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The Problem of the Northeast Gun Culture

At the risk of embarrassing one of my readers by elevating his comment to a post, I thought this was as succinct a statement about the issue as I can think of:

Most of the areas that still experience discomfort and lack of familiarity with firearms are the places that have basically banned them and driven off all the gun owners. In NY State (an example I’m personally familiar with), the city is basically a gun free zone with zero ownership, no ranges, no concealed carry, no stores, etc. Upstate has fudds who practice in their backyards and can’t understand why people need assault weapons to hunt deer (literal quote). These guys are all old as fuck and they aren’t leaving behind a generation or three of gun owners because all of their children left the state for greener pastures (me included). A lot of these states coincidentally have serious problems besides the gun issue, so I wouldn’t exactly beat a path back if they made my hobby legal again.

The only way to change those places is to override the legal barriers to the hobby (either though Congress or the federal court) so people can begin participating legally again. Without that, you’ll never get ranges, stores, clubs, etc. And without those things you don’t get voters that care about the issue.

If I had to boil it down to a single sentence: “These guys are all old as fuck and they aren’t leaving behind a generation or three of gun owners because all of their children left the state for greener pastures.”

My club is about 1/3rd New Jersey residents, and I’m noticing a sharp uptick in the number new applicants from the Garden State. I expect that will accelerate as things get worse for the remaining gun owners, and the few remaining places to shoot on the other side of the river are closed. The average age at my club is 64 years old, and we’re not getting younger. A lot of them have kids that have moved away. Granted, there’s young shooters out there in the area, but we’re still holding onto many vestiges of Gun Culture 1.0, and it is difficult to convince a bunch of old guys who have been doing things a certain way for years that they need to change. But there is a hook you can use: most of them express profound disappointment in the lack of young people in the shooting sports. The truth is that there are plenty of young people in the shooting sports, even in the ‘burbs of Philadelphia: they just aren’t shooting your shooting sports.

My club is a Silhouette club. That’s what we shoot. It’s been a dying sport for a while now. I shot it for a while, but I’ve largely stopped. Why? It’s extremely difficult. It takes years to become competent at it, and if you’re just kind of OK, it’s about as much fun as watching paint dry. I don’t regret trying it, and it taught me a lot about shooting. But the sports the kids are shooting are basically life size video games. Is it any wonder the traditional sports are dying?

Change is difficult, time consuming, and painful, but worth it. The great trick is making people comfortable with change. I’m a big fan of doing what we can to rescue what culture we have, and not losing places to shoot to generational rot.

26 Responses to “The Problem of the Northeast Gun Culture”

  1. Pat says:

    We’re facing this at my club in Minnesota too. We’re the closest outdoor shooting facility to the Twin Cities Metro – and we’re ruled by a Board of Geriatrics.

    They have little interest in appealing to Gun Culture 2.0, and, as a result, will likely cease to exist within the next decade.

    • Sebastian says:

      I’ve heard this over and over. But that won’t happen if young people are ready to step up and lead in their absence. A big problem we have in this country is that people have forgotten how to participate in civil society, and forgotten its importance. American Culture has typically involved a lot of activity that was outside the scope of government and business. But that’s been dying.

      Gun clubs are civil society. They are run that way. And keeping those places running is very very important for the future of our culture in the regions of the country that were settled by ze German volk, who brought that club culture with them from Europe.

      • Pat says:

        We tried making inroads a few years ago – we had a full slate of “younger” folks willing to step up and overthrow the Board. It would have required a full overthrow too based off the way their voting structure works.

        We were stymied when two of them slated for retirement from the Board decided to stick it out.

        Now we get members giving the stink-eye to guys shooting AR’s or steel targets…or “rapid fire”…or “drawing from the holster”…or pretty much anything that isn’t Bullseye or High Power from the bench.

        And any shooters that aren’t over-40 and white…

        • Bitter says:

          There was a really great article in the WSJ on an American Legion post in California that planned a takeover of the board. They had to do a full slate and challenge everything. It took serious coordination, and they didn’t win every seat. But they won the big ones, and they have now made it a “hot” place to be for both old and young alike. I want to freakin’ join after reading about some of the stuff they did, which actually focused on preserving some of the important history and culture of the club. It’s why older people didn’t end up abandoning it even if they didn’t love every change. I saved it as a PDF to share with other civic groups because I thought the message was truly important.

          • Alpheus says:

            It’s sometimes easy to forget that the best way to get crufty people (whether old or young) to go along with — or at least tolerate — new changes, is to pay homage to, and show respect for, the old ways of doing things.

            This applies as much to companies and other organizations as it does to anything else, too.

      • Publius says:

        Or maybe civil society is moving elsewhere.

    • Scott Murphy says:

      Oakdale I assume?

  2. Bitter says:

    “These guys are all old as fuck and they aren’t leaving behind a generation or three of gun owners…”

    Around here, I’ve also noticed that even when their children haven’t left, their kids and grandkids aren’t involved because they never invited them to be part of the culture. They just kind of assumed it would always be okay and their kids or grandkids would eventually get into it on their own. They made little or no effort to actually pass on this culture.

    For every guy I ever heard talking about how nice it is to see a younger person at the club, it takes quite a bit to bite my tongue and not respond, “So why aren’t your family members here, too? Did you ever bother to invite them or teach them? No, oh, well, maybe that’s why you don’t see any young people. You decided to leave it up to everyone else to do that work, and now your kids and grandkids have adopted cultures you may not love so much.”

    • Duane Norman says:

      As I am a part of “gun culture 2.0”, there’s another point no one is mentioning. For rifle shooting (which I especially enjoy), it is often difficult to find a legitimate 100-200 yard range to shoot at.

