My father, Lars P. Haga, was an avid hunter, with a keen eye and a steady, confident hold on a 12-gauge shotgun that kept the family well stocked in ducks, pheasants and other game. I’ve never had a more memorable meal than my mom’s baked pheasant with potatoes and a creamy pheasant gravy.
Dad often hunted with my brother Tom, who was 12 years older than me. They were out hunting on Oct. 1, 1951, the day my sister was born. I was told my mom didn’t fault them for being gone but suggested they clean and cook the birds themselves.
Much later, retiring from the Air Force after 30 years, Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Lars Haga brought three skeptical teenage children home to North Dakota – from Hawaii – so he could train a long line of Labradors and hunt. One of the toughest, saddest things he did before he died nine years ago was to arrange for a new home for Rags, the last of those loyal labs.
I did not hunt much. Dad provided me with a lighter shotgun, a 16-gauge, gave me some safety lessons and practice shooting and let me tag along a few autumn days. I don’t believe I ever brought down a bird, but I remember him stopping the car on the way home one day so I could blast away at an abandoned farm building and report to my friends that I could indeed hit the broad side of a barn.
I hold fondly to those memories of tramping through fields in the fall chill, of listening to Dad and Tom banter and challenge each other, of watching them handle and care for their shotguns. My grandson has learned to hunt under the watchful eye of a true sportsman, another grandpa, and I’m glad.
I don’t hate guns.
But I hate the fanatical gun culture that has evolved in this country.
Will it ever end?
A man with a gun shoots eight people in Atlanta.
A man with a gun shoots 10 people in Boulder, Colo.
Some commentators have noted that for the most part we were spared mass shootings during the pandemic. Now we appear to be rounding a curve, shutting down the virus with science and intelligent regulation, and heading to a new normal.
But is a resumption of gun violence to be part of the new normal?
Every time somebody uses a gun or guns to kill and maim innocent people in a grocery store, a spa, a concert venue, a church, a school – every time, I remember Sandy Hook because that’s when I really began to lose faith in a better future.
Remember those faces? Sweet little kids. First-graders.
Twenty of them, along with six adults, were murdered by a man with a gun at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.
Surely, now, the quibbling and lying and posturing would end, I thought. We will find a way to reduce – not stop entirely, but manage a few first steps toward reducing – the ease with which some sick, unhinged or inflamed person obtains weapons capable of mass killing.
We would ban military-style assault weapons and large magazines, end loopholes in background checks, and adequately fund mental health programs to reach some of those troubled people before they use those loopholes to buy an AK-47 at a gun show.
That was what we hoped for, what we expected, in the days and weeks after Sandy Hook.
But the gun culture said no. The NRA, the politicians playing to a base that has distorted the 2nd Amendment, the conscientious hunters and sport shooters who were lied to and led to believe the government was coming for their rifles and shotguns – they said no.
A “well-regulated militia” … is that what you saw storming the Capitol of the United States on Jan. 6
If you believe that the occasional mass murder of shoppers, of music lovers, of first-graders, is – as one sick apologist put it after the 2017 slaughter of 55 people in Las Vegas – “the price of freedom” – and that we are powerless to change that – I have no time for you.
According to several national polls, more than 80% of Americans favor passage of some basic, realistic gun control legislation.
So, Congress: Once again, it’s in your hands.
As you deliberate, think about the dead of Atlanta, the dead of Boulder, and the dead kids of Sandy Hook Elementary.
Chuck Haga had a long career at the Grand Forks Herald and the Minneapolis Star Tribune before retiring in 2013. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.