It’s Your Gun Culture: The Autostraddle Roundtable

Gabby, Writer
From and currently living in The Bronx

To me it’s funny in a fucked up way that people only want to talk about gun control and mental health advocacy when extreme violence occurs in a non-urban, predominantly white neighborhood. I’m a media teacher in the Bronx. So this type of shit makes me question what to talk to my predominantly Dominican, Puerto Rican, Haitian and African-American teens about, should I tell them that they don’t count? That violence only matters if it happens in mass quantities and if and only if the majority of victims are Caucasian? Is that what I should tell them? Just let me know. Cuz did you know that four year old LLoyd Morgan died this summer in the Bronx from a stray bullet? Did you know that six year old Hailey Dominguez was shot during the Thanksgiving holiday? Maybe it’s not the same to you, maybe it’s not the same at all. But we still, as teachers, artists and administrators have to face this type of violence every single day without news crews or America giving any sort of fuck.

Anyway, let me put my bitterness aside. I refuse to play this game where we quantify deaths due to race or economics. Shit is what it is and none of it is pretty or fair, especially if you’re the parents of any of the children, people, spirits involved.

My dad acquired a legit gun license and brought a .22 caliber pistol into the house. For all you gun lovers, that’s a baby gun. He took me out to shoot it on the weekend at a local gun range. I was a pretty dope shot and loved the feeling of a gun in my hands.

So you want to know about my history with guns? Here it is: My Dad kept a gun in our house for years after we were robbed. Someone scaled the back side of our house without the help of a fire escape fire and robbed my family of the only heirlooms we had. My dad acquired a legit gun license and brought a .22 caliber pistol into the house. For all you gun lovers, that’s a baby gun. He took me out to shoot it on the weekend at a local gun range. I was a pretty dope shot and loved the feeling of a gun in my hands. My mother hated it. She felt like it brought the neighborhood too close to our lives and our home. See, I won’t front. I live in a Bronx suburb. I don’t and haven’t ever lived in the projects or in a neighborhood that is 100% rife with gun violence. However, that doesn’t stop me from hearing gun shots every weekend during the summer months. It doesn’t stop me from being afraid. I walk past real pimps, drug dealers, prostitutes and all other types of every day regular people who also may carry guns just to get to my fucking house. Sometimes, I wish I carried a gun too. I don’t and I won’t. But I get it on both sides.

I get the fear of walking past certain people who definitely need a gun to protect themselves. I wonder if whoever is fucking with them will accidentally shoot me in that brief second that I’m turning the corner. I understand why they carry. If I was them, I’d carry too. Fuck, the only reason the government shut down the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords were because they were POC practicing their rights to bear arms. But I guess only some people deserve to have their rights protected and their names remembered.

I guess what it boils down to for me is that it’s either everyone gets to carry or no one does. Either we all pass through the metal detectors or we don’t. My brown skin doesn’t make me more dangerous. So why am I and the men of my skin tone criminals, and the Caucasian killers just misunderstood geniuses?

Riese, Editor-in-Chief
Raised in Ann Arbor, Michigan
Lives in the East Bay, California

Growing up, the rules were as follows: no video games, ever. No violent computer games. No gun-related toys: no squirt guns, no nerf guns, no BB guns, no GI Joes, none of that. No violent movies. No violent television. As a fundamentally ridiculous child, I felt super-oppressed by my mother’s refusal to gift me a Super-Soaker.
I was raised by recovering hippies in a liberal college town — my Mom a Jewish girl from Chicago, my Dad a Quaker farmboy from Southeastern Ohio. My uncle got drafted for Vietnam but my Dad didn’t. He was involved in the peace movement or whatever. The only actual gun in our house was a non-functional rifle or something from my Dad’s distant relative Thomas Bernard who’d fought in the Revolutionary War. It had a giant bayonet on the end, which I guess is how you can stab somebody before you shoot them. It’s too heavy to think about.
There was riflery at camp. I tried it but was woefully unprepared for the fact that firing a gun is hard. There’s this weird kickback. That’s what scares me about the idea that we need guns for protection — do we honestly trust an amateur to hit their target?
At boarding school in Northern Michigan, some teachers cancelled classes on the first day of deer hunting season. Friends who lived nearby lived in homes with hunting rifles, and we stayed at hunting lodges, and our teachers had us read about hunting, too, and so this is how I understood the world: there were people who bought guns for hunting, and criminals who bought guns for killing and stealing, and professionals who bought guns for their jobs as cops or soldiers. Some people had guns for protection but I hadn’t met those people yet, or I had, but I didn’t know it.
In New York, Andres took me on a a date to see Shrek, and afterwards we just sort of ended up walking around Central Park in the dark, and that’s when he asked me if I wanted to know what was in the locked briefcase he carried everywhere. I felt like I should say that I did, so I did, and then he showed me the gun. I don’t know what I was expecting? “There are people who want to fuck with me,” he explained. “So I’ve always got this on me.” He held it out to me and asked if I wanted to touch it or hold it. I did not. I made a face and said “yikes!” like we were in a tender horror flick. He laughed at me, joked about how white I was. It made my stomach hurt, this little killing machine. Later he’d show me his scars.
I’ve seen or experienced other kinds of violence — the hand-to-hand kind — but I still can’t stomach gun violence or explosions or stabbing or any of that. I’ve seen maybe ten action movies, ever. I can’t handle Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction, I resisted the urgings of every boy who insisted I hadn’t lived ’til I’d seen Lethal Weapon or Die Hard or whatever. I hate violence, I just hate it, I never want to see it.
In college I took a class called The Anthropology of Hunting. My time in Northern Michigan had peaked my interest. We watched Deer Hunter and read academic studies about hunting and took field trips to outdoor superstore Cabela’s in Dundee and I did a project about the aggressive and gendered language employed by manufacturers of hunting-themed action figures. In retrospect, the whole class was tinged with some academic elitism, probably. My then-boyfriend and I went to Cabela’s to get a coat and I’ve got a picture of him holding two assault rifles, and we put it on my livejournal with the caption “these are for killing deer!”
Another ex-boyfriend went to Police Academy and joined the NYPD and got his gun. It was weird when he came over and suddenly there was a gun in our apartment. I joked that I wanted to take pictures of myself with it for my blog and he told me I’d be arrested for illegal possession of a firearm, and so I took pictures with his handcuffs and blogged, frivolously: “Then I realized that handgun laws are something I have never thought about for more than like, five seconds, but for the record obviously I don’t really even know how guns work.”
As an adult I lived in different areas of Harlem for about six years and in Central Harlem there was a lot of gun violence, kids and teenagers caught in the crossfire, ignored by the media and memorialized in heartbreaking makeshift shrines on street corners. (It was also the year that three NYPD officers got off more or less scot-free after murdering Sean Bell.) Every time we heard a gunshot somebody would say “oh, it’s just firecrackers.” But really? People are just randomly shooting off firecrackers all the time? Even in the winter? Even in a town where nobody has a yard? I think it’s a conspiracy, a lie people started telling because it’s easier than hearing gunshots. It’s a privilege for us to hear that noise and imagine it’s all just another shiny explosion in the sky.

Carmen, Contributing Editor
Raised in Jersey
Currently living in Washington DC

I’m a bleeding-heart liberal, and I feel like that’s important to mention now because when it comes to guns and violence in general, you can’t get further from it than me. I’m a vegetarian and I won’t even support hunting as sport, and never have. I went to elementary school and high school in the wake of Columbine. I went to college in the wake of Virginia Tech. My mom raised me to be so incredibly obsessively sensitive toward others that I spent my formative years as a human doormat, befriending the friendless often just to make sure they’d make it out without hurting anyone. For God’s sake, when my mom wanted to be a cop in 1994 I cried because she’d have a gun in her holster. “Don’t get shot,” I sobbed into her clothes. “Don’t die.”

I moved downtown last summer and for the first time, I heard gun shots. I’m still not sure that that’s what it was, but I distinctly remember that Danny and I were sitting right in front of the big, open living room windows and we heard a repeating little noise. BangBangBang. And just like that, it was over. I sat still for ten minutes with my mouth open. I tried to fathom what it was like to have been there, to have seen a gun pointed at you, to have known what one looked like when it was about to hurt someone. Suddenly I felt like I didn’t know anything about my neighborhood, like I didn’t know anyone.

I tried to fathom what it was like to have been there, to have seen a gun pointed at you, to have known what one looked like when it was about to hurt someone.

Every time I learn about guns it’s because I’m told it could’ve been me in front of one, could’ve been me because I worked at a children’s center, because I went to high school, because I went to college, because I go to the movies, because I go to the mall, because I exist. As someone who plans bus routes meticulously and gets escorted to the metro at night, it’s hard for me to properly emphasize how unsafe it feels to question the people around you. Usually it comes down to the same final question: do they own a gun? If someone looks, appears, or really, feels like they can harm me, I walk faster and with my head down and I run for my fucking life until I’m sure I’m somewhere where I know everyone. I get home, I shut the door, and I think about my mother who never touched a gun but almost did to feed her kids. How the fuck are any of us supposed to make it out of here alive?

