Summer Camp Taught Me How to Shoot Guns

When I was a camper at a beautiful camp for Jews, I had my favorite activities. Every few days we’d sign up and get a modified schedule. I’d cross my fingers and hope for my favorite printout:

RAP RAP SKI SKI SKI

Two straight morning periods of rappelling and tower climbing, lunch, rest hour, and then waterskiing all afternoon.

My other favorite schedule?

SKI SKI RIF ARCH SWIM

Smoother AM water allowed for more skill development whilst waterskiing, and then in the afternoon, I’d shoot things before going on the blob in the lake.

I. Would. Shoot. Things.

Not only would I shoot things, I was GOOD at shooting things. Really good. I was, as they say, an excellent shot. My archery skills were pretty legit, and my riflery skills were nothing to sniff at. We learned all the things you are supposed to learn: proper handling and care of .22 rifles and bebe guns, the commands you say when at a shooting range in the sweaty Georgia heat. The way you NEVER EVER point the business end of either rifle or arrow at another human being. How you hung up and collected targets after the right verbal commands were exchanged, indicating an all clear on the range. How you scored those targets. How you cleaned and stored your gun. Who got to hold the key.

(I later learned that the best way to store a Torah, as it happens, is in a 12-rifle gun safe, because of the fireproof and locking nature of the cabinet. Good to know.)

Finally dried off from a morning perfecting my excellent waterskiing skills, I would crouch on the mat, load the bullets, and shoot at the targets, leaning ever to the left — correcting my aim as necessary — as my handedness dictated. I was proud. These were not the guns of mass destruction you see on the news. These were simple guns, with a safety switch between each bullet, loaded carefully and with reverence, so you could collect the bullet shells to make something nice in the arts and crafts bunk to take home and show your family.

sbb at camp
Young and innocent at camp.

We would discuss in the cabin at night, as a curiosity, whether or not you could actually hurt someone with a bebe gun. This questioning would go along with chatting about boys and leg-shaving and whether or not it would be a good idea to cut some bangs going into the next school year?

I was so good at shooting things that I won riflery awards. I’ve joked before that I think maybe I’m accidentally a member of the NRA. In fact, I think we got NRA awards at camp.

I won NRA awards at camp. Wow — there’s a sentence.

My riflery skills didn’t really stick with me, and neither did my archery skills. I picked up a bow a decade later alongside my campers at a nonprofit overnight Jewish summer camp (no rifles allowed!) and was disappointed in my inability to hit the target. Once a pro, I’d become rather rusty.

After I realized I’d lost my archery skills, I never really cared much that I’d probably also lost my riflery skills. My riflery skills became fodder for games like “two truths and a lie” — most people can’t believe I’ve won riflery awards that maybe mean I’m a member of the NRA. (People immediately believe that I carry multiple EpiPens.)

I started paying more attention to what was happening with guns in our country as children and adults were murdered by deranged evil humans, while innocents were shot because of the color of their skin, or their choice to wear a hoodie just like the ones I wore when on late-night safety patrol at camp. My left handedness became my leftyness became my liberal, nearly pacifist values. Do I want police officers to have guns? Sure, once they’ve gone through some anti-racism training. Real, trained former cops that I would trust with my life? Yes, I guess.

People with training.

People with permits.

People with background checks.

I used to be an excellent shot. I am not anymore.

But I can tell you what I am.

I am a teacher and an educator. I push learners to the edges of their spiritual comfort to help them expand their thinking and engage more deeply with who they think they are, and who they think they could be. I do not, would not, could not, do that while packing heat.

Arming teachers isn’t the answer. Even the ones who are gun enthusiasts. Even the ones who were riflery all-stars as campers. Even the ones who are former soldiers, police humans, or otherwise highly trained in gun things. Even the ones who would take bullets for your children (I maintain that’s all of us). Having an ethics teacher — or a math teacher — teach with a pistol on their hip would not stop bump stocks. Would not stop automatic rifles. Would not stop deranged evil people quickly enough.

What will stop these senseless murders is the banning of gun ownership. The sales on automatic assault rifles. And if it means that former cops don’t have their guns anymore, you know what? Boo freaking hoo. Your hobby or whatever will die at the expense of people not dying. (As an educator, what I should say is: I can see that this is challenging for you. I’m wondering if you’d like to discuss other ways to engage in hobbying that are less potentially traumatic to our country?)

And that seems like a pretty fair trade-off to me.

Sara Beth Berman

Sara Beth Berman is a writer and experiential educator living and working in New York City. She is finishing her first book, a memoir about love, loss, and hilarity. Find her on Instagram and Twitter for beautiful realness, educational wonder, occasional rants, and reflections on being an unwedded widow. She used to be a near-professional waterskiier and loves her car more than is probably healthy.

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