How I learned to stop worrying and love the gun

My name is John. I'm a Democrat. I'm pretty much a liberal. And as of last November, I fully exercise my Second Amendment right.

It wasn't always that way. Even into last summer, I was ambivalent-to-hostile on most gun issues. I was okay with someone owning a handgun, rifle, shotgun, or something along those lines for personal safety or for hunting purposes. But it wasn't for me. My dad taught my sister and me how to shoot when we were in middle school, and Kentucky conservation officers taught us a lot about gun safety in school when they talked about hunting. But that's where it stopped with me. I never even considered the idea of getting a gun for myself.

So what changed that? Donald Trump.

I watched last year's election with horror and disgust that only seemed to grow with each day. People were assaulted physically and verbally at his rallies, and it just seemed like his campaign was giving people permission to indulge their worst impulses. Words that previously would have been left unsaid were now being hurled from people’s mouths at the highest volume possible.

It seemed like every week brought a new story of someone being accosted on the street somewhere in America by someone who was “making America great again.” Before, it seemed like our leaders were trying to calm citizens and keep them from scapegoating others based on race, religion, sexual orientation, or other factors; now all of that was being cast aside in the name of “fighting political correctness.” Now it was the “in thing” to unleash the id.

It was one thing to read stories. But then I started to see it creeping into my social media feeds. People I actually knew were starting to experience this. Someone saw a friend’s Hillary bumper sticker and decided to wait for them to come outside to get in my friend’s face about it—a total stranger. Another friend left a gay bar—heretofore a safe space—and some people followed him down the street, yelling about how people like him wouldn’t be welcome in Trump’s America. In the weeks leading up to the election, it seemed like the stories wouldn’t stop. Each day brought a new anecdote, another friend sharing how he or she had been harassed.

The night of the election brought it home. I remember typing this sentence on Facebook about midnight when it became obvious to me that Trump would win: “How do you make a liberal support the Second Amendment? Elect Donald Trump president.” By the next day, that simple post had over twenty replies, from other liberal friends who admitted they were feeling the same way to friends who knew a lot about guns, giving me their opinions on what kind of gun they thought would be good for a novice like me.

I remember walking into the store the following Sunday. My hands shook and my throat was dry. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to do it. I told the guy behind the counter—a really friendly guy named Charlie—that I was pretty much a total novice with handguns and was looking for something for personal protection. He asked me two questions: revolver or semi-automatic, and what was my price range. Charlie walked me through the rest of the process.

I was worried that I’d feel totally conspicuous in the store, like all the rest of the people milling around would smell the “liberal stench” oozing out of my pores and they’d all turn on me. To my surprise, that never happened at all. Charlie was knowledgeable about his product, enthusiastic, and had a lot of great tips about things that never would have occurred to me.

For instance, before I went to purchase, I’d assumed that a small gun that was easily concealed would be best. Not at all: I’m 6’5” and weigh 265, and I needed a gun with some size and weight in order to have the best control in my hand. The anxiety never really left me the whole time I was there, though. When I signed the slip on the receipt when I purchased my gun, my hand was still shaking.

I kept it unloaded and in my closet for weeks, just getting used to the idea that I was a gun owner. But I figured, in for a penny, in for a pound. The place that sold me the gun also offered many classes, and I took one called “Handgun 101.” We learned the basics: what the individual parts of the gun were, how to properly load guns, stance, grip, the whole bit. The class ended with us test firing on the range. To my surprise, I was actually pretty good with it! Who’d have thought that someone who hadn’t touched a gun in decades and who had pretty much been personally anti-gun his whole life would actually be a good shot?

And it didn’t stop there for me. I made it a point to visit the range at least once every few weeks to keep my skills up. I practiced my upkeep on my pistol. I would sit at my desk with the gun unloaded and dry fire at objects or pictures. I talked about my experiences openly on Facebook and traded stories with friends. I even joined the Facebook group of the Liberal Gun Club. It’s quite a feeling of empowerment when you realize that there are other people out there who want universal health care, support equal pay for women, full LGBT equality, and are crack shots on the firing range. Guns didn’t have to be tools for crackpots or the domain of the extreme right wing at all.

It was funny how many had come to the same realization as me, and at about the same time: we as Americans have a right to gun ownership for personal protection. If there was ever a time to bring that point home, this was it. At the same time, I worried about what this meant about me. Was I giving into fear? Would I start carrying my gun with me everywhere I went as I worried about Trump’s brownshirts coming after me? I didn’t like that idea at all.

But I kept going to the range. I kept chatting with acquaintances. And I learned something: there were a lot of people out there who were watching what I was doing. Listening to my observations. Many of them sent me private messages telling me that they were considering doing the same thing, taking a handgun class and possibly buying one for their protection. My new education and experiences were coming in handy. I figured if I could keep even one person from having the same anxiety in the gun store as I did, then I was doing something good.

So where does that fit in with my beliefs? I’m a lot less certain about gun control than I was before, mainly because of the time I’ve spent educating myself on guns. I think education on proper use and handling of any firearm is extremely important, and I am strongly against attempts to water down requirements for people to carry handguns. If someone is going to be allowed to carry, either concealed or openly, then they must prove that they are knowledgeable about safety and responsibility. I certainly have done a total 180 on personal ownership, especially of handguns. But I throw in education and training every time I give any encouragement for someone to think about getting a gun.

Gun ownership, to me, carries grave responsibility. The ultimate purpose of any gun, to quote one of my instructors, is “to put holes in something.” If you handle a loaded gun, then you are taking responsibility for what happens with it. Terrible, sometimes irrevocable, damage can be done with a handgun. If you are going to keep a gun in your home, your vehicle, your workplace, then you must take responsibility for learning how to properly use it. Take training courses. Go to the range and practice your shooting. Learn the rules of gun safety. Above all else, if you don’t feel that you are up to the responsibility that comes with gun ownership, then don’t get one. Just because people can do something, it does not automatically follow that they must.

I guess my liberal bona fides are still there: safety, education, training, regulation. To me, they’re just common sense. We don’t allow unlicensed drivers to get behind the wheel of a car, right? They can do a whole heck of a lot more damage than a single handgun could. I know, the comparisons don’t totally jibe.

But it does give you something to think about.





Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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