Kate, Reader
Raised in Manalapan NJ
Currently living in Milford, NJ

I grew up with guns in our house. My Dad had been a military sharp shooting instructor. We were raised with an understanding of what firearms were capable of and had a respect and understanding of the responsibility involved. It never occurred to me to take a gun to school or to show them off to friends. They weren’t toys to be played with.

When the AR-15 became available to purchase, someone at his gun club asked him if he’d be getting one and he responded dryly “Why would I do that? I’m quite comfortable with the size of my penis.” But on the ride home he said to me “That rifle isn’t designed for self-protection. It isn’t designed for hunting. It’s designed to kill as many things in as short a time as possible. No one outside of a warzone needs to own that.” When he saw the photo of me firing one it upset him greatly.

I own firearms. I compete in sporting clays and other target based competitions. I’ve always believed that as a responsible gun owner I was ok. But in both these recent cases, the guns were legally purchased and owned but were stolen by the shooters. Could that happen to me? I’m even thinking of changing my AS avatar.

I’ve come to realize that most of my feelings and beliefs about firearms stem from my Dad. We talked a lot after Columbine and recently, the Trayvon Martin shooting. But my Dad died last week so I’m left to process this one on my own. But I can hear his frequent response to this sort of thing in my head “Sometimes the answer is there is no answer. Sometimes it just comes down to the act of a madman.”

I have much to think about.

Tell us about your own background with gun culture. How were guns regarded in your home growing up? Was this inline with the regional culture or were your family’s views unique? Are guns part of your life as an adult? How have your experiences shaped your current feelings about guns, or did they?

Special Note: Autostraddle’s “First Person” personal essays do not necessarily reflect the ideals of Autostraddle or its editors, nor do any First Person writers intend to speak on behalf of anyone other than themselves. First Person writers are simply speaking honestly from their own hearts.

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  1. I’m from the UK, and I grew up in a super-safe area of South East Asia. I’m with Crystal – I cannot possibly understand the need for armed civilians. I have four consecutive generations of RAF members in my family, and I used to be a cadet when I was younger. We also have a lot of family friends who are involved in various branches of the military. I think maybe being involved with the carnage that certain weapons can wreak up close makes you more averse to guns being part of every day life, whether they are assault weapons or just regular handguns. I don’t know anyone who is pro-gun. Admittedly, this makes me quite biased. The idea of having something specifically designed to take a life within easy reach scares me. Adding a gun to any conflict immediately escalates said conflict to an unnecessarily deadly level. In my opinion, more people having guns doesn’t mean more protection – it means that more untrained people are loosing bullets in uncertain directions, in an already confusing and terrifying situation.

    It’s also scary to think how easy it is for people to get hold of guns in the US. You don’t need to have any special training at all. Whilst I don’t think guns will ever be banned in the US, I do think that tighter gun control is necessary. I mean, alcohol and cars are legislated beyond belief – why not treat a deadly weapon in the same way?

  2. Growing up in Michigan, guns were viewed as tools. I come from a community where hunting is a big deal. Kids miss school on the first day of deer camp. There are several shot guns at my parents’ house that belong to my dad and brother, but are locked up because of the grandkids and general lack of use. Nine months ago, my sister-in-law’s sister was shot and killed by her husband, with a shotgun, before he took his own life. We’re still recovering as a family and are going to try and make Christmas as “normal” as we can for the little boy that was left behind. Since my sister-in-law is a first grade teacher and my mother a middle school teacher the events in CT hit me so hard. Hit all of us hard. Thanks for all those who contributed to this conversation. Lots here to keep thinking about.

  3. As another Brit, I’ve got to say that guns have never really been an issue to think about in my life. The only people who are allowed to own them are police and farmers. And some people in gangs do, but none of the above are likely to want to shoot me, so I haven’t thought about it more than that.

    My brothers and I all grew up playing with toy guns, water pistols and violent video games, but real guns? Jesus. The thought of owning one is so absolutely alien to me, I just wouldn’t ever. I understand the call for some Americans to have them for hunting purposes where it genuinely has to do with livelihood/survival, but at the end of the day a gun is a tool for killing (especially the semi-auto, high-capacity-magazine guns so many people have been talking about). You press a button, something dies. And the thought of that makes me uncomfortable, the remoteness and detachment of it. I have fired a gun once, on a ranch holiday to Colorado as a child, clay pigeon shooting. The kick hurt my shoulder, and I remember being sort of scared that I or someone else might accidentally shoot someone.

    And now I’m reading news about Wal-Mart running out of guns and thinking: a) stop buying guns you crazy people! and b) WHAT? I thought Wal-Mart was just a Superstore. The place where you buy groceries and cheap clothes and maybe some electronics? But they sell GUNS?! I just cannot fathom it, I wouldn’t be able to tell you the name of one gun supplier in England if I tried.

    • More Brit. I kind of want to know what it was like just before my generation though. I was 4 when dunblaine happened and don’t remember it, what was it like when handguns weren’t illegal here?

      Other than that addition most of this comment would be the same though i’ve only held a shotgun, but used to use air rifles reasonably regularly with scouts, not sure if it’s bad but the challenge has always seemed fun. I think yet again everything comes down to education. Being safe with the stuff has always been drilled in to me, but they still feel like things that should not be easy to acquire.

  4. Ok, so here in Switzerland, every man who does his duty at the military (which is like, I guess, 85% of the male swiss population) has to carry his firearm back with him to his home when he goes off into the weekend-break, so yeah, a sight of armed men with rifles are quite common here (especially at Fridays, when they all go home).

    But the big difference: they don’t have any munitions with them! They just have to take their rifles with them, but without munition. So yeah, while I’ve seen (and touched!) many rifles, I never ever heard a shot IRL!

    • Also, for clarification: the rifles are alll army-issued (and technically belong to the army during the military duty), so you can’t just go into a wall-mart-like megastores and buy firearms and/or munitions. Like in England (as Kate said), you can’t just buy guns or, even less likely, munition.

      • Thank you for this, people keep claiming the Swiss all have rifles everywhere but i wasn’t aware that they didn’t have any ammo, It’s good to know.

      • Everyone who is serving in the military has to pass a obligatory shooting exercise once a year.
        This takes place on military shooting ranges. The munition is handed out there, but since everyone has its own personal rifle the soldiers are responsible to bring them and therefore still have them at home.
        (They have a personal one because they really know their weapon and couldn’t handle another one of the exact same type as well as they can handle their own!? This is not making sense to anyone apart from our right wing politicians)

        However there is a lot of critism to this obligatory shooting and the rifles at home. We ARE trying to change this and to get the rifles out of our homes but swiss politics work veeery slow! :-)
        Handing in the munition was the first step towards getting rid of all the rifles in our homes. (This happened in 2007)
        And in 2012 we even voted on handing in all the rifles but this didn’t pass. The law now is that you can hand your rifle back in if you want to, but you have to get it back every year for the shooting exercise so no one really does this…

    • I’m Swiss too. And even though people are not allowed to have munition to their army rifles it would be possible to buy a gun and munition. But no one does! I think that we just generally have a different view on guns. When I hear gun I think about killing not protection and I would never want to own one!

  5. Oh lord Kentucky and guns. I have lived here my entire life. My mother has a gun, my older sister has a gun, my father had a gun. All of these guns are registered. My sister has a license to carry concealed. I didn’t come to know about these guns until much later in life. We had nerf guns, My mom accidentally shot my brother with a bb gun once while taking it away I think. Until Columbine we pointed sticks at each other and yelled bang playing Cowboys and Indians at school. I watched violent movies and television.I lived across the river from a pretty dangerous city and I watched the news every morning and heard about at least one shooting a day. I shot rifles at summer camp. I understood for a very long time, aside from the harsh realities of poverty and gang violence and wars, people didn’t really have a reason to use guns against other people, but having the option was important to my family because white people? In fact somewhere between the end slavery and now a maternal family member once protected the entire family from a drunk white man who invaded their home during supper, yelling racial slurs and demanding they give him something…with the power of a firearm. The sheriff came and removed the body, and told them to enjoy the rest of their dinner. It is the family statement on the second amendment.clearly pro.
    Well then I went to college in rural Kentucky and dated boys and partied with boys who carried guns in their cars. I shot at beer cans on the weekend at a friend’s cabin in the woods in my pajamas. I witnessed a few fights at parties that escalated to somebody drawing a gun…and I would pee my underage pants and somebody would try to diffuse the situation by yelling “the police are coming”. It worked every time. On my first date with one guy he showed me his shotgun and pointed it at me, and then offered to let me hold it. I don’t own a gun. I cannot handle the responsibility. I am clinically depressed and have been suicidal. I’m medicated and I still find them kind of extreme and scary. In a world full of crazy people I can understand the desire to protect oneself. Some people couldn’t survive without hunting season. Being a person of color, I understand not trusting police to carry out justice. Some people need guns, but I wish they didn’t.

    • My best friend is from rural KY and Ive visited her a few times, like a quarter of her local Wal-mart superstore is taken up by guns and hunting stuff, and all of her relatives own guns.

