In our adolescence, two friends, my brother, and I spent many summer days playing war in the fields and woods near my house. We fought British Redcoats, Yankees and Rebels, Nazis, and many times, each other. When I was 11 and received a BB gun, we’d fire away for hours at bottles or at targets we’d drawn on cardboard boxes.
In 1969, I entered the U.S. Military Academy. That summer as a plebe, using an M-14, I qualified as an expert on the firing range. The next summer, when I was a yearling, which is a sophomore, my classmates and I fired M-16s, grenade launchers, artillery, M-60 machine guns, and tanks.
After my resignation in the middle of my yearling year—honorable, by the way—I occasionally would go shooting with friends. When my children were growing up, I took them into the woods and let them plink away first with a BB gun and later with a .22 rifle.
Which is to say that I am familiar with firearms. Unlike some of my friends, however, I never developed more than a cursory interest in guns and shooting.
On the other hand, I’ve never really understood why other friends and family members regard guns as anathema, somehow evil in and of themselves. For me, a firearm is a tool with a specific purpose, an inert object requiring the hand of a human being to make it work, to use or misuse it. Some of their fear stems from what they read in the news, some from misinformation.
Let’s take a look at guns.
Why Do People Want Guns?
Other than collecting firearms as one might collect coins or stamps, there are only three reasons to own a rifle or a pistol.
The first is for hunting and sport. Here in rural Virginia where I live are several men and women who hunt deer, rabbits, and squirrels. They return home with their game, butcher it, and freeze it. In Haywood County, North Carolina, where I used to live, a bunch of these hunters would throw a “meat feed” for their friends, which is where I tasted bear in some version of hunter’s stew. I also know several people who simply enjoy going to a target range and improving their marksmanship.
Next, gun ownership acts as a hedge against dictators and tyranny. The Second Amendment of our Constitution states, “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.” Often, those on both sides of the issue of gun control debate these words, but in those quarrels, they frequently overlook the words “the security of a free State.” We may read that statement as describing the use of arms to resist either an invasion by a foreign power or domestic tyranny.
American citizens own approximately 393 million guns, according to research by Small Arms Survey. That figure should serve as a deterrent to those wishing to harm or do away with our democracy.
The 3rd Reason
In the article “Guns in America,” USA Today reports that, in 2020, Americans purchased nearly 40 million guns. Many of these were first-time buyers of firearms, and many of them were minorities and women.
The vast majority of these buyers wanted a gun for self-protection. The USA Today article tells us that some social scientists and commentators believe that the pandemic, the riots, and the tumultuous presidential election led to this steep rise in gun purchases. It’s safe to say as well that the breakdown of law and order in some of our cities—defunding the police, no bail policies, restrictions on law enforcement—and the consequent explosion of violent crime in these places also pumped up the sale of guns.
And certainly, guns are a great equalizer.
One wife and mother I know in her early 30s is 5 feet 3 inches tall and probably weighs about 115 pounds. Several years ago, on the parking deck of a mall, she witnessed several young men cursing and fighting one another just a few yards from her van. This incident terrified her. Three of her little children were with her, and she wondered how she might defend herself and her kids if such men attacked her.
She bought a handgun, paid for the training to use it properly, and now carries it in her purse for protection.
Stats That May Surprise
Sometimes we hear that firearms kill up to 40,000 Americans every year. This is true, but once we remove those who commit suicide with a gun, that figure falls to less than half of that number.
Whether deliberately or not, those who wish to ban or confiscate certain “assault weapons” also mislead us. In 2019, handguns killed 6,368 people, while murderers used rifles in 364 instances. “Firearms type not stated” accounted for another 3,281 deaths.
Meanwhile, in his article “Guns Prevent Thousands of Crimes Every Day, Research Shows,” Lawrence W. Reed reports that “Guns prevent an estimated 2.5 million crimes every year…” and that “Every year, 400,000 life-threatening violent crimes are prevented using firearms,” figures he gathered from the website GunFacts.info. Even if we were to halve those numbers, it should be apparent that guns in the right hands do protect their owners from violence and crime.
Owning a Gun
Let’s say you decide to buy a gun to protect yourself and your family. For the sake of discussion here, let’s say you bought a handgun. You purchased it legally, bought the ammunition to go with it, and carried it home.
The laws regarding gun ownership and concealed carry vary from state to state. You’ve acquainted yourself with those laws, but find that your state requires no formal training in gun use or safety.
So here’s some advice. No matter how your state law reads, find an instructor to teach you about your gun: how to shoot it, how to clean it, and how to store it so that it’s in a safe place yet readily available. Once you’ve gone through the training, even if it’s with a friend, go to a range several times and fire the weapon until you feel comfortable using it and until you can actually hit what you are aiming at.
The Ongoing Debate
The argument over gun control versus gun rights will continue. Where we stand on this issue has much to do with how we were raised, what sort of neighborhood we live in, our politics, and our experience with firearms.
In a recent issue of The Epoch Times, Leonetta Harris of Chicago, a victim of a gun-related crime who now carries a firearm and is a member of a women’s gun club, stated: “I’m a homeowner and I have kids. I just want to make sure I’m safe and able to defend myself against any harm.”
We ourselves may not wish to own guns, but we should listen to those citizens who believe they need that protection for themselves and their families.
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust on Their Wings,” and two works of nonfiction, “Learning as I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.