As I was sitting in the Little Guy trailer just east of Denver, Colorado nibbling on a piece of banana bread while writing this column last night, I was struggling with how best to describe the past three and a half days. After all, I've covered nearly 2000 miles, worked on a number of stories, been the guest at a meet-and-greet event, and enjoyed a dinner with total strangers that have quickly become friends.
So, I'll start with the biggest "happening" of the weekend. On Saturday, Miles Hall and his staff at the H&H Shooting Sports Complex in Oklahoma City invited me to come visit their facilities and see what was going on in shooting sports there.
When I arrived, I realized that Miles had not only invited me to attend, he'd spread the word among the shooting community. When I pulled up, I was ushered into a reserved-parking area in front of the facility. It was nearly 30 minutes later before I had the chance to actually go inside and start touring the facility.
That's because Miles had spread the word of MyTime2Stand and politically active and aware shooters showed up to ask questions, offer their support and tell me what they were doing to protect the Second Amendment.
Meeting fellow outdoor enthusiasts is a high point of MyTime2Stand. They've included a variety of community activists as well as Oklahoma legislators -and their families. Gary Giudice photo.
Short answer: they're doing plenty. Oklahoma has recently passed some of the strongest Second Amendment protection legislation in the country. That legislation includes preemption laws that prohibit local governments from passing regulations that impact the Oklahoma state protections of the right to lawfully carry firearms.
During my visit on Saturday, I spoke with one of state legislators who strongly supported this new legislation. It wasn't a long talk, because she had a pair of young men with her who wanted to do two things: get their photo taken with the Jeep and trailer and go inside H&H and see "all the cool shooting stuff."
Hearing youngsters describe shooting as "cool" only made me feel better about the future. So, too, did a quick visit with one of the organizers of the Oklahoma State University Student for Concealed Carry.
The H&H Shooting Complex was described to me as a "mall experience" with a variety of products and customers, it's easy to understand that analogy. Jim Shepherd photo.
Later, while Hall gave me a tour of a bustling shooting complex he likens to a "mall experience" (more on that in a later column) I couldn't help but believe the levels of interest in shooting, hunting, reloading, archery and almost any aspect of shooting sports was an indication of why many mainstream media outlets were concentrating so hard on negative stories about firearms: shooting is gaining in popularity-across the classic demographic lines. The mix of customers in H&H very closely resembled a typical Saturday crowd at the mall: all shapes, colors, and sizes.
In this "mall" however, there were educational opportunities as well as plenty of enticements to buy. Along one side of the shooting ranges, thirty-eight new shooters were taking a concealed carry certification class. Along the opposite wall, a class of neophyte reloaders were also absorbing information from an H&H expert.
"We're not trying to build the old type of gun store," Hall explained, "our new customers aren't the classic type of gun buyer. They're young, very adept technically and it's not unusual for them to come in and start asking questions -or look for QR-codes and go get information for themselves."
"These are the people that will keep the sports going," Hall predicted, "and I think that in 3-4 years they're going to rediscover something we've been worried about: hunting."
If Hall's predictions bear out, the hunting world will be in for a big shock - these new hunters are going to know what they want to hunt and expect to keep a hunt- and harvest- inside an already busy timeline. Yep, he thinks they're going to look like the hunters normally criticized from their short-schedule hunting trips to high-fence operations.
But it was an unexpected dinner invitation last night that left me most hopeful. While setting up in the Denver East KOA, I struck up a conversation with Robert Stukas, a critical delivery driver from Athens, Texas. He asked about my themed Jeep and trailer, and seemed fairly interested as he wandered back to his campsite to "turn the steaks."
He came back a few minutes later with a dinner invitation. Since my cupboard wasn't bare - but was pretty sparse- I readily accepted. And as I ate dinner with Robert and his wife Shelley, I got to know a couple who were more than aware of the challenges to our individual rights. And a couple more than willing to spread the message themselves.
Those kinds of conversations are the purpose for this latest road-trip: to remind average people that we can accomplish extraordinary things if we work together. And I realized that the campgrounds across the country might be a great place to renew the energy of what can seem at times to be a pretty dispirited electorate.
Dinner table conversations with strangers aren't all that common anymore in a lot of our society- in the campgrounds of America, however, they're apparently not so uncommon- and that may pose an uncommon opportunity to encourage others to get involved.
I'm going to test the premise as I travel over the next two weeks- and, as always, we'll keep you posted.