      I’m from Ireland where not even the police carry firearms, so its just a completely different world. My parents never worried about my brothers and I playing with toy guns or anything because it wasnt going to really lead anywhere, you can’t own or buy a gun, you don’t see anyone with a gun, only drug dealers and farmers own them as far as I can see, and I’ve never aspired to be either.

      My brother once tried to OD when he was going through a bad patch with schizophrenia and depression, thankfully it didn’t work and he’s doing great now, but its a scary as hell thought that if we lived somewhere that guns were accessible then with one shot he could have been gone.

      • Yeah I didn’t realize that not having guns in a wal-mart was an option until I visited one outside of the state. It is really scary that you can just pick one up there anytime.

        I think my parents believed that allowing us to come into contact with toy guns and to play a completely politically incorrect game where we pretend to shoot each other was a shout out to their own typical upbringings, but they made sure to not censor us from the danger of guns in the real world.

        I am happy your brother is doing better, but I agree that in many cases it is too easy to get a gun if you present well and it makes caring for someone with mental illness that much more difficult.

  6. Growing up in Texas there were guns everywhere. As far back kindergarten kids treatening to bring thier dads guns to school was common place, so much so that I don’t think the teachers ever acted on it. My dad kept two guns, I think shotguns, under his bead. The only time he ever used them was to go hunting with clients. Most of the dads at my rich white school were lawyers and such too and they also owned guns for the same “proffessional” reason. Growing up in Texas also meant that when the drug dogs came to school almost every alert was from a hunting jacket in a locker or gunpowder residue in the trunk of a car from. My high school used to have a Trap & Skeet club and these underage children would bring guns to school and all they had to do was turn them in at the office at the beginning of the day. Probably the most shocking to someone not in this region is that owning an AK-47 or a similiarly powerful gun wasn’t a big deal. You knew more kids with AKs than you did queer kids. I think there were more high powered rifles owned by the student body than there were African-Americans in my school. Growing up in Texas also means that you know that AKs are completely useless for hunting, thier only use is killing people.

    I spent a decent amount of time in lower-class neighborhood and if you want to talk about a shift in gun culture, talk to the old-timers in the ghettos. I’ve only done some informal reading on the subject and heard a few first hand accounts so I can’t speak with authority (I also got to go home at night to my safe suburban home), but according to them, guns were a rarity and everyone freaked out when they came into the picture. Yeah “criminals don’t follow laws”, but when guns are more controlled you have to REALLY want a gun to get one, and you can still kill a lot of people with a small calibre handgun.

  7. Less than a quarter-mile from my paternal grandparent’s house in rural Minnesota, there is a gun range nestled at the bottom of a steep hill and tucked in a small pocket of thick wood. In the summer, the foliage absorbs the sound more effectively, however, you can hear the rounds of bullets as you sit on their second-story porch in the cool autumn months. It is almost peaceful.

    Every Thanksgiving, my older male cousins hunt deer on their land, which is a tradition that goes back generations. They arrive late to dinner, in their orange vests, sometimes with blood on their hands. Some public schools in the area allowed excused absences on Opening Day of hunting season. I have Facebook friends whose cover photo is the proud display of their deer slaughter. What I’m trying to get at is that in the Midwest, gun ownership and hunting culture go hand-in-hand.

    My maternal grandfather, who served 30 years for the South Dakota Games, Fish, and Parks Department, owned a shotgun and a personal pistol. I once found a long suitcase with latches on it and when I asked him what it was he said it was a trumpet. I believed him and never looked again. He bought my oldest cousin a BB Gun and created a makeshift shooting range in his cement basement. I could hear the pop cans get hit repeatedly as I played cards with my lesbian aunts on Easter Sunday.

    My mother, I think, responding to the late80s/early 90s media’s obsession with violence, hated guns. She knew people could be responsible, like her dad and her nephew and her in-laws, but did not want her three daughters to stand in the line of fire. We couldn’t watch violence movies, couldn’t own toy water guns. Lest not forget, her three daughters were mild and quiet and non-violent, with no interest in weaponry. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I shot AT anything, during a community education class about archery. The tips of the arrows were not sharpened.

    I shot a gun for the first time this past summer. I was on a first date with a girl in the National Guard. It was the same shooting range near my grandparent’s house, less than a mile from my own childhood home. She took me, saying “Every time I meet someone who hasn’t shot a gun, I bring them here.” It was a .22 rifle and it was awkward and long for my small frame. I hit the target twice and I spent the majority of the time checking out her muscles.

    TL;DR I think we (the collective majority) talk about guns in a very rural vs. urban way, a ‘safe’ way vs. ‘illegal’ way, a right vs. wrong way, a white hunter vs. a gang member mentality, and this viewpoint is not only incorrect and misleading from the original debate of gun control, it’s also a pretty racist opinion to have in the first place. Also I think it’s fucked up that I even have to think about my relationship with guns because I wish I didn’t have one at all. But in America, that ain’t really a possibility.

  8. My cousin is a Virginia Tech survivor. I live near Homestead, Pennsylvania which has one of the highest rates of gun violence in the country. A few weeks ago, my friend’s uncle got into an argument over a parking spot at our local Shop’n Save and was shot and killed right there in the parking lot. And one of my neighbors was killed in a hunting accident within miles of my house. Needless to say I feel very strongly about gun control, and I honestly never want to be in the presence of a gun again. They don’t make me feel any safer, they just make an accident more deadly.

    Being a hunter is one thing, but when someone buys a gun in a city, they’re not buying it to hunt animals, they’re buying it to kill someone. Even if it’s for self-defense, we saw what happened with Trayvon Martin. There’s just too much that can go wrong with a gun involved.

  9. I don’t think my parents ever tried to instill any feelings about guns in my sisters and me, but I wasn’t really raised by them all too much. I grew up in upper northwest DC just as it starts to get dense and white like spongecake (west of the park). I remember an awful lot of bullet holes in bus stops in the 90s and cracks in the pieces of glass that held around it like some sort inverse kaleidoscope. I knew what bullets were what they sounded like and that they caused terrible pain in all things. I was pretty fascinated with bows and arrows and I didn’t understand why people couldn’t and didn’t use those more.

    When I was seventeen I went to Barnard’s young women’s leadership summer thing, and I made friends with a girl from North Dakota who had been raised much in the way Fonseca speaks of: in a deeply rural community where it was necessary for her family to supplement their meals with what they hunted.

    This is a great collection in terms of people’s experience in America as well, and people often ask me, ‘Well what’s it like in the States?’ As a European as well as an American, Europeans sometimes don’t seem to understand why we can’t just make guns illegal and have that be that, but it’s a little more complicated.

    Although I’ll never forget moving to Glasgow and not even police having guns. (Some police do, but not most!)

  10. I grew up in a hippiesh tourist town in Oregon, we went REI not Cabelas. The only exposure I’ve had to guns is that my dad had a BB gun and my brother has some kind of gun. But I’ve never fired a gun or really spent any time around them. I don’t even know how strong the hunting culture is where I live now because none of my friends own guns or hunt either.

  11. I’m from Texas, but I live in California now. Three years ago, shortly after my 22nd birthday, my father took me to classes, and I qualified for my Concealed Hand Gun license. I carried while I was living there on a fairly routine basis. Here in California I go to gun ranges and target shoot with a semi automatic Smith & Wesson – the same pistol that I qualified for my CHL with.

    My relationships with guns is complicated. It carries a world of baggage that I don’t even know how to process – a mash of southern sensibilities, queerness, politics, and a fierce sense of self-reliance and independence at war with an intellectual perception of how things probably should be.

    Guns are a lot of things to me – my stern faced grandfather teaching gun safety. My cousin and I, wide-eyed and solemn as we fired our first shotgun at 6. Memories of shooting clay targets off of a cliff top deck with the San Saba River cutting the landscape below us. The shock and horror as a I understood that the bird I had “killed” wasn’t dead. Crawling across the floor of a dingy apartment, watching my friends sob and laugh and cower under furniture while a drunk with a vendetta stormed through a party and the parking lot outside, looking for the rival who had stolen his girlfriend.

    I do not own a gun. They aren’t legal here. I don’t even know how I feel about them anymore. They’re such a part of me – of my upbringing. I have seen responsible gun owners who treat them as tools and with care. I have seen irresponsible thugs use them for violence and intimidation. I have carried one on my person. I have fired one. I have killed an animal with them and decided I would never do that again.

    I don’t believe citizens should have access to handguns or assault rifles. I think it should be more difficult to get guns used for sport. And yet, despite all of that, I enjoy them. I enjoy firing them, and shooting targets, and shooting trap and skeet. And I fight myself on it, every day.

    My father owns an AR-15 – the type of assault rifle that was used at Sandy Hook. He owns an extended magazine for it, and a night scope, and kinds of ammunition that are designed to do damage to people but not penetrate walls. He says he is prepared. For what, I’m not entirely sure; he has been very afraid since the economic downturn, convinced he will need to defend himself from… something. Robbers. An uprising. And our politics are so far apart on the spectrum that he takes any suggestion that he doesn’t need them as an attempt to disarm him to a sinister purpose.

