I grew up around guns. All my life they played some sort of role. I learned to shoot very early, first with a BB gun. We would run around the property, set up targets, and shoot them. We would try to get the occasional bird or animal, too, but the BB gun was no match for them. We used to set up a shooting station and launch clay pigeons. I would watch my father and my uncles practice with shotguns for hunting season.
The noise was loud, percussive and painful, yet I loved it. I was proud to be allowed to touch a weapon and prouder still when I was old enough for the big guns. The recoil from a .410 shotgun bruised my young shoulder. I must have been 10 or so. Then there were the pistols we fired at targets and cans. I was taught to respect their power and destructive capability.
Ours was a house with loaded weapons in nightstands, guns on a wooden rack in my father’s office, and ammunition in a closet close by. Nothing under lock and key. My grandfather slept with a loaded pistol between box spring and mattress. “What is the point if it isn’t loaded,” he’d say.
I thought guns were cool. I hunted for pheasant, duck, deer, and rabbit in the woods and fields. I have fired many weapons over the years. I did not serve in the military or become a police officer, but I was trained in the use of firearms by my elders. Despite that training, one day I took a gun and posed in front of a mirror, like a detective on a mission. I pulled the trigger. The gun was loaded. I should have known better. I destroyed the mirror and put a bullet in the wall of my grandparents’ house while they were away. I confessed to my parents and was appropriately punished. No one was hurt. I was 13.
The Second Amendment says: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This was a compromise between members of our new government who wanted a standing army after winning the revolution, and those who felt it unnecessary.
In the landmark case Heller v District of Columbia, and the subsequent McDonald v Chicago, the Supreme Court told us the Second Amendment gives us the right to own guns. But Heller’s decision says this is not an unlimited right. Jurisdictions can limit the types of weapons owned.
Suicide accounts for the largest number of gun deaths – 23,000 in 2017 alone. Mass shootings account for a much smaller number. But what would that number be if we had fewer guns readily available? American civilians are estimated to own more than 393 million. No other country comes close.
Among those 393 million, as many as 3 million meet some definition of assault weapons, guns that are derivative of their military granddaddies. Guns with one application and purpose: to take out as many targets as possible, as quickly as possible. I’m hardly the first person to ask why civilians need to own them. In the hands of trained soldiers, these weapons are tools. In the hands of an Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, and other mass killers, they do the job quickly, regardless of the proficiency or training of the individual pulling the trigger.
Ours is a nation born of guns. Without them, we may not have gained independence. They remain a part of our national makeup; to suggest otherwise is naïve. But limiting their availability and making ownership more responsible is a duty left to us by the Founding Fathers. To that end, background checks, gun safety requirements, assault weapons
bans, and the closure of loophole sales are among the simple, common sense measures we can and should take to make America — and Americans — safer.
I can’t own a working M1A Tank. I can’t buy a surplus F-14 with full weapons systems, either, so why should I be allowed to buy a weapon designed to kill in military applications? I still think guns are compelling. But I now know that with ownership comes responsibility – to lock up, limit, and safeguard something with the so much power to destroy, not only
mirrors, but lives.