In 1768, a gunsmith named Cornish McManus built a rifle of such accuracy that he know he could never create another like it. He intended to treasure his masterpiece, but with a new wife to provide for, he felt pressed to sell it. Soon the rifle was helping one John Byam become a legendary sharpshooter in the American Revolution. But when Byam succumbed to dysentery, the weapon was passed on to yet another owner...and then to another and another, until the present day.
Strangely, in all the time of the rifle after John Byam's death and through all the people who looked at it and held it to their shoulder, not once in the life of the rifle did anybody ever think to see if it was loaded.
The rifle was loaded.
NOTE TO TEACHERS
Because guns are a prevalent part of society, whether in reality or via the media, most teenagers have been exposed to them in one way or another. In preparation for reading Twelve Shots and the novels included in this guide, ask students to write an informal journal entry in which they reflect upon their personal associations with or thoughts about guns. Then ask them to find a newspaper, magazine, or Internet article about a recent situation involving teenagers and guns, paste it into their journals, and write a brief reaction to it.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
This riveting novella shows that even an antique rifle hanging over a mantelpiece can be a dangerous firearm.
In The Rifle, Gary Paulsen traces the path of a pre-Revolutionary rifle from its creation by Cornish McManus, through its use in the American Revolution, its hidden existence for several generations, its sale as an antique, and its final unintended, deadly discharge.
The following books are also discussed in this guide:
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
A Word from Harry Mazer...
"I grew up in the city, and there were no guns in our house. But on the street, my friends and I were always playing gun games, pointing with a finger and 'shooting.' Pow pow pow! . . . Bang, you're dead. . . . In our games the 'dead' always jumped up.
But something has changed in our country. Real guns are coming into the schools, and real kids are being shot by other real kids. Open the newspaper on any day, and read another story of someone shot. A student, stopping to ask for directions, is shot and killed by a frightened home owner. Cross fire kills a child going to the grocery store. A random bullet kills another child in his bedroom. . . .
The history of our nation is history with a gun. The gun allowed Europeans to seize this land. The gun lies deep in the American psyche. . . . Guns are not likely to disappear. They are here in our lives. How can we live with them? Can we live with them? Can we live without them? What's clear is that as their numbers increase, so does the danger for all of us. If no one had a gun, what would the world be like? We don't know. What we do know is that if everyone has a gun, no one is safe."
In the Classroom
Below you'll find a variety of topics appropriate for classroom discussion. The following themes and topics occur in at least one of the short stories in Twelve Shots and one or more of the novels included in this guide.
Guns in War
Guns are accepted as a necessary evil in war. However, characters such as Mike in "Until the Day He Died" by Harry Mazer for Twelve Shots and John Byam in The Rifle have a propensity for guns even before they enter wars. Arrange for students to hold a debate where one side argues that wars are an excuse for violence and the other side argues that wars are designed to end violence.
The Omnipresence of Guns
Although completely different in their settings, "Shotgun Cheatham's Last Night Above Ground" by Richard Peck and "Chalkman" by Rita Williams-Garcia in Twelve Shots both portray how guns can permeate the essence of a town or neighborhood so that their presence is accepted without question. Ask students to contemplate the effect this situation can have on the children living in such an environment.
In The Rifle, Paulsen refers to Waco. Have several students research and report on what happened in this Texas community.
Ask students to gather newspaper, magazine, and Internet articles about current events involving children or teenagers and guns. Post these articles on a classroom bulletin board. Allow time for students to read the articles and encourage them to respond to them in their journals just as they did in the Getting Started activity.
Create a class newspaper that summarizes the current events posted on the bulletin board. The newspaper might also contain reviews of books mentioned in this guide, articles about what agencies and organizations are doing to educate the public about the gravity of the gun situation in our country, and newspaper versions of the stories in Twelve Shots or parts of the novels included in this guide.
These stories might also form the script for a radio or television broadcast aimed at heightening awareness of problems involving guns.
Both the bicycle messenger in "Briefcase," written by Walter Dean Myers for Twelve Shots, and Booley, Eric's friend in Shark Bait, are frustrated and seek revenge because they feel they are treated disrespectfully. Suggest students write the dialogue for a conversation that might take place between Booley and the messenger after Booley is shot and wounded by the police officer. What advice would Booley give about carrying and using a gun?
The Need to Dominate
In "Cocked & Locked," Chris Lynch's story in Twelve Shots, Pauly procures a gun so his girlfriend will pay attention to him. He fails to impress her but succeeds in confirming his best friend's loyalty. CC in Shark Bait is also insecure about his girlfriend and tries to impress others with a gun. Have students predict what will become of both these boys who need so desperately to dominate others.
The characters in the Twelve Shots short stories "War Game" by Nancy Werlin and "God's Plan for Wolfie and X-Ray" by David Rice and in the novels Shark Bait and Swallowing Stones have differing views on how friends should behave. In each case, a gun of some sort helps shape the character's thinking. Ask for volunteers to stage a skit in which these characters discuss the meaning of friendship.
Although each of the characters in "Custody," Frederick Busch's contribution to Twelve Shots, Shark Bait, and One-Eyed Cat handles a gun when he should not, each story ends depicting a close relationship between the protagonist and his father or mother. What is it about each relationship that the presence of a gun cannot destroy?
