Not all guns are bad

BILL LANKHOF -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

It is the game that dares not speak its name.

Its participants vilified and associated with one of the vilest four-letter words of our blighted urban sub-culture.

Guns.

They will be coming to Hamilton next weekend from all over the province. But don't hide the women and children, just yet. Gord Kerr is one of the most unlikely-looking leaders of a shotgun-toting gang of sharpshooters as you're likely to run across. He is 72, the father of four, thinks good hunting is when he takes a walk and his dog finds a nice stick and, oh yeah, he can knock a tick off a cat's tail at 30 paces with a 12-gauge.

Kerr, of Milton, is secretary treasurer of the Ontario Trapshooting Association, which plans to hold its annual championships next weekend at the Hamilton Gun Club.

MARKSMEN

It will bring to town about 250 of the keenest marksmen in this province never to wear gang colours.

There are 22 registered trapshooting clubs in Ontario -- none in Toronto, where firearms are regarded with the same affection as a case of SARS. Kerr is hoping a few of the folks who believe all guns are bad, even the sporting kind, will leave their fears at home, come down, and have a peek.

"We have doctors, lawyers, dentists," Kerr said. "We have children 10 to 12 years of age. Sometimes the guns are longer than they are, if you can visualize that."

And, all across the city, the only thing moms are visualizing is little Johnny shooting his eye out, which is nothing Kerr hasn't heard 1,000 times before.

"The more people come out and get associated with the sport, the better," he says. "It might help those people who are afraid of guns."

The Hamilton Gun Club is the oldest and largest in Canada. Trapshooting isn't a cheap sport, with 12-gauge shotguns pricing in between $1,000 and $15,000. Ammunition isn't cheap, either. That, stringent ownership rules, and the notoriety of gun ownership, has seen club memberships dip to about 600 in Ontario from a high of 850 in the 1980s.

"About 85% of our membership is in the GTA, but our problem is a lot of people classify it as a cowboy type of thing ... that we're dangerous people," Kerr said.

"I've had bosses (he was director of fleet operations for the City of Hamilton) who say: 'Oh, you wouldn't want to do that. It's dangerous.' But it's no more dangerous than golf except that the club I use is a shotgun. It's not until they come out and try it they realize gun clubs, at least in highly regulated Canada, are not training grounds for the next Rambo.

"The trouble is people in the city of Toronto are using guns to kill people. To many people a gun is a gun, is a gun. And, if you own a gun, people see you as being a dangerous person."

Kerr came to the sport late.

In 1978, his son, Ken, took him to a farm field owned by a family friend and "we'd take turns, one of us launching while the other shot.

"I never owned a gun before that but I got hooked by the competitive thing. I used to play a lot of sports and when you get older you find you're not as competitive anymore. With this you can be competitive at any age."

Trapshooting involves standing 16 to 50 yards from a bunker with a 12-gauge shotgun that fires a shot of about 375 pin-size pellets in a pattern of 24 to 30 inches. A launcher in the bunker oscillates sending four inch clay targets spinning out in different directions at more than 60 kilometres an hour. Last year, Kerr hit 97 of 100 targets, beating an international field of 900 other shooters to win the senior veteran's division at the Grand American Championship in Ohio. He also is a former provincial champion.

Not that a whole lot of folks outside the sport would know that.

Or appreciate it.

Trapshooting was at its zenith nationally in the 1970s and 1980s. Susan Nattrass was one of the world's top shooters.

The gun was as Canadian as beaver pelts, kids ran around the house playing cowboys and indians and a pellet gun was a favoured Christmas gift. Today, beavers are protected, playing cowboys and indians is politically incorrect and a kid with a gun gets arrested. As a result, gun clubs have become a preserve, mostly, for the middle aged.

"We're not getting the younger people because (shooting) is frowned on in the schools," he said. "We used to get school teams and boy scout troops would come out but we're not getting the influx of young shooters."

Kerr believes it is a mistake.

"I think it's better if kids learned about guns," he says.

He tells the story of his granddaughter, Devin, then 8, chiding someone for failing to properly check to see if a gun was loaded before they picked it up. In the city, as another bullet flies; as another mother weeps; as another young man dies; this is the flipside of the gun culture that is seldom heard.

"I can remember when we were in high school they had a range in the basement of Kennedy Collegiate in Windsor," Kerr said. "I'd rather have people know how to use a gun than not, whether they actually ever use one or not. If they have that knowledge it would destroy the myth that everything about them is dangerous."

The 87th provincial championships run Aug. 5-7 at the club (905-692-4224), located at the corner of Highway 53 (Rymal Rd.) and the 5th Sideroad.

Flak jackets not required. Honest.


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