I’m a gun owner. I don’t fit the stereotype of a gun-toting Second Amender decked out in camouflage protesting in front of a state capitol — although having grown up in rural Michigan, I’m familiar with people who do fit that caricature.
I haven’t shot a gun in decades and am appalled by the National Rifle Association’s efforts to block gun-control legislation. I contribute to organizations that seek to end the proliferation of firearms. What I struggle with is what to do with the guns I own and have inherited.
Fifty years ago, once I was old enough to hunt deer with my dad, we went to the local gun shop to buy a rifle for me. I inherited a pistol that my great-grandfather supposedly shot a fleeing felon with when he was a cop. I have my uncle’s old rifle that hung above a doorway at the farm. I was allowed to stand on a chair and take it down to try and hunt crows, though mostly I shot tin cans instead. My inheritances include an antique rifle that was my grandfather’s — one I had always coveted. When my father died, I inherited more rifles. I love these guns and the memories they hold.
Now I can’t help but question whether it’s ethical for me to hang on to them. Do they make me complicit in the unique horror that the unchecked proliferation of firearms has brought us?
My father always taught me that you never had a loaded gun in the house. He led me to believe that only people who were mentally disturbed, lacked adult judgment, or were stupid would do something like that. He wasn’t wrong.
The National Rifle Association has spent decades and billions of dollars creating a paranoid emotional narrative that Democrats and liberals want to take people’s guns and leave them defenseless. The only remedy Republican legislators offer to reduce the epidemic of gun violence is to make it easier for people to purchase, carry, and keep loaded firearms in their homes. They even suggest arming schoolteachers, as if the ideal of pistol-packing elementary teachers is somehow sane. We’ve come to accept the almost daily killing and wounding of school-age children.
Current regulations regarding gun ownership have had little effect on the ever-increasing number of people shot and killed. Last year, nearly 20,000 people lost their lives to gun violence, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that collects data and plays no advocacy role.
Unfortunately, an increasingly conservative Supreme Court means the likelihood of new laws or regulations to reduce access to firearms and limit lethality is low, even though a majority of people, including many gun owners, support initiatives such as universal background checks, taking guns from at-risk individuals, and banning assault weapons.
A question on this year’s Supreme Court docket, in NY State Rifle & Pistol Assoc. v. Corlett, is whether the state of New York, or any state, can limit or deny the issuing of concealed-weapon permits. The ruling in this case would call into question the role any government entity has to regulate any aspect of gun ownership.
I’ve considered surrendering my guns to the authorities for destruction, or selling them and giving the proceeds to organizations that advocate gun control. Firearms are probably not something WCAI wants as a donation, and the Coast Guard might have something to say about my ceremoniously dumping them into Cape Cod Bay.
Even though my guns are safely stored, I can’t take the chance that one of them could be used to cause violence or death. Guns were used by my father to teach the importance of taking responsibility for my actions and the consequences of poor judgment and, as strange as it may seem, how to be humane with instruments of destruction.
I hold his lessons dear, but I feel compelled to do something more with these guns now. Something that recognizes the horrible cost our compulsion to have guns has exacted.
I can’t bring myself to destroy them. But I can do something like what the book of Isaiah urges people to do — beat swords into plowshares. I can take the weapons to a gunsmith and have them rendered inoperable. It’s a compromise, because it means hanging on to my guns, at least symbolically. But it will ensure they will never be used to kill another living thing.
Steve Larsen is a semi-retired social worker, union organizer, summer camp director, and carpenter.