    I understand where he is coming from – not because I agree with him, but because I know what he is thinking. He does not want to rely on anyone else to protect him or his family. It’s not just that he is afraid of the government taking his guns – he’s afraid of having to rely on the government, or anyone else, for protection.

    I just feel sometimes like “Where do we go from here?” There are so many guns here. So, so many. How can I tell him to feel safe without his when we know how many hundreds of millions are already in the country? I feel paralyzed by hopelessness. And by my own conflicted emotions.

  12. Being raised in Europe no one in my family (or my family’s friends circle) ever owned a single gun. And to this day I don´t know anybody in person who does. I myself never saw a gun anywhere but in movies.

    I do however have a couple of friends who could buy one if they wanted to as they own a license for hunting (which was a requirement for their forestry major at University). But the type of rifles would be strictly limited to whatever is considered legal for hunting/hunting sports. Also the license requires a complicated exam, 60 hours theory, 60 hours practical training, a specific extra insurance, good-conduct certificate and many more bureaucratic demands. It also expires after 1-3 years, which all together makes owning a gun not easy in Germany.

    So living in a country where even knuckles are considered illegal weapons, you can’t even imagine how shocked I was to learn that Wal Mart sells actual guns. Wal Mart? Seriously? As in: Wal Mart who refuses to sell music which contains explicit lyrics or swear words because of ohmygod children and families in danger and blah Wal Mart?! Now THAT are some crazy priorities!

    I must say, I can’t even imagine how it must be to live surrounded by armed civilians. I don´t understand how weapons make people feel more secure and I for sure don´t get the whole “open carry” concept. To me guns just provide a false sense of security. The more people are armed the more in danger is your life, IMO. Because even with an own weapon within your reach and even if you are the next Annie Oakley, you can never be sure that someone is not more skilled, better armed (arms race anyone?) or simply more lucky than you are.

  13. Growing up, I thought guns were something that the “bad people” had in our neighborhood (I grew up in a not-very-nice part of Oakland) and as a 3 year old, I didn’t know what those ‘popping’ noises at night were. In our new home in the suburbs, we had NRA stickers on our windows. Not from my parents but from the previous homeowner. I remember my mom trying to scrub them off to no avail. They stuck on until we got new windows.

    But not until last year did I learn that my dad shot a gun. Not as a result of defending himself or feeding his family, but as a result of nationally enforced military. My dad was a sharpshooter in the Iran-Iraq war. I don’t know how I feel about that. These were weapons most likely supplied by the US & the UK. It was 8 years of war, for pretty much nothing.

    I found out that my dad still shoots recreationally and I asked him if he could bring me one time. I wanted to be a part of this masculine ritual, from the man who taught me how to play soccer and pitch a tent. But under California law, I’m barred from legally having a gun until 2014 (5 years after a psychiatric hold). But I remember my dad waving his hand at that and said he could go to a gun show in Nevada and get me one to call my own. Something about that scared me, that it could be so easy to circumvent a law meant to keep me safe from myself. I remember watching Chely Wright’s documentary “Wish Me Away” and how close she came to suicide because she had a gun in the house. It’s too tempting for me to have a gun. I don’t want one anymore.

    But I’d still like to go shooting with my dad. Just once. I don’t know why.

    • I won’t own a gun for the same reason. I’ve had too many bouts of depression that left me suicidal, it wouldn’t be safe.

  14. Living in the south, you kind of have to just assume that every house you go into probably has a gun in it somewhere. My parents were not gun people until I was like 10, and my dad left us for the first time and my mom was alone and got her license and got a gun. And yeah, I did actually feel safer as a kid knowing that my mom had a gun and could shoot it. But at the same time, especially when I hit 13 – 15 years old, I was kind suicidal and my mom was working a lot and I spent a lot of time in her room with the gun in my hand. At that point, the gun didn’t make me feel safe and it kind of started this feeling I’ve had since then, that I was the greatest danger to myself, which is kind of strange to live with. Now my mom has a new husband and is an even bigger gun nut. And my opinions on guns are complex and newborn. I of course really wish there were no guns ever, anywhere. I wish that we all relied on tasers or something instead. These are not really opinions I feel comfortable saying on Facebook or in real life, though, because gun culture is strong here. Honestly, I don’t really think we could ever get rid of guns, and sometimes I understand people who want their own gun in a society full of guns. It’s hard to take a stand when everyone else has a gun and your life could be on the line. And as a woman and having to constantly worry about my safety in public, I get that self-preservation instinct, so it’s not really a topic I’m comfortable arguing, because I find it confusing. I do think there are ways we could vastly reduce the amount of guns floating around, and gun violence, but I am scared shitless to express these viewpoints ANYWHERE. Gun people can be passionate and stubborn, and I quickly go to a place of anger when talking to them because children are dead, and they can’t reduce their gun “collection” or endorse stricter gun laws AT ALL. It’s sincerely depressing me.

  15. It’s an interesting experience reading this. Of course on some level I know America is different to here but really this is like a window into another culture with norms and values that are just completely alien to me.

    I do think it’s telling that countries like the UK and Australia which have strong gun control laws are rather happy with the arrangements. And people like farmers who need them for their work are still able to access appropriate guns.

    • I agree, I think this is the first time I’ve ever considered America as a ‘different culture’.

      I fundamentally disagreed with basically everything that John Howard stood for, but I can’t think of a single negative about the gun control measures he brought in after the Port Arthur massacre. It was really jarring to me to read the comment in Rachel’s article from the politician who said he would definitely not support gun control – I can’t really imagine anyone here (besides possibly Bob Katter, but ugh) publicly admitting something like that.

      Since reading all this, I’ve realised gun-heavy crime shows are about as close to realistic in my life as the ones with vampires and lasers. I’m really ok with keeping it that way.

        • I did! It was a weird experience, I generally go in ready to get angry at everything he says but I couldn’t this time ;)

          • Me too!
            Its sometimes hard to think of another thing that Howard did that I actually like…. but gun laws for the win!

            I feel like this has been a catalyst for me too in how different America is in terms of their core values.

            I keep thinking of Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation and his little rants about individual freedom.
            I think the core difference is our attitude to the relationship between the individual and society. In Australia we aren’t threatened by giving up individual freedoms for the good of society. We don’t mind giving up our individual freedom to own firearms to obtain the societal freedom of less gun crime. We more naturally see ourselves as contributors to a whole.
            America is so founded on the idea of individualism in a way that a lot of Australians and Europeans find mindbogglnigly selfish, yet to them our views can seem like extreme socialism.
            Its the same reason that we think things universal healthcare are a ‘given’ but it is so controversial in America.

          • I just keep thinking of that sentence I’ve seen quoted so many times (no idea who said it first) : “In America, owning a gun is a right. Healthcare is a privilege.” I mean… It’s mind boggling to me.

          • I saw someone comment here somewhere that it’s easier to get a gun than it is mental healthcare… that’s just unfathomable to me. I wouldn’t even know where to start getting a gun but when I needed a psychologist saw one for as long as I needed to without paying a cent out of pocket.

            I don’t want this to come across as anti-American at all. The people at the top seem to have some seriously fucked up priorities though…

          • totally Cat.
            Like where do you even buy guns in Australia?
            I’ve never seen a gun shop or a gun in a shop.
            I wouldn’t know where to start…

          • I think there is something in this. We seem to have less of an emphasis on individual freedom & small government and more of an emphasis on the common good. Or individual good through the collective even (like you say, we trade our ability to own weapons for our freedom from gun violence).

          • i think also we have a lot of people, and a lot of diversity and sub-cultures within those people. like a LOT. quantitatively. so many fractured communities, so much segregation. so it’s such a fertile environment for the individualistic ethos to thrive and become a monster.

            honestly, i can’t believe that there’s this much conflict over the second amendment when the eighth amendment (against cruel and unusual punishment) has been apparently completely thrown out the window altogether, with little ceremony. the solitary confinement situation in this country is insane. it’s so fucked.

          • thanks Riese. I hadn’t thought of pretty much any of that before. nice to come on here and find something that expands my mind a little :)

  16. I don’t have much of a relationship with guns, myself. My dad’s a country boy with five brothers, and he’ll occasionally go along with a camera (and joke about “shooting a 35mm”) when one of the uncles goes out deer hunting. I’ve never had an interest in hunting (and am presently vegetarian albeit for reasons of taste and cholesterol rather than ethics), though a lot of kids – even the girls – in the town I grew up in were always excited for deer season.

    I do, however, have a gorgeous replica of the sword Arwen has in the Lord of the Rings films, and I display it pretty proudly on my dresser under my map of Rohan and Gondor. So… I have no idea what that makes me.

    ((On a side note, I’ve also consumed lots of “violent” media, yet I apologize when people step on my toes. So I’m a little perturbed that folks are going after video games as their scapegoat of choice following recent events.))

