A reader recently wrote in with a very thought-provoking question: should everyone have a gun? I’ll be honest – it caught me a bit off guard. I realized that I didn’t have an immediate answer, but promised to spend some time thinking about it. I have spent several weeks pondering this question off and on because I wanted to give a nuanced, thoughtful answer. First, I’ll state the reader’s case. Then I will provide my answer to the question, “should everyone own a gun?”
Below is the reader’s question. I have truncated it somewhat for brevity, but the spirit remains intact.
I’ll lay out my case. I’m a white male live in a boring suburb with a non-existent crime rate and before the pandemic, commuted to work every morning. I worked in a nondescript office building with a bunch of other corporate drones and then commuted back home every night. Weekends consist of either working around the home and/or running errands within the same suburb. Aside from the odd vacation, that is my life.
That being said, I just don’t see where a gun fits into that lifestyle. I perfectly understand the need if you live in a high-crime area or enjoy shooting/hunting as a hobby but just can’t envision a likely situation arising where I’ll need one. It might be normalcy bias but I can’t recall one time in my life where I ever thought, “Man, I wish I had a gun right now.”
A common argument I’ve heard is “It’s better to have a gun and not need it then need a gun and not have it.” however I think that’s a simplistic statement. Just having a gun does absolutely nothing. Having a gun means making a significant financial and time investment in being proficient with it otherwise you just have a dangerous paper-weight (if used carelessly). And I’m sure, like any skill, it’s not a one-time investment. If you want to stay proficient and capable, it is something you will have to keep up for the rest of your life.
In your case, the return on this investment is high. You enjoy shooting so even if you never end up having to use it in self-defense or in the protection of others, you would have absolutely no regrets about that time and money spent. Me though, who does not share the same level of enjoyment, would probably see that as wasted time and money.
Other arguments other than self-defense seem to be more ideologically based such as “Because it’s your right”, “Protect against tyranny”, etc. which require having a particular belief system. And I guess it’s worth mentioning reasons people might not admit to that are more identity and/or psychologically based such as it gives them a sense of power, it fits their image of what a “man/woman” is, or it gives a chance of maybe someday playing a hero.
Lastly, I just want to stress that I am looking to have a discussion and am not writing this as some sort of smarmy, opinion-piece with no intention of changing my mind. There are very few hills that I am willing to die on and this is not one of them. You have lived a very different life than I have which has afforded you a completely different perspective so I would genuinely appreciate your take.
Many of my more gun-friendly readers may be frustrated by the question. I would encourage you not to be. This individual has thoroughly considered the question, has reached a preliminary determination, and has reached out for additional information. That is truly informed decision-making. While I don’t agree with many of the individual conclusions that inform the question (and will address them shortly), I do respect his process, and ultimately his right to make up his own damn mind.
Now, the short answer to the question, “should everyone own a gun?” is no, everyone should not own a gun. I think everyone should have the right to own a gun, but the right and the practice are two different things. Here is why I conclude that everyone should not own a gun. There are two big, broad categories.
First, and quite simply a “right” does not equal a “requirement.” Starting a blog is an example of free speech (a right) that the huge, overwhelming majority have chosen not to participate in. Should I be telling everyone they “need” to start a blog? No, I don’t think anyone should be told they have to start and maintain a blog, or write op-eds, or post political opinions on YouTube, or march in the streets. So, in my opinion you don’t need any more justification than, “I don’t want to” for choosing not to own a gun. I’m one of those weirdos who believes freedom isn’t only the freedom to be exactly like me and say/think/do things with which I agree.
