Last November I had my first hands-on experience with a firearm. I took a CCW course, learned about my state’s laws concerning firearms, and shot ten rounds at a shooting range. If one’s paying attention, one will see that I had no previous direct experience with any kind of firearm. I’ve heard people talk about their first time pulling that trigger, and sometimes it’s about how powerful they felt or how they felt immediately that this wasn’t for them, as in the essay “Shooting Dad” (for those of my readers who have not read this essay, she did not shoot her father), but for me there was no strong reaction either way.
The Act Itself:
The protection over my ears made my ability to understand my classmates as they spoke drop dramatically, everything coming to me like Charlie Brown’s teacher. The dimly lit range made my already poor eyesight worse, but I often felt before that in situations like these people allowed visual stimulation to overrule instincts, often like overthinking a multiple choice question when one’s first guess was right all along. Bowling, which is a long-range aiming sport like shooting, is often based more on a person’s muscle memory than their eyes, and the teacher of the CCW course seemed to agree with the idea that aiming is based more on stance than eyesight, not that eyesight is not completely unhelpful. I waited as others filled the practice lanes designated for the class and watched their shots. Someone first shot sent up a small cloud of smoke and the shell casing actually flew behind him, coming close to another student. I couldn’t help but exclaim “Wow,” as the sight of the bit of metal flying back a couple of feet and several students laughed at the wayward ejection.
We had all spent the last several hours introducing ourselves to the class, telling the group why we wanted to take the course, and then the majority of the time on firearm safety and the mechanics of firing one. When it had been my turn to introduce myself, I told the class that I grew up with guns in the house and felt that the most rational thing in that case was to learn how to use one safely. I also stated that I was a writer and felt that to write about someone firing a gun, I needed firsthand experience. The teacher jumped on the fact that I was a writer, asking if I had a blog, and while I do (made evident by this entry), I was more of a creative writer. Both of these reasons were honest. Introductions, the reasons, and the firearm safety and use all led up to the moment we went to the establishment’s indoor range to prove that we could fire within an inner circle on a target seven out of ten times, five shots at five yards and five shots at ten yards.
When it was my turn, I needed help jacking the slide on my pistol, because it’s pressure was too much for me, though of the two guns we own it was the only one I could pull the trigger on, the other requiring too many pounds of pressure for my index finger to handle. The needed help was only slightly embarrassing, but I have yet to find a handgun I can completely operate on my own. After having the pistol ready, I took a slightly wide-leg stance, gripped the gun with both hands, right pushing forward and left pulling back, elbows firm but not completely extended, and lifted to aim at the five yard target. I fired and hit pretty close to center. The recoil barely moved me; the slide jammed in the process—this wasn’t a very high-end (or even middle-range) handgun, so it jammed a couple of times, and I needed help (as I wasn’t strong enough to work the slide) each time. But all of my shots, even those at ten yards were in the middle circle. I had passed the practical of the exam. And frankly, I didn’t feel any different than I had before even though this was my first time firing a real firearm.
Later, the teacher went over our state’s rules for carrying firearms and using them. My state has a very high gun freedom rating, which actually makes me feel safer (I will explain this later), and some of the laws seemed very logical to me. Such as: a person cannot use a deadly weapon to defend their property, but a person can use a deadly weapon to protect themselves against extreme physical harm (this means any situation wherein they could end up in the hospital), a person can show that they have a firearm (defensive display) to ward off the possibility of violence, and some others demonstrated below.
Imagine that you are at the mall and when you come back to your car, you find someone breaking in. In my state, you cannot use a deadly weapon (crowbar, baseball bat, knife, or firearm) to defend it because your life is not in danger, only your property.
Imagine that you are a man walking down a residential street and someone starts to come at you with a deadly weapon (same as above). In my state, you can use a deadly weapon to defend yourself because your attacker may put you in the hospital with his/her weapon.
Imagine that you are a woman and a man stronger/bigger than you attacks you. In my state, you can use a deadly weapon to defend yourself because this is a demographic difference wherein your attacker can put you in the hospital by his superior strength.
Imagine that you are a man surrounded by two or more unarmed attackers. In my state, you can use a deadly weapon to defend yourself because your attackers outnumber you increasing the likelihood that you will be put in the hospital.
Imagine that someone starts coming at you aggressively. In my state, you can say that you are armed, and if they keep approaching, you can take out that weapon without aiming it at them.
Imagine you see a man attacking someone else. In my state, you can defend that third person responsibly if it appears that the attacker may put the third party in the hospital.
To my mind, all these scenarios have appropriate laws associated with them. This is a major part of why I’ve chosen to stay in my state. The laws are rational and applicable to real life possibilities.
A Tool of Lethality and a Tool of Transportation:
Firearms are all designed to kill, to be lethal. This scares people, understandably, but many knives are also designed to be lethal. Firearms are a tool, which is why I felt no different about who I am upon using one. All firearms are designed with lethality in mind but not all lethal events involve firearms. Death, and especially murder, is not always perpetuated by firearms. The tool in this world that scares me more than a firearm is a vehicle. A vehicle is not designed to be lethal, and by this very fact, people do not treat vehicles as carefully as they treat guns. Safety is paramount when dealing with firearms. The savvy individual holing a gun knows that what they have in their hands is lethal and must be treated with care. Since the vehicle is not so greatly associated with lethality, as that is not its designed goal, the goal being travel, and people use vehicles every day without incident, they get careless. I am more afraid of a careless individual behind the wheel of a car then I am the trained, even not by government, individual who carries a firearm—and most people behind the wheel of a car are careless. Accidents involving vehicles happen every day, many involving death. Accidents involving firearms don’t happen as often, partially because less people own them than cars but also because those people are more careful. Willful shootings happen less than car accidents. Carelessness has always been more frightening, and frankly insulting, than malicious intent, because it is far more preventable but far more prevalent.
Do I need cite a statistic on the ratio of car accidents versus shootings? I think not, mostly because if a reader disagrees they will simply explain away the statistic, but also because willful shootings—and even accidental—make the paper and the nightly news every time they happen. Car accidents do not, but you can drive down a busy street and pass one on a nearly weekly basis in any larger city. This accidents don’t always involve poor driving conditions either. My city has the most regular weather, and I couldn’t tell you the last time it rained and it doesn’t snow here, but we see car accidents all the time, meaning that carelessness is usually the cause. This is why I fear car accidents more than being shot.
Why Less Gun Control Makes Me Feel Safer:
I have worked in jobs that are prime targets for mass shootings, which truly feel rare to me. While one part of me was on the task at hand, another part of my mind was on the possibility of a mass shooting happening and what I could do in the situation. I have to be perfectly honest here but in those positions where firearms were not allowed on the premises, I felt more vulnerable to an attack than on those premises that allowed employees and visitors to carry firearms. Why? Because if the building has a no firearms sign, the person who is willing to take a human life is not going to care about that sign, but those law-abiding citizens inside the building are now defenseless. Some may argue that that is what security is for, but schools of all levels and malls are much too big to trust that a handful of security guards will be able to control the situations before human life has been lost. While some may argue that this loss of life is negligible, the loss is not negligible at all when it is yours or that of a loved one or friend.
The biggest reason why I feel safer knowing those everyday people around me may be carrying a weapon is that any potential attacker also knows anyone around him or her may be carrying a weapon, meaning that they are less likely to see the opportunity to victimize those around them. Attackers, of any variety, are like predators. They assess each situation for the possibility of getting what they want. They look at the woman walking alone and try to gauge if she knows how to fight or has some way to defend herself. They look at locations to see if the public at that location is disarmed and at ease. They look at houses to assess if they are easy to break into and if the inhabitants may have a firearm. I look at a no firearms sign on a building and see a target sign. That’s what scares me. Because the more people who are armed, the less time an attacker has to hurt people. I’m not saying that people should wear t-shirts that proclaim the fact that they are carrying a weapon because that also is a target sign and that’s not smart. Don’t forget that while a firearm is a tool of lethality, a potential victim can use it just as well as a potential attacker, and the tool itself does not care of its user’s motives. Instead people need to care about the user’s intent, and the phrase fight fire with fire makes more sense with firearms than any other situation.
What Makes a Potential Victim and Why Other Answers Aren’t as Effective:
Basically just being weaker than the other guy. Seems obvious. For example, the other guy knows karate and you don’t. The other guy is a man and you’re a woman. The other guy is twice your size. The other guy is fifty years younger than you. The other guy is actually three guys. The other guy has a firearm or other deadly weapon. Etc.
But most people who don’t like firearms state you should run away. I hate this simple response like running is always an option. It’s basically never an option for me with my exercise induced asthma; I’m sure an attacker could catch me easily, and others with similar health conditions that prevent running away may also find this insulting (wheelchair bound, advanced age, damaged joints or bones, chronic muscle weakness, blindness, an incomplete or missing limb, etc. all can preclude running). But there are also other situational factors that could preclude running: trapped with the attacker between the victim and the exit, the victim wearing shoes that prevent speed and agility (such as high heels and ballet flats which women are apt to wear but are not good for running), and uneven, dangerous, or confusing terrain. If anyone makes the argument that the chances of an attacker choosing people with these conditions or in these situations is slim are smoking something very interesting because attackers (as stated above) choose conditions that will most likely put the situation in their favor. It is more likely that they will choose someone at a disadvantage.
I have heard the argument that a victim should just let the attacker take what they want. This makes sense if all the attacker wants is just material items. But it is naïve to think that an attacker will always only want a car or TV. Any woman should know that sometimes an attacker wants to hurt you, but everyone should also be aware of this, because sometimes their goal is not just to hurt their victim but to kill their victim. This is why the “don’t fight your attacker” argument never works for me. We cannot read the minds of those around us, and someone who is willing to threaten another person with extreme bodily harm may ultimately plan or decide to kill that other person. I will not hope for the best case scenario when a person is attacking me. I’m not going to just cross my fingers that I will come out of an attack alive and unharmed. I will plan for the possible eventuality that an attacker will seriously harm or kill me, because that is a possibly and I don’t play Russian roulette. The idea that I should allow an attacker to take my life in his or her hands without putting up any resistance, not to mention the maximum possible, is insane to me, because what they are doing is wrong on every level, especially morally and legally and the attacker’s lack of scruples could cost my life. We should fight back because no white knight will come to save us and we shouldn’t hope only to survive it, we should hope to prevent ourselves any harm. I brook no slack for a person willing to break the law at the expense of another person’s well-being because the safety and rights of the person who has not broken the law but is threatened by the first person matters more than the law-breaker’s rights and safety.
The majority of the time I disagree with the idea of trying to pass judgment on the potential victim who has defended him or herself mostly because of the telephone/rumor game the media puts over any situation. Judgment should truly only come into play in a courtroom. The whole “Well, he could have done this” argument is most often presented by people with no prior experience with a life-threatening situation involving an attacker. In a perfect world, we would all be omniscient and could predict a situation to the best possible outcome, but this isn’t a perfect world and we are always working on imperfect knowledge. Victims can only say that they felt their life was threatened and that they defended themselves. They may themselves look back and think of how things could have gone differently, but we have a saying for that as well: hindsight is 20-20. The panic and fear of a real life-and-death situation can prevent a person from seeing all of the options and instead presents a person with the quickest and most feasible solution to getting out of danger. It is not about thought; it is about the protective instinct. One could argue then that the victim is reacting in an uncivilized manner, an animalistic one, but they are in an uncivilized and animalistic situation where the most basic principles of life and death are at play. It is easy to act civilized from outside the situation, but do not pretend that the situation itself is civilized. That is why armchair judgments are without merit.
Distrusting the Statistics:
To those people who don’t know about my freaky memory, I have been known to retain information, sometimes word-for-word, read or spoken to me. A couple of years ago I read an article that reviewed a several year study on gun related deaths. The review was a rhetorical analysis of the study and why its findings were inaccurate. The study counted the number of deaths involving a gun, but the study did not state the number of firearms owned in America which would give a percentage of gun related deaths versus the number of gun owners. It also did not compare the number of all unnatural deaths versus gun related deaths. Then it came down to the qualifications for what constituted a gun related death. Some were suicides, but not all by gun; some were simply gun owners who committed suicide by hanging or the ingesting of pills, the gun not involved in the act. In some cases of deaths involving two people, the deceased owned the gun and the gun was not involved, such as strangulation, vehicular manslaughter, and stabbing. Nor was there any mention of how many of the two person incidents involved a gun that was not legally attained. Because of all these possibly willful oversights and frankly numbers fixing, I found that I could not trust the conclusions of the study. All data on firearms are based on emotional and/or political bias—either way, so all data is untrustworthy. People should just get over their need for data on this and live and let live. You don’t have to own a firearm if you don’t want to, but that shouldn’t stop others from owning firearms because it is the Second Amendment. The argument that “people” meant the states when the Constitution uses the word “state” in reference to the states is a kind of etymological gymnastic. And arguing that “keep” isn’t a synonym for “own” or “possess” seems disingenuous. Lawyers like to argue about the definition of words but debate is their job not etymology.
I understand that firearms are frightening to many people. It is truly a fear of what they represent: death. But this tool can prevent it as well given the right circumstances. Allowing fear to overcome reasoning, or even drive reasoning, is wrong and damaging. Pandora couldn’t put it all back in the box, and neither can we. Firearms exist, and we cannot unmake them. They will always exist. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and legislate them out of existence. They are also an American tradition and part of our history; there is the added bonus that their production creates jobs in a country sorely in need of employment. The more legislation on them, the less they feed into our economy. But the most important reason that I believe that firearms are not to be feared is that it is not the tool which causes harm but the intent of an individual and whatever tool they use, be it a firearm, vehicle, blade, pillow, or their own hands, we can never disarm our society completely because we have not yet disarmed all intent to harm. Anything can be a weapon and anything can cause harm put into the right person’s hands, but we know an object is not even needed. Our fear has been misplaced on the tool. Inanimate objects have no intent, despite the magical realism to the contrary in one of my thesis stories. People have intent. Fear the person who is willing to harm others, but don’t take the tools away from those who would defend themselves.