On guns in America

14 minute read

I have a confession to make. I am a gun owner. To most people who know me that probably doesn’t come as a surprise. After all, I’m the guy who brings venison stew to the potluck and shares my homemade wild game jerky. That meat comes from somewhere, and my guns are one of the tools that allow me to bring that lean, organic, healthy meat home to my friends and family. In light of our ongoing epidemic of gun violence in this country and the latest horrific example of it in Florida, I think it’s important for people like me to speak up. I believe my views represent the majority of gun owners and that fringe groups like the NRA do not represent us. Gun ownership is actually at the lowest level it has been since the late 70s, down from around 50% of households in 1977-1980 to around 30% of households now. Gun owners are definitely in the minority overall and a radical minority of those, combined with gun manufacturers represented by the likes of the NRA, have managed to completely dominate the conversation around guns in this country for decades. It’s time we change that, and my aim is to counter the narrative put forward by the NRA about gun owners and give my non-gun owning friends and fellow citizens a view into how I think and how I believe most gun owners think, about the issues of gun violence and gun control in this country.

I grew up in Montana, which has a robust gun culture, for lack of a better term. I received my first hunting rifle as a gift from my Grandfather when I was 13. It was a .300 Savage model 45 Super Sporter manufactured some time between 1928 and 1936 from what I’ve been able to find out. It lived a hard life behind the seat of his pickup for many years and was in pretty bad shape when I got it. I restored it to good shooting condition and took pride in the work and time it took to get it there. I still have that rifle, but it’s been retired from service now and stays safely locked away and out of the elements. it’s the only physical object I still have left from my Grandfather and the sentimental value of it is priceless. After I had put in the work to get the rifle in good shape, I took the Montana hunter’s safety course and went on my first hunt that Fall. This was a rite of passage that had a profound impact on the rest of my life. It was when I gained my love of the outdoors, an appreciation for time spent with family and friends in nature, and an understanding and respect for the circle of life. The thing about it is that it was never really about the guns per se. The gun had value because it was a gift from my Grandfather who I respected immensely and it was a tool that opened up opportunities to have adventures in the mountains with friends and family and bring home meat for the freezer. I won’t deny that there wasn’t some fascination in my teenage mind with the power I perceived that the gun gave me. However, the culture I grew up in, with a family that emphasized the utilitarian nature of the gun, and the formal safety training I recieved tempered that effectively. I was lucky to grow up in what I would term a “healthy” gun culture, that emphasized safety and looked at the gun as a tool not as an integral part of identity or as a means of exerting power.

Today I own a total of 3 hunting rifles including the one my Grandfather gave me 25 years ago, a .22 caliber rifle for cheap target practice, and a shotgun. No hand guns or assault rifles here. I admit I’ve struggled over the years with how to safely store them and to do my best to be a responsible gun owner. For a long time they just sat in my closet completely unlocked with ammo on the closet shelf right above. I figured it wasn’t a big deal since I didn’t have kids and I trusted the people I lived with. That was a bad choice in hindsight, however. All it would have taken is a single break-in, or a friend of a friend who I didn’t know and trust to get a hold of one of them for a tragedy to ensue. Today, I don’t have a proper gun safe since they are expensive, heavy, and hard to handle, but the guns do stay hidden and pad locked in hard plastic cases with trigger and bolt locks in place and bolts removed on the hunting rifles. Even if someone did manage to take one, cut the locks on the case and gain access, they would find an inoperable weapon. The ammunition and bolts stay locked in a small safe in a seperate location. I do not find the need to keep one easily accessible for “home defense”, and I certainly don’t have the need to carry one with me all the time. All the statistics show that a gun in a home is more likely to hurt the owner or a loved one than it ever is to be used against a hypothetical intruder. As much as the NRA would like people to be scared of things like home invasions so they keep buying guns, the truth is such crimes are exceedingly rare. The chances of being struck by lightning, eaten by a shark, or hit by a car walking down the sidewalk are probably greater than the chances of being a victim of a home invasion. As a result of this plain logic and risk assessment, I keep the guns as inaccessible as possible.

Now with that background on my personal history and relationship with guns out of the way, on to the nitty gritty of what we do about the gun violence epidemic in this country. As with so many of these big issues, there are multiple, intersecting issues at work. Among them is the culture of toxic masculinity that has given rise to the #MeToo movement and the growing awareness of the pervasiveness of rape culture and mysoginy in our society. Gun violence at it’s core is really a problem of male violence. It is the horrific end game of the endemic issues the #MeToo movement has brought to light around sexual assault and domestic violence that pervade every corner of our society. Sexual assault is not about sex, it is about power. Gun violence is much the same. We have an entire generation of men, white men in particular, who feel their power in society diminishing as the country becomes more mulicultural; Who have seen the middle class hollowed out, and good-paying, traditionally male jobs in manufacturing dissappear. This loss of societal and economic power among white men is one piece of the puzzle in explaining the rise of this toxic gun culture. Feeling powerless over their own lives, I believe many men turn to guns to give them a sense of that power back. As someone who has seen the devastating power of guns first hand, with the ability to bring down a 600 pound animal at 200 yards with a single well placed shot, I can understand the allure. It certainly does give one a sense of power, an almost god-like feeling of holding the key to life and death in your hands. The problem with this, and where it becomes toxic is that it gets wrapped up in people’s core identity. Instead of looking at guns as a tool, the gun and the power it brings, become a core part of who they are as a person. I believe this is part of the reason it has become so hard to talk about gun control in this country. Because for many people, it’s not just about guns, it’s about a core part of who they are and how they relate to the world. When you talk about limiting access to guns, they hear limiting access to one of the only things they feel they have left to give them a sense of power in the world. Obviously this is a huge issue, with many economic and cultural facets that won’t be solved any time soon. In the meantime, our children are dying and we absolutely must do something about it NOW!

What we can do now, while we continue to work on the cultural and economic issues that are at the root of the problem, is to join the rest of the industrialized world and pass common sense gun control legislation that keeps lethal weapons out of the hands of mass murderers and reduces the damage they can do in any single incident. The fact is that higher rates of gun ownership in a country are directly correlated to higher rates of gun violence. While it’s important to not conflate correlation with causality, it’s also just sort of common sense. The more guns there are and the more easily they are accessed, the more likely it is that they will be used to commit crimes. Again, the rest of the world has figured this out, it’s not rocket science. Now, the gun lobby would have us believe just the opposite. That they way to curb gun violence is for everyone to carry a gun. Arm teachers, arm doctors, arm Grandma in her wheelchair. Well, following that logic the United States should be one of the safest countries in the world since we have the most guns of just about any country in the world. As we are all painfully aware at this point, that is just not the case. No other comparable country has the level of mass shootings or gun violence in general that we do. Not to mention, I don’t think that is a society that most of us want to live in. A place where everyone is walking around armed to the teeth isn’t a civilized country, its a war zone, and that’s not where I want to live. Therefore, I believe our immediate goals need to be to limit access to the deadliest weapons and take steps to start to reduce the overall number of guns in this country. To be clear, I’m not advocating banning all guns, and I’m not advocating confiscation by force. As you know by now, I own guns, and I’d like to keep them and continue to hunt thank you very much. The fact is though that I don’t need assault rifles to do that and I don’t need an arsenal of 50 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition to do that and neither does anyone else. So, here are some the steps I belive we can take, and that as a gun owner I would fully support:

1.) Ban the sale, manufacture, and import of semi-automatic military style rifles, assault rifles, whatever you want to call them. Just as a side note, one of the favorite diversion tactics of the radical gun lobby apologists is to turn the argument to what is and what isn’t an assault rifle. I’m not going to play that game. We all know what they are. It’s like porn, you know it when you see it. I would define them as lightweight weapons that fire small caliber, high-velocity rounds at a high rate of fire that are designed to do maximum damage to as many human bodies as possible in as short a time as possible. The AR-15 is the most notorious example since it is the weapon of choice for mass shooters lately, but there are many others. Obviously part of this would be coming up with objective criteria that define what these are. We put a man on the moon, I don’t think coming up with criteria for this should be beyond our ability. These weapons are meant for one thing, to kill enemy combatants on a battlefield. No self-respecting hunter would use one and there’s no reason for any civilian to have them. If you think you’re going to fight the government with your AR-15, you’re delusional. If that’s your concern and your interpretation of the second amendment, then we better all have tanks, Apache helicopters and nuclear missiles because if the government did decide to turn against the people you’re AR-15 isn’t going to help a bit. In reality, they are used to mow down school children and concert goers. Be real and stop living in some kind of right-wing militia fantasy land where you and your AR-15 will be heros in some hypothetical revolution. Kids are dying now, and these weapons being so freely available are a huge part of the problem. if you want to play with battlefield weapons, go join the army, I’m sure they’d be happy to have you.

2.) Ban the sale, manufacture, and import of things like bump stocks and other parts that make it easy to convert a semi-automatic weapon to a fully automatic weapon.

3.) Ban the sale, manufacture, and import of high capacity magazines. If you can’t hit your target with 4 or 5 rounds, then you need a lot more practice and have no business with a weapon in the woods or anywhere else.

4.) Limit the amount of ammunition that can be purchased at one time. We do this with Sudafed for God’s sake, and it has been very effective in combating the methamphetamine epidemic. We should do the same with ammunition. You don’t need thousands of rounds of ammunition for hunting or even target practice.

3.) Raise the age limit for purchasing any kind of gun to 21.

4.) Institute mandatory universal background checks at the Federal level.

5.) Institute a mandatory waiting period of at least 10 days for any weapon.

6.) Require safety training and licensing for gun owners, just like we do for cars.

7.) Require that liability insurance be carried on all guns, just like we do for cars. I believe this would discourage the small percentage of gun owners who have massive arsenals because it would be prohibitively expensive to insure at some point. In my opinion this would be one of the best ways we could start to reduce the overall number of guns that are out there, without confiscation, just by letting the market do it’s thing.

8.) Require by law that guns be stored safely.

9.) Institute a nationwide voluntary buyback program. This worked very well in Australia. They had a school shooting in the 90s and part of their response to it was to start a nationwide buyback program that drastically reduced the number of guns at large in the country. Guess what, they haven’t had a school shooting since.

That’s my list of common sense gun control legislation that I would be fully behind and that most gun owners I have talked to would be fully behind as well. Would it make my life a bit more complicated? It sure would, but if a bit of inconvenience for me will save the life of even one child then it’s worth every bit. Purchasing a gun is a rare thing for most gun owners. Maybe a few times in a lifetime. Having to go through a few more steps, waiting periods, etc. would not be that big of a deal for most of us. It would have a bigger impact on collectors and the “prepper” set who feel the need to have a massive arsenal. But you know what, I don’t care. Their hobby or paranoia isn’t worth the lives of children.

One last point that I’d like to make about gun control is that as with everything in America we have to think about the racial aspect of it. The fact is, some of the first gun control laws were put into place in California with the full backing of the NRA, as a reaction to the Black Panther movement and black folks openly carrying guns. if we are not careful about how we institute and execute gun control legislation it will become just another tool like the “war on drugs” for targeting communities of color and perpetuating the national shame of mass incarceration of black and brown people.

Also, here are some organizations that I’ve contributed to that are doing good work around this and countering the likes of the NRA. I urge you to do the same.