Secondly, rights come with “responsibilities.” Assuming the care of a firearm is a huge and terrible responsibility, and some people are irresponsible. Let me cite some examples. One of my family members left her purse, which contained a firearm, in a fast food restaurant on a road trip. She was almost an hour away before she remembered it (and I know because I was in the car with her). My very own sister has texted me photos of her pistol several times to ask if it is “on safe” or not. My EMS service picked up a dude this week who shot himself in the leg while “cleaning [his] gun.” While those people still retain the right to own firearms, they aren’t quite living up to the responsibility end of things: the responsibility to ensure their gun is only accessed by the appropriate persons, is handled safely, and that it will not be taken and used against self and/or loved ones.
That being said, I still think owning a firearm, assuming responsibility for its safe employment and safekeeping, and becoming at least somewhat proficient at its use, is a really good idea. While I absolutely, 100% support this reader’s right to choose not to own a firearm, I absolutely, 100%, without question support the right to own firearms. And I’m going to try my best to convince you to reconsider.
Below are my counterpoints to the individual supporting conclusions in the question. I’m going to address them in the asker’s order rather than in my perceived order of importance. Here goes.
1. I Live in a Safe Place
I’m a white male live in a boring suburb with a non-existent crime rate…I can’t recall one time in my life where I ever thought, “Man, I wish I had a gun right now.”
I totally hear you. I’m a white male and with the exception of once in my mid-20s, I have never lived somewhere that I have felt uncomfortable. One of the places I have lived is in Seattle’s Central District neighborhood. Just a few weeks ago this was a really cool, really safe neighborhood. In fact, where I lived sat right on the southern border of the Capitol Hill neighborhood – Seattle’s very cool “gayborhood” – generally a fun, relaxed place to live or visit.
Compare that to the past two months. The safety of Capitol Hill (and likely bordering neighborhoods) was shattered. There wasn’t a lot of warning or a slow buildup that gave residents weeks and weeks of warning (and honestly, even if it had how many of them would have left jobs, family, and familiarity anyway?). The “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” has seen rioting, vandalism, arson, shootings… And trust me, it’s not a neighborhood where most people would have felt “icky” or felt like they were in danger.
Most Americans live in a really safe place. I live in an extremely safe place, and I absolutely place credence in the concept of living in a safe place. Living in an area of reduced crime rates is a pretty damn effective step at reducing your risk of being the victim of a crime. But it’s certainly not a guarantee, and neither is the continued safety of a place. There are no guarantees at all that my place – or yours – will be safe tomorrow, in six months, or five years from now.
One of my favorite podcasts is called It Could Happen Here by journalist Robert Evans. Evans imagines a second civil war in the United States, and considers what it might look like. I think it would be worth anyone’s time to listen and consider that the United States isn’t immune to the forces that impact other countries. Nor will we be immune to some of the impacts of those forces, should they come to pass.
Side Rant about It Could Happen Here: I get a lot of shit from my liberal friends when I bring this one up because they assume I’m trying to get them to listen to some Beckian, neo-Con, SHTF porn. On the other hand, I get shit from my conservative friends because, “he’s a dang left-leaning bleeding heart trying to blame conservatives for everything!” The truth is he’s a pretty liberal dude (who owns, in his words, “a fuck-ton of guns”) who does a great job playing out variations on what could happen.
The causes of what could happen are ancillary to the story, so I would encourage you not to get too wrapped up in that part and focus instead on his point: the potential outcomes. Frankly, if a second civil war occurs here I don’t give too much of a shit about the “why” or who is to blame. I think the blame game is a lot like the bicyclist vs. motorist accident where the motorist is at fault. Does it really fucking matter to the guy on the bike whose “fault” it was? I’m the guy on the bike: mostly interested in surviving the outcome and less immediately concerned with who was in the wrong. Rant Out!
2. Just Having A Gun Does Nothing
I’ve heard is “It’s better to have a gun and not need it then need a gun and not have it.” … Just having a gun does absolutely nothing.
