloaded his supplies at our destination, I snapped photos like a tourist. This was a strange land filled with crab-shooting ranges, spittoons, and taxidermies –– as a city boy, I loved every second of it.   

Lloyd explained safety protocol, then let me have at it — under his watchful eye.

Finally, 12 years after I last put away my “coon-skin hat,” I once again felt like Davy Crockett, taking aim at paper targets about 30 yards away.  

Unlike my boyhood hero, though, I was no crack-shot. My shots were precise, but were all at least a foot away from the bullseye.

After I had my fill with the .22, Lloyd brought out his .45 caliber muzzleloader.  

A few days earlier, Lloyd described a gun as “a tool that is to be respected.”  I was about to learn that lesson the hard way.

I lined up the sights, held my breath briefly, and pulled the trigger firmly.  


In the midst of the smoke, I grabbed my forehead and felt blood trickle down my nose. The recoil of the gun proved to be too strong for a city boy like me.

Our day of shooting wound down from there, but not before I asked Lloyd about his relationship with guns.

“I don’t go to bed at night dreaming of whacking a burglar,” he said. “In fact, I dread it; but I want to have the comfort of knowing that I can do what I need to do to keep my family safe.”

I decided that I could respect that. Anyone who is willing to risk his or her life to protect his or her family is a hero in my book.  

I’m not sure what will happen to guns in the coming weeks –– I’m still not even sure where I stand on the issue –– but I hope that there will be as many Lloyd Culbertsons as Joe Bidens involved in the national discussion.

Samuel Howard is a freshman studying journalism and a reporter for

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