      Clubs will require membership to even use their facilities; it is not as easy as just walking up, paying a fee to rent a lane, and firing off some rifle rounds.

      Gun culture 1.0 would do well to make firearm ranges more accessible to the youth, and encourage more outreach, as opposed to requiring membership just to attend.

  3. Rob says:

    This is one of the reasons why I left my old Gun club and moved to another.

    It got to the point that if I used any rifle that looked “scary” I would get the eye… then if I shot any more than 3 rounds in any less than a 5 min interval I would get the lecture which got old pretty quickly.

    Things were fine with my C&R rifles but anything semi-auto more often then not became an issue.

    At the club meetings it was mentioned frequently about lack of younger members.. but instead of being pro-active they just worked on their priority, which was the BAR.

    Now I at least see a good mix where I shoot. Still manage to get the stink eye once in awhile.. it’s like a badge of honor!

    • Sebastian says:

      It’s still a good idea to stay around, even if you found a better club. Those guys won’t live forever and there needs to be a new generation ready to take over when there’s the eventual leadership crisis.

      Most clubs aren’t as hopeless as they may seem, but it takes a lot of patience.

  4. Chuck says:

    The club doesn’t have to be ruled by ambulatory geriatrics to fail to meet needs.

    The club I used to belong to (location redacted) is a competition club; you name the competition shooting discipline, the club does it, and willingly accommodates new disciplines, even those lacking official sanctioning. Almost every board member competes, those who don’t coaches and instruct competitive shooters in their favorite discipline.

    It has a constant inflow of new shooters, so it “looks like growth” until you closely examine it. Most of the new shooters aren’t dyed-in-the-wool competitive shooters, so there’s no real place for them. Once succesfully past the initial rules introduction, safety training and range qualification session, unless they’re involved in one of the competitive activities they’re largely abandoned; more than a few have complained they can’t get on a range on weekends because they’re tied up with matches until late afternoon. A couple years back the club’s annual community outreach day placed “learning to shoot handguns” on equal footing for (reduced) range space with the 5-10 guys who shoot International Free Pistol each month; in years past 350-400 guests have cycled through “learning to shoot pistols,” able to get instruction in and try semi-autos and revolvers from .22 to .45, and where there are never enough firing points or instructors to meet the demand. I have no clue how many guests were enthralled with $2,500 single-shot .22 Short Hammerli pistols because I took the hint and spent the day elsewhere.

  5. SWE says:

    It’s all fucking prone, slow fire matches; or rimfire steel shoots while standing in a box. While that’s fine for a little while, more people would rather do the two-gun stuff that InRange shows off.

  6. Mike says:

    A lot of it is a land issue. You can drive an hour outside many (most?) cities in the west and find vast stretches of public land where you can freely set up targets from 0 to 1000+ yards and blast away to your heart’s content. Not so in the East. Everything out here is private land or small public wilderness areas that are closed to all shooting (except for maybe hunting). I live in Atlanta and the quality and quantity of outdoor ranges near me is nothing compared to what I had in Los Angeles.

  7. Even here in the relatively gun friendly South, we are stuck with clubs living in the 1950s. The local gun club has a 200 yard rifle range and a 25 yard pistol range. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they have no action pistol bays, they don’t allow “human silhouette” targets, and no suppressors are allowed. When you add in the fact they are getting hemmed in on either side by housing developments, I don’t see how much longer they’ll exist.

  8. Heather says:

    Gotta admit, little bit nervous about moving back to the northeast for a year.

  9. oldwindways says:

    I wish my club would allow things like action shooting, steel targets, and drawing from the holster, but the combination of the limitations of our facilities and the liability issues associated with it mean those activities are restricted to official matches with a match director and range officer (if allowed at all). If we still had a few hundred acres and the 1000-yard range, it would be a different story, but it’s not the 1800s anymore.

    I joined our board of directors a few years back with the goal of being the young blood that brought us into the future, but I have only been able to move the needle a little bit in my time, and I certainly don’t feel as young anymore (nor do I have as much hair on top).

    I can understand why more people don’t get involved at the organizational level, even in a setting where we all share a common hobby, small group politics can be a bear. There are times when I reminisce about the good old days when I kept my head down and could just go to the club to shoot.

  10. Idaho has plenty of Gun Gen 2.0. I was lecturing about the Hundred Years War, bow control, and elitist fear of peasants, and all the lights came on!

  11. Brad says:

    California is a weird place when it comes to guns.

    The laws here are terrible, and only likely to get even worse very soon. Yet there is a lot of money being spent at a lot of gun stores and indoor gun ranges. A lot of creative work arounds to stupid laws originate here, out of necessity.

    I can’t help but wonder if a lot of gun owners who have spent many years in California will suddenly flood out of the state into friendlier and less expensive areas like Arizona and Texas.

    Of course that will just accelerate our nations geographic sorting into greater political polarization.

    https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/purple-america-has-all-but-disappeared/

    • Will says:

      Yes, some of us are leaving.

    • Alpheus says:

      This polarization makes me think that America is going to have to split into two different countries at some point — a portion that values individualism, and one that’s more comfortable with collectivism.

      If it comes to this, I desperately hope that we can split up peacefully…

  12. Richard says:

    This old fart is definitely a 2.0 type. Gun club here went belly up because they were foolish enough to have it on leased land and the owner got intimidated by anti-gun people. The energy in the place was around CAS but they didn’t restrict the other stuff. They are talking about a deal for a new range but the fear is that it will be a 1.0 range.

  13. Fûz says:

    “But the sports the kids are shooting are basically life size video games.”

    are you saying ‘tactical’?

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