Hunting and target shooting, as generations of Americans used to be told, are not about releasing one’s emotions and physical tension with guns, but about mastering them in order to steady the hand and shoot accurately. Schools and summer camps once promoted marksmanship for this reason, as an exercise in self-discipline. This kind of instruction declined in the 1960s, but it used to be as valued and routine a part of growing up as learning to swim. …

I had been a gun owner all my life, and though I rarely hunted anymore, I prized what proficiency I possessed. For several years, we spent Thanksgiving with friends in the Berkshires. A regular feature was a high-spirited skeet shoot rivalry in a field while the turkey cooked. My daughter said she loved the skeet shoot because it taught her that guns didn’t need to be feared. For those who treat them with care and respect, she learned, firearms in the house are not necessarily more lethal than a sharp kitchen knife. …

But that culture is under attack, and the changes go well beyond the dramatic urbanization that has made safe shooting environments harder to access. They are about what guns have come to represent, especially to young men. We’ve witnessed the insidious growth in recent years of films, television programs and video games glorifying the splattering of human bodies with multiple-shot firearms as a sort of badge of manhood — the macho antidote for even petty annoyances. This is not John Wayne and Annie Oakley with quick-draw six-shooters and trick-shot accuracy. It’s the delusion of solving problems in human relationships with massive and messy human extinction. It’s about filling the air with metal.