For a while during my childhood, my family had an antique shotgun that had belonged to my great grandfather — a gun which, perhaps ironically, was stolen when our home was burglarized when I was 11.
That was the limit of my personal experience with guns as a child. Growing up, I didn’t have friends who went to the shooting range or who even did much hunting. My family didn’t own guns. If we had friends who did, they didn’t talk about it. I’ve never owned a gun, nor have I ever had any desire to.
I grew up near northern Idaho, an area of the country where people take the “militia” part of the second amendment seriously. Therefore, I often associated gun ownership with paranoid backwoods stockpilers, holing up in their fortresses waiting for the government to dare lay a finger on their firearms.
Admittedly, this led to some prejudices.
Then, in college, I spent an evening “coon hunting” with some friends—a rather bizarre ritual in rural Iowa that involved flying across bumpy fields in an old pickup, shining a huge flashlight into the tops of trees, and attempting to shoot wide-eyed raccoons out of them with a shotgun.
The friend leading this excursion was the son of a pig farmer and also one of the smartest people I’ve ever met — a 4.0 math and computer science major who graduated at the top of his class. Though I still think coon hunting is rather disturbing, that experience challenged several prejudices I had about gun ownership.
In the years since, I’ve continued to seek out ways to battle my own biases and see other people’s perspectives in the ever-present American gun debate. I’m not personally a fan of hunting, but I can see the various reasons people do it. I don’t feel the need to own my own firearm, but I see the reasons people do. I don’t agree with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the second amendment, but I accept that that’s how our system works and respect people’s freedom to own guns for personal use. There are a lot of things I might not agree with or fully understand myself that I can see and accept from another perspective.
However, there is one aspect of America’s relationship with firearms that I can’t wrap my head around no matter how hard I try. I simply do not understand gun-loving culture. Owning guns is one thing. Loving guns is another.
Guns have one primary purpose as far as I can see — to hurt or kill a living being. Sure, they can be used for sport. Sure, there is skill in using them that people can take pride in developing and perfecting. But the primary purpose of guns is to kill something. They’re the primary weapon of soldiers. They’re the primary weapon of law enforcement. They’re a necessary tool for people in those professions, no doubt. And some feel they are a necessary tool for their own self-defense.
But to me, that’s a tragic truth, not something to celebrate. Guns have been the means of so much damage, so much agony, so much pain in the world, I can’t understand how anyone can see a gun as something to get giddy about.
To me, having a healthy respect for guns means first and foremost acknowledging that it is a deadly weapon. Loving guns feels akin to loving bombs to me. It just doesn’t compute. I can see being amazed with the technology. I can see being fascinated with how they work. I can see being appreciative of whatever you benefits you feel you get from them. I can see loving the freedoms afforded to us by our Constitution.
But the whole “Yay, guns!” idea feels off to me. Bumper stickers professing one’s passion for weapons always give me pause. The “I Love Guns and Coffee” thing at Starbucks a few years back struck me as unnecessary. (“I Love Freedom and Coffee” would have sent the same message and come across as less disturbing.) I’ve seen professional photo shoots people have done with their firearms. Sorry, but that’s just weird.
There are just too many people who have been through gun-related trauma for “I love guns” to feel anything but stomach-turning to me. I hear that, and the first thing I see is the twenty first-graders and six teachers gunned down in Newtown.
Then I see the man who went on a shooting spree two years ago in the small, safe, idyllic town seven miles from where I live, killing my sister-in-law’s next-door neighbor.
Next I see my best friend’s stepfather trying to shoot her mother and thankfully missing her in a drunken stupor when my friend was a child.
I see war and terror and senseless killings over and over and over again.
“Love” is not a word that enters into the picture in any way.
I know the argument — it’s not the gun that’s the problem, it’s the person using it. Guns don’t have free will, and knives and cars kill people too — do I have the same visceral reaction to those things? No, I don’t. But that’s because the primary use for those things is not to kill or maim.
As I said, I can understand owning guns. I just can’t understand someone loving guns. Firearms have their place in law enforcement, in the military, in hunting, in sport, in self-defense, and in even in responsible owners’ homes. They have a place in our history. They have a place in our Constitution.
I just don’t believe they should have a place in our hearts.