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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bullet Points; or, me and a gun

shooting rangeImage by ksbuehler via Flickr
Whenever there’s a newsworthy shooting somewhere in this country - most recently, the one in Tucson earlier this year - the debate about guns gets revived. America is a nation born from war; it wouldn’t have come into existence without firearms. Our Constitution’s Second Amendment was meant to ensure our right to bear arms in defense of ourselves, our families, and our country. However, all too often, they’re used for purposes pretty much unrelated to that right, and activities that, being against the law, are unprotected by the Constitution.

My parents were both victims of gun violence associated with criminal activity. When I was twelve years old, they were both shot in an attempted robbery at the liquor store they owned at the time; my father’s knee was shattered when he came out from behind the counter, and my mother sustained a flesh wound when she chased the robber out of the store. (By the way, he didn’t get any money - but he did get arrested a few days later.) My sister and I were in the store at the time - a Saturday evening, the night before Easter 1976 - and witnessed it all. In the years since then, I’ve thought we were fortunate that this happened when it did, the mid-1970s; now it seems like criminals are more concerned with not leaving witnesses, regardless of whether they get what they came to steal, and my parents might not have made it out with just the injuries they got. And those were disruptive enough; by the end of that year, my parents had sold the store, our house, and most of what we owned, and we moved from Connecticut to Florida to start over.

As you might imagine from that experience, I’ve been quite strongly in favor of gun control most of my life. On the one hand, I actually do get the NRA’s “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” position; on the other hand - yeah, people kill people, but it shouldn’t be easy for them to get guns to help them do it. Granted, I should note that it’s actually not as easy as it sometimes seems; there are laws in place to prevent someone with a felony criminal record from purchasing a firearm, which is why criminals purchase them illegally (or steal them - which shouldn’t surprise us, as they are criminals). Then again, some places do make it easier than others: proposed legislation in South Dakota - which is considered unlikely to pass - would make owning a gun for self-defense mandatory for all adult citizens.

I was one of those parents who didn’t want my child to play with toy firearms, although I did make exceptions for the occasional water pistol. However, I observed what many parents of little boys do; if they want to play “shooting” games, they can pretend anything is a gun. (I don’t mean that as a sexist statement - girls may do it too, but I only know from raising a boy.) My son wasn’t all that interested, fortunately, but he did engage in that pretend play every now and then. And he spent most of his growing-up years in the South, where gun culture is pretty well entrenched; although we really didn’t know anyone who used them, the awareness is definitely there.

When my second husband and I were in the e-mail phase of our relationship - we were introduced online, and corresponded for a couple of weeks before we met in person - he told me, shortly before that first date, that one of his favorite hobbies was target shooting and that he had an interest in collecting firearms. He hadn’t wanted to mention it until I’d gotten to know him a bit - and had a good sense of how non-aggressive he was - but he did feel I should know fairly early on, as it was the kind of thing that might affect my feelings about him. He was well aware that people can have some prejudices against gun owners - but since I hadn’t yet told him about the robbery, he didn’t yet realize that I might be someone with those prejudices. I surprised myself by how calmly I took this revelation; I told him that it was his thing, and as long as he didn’t expect me to participate in it at all, I wouldn’t bother him about it.

And I really haven’t, although I have joked occasionally about the irony that I would leave Tennessee and move to California before I lived with a guy who owned a firearm.
I am the last person I ever thought would live with firearms in the house - but now I do. They are kept in a safe, unloaded, and I do not know the combination. They’re removed only for my husband’s trips to the shooting range (and occasionally for cleaning). No one touches them without his supervision, and while he’d be happy to teach his children to shoot, he’s never pushed it with them; his daughter has gone shooting with him once or twice, but currently, his son is more interested in archery.

My husband is exceedingly responsible about firearm ownership and usage, serious about safety, and he’s fundamentally nonviolent. He has no interest in hunting or any other uses for firearms. Not surprisingly, he’s not as averse to toy firearms as I was when my son was little - my stepson owns a few Nerf dart guns, which he’s not permitted to point at any living creature - but he doesn’t allow violent video games, particularly those of the “first-person-shooter” variety.

Because he’s the only firearms owner I’ve had a close relationship with, I have no idea whether he’s “typical” or not, but I suspect he may be. I don’t think we hear much about people who own guns legally - and only own the sort of guns they’re legally allowed to - and handle them responsibly and carefully...although they probably are the majority of firearms owners. We just don’t hear much about the gun owners who don’t fit the “NRA gun nut” image.

We hear about the people who do criminal, or dangerous, or just plain stupid things with guns. I think the odds are that at least some of those people would do criminal, or dangerous, or just plain stupid things even without guns - but I think that using a gun makes those things that much more criminal/dangerous/stupid, and they have little to do with the Second Amendment and its intent. My husband believes that those who are most determined to obtain guns for criminal/dangerous/stupid activities will obtain them, finding ways around the law to do it. He’s probably not wrong, unfortunately, largely because that’s true of almost any prohibition.

Living with firearms hasn't made me like them any better, but perhaps it has given me more understanding of the complexities surrounding gun-control issues. I can accept that the Second Amendment has its place, and I'll respect your right to exercise that right in compliance with the law. But I'd rather you didn't exercise it around me, and I hope you respect my right not to exercise it at all.

(NOTE: Because I made reference to some of my husband's thoughts on this topic, I asked him to review the first draft of this post, and I incorporated some of his recommendations. However, all opinions stated as mine are indeed my own.)

Cross-posted at BlogHer.com
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