April 19, 2007

My husband and I are gun owners. More accurately, JB is a gun owner, but one year he gave me a Ladysmith Smith & Wesson .38 Special, a revolver with gleaming grips that’s strong enough to kill a man, but sized for a woman. So I suppose I am a gun owner too.

JB was raised in a pro-gun environment. His father is a hunter, a target shooting enthusiast, and a collector of firearms; JB and his brother share many of the same interests. Target practice used to be one of JB’s favorite hobbies, especially when we lived in Las Vegas near a large range. These days he only uses guns in Oregon, when we’re visiting his family in Coos Bay and the menfolk go out to target shoot. He joins his family once a year in the fall to elk hunt, too.

Before I met JB I’d never seen a gun in real life. Now I’ve not only seen plenty of firearms, I’ve shot quite a few, from pistols to shotguns to high-powered rifles. I used to be a pretty good shot with a Mini-14, which is the sort of Big Scary Gun you see in movies depicting dramatic bank robberies.

I went shooting with JB because it was something he enjoyed and I had no particular reservations about interacting with guns (although I had a very strong emotional reaction the first time I pulled the trigger, it was overwhelming and terrifying to understand the destructive power I held in my hand). Several years ago we shot together quite a bit, and since then the opportunities to do so—and the interest, I suppose—have dwindled. I don’t think I’ve fired a gun for at least a couple of years.

Politically I am not in the same camp as JB, who believes very strongly in the right to bear arms. It’s a gray area for me. I don’t necessarily believe that gun ownership should be outlawed. I do believe it should be strongly regulated, and that, for instance, people who are forcibly admitted to mental hospitals shouldn’t be able to buy Glocks.

JB’s feeling is that if someone in one of those Virginia Tech classrooms had been armed, the shooter could have been brought down before so much damage happened. Which isn’t to say he believes students should be carrying weapons to their classes (but maybe teachers should have the option?). As he said to me, he doesn’t have all the answers to these difficult issues, he just believes Americans need to have the right to defend themselves against their fellow man. That if guns were outlawed, criminals would still get their hands on them; that citizens should not be rendered defenseless in criminal circumstances.

His opinions are more complicated than what I’m presenting here, I only mean to show his general stance.

It’s very hard to be objective about guns when they’re being used in schools to end young lives. I’ve found that since Riley was born I feel differently about guns in general; they seem uglier, their purpose a sad statement about our society. I wish, simply, that they didn’t exist.

There doesn’t seem to be a “make unhappen” weaponry vote available to me, though, and so I have to consider the realities of a world with guns. Where Riley will grow up with events like Virginia Tech that must be explained to him, a father who would like him to be exposed to firearms the same way he was—with integrity and a never-wavering focus on safety—and a mother who futilely hopes her boy spends his life oblivious to their existence.

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