A few years ago, I taught my 13-year-old daughter to shoot. She had asked to learn, so we took my brother's single-shot .22 rifle out in the woods, set a beer can against a stump and began plinking away.
She had already been taught, as I had been from the age of 6, about handling guns safely, never pointing them at anyone, shooting only in a safe area and so on. What we were concentrating on now was marksmanship: learning to sight on the target, exhale half a breath and squeeze the trigger s-l-o-w-l-y. One shot at a time.
Hunting and target shooting, as generations of Americans used to be told, are not about releasing one's emotions and physical tension with guns, but about mastering them in order to steady the hand and shoot accurately. Schools and summer camps once promoted marksmanship for this reason, as an exercise in self-discipline. This kind of instruction declined in the 1960s, but it used to be as valued and routine a part of growing up as learning to swim.
My daughter knew much of this intuitively. Her corporate-executive aunt shot pheasants in Texas. Her oceanographer mother, who had hunted with her own father as a girl, was a capable wing shot. Her paternal grandfather had led the rifle team at the U.S. Naval Academy and later served as a coach of the U.S. Olympic rifle team. She occasionally wore one of his many marksmanship medals as a necklace pendant.
I had been a gun owner all my life, and though I rarely hunted anymore, I prized what proficiency I possessed. For several years, we spent Thanksgiving with friends in the Berkshires. A regular feature was a high-spirited skeet shoot rivalry in a field while the turkey cooked. My daughter said she loved the skeet shoot because it taught her that guns didn't need to be feared. For those who treat them with care and respect, she learned, firearms in the house are not necessarily more lethal than a sharp kitchen knife.