In the Twelve Shots stories "Fresh Meat" by Ron Koertge and "Eat Your Enemy" by Nancy Springer, fathers carefully teach their children how to handle guns safely. Eric's father in Shark Bait does the same. Using these fathers' instructions and information gained from the organizations listed in this guide, have students create a list of suggestions for teaching gun safety for parents who allow their children to have guns.
Values in Conflict
Reverend Wallis, Ned's father in One-Eyed Cat, comments that all there is to imagine with a gun is something dead. In Harry Mazer's Twelve Shots story "Until the Day He Died," Mike's father will not allow guns in the house and forbids Mike to enlist. On the other hand, Cass's father in "Eat Your Enemy" by Nancy Springer for Twelve Shots insists she learn to handle a gun even though she detests them. All three teens grow to appreciate their fathers' points of view, but only Cass tells her father. What might the boys say to their fathers if they were to tell them their feelings about guns at the end of their stories?
According to the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, "a recent survey found that more than 1.2 million elementary-school-age latchkey children have household access to a gun." Suggest students contact the organizations in this guide and use information they provide to create a brochure for children outlining the dangers of guns and helping them appreciate the seriousness of any situation involving a firearm.
Children and Guns: The Statistics
Sixteen children are killed with guns each day in the United States.
Every six hours, an American between 10 and 19 years old commits suicide with a gun.
More people between the ages of 15 and 24 are killed with guns than by all natural causes combined.
Guns are the number one killer of African American men ages 15 to 34.
Gunshot wounds are the number two killer of all Americans ages 10 to 34.
A recent survey found that more than 1.2 million elementary-school-age latchkey children have household access to a gun.
A recent survey found that 18% of suburban high-school students own a handgun.
Another survey found that 35% of high-school students from high-crime areas carry guns regularly.
The gun you own for self-protection is 43 times more likely to kill an innocent acquaintance than to be used for self-defense.
In one recent year, there were 18 handgun homicides in Australia, 33 in Great Britain, 36 in Sweden, 60 in Japan, 97 in Switzerland, 128 in Canada, and 13,495 in the United States.
(All statistics provided by the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, Washington, D.C., 1996/1998)
by Shelley Sykes
Jeff knows his best friend is dead from a gun wound, but he does not know how or why Mike died.
by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Near the end of this story, a mentally ill sixth grader puts the life of a child in danger with a gun stolen from his father's gun cabinet.
Hard Time: A Real Life Look at Juvenile Crime and Violence
by Janet Bode and Stan Mack
These real life stories of incarcerated teens are riddled with gun use in this unrelenting look at the realities of life in a country where juvenile crime is on the rise.
Kids and Guns (film)
produced by WNET
distributed by Films for the Humanities & Sciences
P.O. Box 2053
Princeton, NJ 08543
This 28-minute color video describes the American gun culture and its impact on today's youth. It focuses on the development of gun mania in this country and provides some ideas about how we might curb the increase in gun accidents and violence.
Organizations Devoted to Educating About Handguns and the Lives of Young People
Children's Defense Fund
25 E Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
This organization will answer specific questions as well as provide general information and data on gun violence.
The Educational Fund to End Handgun Violence
110 Maryland Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20005
Center to Prevent Handgun Violence
This is a nonprofit organization that focuses on education, research, and legal action whose purpose is to reduce gun violence. Students may request a packet of materials relating to the prevention of handgun violence.
Handgun Control, Inc.
This is the lobbying arm of the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence. Both organizations are located at:
1225 Eye Street NW
Washington, DC 20005
Handgun Control, Inc., and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence have a Web site that provides a variety of news, current events, legislative information, and statistics about handgun violence in the U.S. Clicking on "Protecting Yourself and Your Family" will lead to information about the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence's STAR Program: Straight Talk About Risks, a pre-K through 12th grade curriculum for preventing gun violence.
The Children's Defense Fund covers a variety of issues far beyond gun violence and includes information related to guns and children.
Teacher's guide prepared by Elizabeth Poe, associate professor of English, Radford University, Radford, Virginia
x "A truly mesmerizing tale, from beginning to end." --Starred, Publishers Weekly
"Paulsen's message is clear and cutting: a machine made for killing, no matter how lovingly crafted and benignly kept, remains a machine made for killing." --Booklist
"Paulsen is at the peak of his powers in a book that is as shattering as the awful events it depicts. Unforgettable." --Pointer, Kirkus Reviews
ABOUT THIS GUIDE
Guns are, and have long been, an integral part of the fabric of American culture. The Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees our right to keep and bear arms, but the violence and destruction associated with firearms warrants special attention from today's teens.
This guide suggests ideas for teachers who wish to introduce this complex topic in their classrooms by using a variety of award-winning books that feature various aspects of guns: short stories from Harry Mazer's Twelve Shots: Outstanding Short Stories About Guns and the novels Shark Bait by Graham Salisbury, One-Eyed Cat by Paula Fox, The Rifle by Gary Paulsen, and Swallowing Stones by Joyce McDonald.
Several of the stories also address similar topics such as friendship, intergenerational relationships, conflicting values, parental relationships, and current events. All of the topics included in this guide will elicit critical thinking and thoughtful discussions.