Firearm 102: Understand Gun Owners

The worst way to approach a subject is to generalize or demonize the opposition.

If you want to debate an issue, you need to be able to understand the perspective of the other side. I’m not saying you have to agree with them, but unless they’re spouting actual hate? Try to follow their logic and train-of-thought. At least pretend to walk a mile in their shoes, before you start making presumptions.

No Ad Hominems or Stereotypes

First, stop it with the childish name-calling or labels. Don’t call people who own firearms “gun nuts,” “ammosexuals,” etc. That does nothing for your argument and instead makes you look like as ignorant and closed-minded as the people you claim to be opposing.

Second, stop it with the idea that gun owners are all the same, they don’t care about people’s safety, etc. Again, that’s generalizing and stereotyping a broad swath of people, including 22% of registered Democrats and 37% of Independents, as well as 23% of self-proclaimed Liberals and 36% of Moderates. That’s a lot of people from different political and philosophical beliefs to be labeling and dismissing.

In fact, you might find you agree with the majority of them on any number of issues. Like that the majority of gun owners want better mental screening, background checks for private sales, and prohibiting those on federal watchlists from purchasing. Even topics that are less clear, like national registration databases and assault weapons, you may find that half the gun owners you talk to agree with you.

People have Valid Reasons to Own Firearms

Now that we’ve established that gun owners are not some easily-demonized right-wing movement let’s be clear: people can have logical reasons to have a firearm. In these debates, you often see people proclaim, “Why would anyone own a gun?! The only reason to own a firearm is to kill!” We’ll get back to those appeals to emotion in a later post, but the point is that many gun owners have a perfectly understandable reason for what they do.

Hunting – I would argue the most well-supported reason to own a firearm. Hunting is founded in tradition and basic human civilization, and still used today to a significant portion of the population. While some do it for sport, there are still plenty (even in a First World country) that do it for necessity. In fact, you’ll find even the strictest nations on the planet have exceptions to their firearm laws for hunters.

Sport –  The second most well-supported reason is those who participate in shooting sports. Given the activity is recognized enough to be a part of the Olympics, I would say this is a sound reason. Similar to hunting, you will also find exceptions in stricter countries for those involved in these sports.

Self-Defense – This is statistically the most common reason you’ll find in the United States, even if the logic behind it is questionable at times. Statistics show that violent crime is decreasing (even if it spikes or concentrates in specific areas), yet many people still believe that crime is on the rise and they need to defend themselves.

This fear might find its origins in the 21st century media, which bombards us with sensationalized images of violent crime and warnings of impending doom. Alternately, perhaps this is a continuation of our individualistic and independent culture – our fears, and right to lessen them, trump any reason.

Still, even with the statistics people still have a valid claim at self-defense. We don’t shut down DUI checkpoints merely because they only catch a handful of people. Why would we limit** people’s right to self-defense because just a few people successfully defend themselves each year? Not to mention, who are we to judge someone who might have been a victim of violence or invasion in the past.

(**PLEASE NOTE I’m not saying you can’t regulate firearms… I’m saying that self-defense is a valid reason, and people shouldn’t be limited from some form of ownership.)

Fun – I’m not going to lie, there’s a lot of people who want to own firearms just because they can. Things that go boom or unleash destruction have fascinated humans for a long time. Even fireworks started off as weaponry, and we celebrate with them regularly.

So, there are probably plenty of people who want to own a gun because they enjoy it. They like filling targets with rounds or the feel of lethality in their hands. Some of those people might need to seek help; much more are probably releasing tension or just having fun.

Culture – This is probably related to fun, but there is a culture of masculinity intertwined with firearms, especially in America. Owning firearms is considered as much a part of being “a man” as working on cars or playing sports. Not to say women can’t do it, but this is overwhelmingly a male activity, from the various clubs and organizations I’ve encountered.

Therefore, some people may own guns out of sheer tradition. Something their father or grandfather gave them, and they expect to do the same for their children. I’m not saying it’s the best idea (as blindly following “how things are” is how we end up with the worst parts of conservatism and traditionalism), but this is an understandable motivation.

In America, in particular, gun’s were a regular part of the culture. Even my father and his brothers had a shooting club in their rural, small town primary school and would carry .22s with them. Despite times changing, rampant urbanization, the peak of crime at the end of the 20th century, etc… that culture remains. And even then, it might adapt – like the “gun culture” of the inner city is just a reflection of the one in the trailer park.

So, while I’m not saying this is the best reason, again… there’s a train of logic that makes sense how we ended up where we are.

Gun Owners are (Mostly) Rational, Educated People

The point of this whole diatribe is to point out that stereotyping your opponent, making presumptions about their character and motivations, and dismissing them does absolutely nothing to help. If you’re going to propose positive, reasonable legislation to prevent gun violence, you need to understand and involve those intertwined with the issue.

Start treating your opponents like people, and you might find more common ground than you think.