Gun Culture

With news of the recent school shooting in Oregon causing (what seemed to be) only a momentary ripple in the national consciousness, I felt compelled to re-examine my own position on the issue of guns in America. Mostly my thoughts are outside the purview of the 2nd Amendment discussions; this is an internal, moral inquiry rather than a legal one.

Some Background:
In 2008, we bought a house in St. Paul's Eastside, near Maryland & Johnson Pkwy. We knew it was near some rough neighborhoods, but had heard (been told) that things in the area had really improved and it was becoming safer. My S-i-L and her then-husband & children were/are on Wheelock Pkwy, perhaps a mile away from the house we bought. It was nice to be close to them and they vouched for the neighborhood.

In the five years between when we bought that house and when we sold it, I can't tell you how many crimes and acts of violence occurred within a 2-mile radius of it. I don't have time to do the research, but off the top of my head, I can recall:
- a police officer being murdered,
- at least five other murders,
- a fairly infamous instance of a guy walking home being beaten senseless by a large group of youths,
- a woman being brutally assaulted while walking her dog in the park,
- aggravated assaults and "simple" assaults too numerous to recount,
not to mention easily 500+ thefts, burglaries, robberies, drug busts and car thefts - including an attempted theft of our Civic and the successful theft of the catalytic converter off my truck, parked in front of my home.

After being in the home for a few years, I found a bullet hole in the exterior aluminum storm window with the offending bullet still lodged in the wooden window frame. This was the main floor guest room. Someone had driven through the alley and shot at the house. It appeared to have been there for awhile, but unsettling doesn't quite capture my feelings, as there's no way of knowing for sure. Another night, I awoke to the sounds of a police action - a K-9 taking down a fleeing suspect in my neighbors backyard (just outside what would become my daughter's bedroom).

So, I did what any self-respecting man in America does when he feels concern about his family's well-being: I bought a handgun, If you also wish to buy a gun and buy 5.56 ammo online, then click on this links. I also took a state-approved concealed carry permit course. I'm not a novice when it comes to firearms. I'd been armed for long stretches in the Navy with both a handgun and/or automatic rifle and have hunted for more than 20 years. In the end, I chose not to obtain the permit to carry. I understand the gravity of what it means to carry a gun and was not willing to do so in public, but I kept the guns in my house.

In June of 2013, we sold the house and moved north to the WBL/Vadnais Heights area. The choice to move was due to a combination of needing more space in the home & yard, wanting better school options, community location & amenities. Also playing a huge part in that decision to move was the safety of our family. Despite additional policing and increased community engagement, things were not getting better. Unlike a lot of the folks in that community, we had the ability to leave. We lost money on the house, but sadly, I still think we came out ahead.

What Prompted this Post:
The vortex of low-income households/poverty-crime-drugs-violence-guns-murder seems to go on unabated ... this morning, my wife sent me a link to this story. That first murder in the story happened about five blocks south of my S-i-L's home, just south of St. Paul's Johnson High School ... the second one was a block south of the intersection of Maryland & Arcade, about half-a-mile from the house we used to live in. Two weeks ago, police found a dead body in a park near the grade-school my nephew's attended until two years ago. The individual had been shot.

I don't have an in-depth grasp of psychology, but I felt safer with the gun (locked in a safe) under the bed. Most of the time anymore, I don't even think about it. But I know the statistics and I know my wife does not feel any safer with it there. I'll admit that for me, and many others out there, there's something fascinating (titillating?) about holding a handgun. Perhaps, at the most basic level, it's because we know that handguns are for shooting people. Taking a life ... that is truly incredible power. Sure, I know some folks hunt with handguns and lots of people shoot handguns at the range (very often at people-shaped silhouette targets), but you're lying to yourself if you don't think they're for "offense" or "defense" against people.

Here's where I'm at:
If I teach my children how to safely handle firearms for hunting purposes, but also want them to have familiarity with handguns because they exist in the world (and for now, in our home), I am doing them (and the world) a disservice? Furthermore, by purchasing that handgun, was I simply contributing to the problem; perpetuating the gun culture in America? I don't know the answer (or perhaps I'm not ready to admit it), but I feel that as a member of society, as a "grown-up" and most importantly a parent, I need to be asking the questions and examining my own beliefs and actions.

96 thoughts on “Gun Culture”

  1. Before I throw out a comment or two, I'm curious... do these comments show up on the sidebar? Is there a way to prevent that? Anyway, thanks for sharing this. I'll be back to contribute later, I'm sure.

    1. This is a major reason we have a spoiler.

      I have a lot of thoughts here, but I think it might be better if I don't get into them. I'll be paying attention, even if I don't end up posting.

      1. I thought there was once where we had a whole post that didn't show up on the side? Obviously I'll spoiler anything if it comes to that.

          1. Wasn't sure how to do that...thought the "Forbidden Zone" tag was the way to go until sean could work his magic.

            Obviously please feel free to wait if you're not comfortable with it as currently formatted.

              1. Yep. The plugin itself is still being used but the option to hide comments from posts with a particular category didn't work well.

