By Emily Erickson
My godfather Kevin is as avid an outdoorsman as they come, with the quiet, confident demeanor of someone who doesn’t need to brag about their skills. He’s the type of outdoorsman whose average weekend excursions easily end with a cooler full of fish or a freezer full of venison, and who scours the land around where he lives for new avenues of opportunity: tiny streams just big enough for a canoe or wooded knolls with freshly trampled grass — the telltale sign of a passing herd of deer.
Kevin grew up in a family where becoming proficient in hunting and fishing was a right of passage, a first cleaned fish the proverbial driver’s license into manhood. Which was why, years later, he began the process of assembling his “Man Cave.”
The walls of Kevin’s Man Cave, or what I refer to in jest as “The Hall of Death,” are studded with mounted heads taken from Kevin’s most prized harvests: muscled bucks with eerily peaceful faces and towering antlers, stuffed fish that stretch the length of the door frame and a pair of menacing black bears staged in an eternal fight.
My relationship to Kevin and his hunting has always been one of distance and respect. The distance was a product of my inherent love of animals, with my childhood questions of, “The doe didn’t have babies, did she?” evolving into, “She didn’t suffer, right?” The respect came from Kevin’s fiber and how he approached the world of hunting.
Kevin is a person with an intrinsic sense of right and wrong, living his life with competence and an unwavering moral compass. He is the person I call when my check engine light is on, who made sure I passed my snowmobile safety course before I ever suited up and who I could always count on to bring me a gallon of gas when I let my tank run dry. As a hunter, he always treats the land, the animals and his equipment with respect and safety.
However, Kevin and I view the world differently. On any given election, we undoubtedly check opposite boxes on nearly every issue, candidate or cause. Because of that — and because of who he is and how he lives his life — Kevin is exactly who I want to talk to about an issue that no one can or should ignore.
It’s the issue of gun control and it’s filling our newspapers, radio airwaves, TV broadcasts and computer screens with statistics that sting and vex like countless mosquito bites.
These statistics we’re learning, like the CBS report that as of Aug. 5 there had been 255 mass shootings in 2019 — more mass shootings than there had been days in the year, or the NPR article explaining that the death rate from gun violence is “four times higher in the U.S. than war-torn Syria and Yemen.”
What we lose sight of in these horrific numbers are the stories, names and humanity behind them. And I blame political rhetoric for the loss of this humanity.
Every time a conversation about gun legislation is tied with other partisan issues, the identities of the lives lost become mere numbers on a page — grist for the political mill and an impetus not for anger, hurt or determination to create change, but for more money to be pushed under tables behind party lines.
This loss of humanity through rhetoric is why Kevin, my responsible, gun-owning, opposite-voting godfather, is exactly who I want to talk to about realistic approaches to creating positive change as it relates to gun control.
I want to hear from people within the culture who are doing it right; who are practicing safe gun ownership and who believe in practical modifications to the existing structures, learning from them the best strategies for moving forward in a nonpartisan way.
At a time when politics are more divisive and discouraging than ever before, I find hope in the humanity-centered middle ground: where organizations like, “Gun Owners for Responsible Ownership” exist and where I can sit in the “Hall of Death” and discuss what realistic, pragmatic and unifying progress might look like with my godfather Kevin.
It will be in these discussions that the statistics are transformed back into names and faces, and the lives lost won’t be for not.
Emily Erickson is a freelance writer and bartender originally from Wisconsin, with a degree in sociology and an affinity for playing in the mountains.
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