Discoveries of an Anti-Gunner: My Conversion to the Other Side

In 1651, Thomas Hobbes wrote that free people consent to give up their individual rights in order to establish a political community, i.e., civil society, which establishes laws so that everyone can enjoy security. Although simplistic, this theory supports the following arguments for gun control:

Private citizens should give up the right to own military-style weapons, so that a violent person cannot get one to use on innocent people. In our First World society, we have police, sheriffs, constables, SWAT teams, reservists, military, Special Forces, and a variety of teams that can respond to an emergency at a moment’s notice. If military weapons are needed, a cadre of weapons can arrive with expertly trained professionals.

Citizens who want guns should give up the right of privacy so that they can be vetted to keep guns out of the wrong hands. If you don’t have anything to hide, you should submit to a background check. The government can keep a registry so that if a gun is passed to a new owner it can be tracked so that it is not used unlawfully.

Gun owners should give up the right to buy large quantities of ammunition, so that a violent person cannot obtain thousands of rounds of ammo. Similarly, gun owners should use smaller magazines to limit the round count so that if someone uses a gun unlawfully there may be fewer fatalities.

Lastly, it doesn’t support Hobbes’ theory, but this argument often accompanies the previous ones: The NRA should be universally recognized as a heartless political engine that is funded by firearm manufacturers for profit and it mocks the deaths of innocent people.

I spent many years making these arguments in support of gun control. I cried out, “Enough is enough!” when another senseless murder happened because of a gun. I reviled politicians who were in the NRA’s pockets. I didn’t let my kids play with toy guns. I wanted to end America’s obsession with destruction and start a new generation of we’re-all-in-this-together, rational human beings.

Then I bought a gun.

After a 10-year conversation weighing the pros and cons, my husband and I bought a handgun. I was suddenly on the other side of the mountain and what I discovered was very surprising:

Surprise #1: Gun owners are some of the most family-friendly, kind-hearted people I’d ever met. They welcome newcomers and are willing and happy to teach anyone who wants to learn. It is common to find veterans, active military, and law enforcement men and women at the range. This isn’t solely because of the enjoyment for shooting itself; rather it is the culture of people who enjoy shooting sports. Many shooters grew up in 4H or scouting programs that emphasize good citizenship and working together for the common good, and they’re raising their children in the same values. From a young age children are taught gun safety, responsibility, and accountability, and family times at the shooting range or deer lease create lasting memories and traditions.

Surprise #2: On my very first trip to the range the first thing I had to do was watch a video that reviewed NRA’s safety guidelines. I discovered that lobbying is only one facet of the NRA. A primary role has always been marksmanship education and safety, but you wouldn’t know that if you’ve never been to a shooting range. At a range you’ll see that most firearms instructors have taken NRA classes to become certified and many shooting ranges offer NRA classes to new and advanced shooters. The NRA also has the Eddie Eagle program to teach gun safety to young children, and it hosts a variety of shooting competitions that can lead a youth shooter to college scholarships and Olympic dreams.

Surprise #3: It is socially unacceptable in the shooting community to use a firearm irresponsibly. Post a picture on social media of you at the range without ear protection? Prepare for ridicule. Share a picture of your child holding a toy cap-gun with her finger off the trigger? People will comment just as much about her trigger discipline as her cute smile. They hold each other to a higher standard of safety, so when a senseless tragedy happens gun owners are the first to yell, “Enough is enough!” They want to know why it happened, how it could have been prevented, and solutions to complicated problems. They continue to model responsible behavior with firearms and value safety and accountability.

Surprise #4: A “military-style” rifle is actually the same as any other rifle. They can look scary because you see them in war movies and video games, but the body style makes them lightweight and easy to hold and customize so that it fits your body correctly. Having a rifle that is the right size for you makes it more comfortable to shoot and therefore more accurate and safer. The rails look tactical, but that allows you to safely attach flashlights or other accessories. Once you learn about them, they are really not scary at all and are fun to shoot! By the way, automatic weapons are already illegal for (most) private citizens to own. You can’t make them extra-illegal.

Surprise #5: Although it is a big responsibility to have a firearm that scared me at first, I feel safer with it. I’ve seen cities be hit by natural disasters that become opportunities for crime, and I know that if we lose power or communications I can keep outsiders from looting our home. I watched mothers in a Nairobi mall beg gunmen for their children’s lives, and I feel safer knowing that we can find shelter and have a fighting chance. I’m not anything close to the female-equivalent of Jason Bourne, but I continue to take training classes and practice so that I model responsible behavior and can protect my family if the need arises.

We can see Thomas Hobbes’ social theory at work in our society because we frequently give up rights in order to have order and security. Some examples are speed limits, drinking ages, and showing ID before you can buy Sudafed. However, the first thing you must know about Hobbes’ theory is that it only works if everyone is on board.