  2. Here's a question I'm genuinely curious about. Would you want to own a handgun if you lived in a neighborhood where gun violence was practically nil and gun ownership was practically nil? In other words, is it solely in response to others having guns? Or would you want to have it even in a world where the only purpose of owning the handgun was to hunt animals? If it's solely in response to others having guns, do you believe responsible people like yourself owning them makes everyone safer?

    I'm also curious. Did you feel less safe without a gun before you had ever used one? Before you became a parent? In other words, did becoming comfortable with a gun make you more likely to feel safer with it? Or did becoming a parent make you feel more helpless without one?

    You have been expertly trained in using firearms, not just in a mechanical sense, but probably a mental one as well. I've shot a handgun once at a range. It was...interesting. I did okay considering it was my first time. But from a psychological standpoint, I would never trust myself to use one in a crisis. I would panic, freeze, miss by a mile, or otherwise make things worse for myself.

    I have a friend who owns a magnum and keeps it locked up. He has seven kids, and teachers every one of them at a very early to respect guns. The thought of playing with one is unconscionable, akin to attacking your parent with a knife or something. Nobody in the family drinks or fights. I am not worried about his family. I imagine many families don't have the same discipline in the household.

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        1. I agree whole-heartedly agree with your final point, and the cost-benefit analysis you're talking about is what I'm struggling with.

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    2. No, it's not solely in response to others; I liked the idea of owning a handgun. I've always enjoyed shooting them and got pretty proficient at the range, but I either didn't feel the "need" or couldn't justify the expense associated with acquiring one until I lived in that neighborhood. I think my responsible ownership makes other people safer in the sense that I'm not a danger to others and I know what I'm doing with them, but outside of my home ... Well, I just don't know. I've read that statistically, a gun in the home makes it more likely that someone in that home will be killed or injured by the gun.

      Becoming trained & educated - comfortable - with guns definitely made me feel safer around them. The parent part of the equation made me want to do everything in my power to protect my children ... what I'm wrestling with now is, does that includes getting the handgun out of the house.

      No one knows how they'll actually behave in a crisis, until they're actually in a crisis.

      What you've described with regards to your friend - that's what I envision in my home.

      1. here's the thing for me: if you have one in your house for home defense, but you have young children, you have to secure the weapon (or the ammunition separately from the weapon, which you are POSITIVE is not loaded) or risk an horrific accident. Which means you don't have it easily at hand to defend yourself or your family in the event of a home invasion.

        If you have one on your person for personal defense, what are the odds of being able to draw your weapon to defend yourself against a mugger or armed assailant? It's not like you are gonna walk around with the thing in your hand all the time like a military person might on patrol in a war zone. So the weapon is mostly useful for drawing against a remote threat or a threat directed against someone else -- situations in which your armed entry likely puts other innocents at risk. Sure, if you are the Armed Guy in a school shooting or store robbery, maybe you can do some good. Buuuut, the cost-benefit still seems to me to be questionable at the best.

        I'll leave the politics to spoilered comments....

        1. Our good friend, and dr. Chop's advisor, was murderd at home not within reach of his legally purchased defense handgun. Turns out a responsibly kept hand gun is no defense against crazy.

  3. Also, as an aside. I worked at the VA Hospital on the inpatient psychiatric unit. Probably the most common conversation we had with loved ones was convincing them to remove guns from the house. Most people who commit suicide don't have an elaborate plan they work on for days like a sociopath. It's often an impulsive decision when you're feeling depressed. People often recover from swallowing pills. Even if you cut yourself with a knife, you can come to your senses and call 911. If you put a gun to your head, there likely ain't no coming back.

    It was a very hard conversation. Most loved ones felt like they were taking away a piece of the soul by removing the gun. Most of them told us how relieved they were when they removed it knowing the risk of suicide plummeted.

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    2. Hunting in Wisconsin is pretty crucial to the management of the deer population here; Mother Nature does not have enough top-level predators to handle the population by herself. I suspect the same is true for other states with easy access to agricultural land and little pressure from predators. Managing the deer population is crucial to the biodiversity and comprehensive ecological health of the state.

      1. I got into a heated discussion with a guy yesterday complaining about the hunters hired to cull the herd in the park behind my house.
        I mentioned that I had seen that a buck was shot on the prior day, and he immediately jumped to "Bastards" and profanity and maligning their ability to hold a job, but ability to own a new pickup nonetheless.
        My dad used to participate in the New Ulm city hunt. Both that hunt and this hunt were archery-only.

        I could go on about how horrible the deer were before the first hunt five years ago.
        DNR estimates were 80 deer per square mile. I believe 12 is considered full capacity.
        I'm not sure what they used as the land-area denominator; they'd spread out at night and concentrate in the park by day.
        I believe the estimate though: I once saw about 80 deer at the same time: about 40 on each side of the trail I was on. Each "side" may have been 100 yards wide: bordered by the River on one side and West River Road (40-50 feet above the riverbottom) on the other.
        Deer would eat our applefall during the day, even when we'd come up to the window. They ate the back side of the arbor vitae at night, pinned between the trees and our picture window, watching TV with us.