    • >I do, however, have a gorgeous replica of the sword Arwen has in the Lord of the Rings films, and I display it pretty proudly on my dresser under my map of Rohan and Gondor. So… I have no idea what that makes me.

      Answer: the greatest person ever, marry me now. :P

  17. I grew up in Massachusetts with a side of rural New Hampshire for spice, and so I’ve adjusted to the presence of guns for sport and hunting, because I know that when you bring down a deer that means food. However, I will say that to me there has always been a world of difference between hearing the pop of a gun at sunrise in New Hampshire, and the same sound on a hot summer night from my house in MA, which was located near a more violent area. (Coincidentally, there was also government assisted housing, and just like Gabby, I feel outraged that gun violence only matters when it’s against the wealthy and white. I don’t know why we can’t love all the precious, wonderful children. If a body is colonized and othered, does that mean we no longer care if it’s also shot at? HOW IS THIS OKAY?

    Right, so, I’ve only ever been shot by an air soft gun, and that still wasn’t fun (in fact, my friend’s little brother loved to try to shoot my butt, thanks patriarchy) so I can only imagine what actual shooting is like. But I’m used to trucks pulled off the side of the road at the border between day and night, and I’m used to deer heads lolling on carcasses thrown in the back of trucks. Hunting I understand as a culture and a necessity and I am hesitantly okay with it, although it means that I wear a lot of orange and worry a lot when my dad comes home from jogging a little late in the fall.

    Okay, real talk for a hot second: you can hunt and trap without a fucking gun. We have bow season for a reason, and I know y’all are taking in game because I’ve seen it at the local deer cutter (buyer and seller of hides) before rifle season opens. So, you don’t really need the gun, you can learn to shoot with a bow. You can even get a compound bow, or put a scope on it, or randomly buy one without a background check.

    And honey, don’t even get me started on high capacity magazines and semi-automatic weapons. You get one fucking shot at a deer, then it runs away. You don’t need that shit. And a little more real talk, guns don’t keep you safe, they scare people, and scared people do desperate things sometimes.

    The second amendment reads: Amendment II. 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.

    I believe based on the historical context of a populist (well, 1/3 of the populace-ist) uprising to over throw a tyrannical government (that taxed them less than any other colonial holding) utilizing the power of civilian militias, armed with flint-lock, smooth-bore, muzzle loading muskets. The framers of the constitution wanted to enshrined the rights of the people to repeat that act, and having a bunch of assault weapons at your house isn’t going to do that. Reinstating something akin to the original National Guard, a militia of and for the people, might. But the government wouldn’t allow that, because that might be dangerous, and because the Federal Government could hardly be expected to legislate the seeds of its own demise.

    I realize that this is not the only interpretation of the Second Amendment, to whit:
    Friend: “[Robert Bork] was a constitutional origionalist, although notably he took that so far as to say the 2nd amendment only gave citizens to bear the arms they needed to join a militia.”
    Me: “I mean, I believe that is the correct interpretation of the second amendment.”
    Friend: “Me too, but Scalia’s opinion is that the comma between the militia part and the keep and bear arms part makes the militia part an independent clause”
    Me: “Well my opinion is that the gap between the reality part and the Antonin Scalia part makes the Antonin Scalia part a bigoted douche.”

    In sum, I believe guns are a way to indulge violent impulses instantaneously in a way that people deserve to be able to live to regret. I’m glad there are no guns in my house, because I’ve been depressed and suicidal, and I don’t need enabling.

    tl;dr: Fuck guns, no one needs them. If you wanna hunt, use a trap or a bow. If you wanna shoot for sport, archery is quite enjoyable. If you wanna kill people… you don’t deserve an answer.

    • I lol’ed at “the gap between the reality part and the Antonin Scalia part”. (And anyway, were the founding fathers generally in the habit of writing “independent” clauses without verbs in the proper tense?)

  18. I’m home for the holidays. We have upwards of 18 firearms in this house at any given time. My family buys and sells. My dad is a firearm hobbyist and we’re all hunters. My little sister and I were taught firearm safety as soon as we were able to stand. I know how to use a firearm, but I have never had to use one as a means of self-defense. The most defending I’ve done with one is shooting squirrels that destroy our house or at coyotes that get in the pasture with our goats. I am comfortable around firearms because I have grown up around them and I am privileged enough to have never had one turned against me.

    There is little hope of enacting tighter gun regulations out here in Oklahoma. We actually just made it legal to open carry with a valid license. I hear the usual arguments down here. “If you make guns illegal criminals will still get them and law-abiding citizens will be unable to protect themselves,” is chief among them.

  19. I’ve lived in semi-rural Missouri for my entire life. I’ve never owned a gun myself, but a few of my family members have. My dad took my brother and I out target shooting with a bolt-action .22 when I was about 12. I enjoyed it but I doubt I could handle anything much bigger with any accuracy.

    I like the idea of guns – that you should be able to defend yourself if crap happens and be able to provide for your family. But the reality of guns terrifies me. I just don’t trust people, because people in general tend to be stupid when it comes to safety. People get distracted, they get lazy, they get complacent, and the next thing you know somebody gets hurt.

    I play a lot of paintball and I see the different ways people handle safety there. I constantly have to yell at people to keep their masks on, put their barrel covers on, don’t point your paintball gun towards people when you’re fixing it, etc. Obviously, I know paintball is not the same as real guns but most of these guys have real guns and should know that safety is important.

    Playing paintball has also taught me how useless I personally would be in a real gun situation. On top of knowing I would be scared stiff, I just could not draw fast enough or fire accurately enough to really make a difference. And I would second-guess myself too long anyway.

    I’m not against all guns everywhere all the time. I do wish they just didn’t exist or that there was a perfect way to keep them safe. I wish we could be rational about why we need them and what we do with them and how we handle them.

  20. I’ve never seen a gun before in my life. Never known anyone who owned one either. Might be different in certain places in Canada but some of these responses shock me a little. I did not know it was this common to have a gun in the US.

  21. I grew up in New York City, in the heart of Manhattan. And the only people I’ve ever seen have guns are police officers and National Guardsmen. After September 11th, National Guardsmen began patrolling the major subway stations (such as Times Square) with M-16s. I only know they had M-16s because my dad was in the army and he told me what they were. It scared the crap out of me. Much as it was explained above, a gun entering a cramped space such as a subway raises the threat level to me. Also, as stated above, I’m aware that guns don’t just fly out on their own shooting at random, but guns never make me feel safer.

    My parents grew up in western Pennsylvania where they used to get the first day of hunting season off. They each have stories about classmates they lost in hunting accidents. They never had guns in our apartment when I was growing up and they don’t have one now. Their high school friends think they’re insane to live in NYC without a gun.

    What I remember most about gun violence growing up in NYC is the shooting of innocent men by the police. Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell. If you don’t know these names, look them up. There are many, many others that I don’t know. These were reasons why I have never liked guns and don’t understand gun culture.

    I wish the U.S. would follow in the footsteps of Australia and the U.K. with gun policy. Yes, I am an American. But living in NYC can feel like living in a different country. I have less of a culture shock traveling to London than crossing the George Washington Bridge. I know I sound ignorant and entitled, but reading of so many people having so many guns scares the crap out of me.

  22. Grew up in CT. My aunt, possessor of a handgun and concealed carry permit, lived in Sandy Hook for many years. Her cousin (my second cousin?) died “accidentally” when cleaning his gun.

    My uncle, retired Air Force, lives in rural New Mexico. Casts his own bullets. Taught his grandson – and me – about shooting, the first rule of which is NEVER POINT A GUN AT ANYONE EVER. Loaded, unloaded, just don’t.

    And lots of Americans get that, I think. Just reading some other people’s experiences here, that’s clear; it’s entirely possible to be a responsible gun owner. Enthusiast, even. But the statistics don’t match the perceptions people have about their safety when it comes to guns, and it feels to me like some of the knee-jerk reactions I’ve been hearing (“guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” “criminals will always find a way to get a hold of guns,” “you can’t take away people’s right to defend themselves and their families,” etc.) are really things people say to avoid confronting the reality of risk from gun violence that exists in this country.
    If we actually thought about the risk involved – statistical risk – of automobiles, would we drive as much as we do? Probably not, which would fuck up our whole way of doing things, so we just… ignore the existence of the (very real, intimidatingly large) risk. Same goes for gun violence.

    Me, I’m happy that I’ve shot a gun and know what that feels like. And I’m all for people like my uncle being able to own their guns for whatever reason(s). But neither do I think we should ignore any opportunity to ameliorate the very real risks of guns through gun control measures (mandatory background checks, waiting periods, restrictions on high capacity magazines) so that we don’t have to keep listing our friends, family, neighbors, students, and coworkers among those killed daily by firearms.

  23. My parents are from England, I grew up in coastal California, and I live in Washington DC now. No one I knew owned guns, no one went hunting, no one growing up ever talked about them, really. They were not an influence on anything as far as I could tell.

    Then when I moved to DC I met people who shot guns for fun, or who hunted, and I was baffled. None of it sounded appealing – guns are made to kill things, and I do not want to kill things.

