DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The events in Newtown have put gun violence high on the minds of many Americans. Last week, President Obama called for new gun control measures, and he said he hopes gun owners support him.
A Pew Research Center poll taken after the Newtown shootings shows that 65 percent of gun owners still believe it's more important to protect gun rights than to control gun ownership.
Steve Rinella, an author and lifelong hunter, has been watching closely as this debate has been reignited. He spoke with our colleague Steve Inskeep.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
If we talked about the time before the Newtown, Connecticut shooting, where did you stand before that shooting on gun control?
STEVE RINELLA: Before the shooting, I stood on gun control where I've stood on gun control for my whole life. And my understanding of gun ownership was formed as a very young child. I grew up in a home with guns. I was taught to use them at a young age.
RINELLA: My father was very strict about handling them, what were appropriate uses for guns. I own guns now. I know how to use them. I was brought up knowing that I could use them to feed myself, and I do that now. I could use them to defend myself. And it was never something to be ashamed of. It was a responsibility to be proud of.
INSKEEP: What weapons do you own?
RINELLA: I own a lot of hunting weapons now. I use bolt-action rifles...
RINELLA: ...and I use pump-action shotguns.
RINELLA: But I don't own a lot of the types of weapons that are being discussed right now.
INSKEEP: You don't own an AR-15, for example.
RINELLA: No, I don't. I've never been interested in them. But at the same time, I'm a member of the National Rifle Association, because I do have concerns that I want to safeguard. I have family in Montana and Alaska. I travel to those places to hunt.
Now, if someone were to come forth and say, you know, we've decided that it's a bad idea that American citizens can move from state to state with firearms, I know that the NRA would notify me of that risk, and they would defend my rights in that sense. So when I joined the NRA, it's not that I'm necessarily joining the NRA to help safeguard a particular high-capacity weapon that I own. It's I trust them to generally ensure and look out for my Second Amendment rights.
INSKEEP: Let me just ask you, as a hunter who has spent time with a lot of other hunters: When the subject does narrow down to assault weapons, as happened in the '90s and as seems to be happening again, and we do have some kind of definition of an assault weapon as a weapon where you can quickly fire a lot of shots.
INSKEEP: What kind of conversations do hunters have about those? Do people say, man, I use that? Do people say, I don't use that, but I want anybody else to be able to use that? What do they say?
RINELLA: Well, let me say this: I hunt year-round. I don't hunt - personally, I don't hunt with one guy who hunts with an AR-type rifle.
INSKEEP: All right.
RINELLA: I know guys that do. I don't have any desire to do it, because for me, like, culturally, like, my definition of a hunting rifle is fixed on a specific image. And I would say the guys that I hunt with feel the same way. But, again, we know that there are vulnerabilities that we have, you know, that we have the ability to drive around to our hunting locations with firearms, to fly in airplanes with firearms. So we have a sympathy or empathy for other gun owners who are feeling the same way. But, with all that said, I'll tell you, I just got a text message the other day from my brother who basically announced to me that he just made a radical departure from his own viewpoint and is rethinking this whole issue in light of the recent shooting. So I can't speak to how many hunters are feeling that way.
INSKEEP: You know, I want to ask another question, because Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association held a press conference on Friday in which he proposed that there ought to be armed guards, armed police officers in every school in America. And that hits an interesting philosophical divide. There's the old saying that an armed society is a polite society, that if there are more guns around, it can actually be more peaceful. The flip side of that is the idea that the more guns are around, the more likely it is that someone is eventually going to fire a gun. I wonder what your instinct is there.
RINELLA: Well, what he said, I expect what came out of the NRA press conference to be, like, widely lampooned in the media. But I'll tell you this: I have two young children, OK. I have a two-and-a-half-year-old son. I have a week-old daughter. They're not in school yet. When I imagine forward to when they do begin school and I think about their safety, would I feel better about their safety knowing that there was an assault weapon ban possibly in the future? Or would I feel better about or more secure in their safety knowing that they were going to go to a school that had a similar type of armed guard presence that you'd find at a sporting event, that you'd find in a bank? I would feel better about them going to school where they were protected by armed guards.
That, to me, seems concrete and tangible, and it addresses whatever persons that might want to attack children, whatever their motivations are, whatever their capabilities are, however they decide to go about doing it, it would present a level of safety - if I was selecting a school for my kids.
INSKEEP: Is it fair to say that the Newtown, Connecticut shooting, as awful as it was, has not really changed your thinking about guns and gun control, or at least has not yet changed your thinking?
RINELLA: Steve, I'll tell you honestly - and this is a bold statement, because, like I said earlier, we have a new daughter in our home - I've thought about these issues every hour of every day since that happened, all right. I don't know where I'm going to come down in the end. I've thought about them every day, and it's weighing on my mind heavily. In a year, if we talk, I might tell you where I landed, but right now, my mind is a whirlwind.
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GREENE: That's the voice of Steven Rinella, a hunter and author, talking with our colleague Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.