        1. There's currently an archery-only cull going on in my neighborhood, three days two weeks ago, three days early this week and another three days in a couple of weeks.

          Not entirely sure of the deer numbers, but the damage they inflict on our landscaping is surreal. Every single hosta plant (70-100) and nearly all of the other flowers & shrubs, including those within two feet of our front door and directly adjacent to the dog kennel, have been eaten down to stalks at least three times this summer/fall. No prevention methods we've tried thus far have worked.

          Even my wife, who is fairly unenthusiastic about my hunting activities, is to the point where she's asked me (in all sincerity) to shoot them.

  6. I'll echo what other have said here in that teaching your children gun safety is absolutely essential regardless of where you side on guns in the home.

    When I was 12, my friend brought over his pellet gun so we could shoot cans in the backyard. I thought it would be funny to point the gun at my dad's head when he wasn't looking. The gun wasn't loaded, but heck, it could have been. I was just taking my friend's word that it wasn't. And my finger wasn't on the trigger. But it could have been. I got a very strong, intense lesson that day. Basically, "Never aim a gun at someone unless you intend to kill them." It was harrowing and it hit hard. I wish I would have been taught that years earlier.

    1. Our good friend retired from the Air Force retired several years ago, and when the subject of home defense came up he often said, "if you're not willing to take a life with a gun you shouldn't own one."

      1. I had a Gunsmoke comic book when I was a kid. It featured a story in which a trick-shot artist some how matched up with Matt Dillon. The Marshall said something very similar -- words to the effect of "I only shoot to kill." It obviously had an effect on me.

  7. I think the most remarkable thing here, and something you should be commended for, Can, is that you're taking a second look at this kind of thing. No matter where you come down ultimately, the open mindedness is huge. And that's not just this topic - people get entrenched far too quickly it seems, and rarely disturb themselves with critical thought.

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    1. for a sensitive topic, the commentary here has been really thoughtful and respectful. Would love to hear more from Citizens who own firearms, although I can perhaps understand reluctance to weigh in, given the majority of the comments.

      1. I agree. I've enjoyed the discussion, and it's made me think more about my stances. Now, I'm not saying I'm changing anything, but I'm thinking about it a lot more. 🙂

        1. Agreed as well. It seems like the difference between the discourse here and elsewhere is which way it is directed. Everyone is talking about what what they themselves feel, think, and do, rather than telling everyone else what to do. It's nice to have somewhere to talk about often contentious issues in a place where things don't just devolve into shouting and rhetoric. And, nice to hear perspectives that are different than my own.

          1. Right. I know Punman just said it, but the conversation here has me thinking about my stances too. I don't think they'll shift too far, if at all, but at a minimum, I understand myself better because other people shared.

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    2. Thanks Philo, and thanks to everyone for chiming in. I'm with bS in that it'd be great to hear from other gun owners (or non-gun owners but with different perspectives) but I can understand the hesitation to comment.

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  9. I agree with lots of the points above. I'm for some sort of reasonable gun control that allows people to be able to hunt, defend themselves if they see fit, etc. I think it's crazy thinking that we can arm 24 year old kindergarten teachers as a way to stop school shootings (not that anyone here has suggested that, only those who run for President or elected office have such cogent ideas).

    In 1986 my brother killed himself with a deer rifle my dad kept in the closet. He was 21 so even if it was stored in a gun safe, he probably could have gotten the key (and I'm not sure where he got the bullet, maybe he just bought some). Would not having that gun in the house stopped him? Probably not. There's lots of ways to kill yourself without a gun, but it sure made it easier. For that reason I won't have a gun in the house. If I felt I lived in an area that necessitated the need for a gun for protection, I would move.

    1. Sorry to learn about this free - suicide is a part of my immediate family's past as well. There were guns available in two homes. In one case, a gun was used with the expected result, in another, the individual made preparations with a garden hose and duct tape with automotive exhaust in mind. Ultimately, they didn't go through with it, but I can only imagine that the guns were considered.

      1. Not sure if this need a spoiler tag, but figured I'd be safe and go with it...

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    1. Unless you live in Alaska, or other Bear/Wolf/Moose country.

      I tried to capture that by acknowledging folks who hunt with large caliber handguns, but you're right, there are certainly logical exceptions to the "handguns are for killing people"-type statements.

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    1. I will come back to respond to this more fully, but lots to consider. Thank you.

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  15. This has been one of the best discussions we have had on a serious topic in a long time. Thank you.

    1. Agreed.

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        1. Same, and it was mostly family, except for the recently part (it was a couple years ago). Oy.

        2. Also agree 100%. I've been reading, and very much appreciate seeing everyone's viewpoint. Also, I stopped using facebook entirely because this sort of dialog was missing. I realized that I was basically always upset when I was reading it, regardless of whether I agreed or disagreed with the person...

          1. I would leave Facebook but I have no family close by so it is the only way I can follow their lives.

            I just need to be diligent about culling the herd.

                1. Before the hunt in the park, that may have been possible.
                  They were brazen jerks, coming right up to out windows and then when we'd approach and wave at them, they'd back off a couple of feet, before putting their head back down to munch hostas, or hydrangeas, or even marigolds.

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