Offhand Shots: A Gun for Christmas

Giving a kid a gun for Christmas is shocking to some, normal for the rest of us
offhand shots logo joe arterburn
The musings and memories of our backpage columnist Joel Kimmel

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Here’s the headline from the front of The Wall Street Journal’s Marketplace section on Dec. 5, 2001: “Under Some Christmas Trees, (Real) Guns for Kids.” I don’t know about where you’re from, but around here that’s not exactly front-page news.

That article was about, in part, the fact that Cathy and I were planning to give our son Jack, then 10, a shotgun for Christmas. Again, not unusual. His older brother, Hunter, had received an identical Remington Express 20-gauge at Christmas two years earlier. Sam, our youngest, would be next.

Shirley Leung, a WSJ staff reporter based in Chicago, had called Cabela’s, where, as communications manager, I handled media inquiries. Shirley said she knew this might be a shot in the dark, but did I know anyone who was planning to give a child a firearm as a gift for Christmas. I hesitated, making a few comments to buy time, my spidey sense on alert that this could be stepping into an anti-firearms pitch. Or, I thought, I could step up and explain how we roll in America.

“I am,” I said. “We’re giving our son a shotgun for Christmas.”

“Really?” she asked. “How old is he?”

“Ten.” Silence.

We talked for a bit and she said she would check with her editor and get back to me. She got back to me, saying it was a go and asking if she could come out and speak to us.

“Sure,” I said.

“What is the best way to get to Sidney?” she asked.

“Fly to Denver, rent a car, and drive two and half hours.”

Shirley arrived. We invited her to our house for supper. We served spaghetti and wine. We talked. She asked about the firearm I had received as a 10-year-old. She asked Cathy questions, too. Cathy said she knew our boys had been instructed about gun safety, nonstop, from an early age, especially when they started accompanying me on hunting trips. (And when I say “nonstop,” I mean it goes on to this day.) Cathy said guns didn’t worry her any more than any other potential danger. Shirley asked if she could talk to my parents. I awaited the article with trepidation.

After the Sidney dateline, the article starts: “For Christmas, 10-year-old Jack Arterburn wants something many parents would never consider giving their child. He wants a gun.”

I held my breath. The article continued, “School shootings have darkened the popular image of a boy with a gun. [Here we go, I thought.] But in rural towns such as Sidney, guns on children’s holiday wish list evoke nostalgia. Guns are what boys wanted for Christmas a hundred years ago, both for hunting and as a rite of passage.”


Shirley put together a pretty informative, fair article that also featured another gun-giving parent, who said, “One has to recruit the next generation of participants. If golf did not have short clubs, you’re not going to have as many kids getting into golfing.”

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Toward the end, Shirley tagged on Mom’s quote: “Of course you worry about guns because they are lethal. I guess I just put the trust in Joe to see that everything will be all right.” When I called Mom, she said she had also told Shirley she wasn’t surprised I would give my kids guns because I had grown up around them too.

We received a card, with a WSJ T-shirt and sommelier tool, from Shirley, thanking us for inviting her into our home. “It was a great first visit to Nebraska,” she wrote, “even if it was snowing and colder than Chicago.”

That Christmas, and many others, came and went. Jack learned to hunt with the Remington. He’s now married to Emily. They have a two-year-old son, Cogan, and another kid on the way. Jack has taken good care of his 20-gauge, for a Christmas yet to come.