Wednesday, June 11, 2014

REPRINT: Have a Gun, But no Piece of Mind

Last Labor Day, I told you readers about my decision to buy a gun, a radical choice for someone who has spent much of her career writing about the evil and tragedy that occur at the end of one.
That column elicited more comments than any other I’ve written in the five years I’ve been contributing to UpFront.
An overwhelming number of you voiced your approval. I felt welcomed into a huge armed fraternity, a society of shooters only too happy to have converted another so-called liberal into the fold.
I felt so loved.
Many of you offered advice on what kind of firearm I should purchase. Many of you admonished me to take classes, get a concealed-carry permit (or at least take the training) and to practice, practice, practice.
I explained that my change of heart had come about because someone in my inner circle had finally broken away from a horrific relationship, throwing the rest of my family into a dangerous, potentially deadly drama. As the sole protector of my family, I felt compelled to find a better way to do that protecting than keeping a butter knife under my pillow or hoping a 911 call would bring help to my remote abode in time.
You readers told me to consider whether I was ready to shoot to kill, not just to maim or frighten. Take no prisoners, some of you said. Have fun with the gun when not picking off marauders, some of you said.
You’ll recall, though, that purchasing my first gun hit a snag when the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System was not so instant and spit back, for reasons I still don’t know, a “DELAY” notification requiring an additional check.
Finally, after going through the entire process again (which is surprisingly easy) in October, I purchased a shiny new Ruger .22-caliber pistol, chosen because it fits best in my hand, has plenty of safety features, a good price and cheap-enough ammo to allow me to practice, practice, practice without breaking the pocketbook.
But now, I expect some of you will hate me again.
I still haven’t fired a single cartridge.
I haven’t taken a class, haven’t set foot in a shooting range. The gun sits locked and unloaded in a secure safe, as shiny as the day I bought it.
Maybe I’m chicken. Maybe I just haven’t had time. But maybe something visceral happened when I held that gun and those brassy bullets.
Maybe Sandy Hook.
Maybe George Zimmerman.
Maybe Tera Chavez.
Maybe Hadiya Pendleton.
Maybe Sunni Reza, the 8-year-old Albuquerque girl shot and killed in the crossfire of a gang-related shooting in May.
Maybe Nehemiah Griego, the 15-year-old boy accused of gunning down his parents and his three younger siblings in their South Valley home.
Maybe Antoinette Tuff, the Georgia bookkeeper who saved the lives of potentially hundreds of elementary school children and police officers when she neutralized a mentally disturbed gunman, not with a weapon but with compassionate words, calmness and love.
Maybe because I just don’t understand a society that flocks to gun stores to stock up on weapons and bullets every time weapons and bullets are used in yet another American tragedy.
Maybe because I don’t understand a country where, as former President Clinton noted last week, it can be harder to vote than to obtain an assault weapon.
Maybe because National Rifle Association Vice President Wayne LaPierre and his paranoid fear-mongering scare me, but not for the reasons he might expect.
Maybe because I have seen so few situations where a gun made things safer.
Maybe because I just don’t have the stomach to be in this kind of fraternity.
Mostly, there is this: My youngest, who is special needs, got angry at an older brother recently and threatened to get my gun and shoot him.
Not that he could. The gun safe requires my fingerprint to open. The magazine is out, the cartridges are removed.
Which also means that had that previous family drama that convinced me to purchase a gun in the first place escalated, my Ruger would have been of no use to me, unless I could have talked the intruder into waiting while I retrieved it from the safe, loaded it and figured out how to shoot it.
I bought the gun to feel safer. I don’t.
And what am I teaching my son? That a gun can resolve conflicts?
So there my shiny Ruger sits. I haven’t decided whether to sell it – that’s not an easy proposition, though I suppose it’s done quietly all the time.
Perhaps if I take it out to a shooting range, I’ll change my mind. Perhaps you all will change my mind. So go ahead, make my day.
For now, though, I’m leaning toward thinking it’s best to take my chances with the butter knife under the pillow. That, somehow, seems safer.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to to submit a letter to the editor.

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