The Gun Conversation: A Hunting Company’s Take

By Eric Dinger, founder of Powderhook

Nearly everyone at Powderhook and nearly everyone with whom we work owns a gun. We’re 2nd Amendment supporters and concerned citizens who value life, safety, justice, and freedom. And, we are sad, just like you, about the shootings in Las Vegas, Chicago, Lawrence and throughout the country.

Because our work involves encouraging people to safely own and use guns, lots of people from media to Facebook acquaintances, family, and lifelong friends have asked me for my “take” this week.

Their questions are most often about guns. My question is, ‘Why does this keep happening?’

We have gun laws in this country we struggle to enforce. When we uphold them, we give people overcrowding-shortened sentences at prisons designed to fail. What if, for the sake of having a different kind of conversation, we stop talking about guns long enough to investigate whether there are other, more addressable-by-you-and-me factors at play? What if there is something each of us can and should be doing to slow the growing trend of mass shootings in this country?

The mass shooters I’ve researched have all struck me as isolated, eternally lonely people. And they’re always men – usually white men – which means we gotta discuss why white men are so much more likely than others to commit these crimes.

During a sermon at my church a few Sundays back, I remember distinctly my pastor citing a survey on friendship. When asked by the surveyor how many true friends the respondent has, sadly, the most common answer for an American male was zero. In the study, the term friendship was defined as a trusted person with whom you can openly, reciprocally share feelings. So, late last night, triggered by an article on Medium, I began Googling, and here’s what I found. “Of all people in America, adult, white, heterosexual men have the fewest friends.”

I have close, trusted friends. So I began to ask myself, ‘when do we actually get time to take things beyond the superficial text chain or the two-minute catch-up phone call a couple times a week?’ The answer? Hunting trips. Sure, I’d love to say that hunting trips are the answer, but that’d be self-serving and short-sighted. It’s what happens during those hunting trips that holds an insight. While hunting, we’re away from our daily pressures, we’re in nature, and we’re together for long periods of time. Periods of time that allow for real conversation and connection. In a way, we’re playing. People do all kinds of things with their play-time, but that same Google session turned-up something interesting.  Humans, especially adult American males, don’t play together as much or for as long as they used to. Would you be surprised to find someone makes their living studying play?

According to Dr. Peter Gray, a person who makes his living doing just that, “Over the past half-century, in the United States and other developed nations, children’s free play with other children has declined sharply. Over the same period, anxiety, depression, suicide, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism have increased sharply in children, adolescents, and young adults… The decline in play has contributed to the rise in the psychopathology of young people.”

Would it be too much of a leap to say that lonely people don’t get a chance to build meaningful friendships in adulthood through play?

About 15 years ago I graduated from college and stuck around Lincoln, Nebraska, the place I still live today. I remember clearly what I now describe as an awkward transition phase. In the years following college, most of my friends moved away, and the lifestyles of the friends I had around town began to change from the relatively care-free college days to the family and career phase. Like it was yesterday, I remember the first few weekends where no one called to make or hear about my plans on a Friday night. I felt isolated, and I feared I had done something wrong, or worse if something about me made no one care to hang out (play) anymore. I felt shame.

In time, I made new friends, and old friends moved back, but I’ll never forget that isolated, lonely feeling. Could the long-term effects of this feeling be causing the form of “mental illness” we so often hear about following these shootings? Is it possible that white, American males who feel isolated and lonely — who have no one to talk to about their feelings — who live in a culture that values male machismo — who don’t get time away from their stress — feel deep, dead-inside shame? Could it be that long-term, dead-inside shame is at the heart of the problem?

If so, can we talk about what each of us can do about it?

Photo: Christopher Burns


11 thoughts on “The Gun Conversation: A Hunting Company’s Take”

    1. Brye,

      Very interesting, indeed. I haven’t seen that thought process expressed in that way before.

      At the national level, I see where the author is going. It’s certainly felt at times like a pay-to-play system. For some reason, I perceive there to be a little more of the “government is run by the people who show up” at play at the local level. But, there’s no question money can buy influence at every level.

      Thanks for sharing,


  1. I’m 66 years old and retiring in 19 days. Hope to fish and hunt more than ever. Upon reading this article I reflected back on my life and agree with the fact people “play” less. I dont go on Canadian fishing trips with my buddies like we used to or go to northern Wisconsin for weekend grouse hunting . But I’m old. It’s the younger generation that needs to start doing more of this so they don’t fall into the rut of losing friends. Spending time together with friends can be some of the best times of your life where yo can hold that honest conversation and share some personal thoughts and ideas and hopefully help create a healthier environment for all around you.
    I’m going to reach out to my buddies and “rekindle” the flame we had and put together a grouse hunting reunion.
    Great article. Thanks for your thoughts and motivating me again.

    1. Jim,

      Your comment reminded me of my early 20’s when I used to go explore the city at night with my good friends and just walk all over for hours on end, talking and being real. Those friends may not have been good in the long run because of differing life choices, but that doesn’t change that they had a good impact on my life.

      Thank you for reminding me of them.

      1. Not one friend I have would claim they get as much time with their friends as they’d like. My Wife doesn’t see hers as much as she’d like, either. Don’t know why we’re doing that to ourselves as a culture, but I think it’s real.

        Thanks for sharing.


    2. Jim,

      If you get a chance, grab this month’s issue of Outdoor Life. The back page writer, Joe Arterburn, wrote a great piece on this topic. I think you’ll enjoy it.

      Get some trips on the calendar and make it happen!

      Enjoy retirement,


  2. Great & thoughtful article, Eric. Your willingness to think about this issue in more depth – and explain it so eloquently – helps keep me motivated to keep having conversations about guns instead of being frustrated avoiding a “confrontation” because I know my views are so different from so many of my coworkers, or acquaintances. I know the “real” research on responsible gun ownership is in our favor, but being able to relay that, meaningfully, convincingly, diplomatically and persuasively – is hard. Please keep writing on it, and I’ll keep trying to “catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” ?

  3. Great conversation! “Why does this keep happening?” It’s pure math. The larger a population is, the more bad things will happen. Depending on your population size, a million 911’s could happen killing a million people every day.

    I’m actually really shocked these idiots still hurt people, that’s why our country is doing better than others. We offer free housing, food, etc. You don’t even have to make an effort to steal! And if you’re dumb enough to get caught, you get better heathcare, food, gaming and TV service in PRISON than my mom has after working 30 years and in a wheelchair now.

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