About Utah: A gun nut, and a safety nut too

Published: Monday, Sept. 2 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Robbie’s message carries maximum impact because of his infectious enthusiasm for all things gun. Few pack around his kind of credentials. When he was in the Air Force he set a world record for accuracy with a rapid-fire service rifle that still stands. He is one of a select few with a Distinguished Rifleman patch on his uniform. And at home he has a museum-caliber collection consisting of 104 firearms that includes every shoulder weapon used by the U.S. military since the Civil War — all locked up in a safe, of course.

Robbie’s penchant for safety came hard-earned. When he was just 14 years old he accompanied his father J. Lee and older brother Lee on the annual Utah deer hunt. It was the fall of 1945 and his brother had just returned from serving in World War II, days after the Japanese surrender. The three weren’t in the woods more than 45 minutes before Lee shot his deer, after which he let the hammer down on his rifle and leaned the gun against a tree. His father picked up the gun and placed it in the back of the pickup, where it slid to the bumper, triggering the hammer and sending a bullet through J. Lee Robertson’s right hand.

“He lost most of the use of that hand the rest of his life,” says Robbie, shaking his head 68 years later.

“That got us both really into gun safety,” he explains, pointing out that his brother, until the day he died 15 years ago, was responsible for teaching innumerable gun safety classes for the Division of Wildlife Resources and was one of the visionaries behind the popular Lee Kay Center for Hunter Education in West Valley City. (The facility is named after another Lee, longtime Fish & Game director Lee Kay.)

“You start out blaming the gun,” he adds, “but eventually you come to the realization it wasn’t the gun’s fault.”

It’s yours. That’s the gospel according to Robbie Robertson. If you pick up a firearm, it’s your responsibility — and no one else’s — to make sure it’s safe.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. EMAIL: benson@deseretnews.com

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