    But then I ended up working for law enforcement, and there are guns on every other person’s hip or ankle. Guns on the desk, in the drawer, in a co-worker’s purse. When planning going-away happy hours, we request to have the back corner of the bar to ourselves so we can have a beer and worry less that some stranger will steal one of the gun-purses. I was absolutely terrified when I learned the guns the officers are issued don’t have a safety in the conventional way I had imagined it – there’s no outwardly visible catch or lever, like with a papercutter – the safety is built into the trigger. Terrifying. I could not believe my employer didn’t provide a basic gun safety class for everyone on their pay roll. I was also a weird anomaly in my workplace culture, as I had never touched a gun or seen one fired, let alone fired one myself.

    A well-intentioned ex got us a handgun safety class groupon, and I swallowed my terror and went because I figured the majority of my fear stemmed from lack of knowledge. The instructor told us how a careless new student had pointed her loaded gun at his face with her finger on the trigger, and then promised us we’d all have so much fun at the range we could easily buy more ammo from the front desk when we ran out. I was very good at shooting, and was (and am) perversely proud of that. But I have never been more acutely aware of every movement I made, and never been more on edge, than when I was holding that gun. I do not want to kill things.

    Maybe I would feel differently about a rifle, but handguns are specifically made to kill people. That’s all. And I don’t know why anyone outside of law enforcement and the military should have a gun whose sole purpose is to kill another human being.

  24. Ok, since no one brought up Alaska, I will.
    I’m from there. Rural Alaska, although not as rural as it could be. A little place four treacherous hours or so from Anchorage. One interesting thing about AK is that you don’t need a concealed weapons license. Absolutely everyone has a gun. Everyone. You think I’m exaggerating. I’m not.
    Alaskan culture is VERY different from the culture of the lower 48. A lot of Alaska is still in the control of the indigenous peoples of the area. So different laws govern white people (there aren’t a lot of other races beside white and indigenous) and the indigenous populations.
    So anyway, like I said, absolutely everyone has a gun. I was raised going to the shooting range all the damn time. I learned to shoot a gun well EARLY. You hunt in Alaska to survive. A grocery store is four hours of dangerous road away. You HAVE to hunt. I went on my first hunting trip at two or three. My dad bought be a .22 when I was born. You also need guns to protect yourself from the crazy moose you encounter on a fairly regular basis. The homicidal moose. Also, bears.
    Do you know where gun-related deaths rank in terms of top causes of death in Alaska? Not even in the top ten. MUCH less than the national average. And let me tell you—Alaskans die all the damn time. By the time I was five, every single one of my little friends had at least one dead parent. My babysitter was dead. Lots and lots of family friends were dead. My cousin was dead. None of them died via gun.
    You know what kills people in Alaska? Alcohol, diabetes, exposure (which alcohol usually plays a factor in) and car and snow mobile accidents. And yes, we have a high suicide rate. But in terms of homicide, most people will do it with a knife.
    The people who die from guns in Alaska are more often than not stupid tourists.
    I do not own a gun. I have not shot a gun since I was twelve. I do not hunt. I do not plan to. But I stand by the culture in which I was raised. A culture in which every person owned several guns. A culture in which guns were in the hands of children constantly. A very, very educated culture when it comes to weaponry.
    Guns have protected me (from homicidal moose, bears, the burglar that hid in our crawl space, the escaped murdered that hid in our shed, the neighbor that went on a drunken killing spree (with a butcher knife) through the neighborhood, the schizophrenic man off his meds that went on a killing spree down our street (with several hunting knives), etc.). Banning them is extreme and absolutely does not need to happen. Education, stricter laws, yes. But don’t go jumping to extreme conclusions.
    My state has more guns per person than most any other place. And we’re doing a damn good job at it.

    • I wanted to add that I witnessed someone climb into the polar bear enclosure at the Alaska Zoo for a camera she’d dropped and get mauled to death.
      A couple of months later someone else got mauled to death climbing into the enclosure for a shoe.
      Apparently that happens a lot.

      It’s always tourists.

    • thanks for this perspective. it gave me a lot to think about that honestly had never occurred to me before. seriously, i appreciate your input.

  25. I was born, raised, and still living in Utah. Guns are a big deal here and are a symbol of strong individual rights for many people. I, however, as am anti-gun as they come.

    There is a prolific pro-gun culture in this state. I have family members in law enforcement and have endured holiday gatherings where new guns are passed around the dinner table. In the past I dated boys who were in the military and carried their service weapons with them. I also have close friends in grad school with concealed carry permits who feel the need to carry every day, including while sitting next to me in class or the library. My dad was a hunter before I was born, and he kept a small collection of rifles locked in a display gun case when I was a young child. As i got older he sold the gun case and all but one of the rifles. I am told there is still one gun in my parents home but I have no idea where it is located and am certain it would be useless in the event of a violent intruder.

    When I was a young child (3 or 4 years old) my favorite uncle was shot and killed while fishing by a careless teenager who was out target shooting. Today, I am as anti-gun as they come. It took until my late teenage years but I realized the death of my uncle was an impressionable event on my young mind and formed my anti-gun beliefs. Ideally, guns would be entirely illegal. I read the 2nd Amendment within the context it was written (“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.”), i.e. it clearly does not say all citizens have a right to self-defense by gun and only members of the militia are allowed to carry guns within their homes.

    I have never held a gun and at this point in my life do not believe that I ever will. Guns are the only publicly available consumer product with the primary purpose of eliminating life and they are one of the least regulated products that pose a danger to public safety. It is absurd to me that I could walk in to a Wal-Mart and purchase a gun and ammunition today if I wanted to. In my utopia guns no private citizen would be allowed to possess a gun but this is an unrealistic ideal for our current society.

    One of the best proposals I have read about for increasing gun controls was imposing serious restrictions on the availability of ammunition. From what I have read, ammunition is highly regulated in the UK and the lack of ammunition has assisted in the decrease of homicides by gun violence in that country. Although I would love to see legislation outlawing guns altogether, Congressional action limiting the availability of ammunition appears to be an effective alternative for the time being.

  26. My dad has a lot of guns. Some for protection, some just because? Guns mainly make me uncomfortable, but I decided to go with my dad to a firing range once. I thought it would be fun, or like a bonding experience. but what happened was, I fired three shots at the target, with a revolver I think, set the gun down, walked out of the range, out of the gun shop it was located in, onto the sidewalk and cried hysterically for like a half hour. having that much power in my hands was just too much. all it takes is one crazy thought, one mistake, one muscle spasm even, to snuff out a life. I don’t want that kind of responsibility, and there are a lot of people with guns who I think don’t deserve it.

    this quote from what carmen said really sums up how I feel about gun culture in America: “How the fuck are any of us supposed to make it out of here alive?”

    • thank you, yes. i’ve been thinking about the responsibility of owning a gun a lot these days in the wake of what happened. it’s just too much. how can anyone trust themselves around one of those, to be honest. maybe it’s one more machine that makes us too curious.

  27. Just thought I’d add another perspective from Sydney, Australia.

    My household always had guns around. My stepfather shoots for sport so I spent a lot of my weekends when I was younger at the rifle range. When I was 12 I got my shooter’s licence and a rifle of my own.

    He also collects old guns and restores them. I think at the moment there’s around 300 or so guns in their garage. It wasn’t unusual to come home to dinner and see a new purchase in the dining area being passed around to look at.

    Everyone in the household was taught about gun safety from very early on. Guns are never left unattended, by law they are kept in safes (with the ammunition stored separately) in a locked room that only my stepfather has access to. His guns and storage arrangements are inspected annually by the police to ensure that he can account for all of his guns and that they are being stored correctly.

    I remember when Howard brought in the new gun laws my stepfather being furious at having to give up his semi-automatics. Almost 10 years on and its still a bit of a sore topic for him. However I’m really thankful for them. My stepbrother is mentally ill and before he was diagnosed he was a danger to himself and others. He could be quite violent and there were several occasions where he threatened family members with a knife. I hate to think what could have happened if he had easy access to a gun.

    Gun violence does still happen in Australia. In Sydney’s west there have been a string of shootings that have been related to motorcycle gangs. Most of the guns used in these shootings have been purchased illegally. Also in 2002 a member of a shooting club killed two fellow students and wounded five others at Monash University with handguns he had legally obtained at a local pistol club. The shooter was stopped when he paused to reload his weapon and a student who knew martial arts tackled him to the ground.

    However these incidents are pretty rare and when they happen the government usually reacts by tightening laws on gun ownership. After the Monash shootings the government placed restrictions on magazine capacity in handguns.

    The casual way that guns are handled in the USA disturbs me. I get that guns are seen as a constitutional right over there but they are still extremely dangerous and need to be treated with respect. It’s absurd that you are required to have a licence to drive a car but not to own a gun. Guns don’t need to be banned entirely but there should definitely be a lot more control on who has access to them.

