Why I don’t own a gun

I accept that the Constitution affirms an individual right to keep and bear arms, I believe that self-defense is a basic human right and I don’t think gun prohibition would work any better than alcohol prohibition did or drug prohibition does.

But speaking for myself, I have no desire to own a firearm.  I would be terrified at the possibility that, in a moment of panic, I might take a human life.

Double click to enlarge.

Double click to enlarge.

I grew up in the 1940s and 1950s in Williamsport, Md., a small town on the Potomac River at the foothills of the Appalachians.  Almost everyone in town owned a gun, mainly for hunting and sometimes for killing animal pests or target shooting.  I have fond memories of my father, with newspaper spread out across the kitchen table, cleaning and oiling his deer rifle prior to hunting season.  What I never heard back in those days was the need to own a gun to defend yourself against somebody else who owned a gun.

A Gannett editor who worked in Las Vegas once told me that young men in Nevada like to take junk refrigerators and other appliances out into the desert, and blow them to pieces with high-powered firearms.  That sounds like a lot of fun.  I don’t have any quarrel with anybody who likes to do that.

I’ve met owners of convenience stores in high-crime neighborhoods who think they need to own guns for self-protection.  That is their decision and their right.

But count me out.  If I bought a gun for self-protection, I would have to make up my mind that I was in such grave personal danger that I would have to be willing to take a human life.  It would be like being in the military.  Then I would take firearms training in order to be sure I could handle a gun safely and responsibly, without a danger to myself or bystanders.  That would not be a casual decision.  If my life had taken a different course, I might have found myself in circumstances in which I thought differently.  But such circumstances are not the norm.

The vision of a society in which everyone carried a gun at all times, like the movie version of the Wild West, is an appealing fantasy to some people.  To me, it is a nightmare.  Robert A. Heinlein many years ago wrote a science fiction novel, Beyond This Horizon, set in a future in which every citizen carried a gun and duels were common.  Heinlein thought this would result in a process of natural selection, in which survivors were either quick and accurate marksmen, or very, very polite.  I don’t think this would be the reality.

The idea of teachers in the classroom being armed is dreadful.  Teachers would be like prison guards.  If this idea were implemented, I would expect a rash of “stand your ground” shootings in the schools.  Now there might be circumstances in which bringing armed police officers into the school is necessary, but it would be a necessary evil.


What I have written is about my personal decision.  It is not about gun legislation.  Click on Gun Rhetoric vs. Gun Facts for some of the complexities of gun policy.  Hat tip to The Big Picture for the link.

[Added 1/18/13]

Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic was asked whether, if he were confronted with an active shooter, he would wish that he had a gun and was trained in its use.

… … It’s funny, but I still don’t know that I would.  I’m pretty clear that I am going to die one day.  That moment will not be of my choosing, and it almost certainly will not be too my liking.  But death happens.  Life — and living — on the other hand are more under my control.  And the fact is that I would actually rather die by shooting than live armed.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates

This is not mere cant.  It is not enough to have a gun, anymore than it’s enough to have a baby.  It’s a responsibility.  I would have to orient myself to that fact.  I’d have to be trained and I would have to, with some regularity, keep up my shooting skills.  I would have to think about the weight I carried on my hip and think about how people might respond to me should they happen to notice.  I would have to think about the cops and how I would interact with them, should we come into contact.  I’d have to think about my own anger issues and remember that I can never be a position where I have a rage black-out. … … I accept the responsibility and rewards of parenting.  I don’t really want the responsibilities and rewards of gun-ownership. … …

Which is not to say those of us who don’t own guns don’t want to live.  We do.  But it’s not clear that this particular way of living will even be effective.  I think about the shooter down at the Empire State Building a few months back.  The police showed up to protect the public and ended in a shoot-out with a guy.   Nine bystanders were wounded — all at the hands of the police.  It’s just not clear to me that this sort of situation wouldn’t repeat itself, but with citizens doing the wounding.

via Ta-Nehisi Coates – The Atlantic.

Click on More Guns, Less Crime for the full dialogue on gun ownership between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jeffrey Goldberg, also of The Atlantic.

Tags: , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Why I don’t own a gun”

  1. Atticus Says:

    We have two guns in my house. A handgun and a rifle. The rifle was passed down to me from my Grandfather and the handgun I bought for home defense. I also have a permit to carry the handgun and never have – never will.

    The only time I would be willing to kill someone is if they broke into my house and tried to harm me – which I doubt will ever happen. I travel a lot and also worry about my wife. If someone ever breaks in we have a plan.

    We will barricade ourselves in our bedroom with our gun and let them take whatever they want. The only way I would use the gun is if they actually tried to break down my bedroom door and get to us (or just my wife is she were home alone). The only reason I have a permit to carry is because I wanted the training.

    When I think about carrying the gun I know the truth is that 99% of the time it would cause more problems than solve. If someone tried to rob me, fight me, or harm me I think I would be better off fighting them or letting them rob me than pulling out the gun.

    There are very rare occasions that carrying a gun would actually be useful and I hope I never find myself in that situation.


  2. jenniferbgraham Says:

    I am not American-born. I have lived in many different cultures in the world. Every other country in the modern, “civilized” world have been able to survive without their citizens touting guns. A society that feels the need to arm their citizens with semi-automatic weapons, and have their children gunned down in cold-blood in their schools, is not a civilized society, in my opinion.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: