After the 1999 Columbine shooting tragedy in Littleton, Colo., I wrote a column that was published widely, including in the Christian Science Monitor, explaining why I still loved guns.
I wrote about following my dad, a decorated Korean War veteran, to gun shows as a kid. I recalled how he taught me to hunt on our farm. I talked about the joy of bringing a Winchester Model 12 shotgun to the shoulder and the smooth action of an old Parker double barrel.
I also wrote that I had no interest in getting into a ideological discussion around the 2nd Amendment. I preferred then, and I still prefer, heated debates about whether big calibers are better for hunting elk than smaller, faster rounds.
A lot has happened since then.
The Supreme Court has cleared up the debate about Americans’ constitutional right as individuals to own guns. Massacres like Columbine also have turned into an epidemic leading up to the heart-wrenching shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary, plus the killer and his mother, in Connecticut a week ago.
The United States is now deep into a discussion about how to stop the epidemic, and naturally a new look at gun control is a part of the discussion along with mental health and the larger cultural issue of violence in entertainment and video games. President Barack Obama has convened a panel to put together a legislative package.
The panel will consider whether to address the 40 percent of gun purchases, mostly at gun shows, that go on without background checks. Other options mentioned include reinstating an assault rifle ban and banning high-capacity magazines or clips.
I started going to gun shows again after Columbine with a friend who was just beginning to get into guns and hunting. The sporting arms I loved as a kid were there along with the military arms my father loved as a collector of Springfields, rifles built for every war starting with the Civil War.
There also were hundreds of assault rifles and banana clips that could hold dozens of bullets. There were the survivalist books and guides and an almost universal fear that Obama had a plan to take their guns or stop them from buying ammunition.
That’s one of the reasons the gun industry has been a bright spot throughout the recession. It’s also a reason why it would be hard to have a logical discussion about guns even with the 2nd Amendment issue resolved.
This gun culture has changed since my youth, from one based on hunting to one focused more on the guns themselves. The explosion of virtual reality video games, like those Newtown killer Adam Lanza played for hours where participants shoot hundreds of adversaries, is an offshoot of this modern gun culture.
As Congress begins this new discussion, I hope it reflects on what has come before. The 1968 Gun Control Act, passed after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and John and Bobby Kennedy, regulated guns like they never had been before.
That law, which most gun owners thought violated the 2nd Amendment, built up the National Rifle Association and unified its members. The late Idaho Sen. James McClure made changing the law his top priority beginning as a young congressman.
In 1986, he succeeded, with the passage of the Firearm Owners Protection Act, which reopened interstate gun sales, allowing owners to carry their guns without registration across areas where it’s required and allowing ammunition shipments in the mail, among other things.
McClure accomplished this using reason, logic and skill — and by reaching across to the very people who opposed him: gun control advocates. That’s why the same law banned full auto machine guns and the parts that can turn a semi-automatic rifle into a machine gun.
As I said, I’m a gun owner who doesn’t like to get into the ideological debate over guns. I would much rather argue whether Salmon cowboy and guide Elmer Keith, who invented the .44 Magnum, or flat-trajectory .270 caliber enthusiast Jack O’Connor of Lewiston, had the right ideas.
As a journalist, I don’t take sides. But now gun owners are going to have to make their case about what’s good and what’s bad about the modern American gun culture.
I hope they use McClure as their guide.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484