    • I’m glad you brought up the shootings out west. I have coworkers prattling on to me in a self-important way about how stupid Americans are about guns while one of said shootings happened just up the street from my office…

      • It’s kinda stupid that your co-workers act as if our country doesn’t have a problem with gun violence, it seems like there’s an incidence of it reported in the news every week. I agree with a lot of what you said down thread – I think it’d be very difficult, if not impossible, for many Australians to understand America’s gun culture, it’s just so different to our own. Personally I can’t wrap my head around it, although it’s not from a lack of trying.

  28.  I contributed to this roundtable, but debated it. I own guns. Yes. Plural. Some I’ve used for simple target shooting. One is for competitive sporting clays. Some are antiques, part of an inherited collection. 
    There was a time in our country when a gunsmith was considered an artisan. Over the summer I visited Gettysburg PA and as we entered the part of the museum that housed the weapons,  my girlfriend laughed at me because I basically squeed. She patiently tolerated me as I explained the significance of certain rifles and the turning point they represented in the history of firearms. (Did you know that being left handed in war put you at a severe disadvantage as most rifles were made for right handed people?)
    I’ve commented so many times on AS, on more articles and topics than I can recall. Usually, the response has been positive. Often the responses have had nothing to do with what I’ve said, and instead about my avatar. I’ve also received some private messages about it as well. Some sweet. Some funny. Some creepy. But none were negative. 
    So what does that say about our culture? What does it say about our perceptions? Why were some of you intrigued by this pic? Do those who told me on AS and at Camp that they loved my profile pic still feel this way?  Is this picture, that some have called “hot”, now offensive? Am I no longer viewed in a positive way in light of recent events?  I’m actually curious. What, if anything, has changed and why?
    As I said in my contribution, I have much to think about. 

    • My brother is an Army officer and despite being from the UK I was in the cadets and have used and received training in semi automatic weapons, including handguns, and have fired fully automatic weapons under supervision. I’ve a close friend I grew up with who is a responsible gun user and enthusiast, who was very disappointed at the extent of the (total) civilian handgun ban in the UK.

      Your Avatar is a like a lot of images he’s taken of himself, that reflect his passion and, I suppose, his attitude to life. Guns exist within a cultural framework and, like a lot of weaponry, they can be icons for agency, power and intent. Although I agree with commentators here, that there is a cultural separation between Europe and the USA on this issue, the iconography of firearms is still a big part of our collective cultures. And context is important.

      I know my friend and my brother would say it’s a cool picture, and honestly I would too; not because of the gun but because of what the image as a whole expresses. And you still seem to be a pretty cool person; one who puts a deal of thought into how they impact others, far as I can tell. But not everyone is going to feel easy about it, and you know that.

      It probably says less about you than it does about the iconography of the gun, and the context people bring to it through their experiences: as voiced here. For some it will be an issue of principal too. But the debate over what sensible controls are needed to limit gun violence is not the same as the one about whether there can be responsible gun ownership.

      I support the total handgun ban in the UK, despite the fact that I believe people can practice and store them responsibly, because the consequence of human fallibility, corruption and unforseen circumstance with handguns is too dear. For the question of self protection; I simply point to the crime figures. And the use of rifles and shotguns as necessary tools for some individuals is, I believe, widely accepted in Europe: along with the need to monitor them.

      I can’t speak for anyone else, but as an outsider who is reasonably familiar with guns, is not an enthusiast and has “anti gun” politics: we benefit from your interest, experience and participation. Maybe it’s worth some reflection but, given everything you’ve said, don’t be too hard on yourself.

    • As one of the people who recognized and identified you at A Camp because of your avatar, it wasn’t really anything tied to glorifying the gun; it was just one way of identifying you from the parade of avatars on this website. I personally hate guns and have a really huge issue in wrestling the ethics of hunting (recreational, I find it selfish and arrogant, but for legitimate sustenance and livelihood I understand it), but I would never condemn someone for hunting or for owning guns. The few American friends I know that have guns always proclaim their training in handling guns and that owning guns comes with the responsibility of learning how to safely use one. That I respect tremendously, so as long as you’re being responsible, my opinion of you hasn’t changed.

    • It’s one thing to dislike or disapprove of an avatar, but quite another to email someone and tell them that. I would be more surprised if someone had emailed you and told you that they disapproved of it.

  29. I come from Upstate NY and grew up around guns. My dad was a hunter and starting taking me hunting with him around age 8. There was no gender bias on which of the kids got to go hunting with dad, it was my brother, then later me. I learned to shoot a simple hunting rifle around the same age. I was always taught to respect and fear guns, but also how to load them. We always had one in the corner next to the door in case someone tried to force the door and get in. It seems paranoid for the nearly off the map small town we were in, but my parents had grown up in the city and brought their paranoia with them.
    When we moved to Georgia both of my parents got hand guns and conceal-carry permits so we could defend ourselves. Its not uncommon to see a couple of .45’s lying on the tables and counters within reach. My dad used to practice shooting in the yard, and hearing gun shots from the hunters and gun enthusiasts who live around us is not uncommon. My parents have been leaving me with a gun and a cellphone when they go out for as long as I can remember, so its just another part of my life.
    Its kind of…disheartening when I hear about people who weren’t taught about guns being so easily pushed into fearing them. But then, after reading this I understand why. But I hope after tragedies like this that people don’t go out and start trying to get guns banned outright out of either fear or a sense of needing to “do something.” I hope people see these things happening and that they seek to educate themselves. After all, you can’t cure the disease by only dealing with the symptoms. I can see the sense in banning automatics and the like, I really don’t need anything that fancy to defend myself. But I really hope there isn’t a states-wide ban. I’d feel a lot less safe without it.
    I also found the violent video games/movies thing to be somewhat odd. Both my brother and I grew up playing violent games(like doom and fighting games), and watching violent films/movies. And my parents are huge fans of actions movies, (though I’m more partial to the fantasy-based ones myself.) And none of us turned out too bad for it. It was never really a big deal, I mean when I was little they wouldn’t let me watch horror movies because they thought I wouldn’t be able to sleep. But after a while around my teenage years it ceased to be an issue.
    One thing that I think affects how people react to those sorts of things as kids is whether or not your parents instill a sense of empathy, of being kind of things and people less fortunate than yourself. Even when my dad hunted (mainly for food), we’d still do things like rescue hurt animals from our yard. (Afterall, one of the main indicators of serial killers is kids killing/hurting animals at a young age.) Maybe we should be taking a look at that. Taking a look at how cruel and callous children are with no one around to teach them better. (I know that mental illness can play a part, and that most people know right from wrong early on.) But I do think kindness and a respect for life is sorely missing from a lot of people’s upbringings.

  30. My dad hunted when I was growing up, so I was around guns. My brother and I were both taught to treat guns with respect. When I was 10, I got a BB gun for Christmas, which I remember having shot only a handful of times.

    Here is one thing that always comes to my mind when the gun control conversation comes up, though. When I was a kid, we lived in this weird little community just outside Olympia, WA. When I was eight, an unstable neighbor set fire to my family’s camper van. It didn’t take long for some of our other neighbors to start patrolling the neighborhood with their guns, for “self-defense”, of course. My parents found this all rather disturbing and called the sheriff, who told us pointedly that “it’s legal to shoot them if they’re on your property”. That didn’t make us feel particularly safe.

    Add to that the fact that the guy who torched our van had a very similar name to a young Native man who lived up the street… people bearing arms in the name of self-protection will always be tied up in my mind with racism.

    I live in Australia now and, as I’ve mentioned upthread, lots of my colleagues will happily tell me everything that’s wrong with American gun culture… at least as far as they know. They don’t really seem to fully grasp the complexity of the beast, though. They don’t seem to understand the cultural associations around guns, or even the fact that gun culture varies widely in different parts of the country. It’s so complicated and I still can’t figure out which side I come down on.

  31. I live in Australia and the closest I’ve ever come to guns is seeing police officers with them in their holsters, and in the gun shop across the road from the bus stop near my girlfriend’s house. And a LOT of people had issues with that shop opening since it was near schools and stuff, but then everyone realised that you can’t just waltz in to a shop and buy a gun, you need psych evaluations and you need to prove that you belong to a shooting club or you’e a farmer or whatever, so everyone’s stopped caring about it.

    So I guess America’s obsession with guns baffles me, since they’ve never seem necessary to me. I can understand farmers having them, or people who shoot as a sport (like just shooting clay birds and whatnot), but otherwise I don’t understand why civilians would have them. I guess in Australia, we’d get enough government support that shooting for meals wouldn’t be thought of? I’m not sure. I’ve very privileged so that’s never something I’ve thought of doing, but you don’t really hear of people hunting for food?
    So yeah. Guns, I don’t understand them

  32. I’m from Ireland and guns are just not a normal part of every day life here. The only people who own guns are (pretty much) farmers and criminals. The police force here don’t carry guns. I think some hunters might, but I only know two people who own guns, and they’re both farmers. Their guns are locked away and only brought out to defend their sheep and cattle from attack by feral or wandering animals.

    I’ve heard lots of people here say that it’s easy to get a gun in Ireland but I would have no idea where to even begin the process of getting one. The only times I’ve ever even seen guns in real life is when I was young and there were still RUC checkpoints going into Northern Ireland, and all I ever felt looking at them was fear.

