Chipper Jones was five or six years old when his father taught him how to shoot a gun, this coming before he had even played his first game of Little League baseball. He grew up loving one as much as the other, becoming not only a Hall of Fame player for the Braves but an avid outdoorsman.
“I grew up in a town where two-thirds of the people who came to school drove trucks and had hunting rifles and hunting shotguns in their gunracks in their trucks,” said Jones, who was born in Deland, Fla., about an hour north of the Braves’ spring training complex, and attended high school in nearby Pierson and then Jacksonville. “But never at any point did anyone ever pull one out and say, ‘I’m going to kill somebody.’ Whenever there was a disagreement, we threw knuckles. We’d meet after school and fight. That’s just the way it was.”
Unfortunately, too often, that’s not the way it is today.
We live a world where the subjects of sports, politics, violence, race and civil rights issues collide on a daily basis. It’s with that backdrop that I approached Jones about his views on gun violence and the rash of deadly school shootings, most recently at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the south Florida town of Parkland. A former student at the school killed 17 people, using an AR-15.
Jones is the father of six boys, ages 20 years to 13 months. He’s a Florida native, maintains ties to the state and is an avid hunter, even co-hosting a television show, “Major League Bowhunter.”
But he has a real problem with the AR-15, the weapon used in at least 10 mass shootings. Jones believes the AR-15 and all similar assault weapons should be banned from public sale to civilians.
“I believe in our Constitutional right to bear arms and protect ourselves,” Jones said. “But I do not believe there is any need for civilians to own assault rifles. I just don’t.
“I would like to see something (new legislation) happen. I liken it to drugs – you’re not going to get rid of all the guns. But AR-15s and AK-47s and all this kind of stuff – they belong in the hands of soldiers. Those belong in the hands of people who know how to operate them, and whose lives depend on them operating them. Not with civilians. I have no problem with hunting rifles and shotguns and pistols and what-not. But I’m totally against civilians having those kinds of automatic and semi-automatic weapons.”
Jones also favors raising the minimum age for gun purchases from 18 to 21, as others have proposed.
“Some people will scoff at that, but that’s a big (age) difference,” he said. “Kids grow up a lot in those three years.”
Regarding President Donald Trump’s proposal to arm some teachers with guns, Jones also falls in line with most rational thinking people on the subject: It’s a big mistake.
“If you want to up school security with people who’ve been through police training and know what it’s like to draw your weapon when your life is threatened, know when to pull the trigger and when not to, that’s one thing,” Jones said. “But I would venture to say that if you polled all of the teachers in America, it would be way over 90 percent who would say no.”
I’ve long respected Jones for reasons beyond just his baseball career. He never has been shy about sharing his opinion on a variety of subjects. His comments are raw and unscripted and he’s as passionate in his beliefs as he was as a player with the Braves and is now as a roving minor-league instructor for the team.
He is also right. There is no defense for a civilian’s ownership of an AR-15 that makes sense. It’s not needed for self-defense. It’s not needed for hunting. It’s not a weapon whose banning would be an infringement on the Second Amendment.
The original AR-15 was designed by Eugene Stoner, an ex-Marine and avid sportsman, in the late 1950s. He intended it only for military use and not for sport, according to his family. Stoner never kept one for his personal defense or even owned one.
“Our father, Eugene Stoner, designed the AR-15 and subsequent M-16 as a military weapon to give our soldiers an advantage over the AK-47,” the Stoner family told NBC News last week. "He died long before any mass shootings occurred. But, we do think he would have been horrified and sickened as anyone, if not more by these events."
The Army renamed Stoner’s invention the M16. After his death in 1997, a semi-automatic version of the AR-15 became a public bestseller, leading the National Rifle Association to declare it, “America’s rifle.”
Jones is not a member of the NRA. He disagrees with the organization’s position on the AR-15 and lifting age restrictions. But he also believes the NRA and Trump are being targeted for too much blame on the subjects.
“The bottom line is we as individuals, as parents, as a country, we have to take responsibility for our own actions,” he said. “Mental health is also a big issue.
“A lot of things have gotten worse since corporal punishment was done away with in schools. My generation of parents and maybe the generation just before have gotten away from disciplining kids and putting fear in their mind and we’ve moved into this world of entitlement: ‘We’re going to do everything we can for our kids and we’re going to spoon-feed them this and that.’ When life happens and life gets rough, kids don’t know how to handle it.”
The threat of violence hit close to home for Jones recently. One of his sons was threatened by another student, who claimed to have a knife.
“We had a situation in Atlanta where somebody threatened my kid,” he said. “The kid was suspended and he hasn’t been back. That’s being strict. I don’t know where he is now, I don’t know if he’s getting help, but that’s not my concern. My concern is my kids and they took a proactive approach, which I was thankful for. That’s the kind of leadership we need in our schools.”
Jones owns three pistols, a shotgun and a rifle. But he rarely even shoots guns anymore because he hunts with a bow and arrow.
“It’s safer and it’s more sporty,” he said.
He watches the news, hears the debate, follows the protests.
“What is going on here in Florida with the protests and people really stepping up to try to make things happen is a good thing,” he said. “It’s always good for there to be open discussion. Hopefully if we can keep those high-powered automatic weapons out of civilian’s hands, the Las Vegases and the Columbines and what happened here in Florida will start to dwindle.”
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