- - Sunday, January 28, 2018

TV host Mike Rowe likes to illustrate how attitudes have changed over the years by recalling the time he and a classmate brought a gun to his high school in Baltimore — not just any gun, but a sniper rifle.

“We walked in the school, had the gun over my shoulder, walking down a crowded hall and the principal saw me and said, ‘Hey, what do you have there?’ And I handed it to him and said, ‘It’s a Mauser. Check it out. It’s an old German sniper rifle,’” Mr. Rowe said.

The principal was impressed with the firearm and their plans to tinker with it in metal shop, he said.

“He said, ‘Bring it by the office when you’re done. I’d love to look at it when you’re finished,’” Mr. Rowe recalled. “That’s 1979 or 1980. Where I grew up, we saw the guns in the back of the truck. They were there in the gun racks in the high school parking lot.”

In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Rowe, 55, touched on a range of topics, as well as his career, which is taking a turn. The Trinity Broadcasting Network has begun airing new episodes of his “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” show, which CNN ran from 2014 to 2016.

Guns, he said, haven’t changed all that much over the years, but our perceptions of them and attitudes about them have, with calls for more gun control laws after mass shootings that put the onus on the weapon, not the person misusing it.

“I think most things are down to mental health. I think a lot of giant issues get missed because we confuse the cause with the symptom,” he said, adding that the basic issue behind shootings is “terrible judgment.”

“I think there’s something in there with gun control and the whole conversation around guns. We’ve had guns in our culture from the beginning, and it hasn’t become an issue, really. These mass shootings haven’t become a thing until relatively recent years.”

Gun control is a personal issue for Mr. Rowe. He made headlines in 2016 after taking to social media to explain how he awoke one morning to the sound of a drone hovering outside his bedroom window in San Francisco. While still in the buff, he grabbed his shotgun and went onto his porch with the thought of blasting the high-tech interloper.

But he hesitated and considered the big picture: He could be arrested for discharging a gun within the city, and the drone could be recording him for all the world to see as he stood there naked while pointing his shotgun. He lowered his gun, went back inside and eventually wrote about his dilemma on Facebook. The post went viral.

“In the wake of that, I got a thousand questions about gun control,” Mr. Rowe said. “I’m absolutely in favor of sensible restrictions, but I don’t understand how the restrictions that we currently have are being implemented in a way that’s effective. I don’t understand how the restrictions we have would have stopped any of the recent tragedies in the headlines. It was really just a comment that said, ‘It probably feels good to pass laws in the wake of a tragedy, but it’s worth looking around and saying, ‘What are we giving up as a result?’

“Even though I didn’t pull the trigger and shoot the drone out of the sky, and even though I would have felt a lot more comfortable with clothes on, it was a great feeling to have the Mossberg 500 in my hands and looking up at a kind of intruder. And I’m not comfortable giving that away,” he said.

The Times interviewed Mr. Rowe before Tuesday’s school shooting in Benton, Kentucky, where two students were killed and 18 others wounded. A 15-year-old boy was charged with murder and assault in the shooting.

Mr. Rowe rose to national prominence via his weekly TV show “Dirty Jobs,” which aired on the Discovery Channel from 2005 to 2012. In it, he talked and served as an apprentice to people working in construction, farming, waste management, janitorial services — “dirty” jobs that are nonetheless important, meaningful and well-paying without requiring a four-year college degree to perform them.

Ever respectful and self-effacing, he explored the ins and outs of various trades and services, often to humorous effect.

After ‘Dirty Jobs’

His CNN show, “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” focused more so on social causes championed by ordinary people across the U.S.

In August, he kicked off a webcast on Facebook called “Returning the Favor,” using unaired episodes of “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.”

The webcast, which has attracted 1.1 million followers, caught the attention of TBN executives, who in turn hired him to produce “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” for their network. It airs at 9 p.m. ET on Saturdays after Mike Huckabee’s new show, “Huckabee.”

“Somewhere between classic religious programming and typical reality fare and all the bad news of the world, I think there’s still room for decent people doing interesting things in places you didn’t know existed,” Mr. Rowe told The Times.

What’s more, he slams as “crazy” the idea that every student must go to a four-year college in order to secure a good-paying job.

Make no mistake: He is the first to admit he is on a mission to show his viewers there are plenty of opportunities for meaningful jobs, some offering six-figure incomes.

The problem, he said, is that the public school system has failed to tell students about such jobs and provide the skills training to perform them. Instead, schools have eliminated vocational training to focus on academic learning, creating a one-size-fits-all model of college-to-workforce that doesn’t recognize the real opportunities in the workplace and the real needs of society.

“If you think about the impact of removing shop from high school, you can’t look at it simply as a budget thing,” said Mr. Rowe, who received a communications degree from Towson University before starting his career. “You have to look at it in terms of, ‘What better message could you possibly send to a kid who’s trying to figure out what’s important than by simply removing the entire discipline from consideration?’

“That’s what happened when vocational education got pulled out of high school,” he said. “We made it crystal clear that all of the jobs that [vocational-technical school] presaged were not worth having. There’s just no other way to spin it. The jobs that are worth having are the jobs that require the things we’re teaching. And the things we’re teaching, therefore, become the things that are aspirational.”

The mikeroweWORKS Foundation has awarded about 1,000 scholarships resulting in certifications for trades such as welding, plumbing and carpentry. Mr. Rowe repeatedly has passed along those success stories to Congress in hopes of spurring lawmakers to action.

“Mostly, I just tell them that you just need to do something to get beyond the union conversation and get beyond the politics flavor and seriously get parents and guidance counselors involved in challenging kids to think differently about the definition of a good job in 2018. You have to get at the root of it,” he said.

“People don’t want these jobs because they are under a lot of mistaken assumptions about what they pay and whether or not they’re good or bad jobs and all this other nonsense. And meanwhile we’ve got 1½ trillion dollars in student loans. We’re still telling our kids that a four-year degree is still the best path for most people,” he said.

“So, I tell [Congress] the same thing every year in a slightly different way,” Mr. Rowe said. “We’re lending money we don’t have, to kids who can’t pay it back, to educate them for jobs that don’t exist anymore, and that’s crazy.”

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