I do not totally (or even mostly) disagree with the asker. He is correct that having a gun does not make you armed. Training is important – extremely important. As this reader pointed out in another correspondence with me, a lot of Reddit threads, YouTube videos, and blog posts have really wrung out the concept of what guns you should buy post-COVID. Not very many have gone into great detail about what training you need. Though I hate pithy, reductive one-liners, I love this one from Jeff Cooper:
“Owning a handgun makes you no more armed than owning a guitar makes you a musician.”
I actually think this is a pretty intelligent statement on the asker’s part. So many people dive in to preparedness or security or safety by buying a bunch of stuff with little thought given to how to actually use it. So many people put together massive, 60-lb bugout bags, yet have never walked a mile with the thing on their back. So many people have purchased a gun, loaded it up, and thrown it in a drawer. I’ve heard – but cannot back up with cold, hard facts – that the average used handgun on the market has fewer than 50 rounds through it. The asker is correct in this sense: owning a gun but having no skill in its operation doesn’t do a lot to protect one in the immediacy.
In fact, it increases risk in a certain way. I am close friends with a family of five. Considering they have children as young as eight, they engage in some very questionable firearms storage practices. More than once I have seen an unsecured, loaded handgun in the console of one of their vehicles. They have no training outside of attending a state CCW class. Neither carry on a regular basis, or seem to give a much thought at all to their firearm other than having it in their vehicle. The benefit they receive from owning a firearm, as they currently practice it, is dubious at best.
However, I contend that owning a gun isn’t exactly “nothing.” To jump start a car you need a couple things. You need another willing participant with a car with a functional engine and battery. I think most readers would agree this is pretty easy to find. Next, you need the knowledge to make the connection safely and transfer energy to your battery. Finally, you need one really specialized piece of equipment: jumper cables. Having jumper cables suddenly becomes really, really important, even if you don’t really know how to use them.
It’s similar with a gun: if a time comes that you do decide you want one (because of political conditions, pandemic, riots, what have you) it will probably be really difficult to get one. Guns and ammunition are extremely sensitive to the perceived political environment. Guns are really sensitive to uncertainty and fear and crisis and go through periods of insane demand. When you really decide you need a gun it may be impossible to find one, afford it if you do find it, or it may be legally extremely difficult for you to purchase it.
In that case merely having a gun does have some value. It doesn’t make you magically defended, but you do possess the necessary equipment. With it you can to learn and eventually employ.
3. I Don’t Enjoy Shooting
In your case, the return on this investment is high. Me though… would probably see that as wasted time and money.
I totally feel your pain! Again, I’m not making light – I get it. None of us like doing things that we don’t like doing. I do have a couple of thoughts here, though. First, I would challenge you to reimagine the experience of learning to shoot, and not merely because I want you to own a firearm.
I have sought education in all manner of things. Though I have no designs whatsoever on being a cake decorator, I have learned how to make a buttercream rose. I have learned to ride horses, even though I sincerely hope never to be cursed with the ownership of one (again). I have taken billiards lessons even though I don’t own a pool table. Last night we had someone over to teach us to pressure can. I have attended cooking classes, mushroom identification classes, golf lessons, sewing classes, and dance lessons. I am currently seeking a motorcycle class; I will never ride one outside of class, but I want to know how to ride one.
Some of these things I was really excited about learning because of the subject matter. Some of these things are things I will almost certainly never do again (like golf), and some I didn’t really even want to learn (like dancing). But because they are within the expanse of the human experience, I am open to learning about them or participating in them in some way. All of these things I was excited about learning, just for learning’s sake! Love the act of learning and make the subject matter secondary and I guarantee you will be more effective learner. And ultimately learning a diverse array of subjects – including ones you aren’t interested in – will be a huge benefit. It will make you better at the things you do enjoy or find value in.
