Often repeated by gun rights advocates is the slogan, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”
Many graphics, ads and even t-shirts display this slogan alongside black images of firearms, attempting to enforce the irony that guns cannot act without a human’s opposable thumb. In its barest meaning, it is correct; guns are material things incapable of murderous intent.
It is the person behind the trigger that determines what purpose the gun shall serve—whether it is recreational, in self-defense or for perpetrating harm. Coming from a rural small town, I have seen many instances where guns are used without malicious intent.
Many an afternoon I’ve bonded with family and friends over skeet shooting and target practice. We compete to see who can be the most accurate in a fun and good-natured way. Some of my best memories are related to guns.
As a teenager, my father purchased a Magnum .44 caliber. Having watched Dirty Harry movies all my life, I’d comically exchanged quotes with my brother like the oft-repeated line: “But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow you head clean off, you’ve gotta ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”
My brother and I decided to test exactly how powerful our father’s handgun was.
Under our father’s supervision, and wearing the appropriate safety equipment, we took turns shooting the gun. My brother was first. He leveled the handgun, making sure his finger was not in the way of the hammer’s recoil, and fired. My brother, who towers over me and is very strong, was knocked back by the recoil and stumbled backwards. We both laughed hysterically—not much had ever shaken my brother.
Handing the gun to me, my brother encouraged me to take a turn, but I staunchly refused, still laughing. I’m about sixty pounds lighter than him and did not feel like being thrown into the bushes by the gun’s recoil.
Guns have always been a part of my family. My brother has my grandfather’s 4-10 caliber shotgun, which he restored to working condition and continues to practice with to this day.
To continue the tradition, my father gave me a .22 rifle as well, with the understanding that one day, with the proper licensing, it would be mine to pass on to my kids.
Besides the heritage and recreation involving guns in my family, the practicality of guns has always been a necessary component of my firearm instruction. My father has taught me to fire a .38 handgun safely so I will know how to protect myself, if need be.
On a less serious side, he’s shown me the proper way to load a muzzle-loader black powder rifle, similar to those used in our nation’s earliest wars. Learning this firsthand connected the dots between high school teachings about the pace of war in past times and the unreliableness of early weaponry.
All of my personal experience cannot compare to the experiences of those who have been harmed by firearm violence. I’ve never felt the anguish that those who have lost someone to gun violence must feel.
But at the same time, I think it is an important to realize that guns do not always result in violence; that is, that the equation person + gun does not always equal personal injury or death.
Guns are a weapon, and a potentially deadly one at that. But so are kitchen knives. So are cars. So are the hands with which I type this article. All can claim a life, perhaps with varying degrees of effectiveness.
The question of what motivates gun violence is complex, but we know that not all gun violence can be attributed to the mentally ill, as the sensationalization of some mass shootings might suggest.
Often, those suffering from mental disorders are too often victims of gun violence, according to Metzl and MacLeish, who published a 2014 study in the American Journal of Public Health. Since people without mental handicaps are the perpetrators of gun violence, the motives that compel the average person to pick up a firearm with malicious intent need to be examined.
According to Richard Florida, director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and a Global Research Professor at NYU, the correlation between poverty, high percentage of working class people and gun violence is much greater than the correlation between mental illness and gun violence, or between the Assault Weapon Ban and gun violence. This report, published in The Atlantic, dates from 2011; but it is still relevant.
Often those in the clutches of poverty or just above the poverty line find themselves in dangerous positions; whether they live under the threat of gang violence or whether they find themselves resorting to illegal or dangerous occupations to make a living, many become inculcated with a culture of violence due to their upbringings.
Addressing the underlying issues that cause people to resort to using firearms maliciously would be a more effective use of tax dollars and funding than much stricter gun control regulations, which would take money to enforce.
Illegal sources of gun wholesalers will always be present and will always be accessible to those who know where to look and are willing to break the law, rather than those who are law-abiding and would follow stricter regulations.
Instead of focusing on the gun itself, we should be focusing on the person, and on helping them so that they do not pick up a gun and harm someone.