    I just don’t understand why any average person would need to carry a weapon. I know people will probably say for self-defence and such, but I think the price is too high.

  33. I am an avid hunter. I make my living from the hunting industry. I own several shotguns and rifles. I was raised by an avid hunter. I grew up around guns and was taught to shoot at a young age.

    I do not own any handguns. IMHO, they are made to kill two legged animals. I have no use for them.

  34. My moms marriage to my oldest brothers Dad was abusive and often very violent. There was not an open door out of the marriage like there might be today. When she called the police after her husband came slamming on the doors of her home in the middle of the night, the police listened empathetically to his stories of her cheating on him. Her extra marrital affairs, blah-de-blah. No citation, no arrest, no order to leave. Bruises still on her face he was allowed in to get a few of his things. Of course this was 1975 in Nebraska.

    My grandpa lended her a 12 guage shotgun, instructed her how to use it. When my brothers dad came back around the third night she aimed the shotgun to the door he was attempting to break through. Had he succeeded, my mom possibly could have faced manslaughter or murder charges.

    My mom owned a handgun until I was a young child.

    One year ago, my sister was in an unhealthy marriage. It renewed her interest in guns and shooting. She wanted to be able to be protected if she ever needed to intervene, or help her pack up house.

    Out of some real chaotic fucked up reasons to have to own guns, she has really made it a hobby. I go shooting with her almost every sunday. She just bought her third gun. She used to have a hobby of collecting tupperware, now she uses tupperware pieces to store ammo.

    I see my mom empowered by gun ownership, and target practice. That is important, I think.

  35. As others have said, being from the UK means I’ve never seen a gun in real life and have no idea what it would be like to know that anyone could walk into a shop and buy one. I also grew up in Dunblane, so I see the effects of easy access to guns every day. I understand that the situation in America is a lot more complex than it is here, but to me guns=bad

  36. I grew up in Michigan, so even though my parents never owned guns, we always had family friends who did – some even displayed them in their house. Of course, they were mostly responsible and kept the ammunition far away from the guns, to make sure that they didn’t go off accidentally or anything else tragic happened.

    So I’ve always been used to the idea of people having guns for sport, and hunting for sport, and as a meat-eater I don’t feel like I’m in much of a place to condemn people for that – hey, at least they’re engaging with it directly, and a deer who is killed instantly probably suffered a more humane death than animals killed in factory farms. But I have yet to ever comprehend why any civilian would need to own a semi-automatic weapon or any other kind of assault weapon, and I think those should be banned.

  37. Also, of COURSE the NRA blames “violent video games and media,” because it’s better that we infringe on the First Amendment than the Second Amendment, of course.

    I know the media circus around these deaths is partly to blame, but I think when it comes to violent games – what of the fact that a huge chunk of those games are made in Japan, and yet, they only have two gun deaths a year? Yeah, I don’t think violent video games are the problem.

    And there are cultural differences between Japan and the US that can also help account for that difference, but those cultural issues are ones that the NRA has contributed to more than any other group.

  38. In my family, guns were completely unacceptable. Both my parents are pacifists, and I am too. We weren’t allowed water pistols or nerf guns. I hate all violence. I did laser skirmish once, and it was truly horrible. I can handle archery, but that’s just mainly coz Katniss is hot :P

    I kind of wish I could go paintballing with my friends in a couple weeks, but I just can’t deal with it.

    I hate guns, but I’m not scared of them. They just aren’t present enough in Australia.

  39. That last page had the most emotional stories. I felt myself snapping along with Gabby’s part, nodding in complete understanding with Carmen’s horror at the thought of guns being nearby. As a Canadian, I do not understand the obsession with guns that my southern neighbours have. Don’t think I ever will, and it’s one of my top reasons for never living in the States.

    ((Digger, I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. My condolences <3 ))

  40. I have to say, I don’t know if this is the right place to share this thought but I’m sick of hearing about the precious precious rights of people who want to own assault weapons being so important when the NRA and similar groups want to take away the rights of anti-gun teachers to teach. Literally – when one of their advocates was asked, in response to their “arm teachers” situation, what to do if a teacher doesn’t want to own a gun, they said “Well then they shouldn’t be a teacher.”

    Sorry, but your right to not get fired for your beliefs is more important than your right to own a deadly weapon that has no purpose other than killing people.

  41. I was raised in South Carolina by parents who didn’t let us have any gun toys, not even water guns. However, my freshman year of high school I took a gym class that included hunter education. At a public high school. Because South Carolina. The kicker is, once we had earned our hunting licenses a woman from the Department of National Resources came to our school with shotguns and we shot skeets. On campus. With real shotguns. I loved it but in retrospect that wasn’t an okay thing to happen. This was probably a year after Columbine so I’m not sure how it even happened.

  42. Jesus, so I’m one of the UK bunch and the general consensus is even that carrying a knife around in attempted self-defence is a seriously bad idea, something that can easily escalate into fatality, something that’s likely to be used against you.

    Frankly the potential of kitchen knives left carelessly around frightens me. I can’t understand how people could possibly argue the way I’ve seen so many Americans try to justify having guns.

    • also, I never ever made the connection between actual guns and water guns, but maybe that’s the privilige of living in a country where guns aren’t really a thing

      (PS and before I start sounding seriously paranoid, it’s the idea that kitchen knives could be fallen onto when they’re left pointing out on worksurfaces that scares me – thankfully my world isn’t populated by people who’d start wielding them)

  43. I am an American. My father is an accomplished sport shooter, although strangely, he absolutely loathes hunting. (He went hunting one time in his life, shot a pheasant and has felt guilty about it ever since.) I spent a lot of my youth target shooting and skeet shooting with single-action revolvers, air guns, rifles and small shotguns, but even though I was used to firearms and I viewed shooting as a sport (I was convinced I would become an Olympic biathlete when I was a kid), I was always a little scared around them. My father was obsessive about gun safety, so that probably had something to do with it, but I also remember being very aware of the power of firearms and even BB guns.
    I believe gun culture in the U.S. has shifted dramatically over the past 20 years or so. When I was a kid, my dad and I shot at a range that forbade people from shooting at targets that even slightly resembled humans. Even those vague police- and military-style outlines of the head and shoulders of a man weren’t allowed. That rule was in place because it was considered garish and irresponsible for a sportsman or sportswoman to even pretend to shoot at a person. Guns weren’t toys, even if they were used in sport and recreation, and people who viewed them as such were usually ostracized. But today, I hear it’s common for shooters to take aim at targets that explode on impact, or that are made to resemble not just human beings, but specific people — Osama bin Laden, for instance. Gun manufacturers’ marketing has followed suit. Today, even small-caliber handguns are made to look like something Rambo would carry, and I see ads that celebrate the “manliness” of cheap semiautomatic rifles, as if buying an ugly piece of garbage that won’t shoot straight but will scare off the neighbors while you stand on your lawn drunk is a sign of masculinity.
    I haven’t shot a gun in more than a decade, and I probably won’t ever again. It’s too bad, because it’s a hobby I enjoy, but it’s been co-opted by lunatics, extremists and men with very low self-esteem.

  44. My parents both grew up in NYC. I was born in Brooklyn, but moved to a very secluded rural area in PA when I was 3 because my mom feared violence (especially in public schools). My sister and I were raised without guns and violent television programming. We weren’t even allowed to watch Powerangers. We weren’t allowed to wrestle, play with sticks, or own toy guns. I remember having a water gun once, but it was shaped like a dolphin and its squirt range was wimpy.

    After I graduated high school, a couple of guy friends took me shooting. I actually really liked it even though the kick on the 38 special made me nervous. I turned out to be a pretty decent natural shot and kept all my bullet shells. I now live in Missouri, where gun ownership and hunting are popular. My roomate’s boyfriend owns guns and I try to ignore that they are in our house (I keep hearing my mom’s incessant nagging about how most people killed by guns are killed by their own guns within their own home).

    I don’t think I will ever own a gun, but sometimes I do think about getting my carrier’s permit. It just seems to be a passing thought though, like wanting to go skydiving. I know I don’t want guns in my household, but I don’t think them unnecessary. I love eating meat but am adverse to factory farming. I recognize the benefits regulated hunting has for our environment, but I don’t know if I have it in me to kill living creatures. I guess this means my views on guns are conflicting. They’re okay for hunting, but not much else. I honestly feel like each person should have to undergo some sort of psychological testing before they can purchase a gun. And I think all weapons should be registered.

  45. As someone who grew up in New Zealand, gun culture was not something I ever took notice of, or really cared. Sure there was occasional mentions of hunting accidents, or a murder, but… occasional. Police only have guns in locked boxes in their cars, and have only had access to tazers for a few years.

    Anyways, on my first OE, I went to the US. About a week in I was on an escalator with two cops in Seattle. I was about two steps behind them? And halfway down I suddenly realised they’d have guns. I could see them. I was close enough to touch them.

    So, as any person aiming to make a fool of herself would. I proceeded to have a panic attack stuck on a moving staircase in a busy mall.

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