But there is also really, really practical benefit to learning something about firearms. Firearms are a significant part of life in America, like it or not. There are hundreds of millions of guns in the United States. Knowing how to handle one safely, and/or render a firearm safe seems like an important skill in a country where guns are left in public restrooms (I could do a whole article just on these), found in parks, on sidewalks, on buses, in libraries…
A good analogy for me is, it’s kind of like learning about cars. I’m not a car guy. I just really don’t give a crap about cars other than they get me from A to B. But because cars are such an integral part of life on this Earth, I want to know some basics. I want to know what the warning signs of certain problems are. I want to know how to perform basic preventative maintenance, like checking fluids and tire pressure, topping off as needed, and changing my oil and air filter. I want to know very basic corrective maintenance, like changing a tire. I’ll never be an expert and I have no real passion for it, but it’s important information, and worth my time to learn a bit about it.
4. Ideological Reasons
…”Because it’s your right”, “Protect against tyranny”, etc. which require having a particular belief system.
I have already addressed “because it’s your right”: rights are not requirements. I won’t belabor that one except to say we all have rights that we don’t exercise. Many people in this country choose not to consume alcohol, even though it is their right. Should I tell them they need to drink alcohol because, “it’s your right”?
To the second part, “Protect against tyranny...” This is the only part of the asker’s question that gives me an emotional reaction so I find it somewhat difficult to write around this without some emotion creeping in. Really, my reaction is to the closing clause, “…which require having a particular belief system” which feels denigrating. Perhaps because I recognize protection from tyranny as causal to the Second Amendment to the Constitution, as the result of careful examination and scholarly interpretation (by actual scholars, not just my own), and not as an article of faith. I would argue that protection from tyranny as a primary function of the Second Amendment is no more the result of a “belief system” than viewing freedom of the press a function of the First. I would further, and stridently, argue that my belief system is logic and reason above all else.
I guess it’s worth mentioning reasons people might not admit to that are more identity and/or psychologically based such as it gives them a sense of power, it fits their image of what a “man/woman” is, or it gives a chance of maybe someday playing a hero.
Yes, there are probably some people carrying guns with ill-formed – or even flat-out “wrong” – reasons. My response is, “what impact does that have upon you or me?” Here is a metaphor: some people have poor reasons for using a car. They literally drive across the street instead of walking, even when walking would be faster, give them some exercise, be better for the environment, reduce wear and tear on their car, etc. But does their reasoning have an impact on me, who has a 25-mile commute? Does that mean my reason for using a car is bad, too? Absolutely not. So while one individual’s reasoning may be suspect, it has absolutely nothing to do with my own judgment and reasoning.
I have strong, mature, and well-developed ideological reasons for choosing to own and carry firearms. Chief among them is protection from a tyrannical government as mentioned earlier. There are other reasons, though. The first is a hedge against the imposition of another’s will upon me without my consent. The second is because my morals (a conception of right and wrong from an internal locus rather than ethics which depends on a external, societal agreement of right and wrong) are meaningless if I lack the will and ability to stand behind them. As a distant third, with the massive quantity and quality of training that has been bestowed on my by the taxpayer I feel I have something of a responsibility to be armed to the extent possible .
That second reason is a little harder to wrap your head around (or maybe they all are) and maybe I’ll explore them in another post at another time. Bottom line, though, some of us are carrying firearms along with extremely mature philosophical reasons why. It doesn’t matter to me what anyone else’s reasons are, and it shouldn’t matter to you.
So What Do I Recommend?
I have spent 3,000 words answering this reader’s question. So what is my final answer? What would I recommend?
Simply, If you still don’t want to own a gun, that’s OK. “I don’t want to,” is sufficient reason in my book. I won’t denigrate you and in fact, I applaud you for making an informed decision based on your own research, cost/benefit analysis, etc.. Your decision is not the decision I would make (obviously) but again, freedom isn’t limited to the “freedom to choose what I would choose.”
If I have convinced you to reconsider and you do choose to own a gun…well, I have some specific recommendations there, too. I’ll begin covering those recommendations in some upcoming articles. I have a myriad of thoughts on that matter and I’m not going to try to summarize them here, so stay tuned!