Not quite 11 miles from the meanest streets of Chattanooga, where people fire weapons and kill people seemingly indiscriminately, a church will auction off "a small handful" of gift cards for guns at a sportsman's expo today.
The adults who receive the guns, pending the proper background checks and probably already possessing the proper license, will load up their pickups, their bait, their hunting stands and use them to bag deer, pheasant, quail, coyote, squirrel, possum -- whatever it is people hunt in these parts.
I've shot sporting guns, but I've never been a hunter. Don't think I'll ever want to be, but I get it. I can see the interest, the sport in it. A hunter stalking his prey is not unlike a golfer stalking his ball.
But I worry about how you stop the bad guys, the ones who have no interest in hunting, who have never thought about spending hours in the freezing cold or getting a cramp while crouched in a tree stand, waiting for just-the-right shot.
Truth be told, I'd like to get all the guns out of the hands of the bad guys and leave the people alone who just own a gun to hunt. But life and laws -- and human nature -- don't offer that option.
At Oakwood Baptist Church in Chickamauga, Ga., where people can come for free to the Northwest Georgia Sportsman's Expo today between 3 and 5 p.m., the gun auction is just a small part of the events.
They also can see boats, RVs, cars and motorcycles. They can check out fishing supplies and see a couple of demonstrations involving dogs or snakes. Kids can bounce on inflatables. Everyone can soak in some bluegrass music.
Those who purchase a ticket ($10 adults, $5 children) can sample wild game from bear to quail and listen to speaker Jason Cruise, founder of Outdoor Ministry Network.
"Our event is a larger picture of what you can enjoy in the great outdoors," says Bobby Daniels, the church's media ministry director. "Think of it as a home show geared to the great outdoors."
On site, he says, guns and ammunition will be kept separately. Guns will have the safety on or be secured, and no gun will be fired at any time.
"Guns," says Daniels, "are just like anything that can be used in one of two ways" -- properly as they were designed or improperly. "What we are supporting is the proper use of those by hunter/gatherers."
The Sportsman's Expo, the church's second, is held "as a way to connect people," he says. Similarly, the church's Woods and Water Ministry's offers skeet shoots and gun safety training and advocates gun safes, he says.
"At Oakwood," says lead pastor Allen Farris, "we are all about making a connection. That connection comes through many things, and for some it's the love of the outdoors."
Daniels says his father-in-law is typical of the audience that the event will draw.
"He's been in church all of his life," he says, "and he's been a hunter all of his life. He can look at friends he hunts with and can use an event like this to draw them to hear a message they wouldn't normally hear."
Some may think an event like this -- an event at a church in which a gun is raffled off -- is the worst thing in the world. What kind of message does it send about guns? Personally, I don't have a problem with it.
But I wonder about the guns, not the guns in the hands of hunters but the ones in the hands of the bad guys. I wonder what we can do to stop the killing.
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...