Al Cram

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Let’s Talk about Guns

Early last May I was driving back to Cedar Rapids from Iowa City and decided to stop by a shooting range I had discovered once upon a time in my wanderings. Not long before, I had taken photos at a couple of student protests calling for gun control laws which the students believed would make schools safer. The topic was on my mind, and I wondered if I could get a gun enthusiast to engage in conversation.

I found Al Cram–the only person at the range that day who was willing to talk with me.

Before I introduce Al, let me offer a brief explanation as to why I waited so long to publish this piece.

As I was writing this story, there was another school shooting in Texas, so I decided to hold off for two reasons: 1) I didn’t want to seem like I was jumping on the bandwagon of yet another school shooting story; and 2) I didn’t want what follows to appear flippant in the face of such a tragedy.

Then, during my period of hesitation, my two business partners both exited from our company, Flow Media. I had to put everything else on hold while I sorted some stuff out.

Let Me Tell You About Al

First, Al had studied the gun control debate, at least enough to argue persuasively for his stances on the issue. He was brimming over with information, citing statistics and explaining existing gun regulations. I didn’t get all this recorded (no notebook–poor planning on my part), and I definitely didn’t fact-check every claim he made, but I was impressed by how articulate and thoughtful he was.

Al did not fit the stereotype you probably have in your head when you think of the phrase “gun nut”.

There were a number of statements he made that really stood out to me. He told me about growing up in Nebraska. “I had a gun to shoot and a horse to ride at the age of eight. My father taught me how to handle both of them safely.”

He also mentioned that he had spent time in his career as an emergency room surgeon. “I’ve personally seen what gunshots look like. Never in my life have I pointed a gun at another human being, and I hope I never have to.”

It was clear to me Al cares a great deal about safety. I should also say that everyone else at the range seemed very careful about following rules and procedures that kept the space safe. Unlike some of the friends I had as a boy, who really did treat guns like toys, there was a clear sense of respect given to how dangerous firearms can be.

It’s Fun to Shoot a Gun!

At the same time, they were having fun! After our conversation, Al invited me to practice shooting. He let me try out two handguns. I’m not going to pretend to remember exactly what they were. One was some sort of Glock, and the other was a .22 caliber something. (Forgive me if you look at the picture and can tell I got that wrong.) I had fired a shotgun and rifle when hunting as a kid, but I had never fired a handgun before. I was definitely curious to try it out.

Photo taken by a friend of Al’s

Al was a patient and helpful teacher, and he was generous enough to let me fire off quite a few rounds at various targets. It didn’t take long before I could hit the target as many times as I missed it. I could get used to this! I thought.

Al could sense I was enjoying myself, so he just kept offering pointers as I fired away. At one point I commented on how much fun it was, and he said, “Yeah, it’s kind of like shooting baskets, isn’t it?”

He hit the nail on the head with that comment. It was almost exactly as enjoyable to me as shooting baskets. Afterward, I couldn’t help thinking, But the consequences of my basketball ending up in the wrong hands are a lot less lethal than those guns.

The truth is, as hard as I tried to listen with a fair and open mind to Al’s arguments, I flat out disagree with his final analysis. I can appreciate Al’s thoughtful approach to the subject, but I can’t come to the same conclusion.

Al made plenty of strong, logical arguments based on a deep knowledge of the subject. He’s right that a powerful weapon like a gun is sometimes the only thing that might even the playing field and protect a physically weaker person if they were to be attacked. It’s true that we do, in fact, have some measure of legal gun control in this country that isn’t being enforced well enough. He makes a good case for putting more resources into mental health care. And he stands on solid historic ground when he says we’ve had the right to bear arms in this country since independence. Gun ownership is part of our nation’s DNA.

But None of That Matters

None of that matters, though, when more and more frequently, children’s bodies are being put in the ground.

I remember when there was a fad in the early 2000s for families to buy giant Hummers (civilian version of the military Humvee) for transporting their kids around town. It didn’t take long for most people to realize this was a really dumb trend. Not only were they gas-guzzling beasts in a time when we were at war for oil and watching the planet’s temperature rise from CO2 emissions. They were also dangerous to other drivers. I read an article at the time in which a mom, when asked about her Hummer said, “I like knowing that if I run into anything, I win.”

She had every legal right to own and drive a Hummer. And on the individual level, it didn’t seem like such a big deal. Similarly, I have close to zero concerns about a guy like Al owning guns. He’s an intelligent, conscientious person.

But sometimes the consequences of our freedoms are more devastating than they’re worth. With all due respect and appreciation for people like Al, I believe we’d be better off if we decided to forego this one freedom to save ourselves from ever again having to watch in fear as more of our children’s lives are ended by a national cache of weapons too large and powerful for us to control.

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Story and photos by Courtney Ball