Journal of
Stellar Peacemaking

©2008 Journal of Stellar Peacemaking
Vol.3 No. 3, 2008

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Guns and Groundhogs

Jane Miller

My church friend Pam and I met at the corner of an aisle while thrift store shopping. “Mom! They have BB guns here!” exclaimed her son.

“We’ll see,” she said to him. “He’s been really wanting one,” she said to me, apologetically.

I knew how she felt. In the years since Littleton, Colorado, and other horrifying shootings involving youngsters pulling the trigger, giving your child a gun can be regarded as a mark of a bad parent. I had felt that way in the years before such sadness was in the news. That’s when my husband and I gave a BB gun to our son as a sixth-grade graduation gift.

He had really wanted one. My church background possibly would have dominated, and he wouldn’t have gotten it, except that a sporting-goods store happened to have a going-out-of-business sale.

He had really wanted one. My church background possibly would have dominated, and he wouldn’t have gotten it, except that a sporting-goods store happened to have a going-out-of-business sale.

Also, his father’s childhood BB gun, still lying on the top shelf of a cupboard at my husband’s father’s farm where we often visited, lacked the safety features that weren’t available in the 1960’s. And so I rationalized our purchase, and our son got his sixth-grade heart’s desire.

Later that summer, at a conference for the denomination I grew up in that emphasizes peace, the conference moderator held a Guns for Toys exchange. Children brought forward squirt guns, G. I. Joes and other plastic fantasies of destruction.

My husband, Rick, leaned over and whispered, “Could you see Aaron giving up his BB gun?” I shook my head no, and prayed that God could instill in Aaron the peacekeeping values that I cherished, but felt we had so inadequately addressed.

We forbade him to shoot anything living, “except groundhogs,” Grandfather Miller had interjected, as we went over the rules of the gun that June day. Groundhogs are destructive, unwanted creatures on any farm. They tunnel holes in fields and pastures, and horses can break a leg by stepping into a hole the rodents make.

With his license to kill this one living thing, Aaron stalked groundhogs like paparazzi do celebrities. Each visit that summer he would lie in the grass for hours outside their holes. It wasn’t too long after that church conference that an exuberant Aaron raced across the pasture to the farmhouse. “I got one! I pumped his butt with a bunch of BBs,” shouted my slim, sun-browned boy as he leaped onto the porch.

My heart flattened.

“That’s great!” said Granddad. Then he added softly, “I just hope that if he dies, it’s not from an infection. That’s a long, slow death.” Aaron looked a little dejected. Granddad continued, “But, thank you! I’m glad you were a great shot!”
On our next week-end visit, as our son headed to the hall closet eager to load his weapon and shoot another groundhog, his grandfather stopped him. “Oh, by the way, I found the groundhog you shot. He died.” Aaron’s face showed shock. “But, it’s okay” said Granddad. “I saved him for you to bury.”

It was not a pleasant job burying a dead groundhog that had ripened in the sun all week. But Aaron did the job quickly, and off he went, hunting again.

That week my husband took Aaron shopping to buy buckshot, to be used only for the explicit purpose of groundhog hunting and killing. If Aaron did indeed get that close again, these missiles would be even more likely to kill instead of wound.

The following week, as his father showed him how to load the buckshot, Aaron’s grandfather, peeling an apple at the sink, said nonchalantly, “Oh, by the way, the dog dug up that groundhog.” Evidently, the shallow grave Aaron had dug in his effort to hurry had not been deep enough.

“But, that’s okay,” Granddad assured. “I left him there for you to bury again.”

And the following week, the same thing happened again.

By this time, the thrice-buried groundhog was decomposed and filled with maggots under a late August sun. Aaron took his time, dug a deep hole, and finally, the groundhog was gone for good. He also took his time before coming back to the farmhouse to get his gun. Before long, we realized, our son’s desire to shoot things was also gone. Much to my relief, his reframed perspective of killing became evident.

As Aaron’s BB gun gathers rust and dust, I realize that good parents will always anguish over such decisions. I certainly don’t want to encourage my friends, or anyone, to buy their child a toy gun---two words that don’t belong together.

But, I learned that life lessons for peace are best taught through first-hand experiences’ and most importantly, under the guidance of a loving mentor.








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