I remember the first time I fired a gun. I was standing in a booth at a store called Panhandle Gunslingers in Amarillo, Texas. In my right hand was the cold steel of a .32 semi-automatic pistol.
This wasn’t just any handgun. It has the coolest story of any gun that I’ve ever known. The gun is owned by my grandfather and before that it was owned by his step-father. His step-father ran a bar and a guy once ran up a bar tab that he couldn’t pay off. The solution that they came to was that the bar patron would handover his .32 in exchange for clearing the tab. After that, the weapon was handed down to my grandfather. But I suppose if you didn’t know that story, that it would be just any ordinary handgun.
Using a weapon in a controlled environment like that is incredibly common in the US. There were several gun ranges in Amarillo when I lived there and I expect most cities (especially in a state like Texas) are just the same. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the experience. Laughing and joking about hitting targets with my dad and grandfather, it felt like any ordinary pastime, like throwing a ball or fishing at a lake. Of course there was one significant difference; the deadly weapon in my hand.
Standing there in my booth, ear defenders in place, I had a realisation that absolutely terrified me. With a slight turn of my shoulders and a very gentle squeeze of the trigger, I could have killed someone instantly. I had, in that moment, absolute control over life and death. Now that sounds exaggerated and overblown (I have been known to use hyperbole from time to time) but I really mean it. At that exact moment, I had that power. I was legally using a weapon that was designed with the sole purpose of taking lives.
People regularly rationalise the usage of firearms. The National Rifle Association loves reminding people that guns don’t kill people, but people do. But there is a very simple point that I think everyone needs to consider; guns were designed as a way to kill things and that is how people choose to use them. If you take away guns, can people still kill each other? Of course they can. Is it significantly harder to kill a lot of people quickly? It certainly is.
In the moment that I held a gun for the first time, terrible possibilities flashed through my mind and I dismissed them. That’s because I’m a relatively normal, well adjusted individual. Just imagine putting that same power and those same possibilities through the mind of a person with an emotional history, aggressive tendencies or psychological issues…
Most people in the US may be legally entitled to own a gun. Should they own one? People would argue that it doesn’t matter because gun ownership is a constitutional right that left-wing liberals cannot take away. If you take away everyone’s guns, then only criminals will have them. Maybe, but it also means that kids cannot raid their home arsenal and shoot up their school because they’ve been bullied. Or a guy with undiagnosed psychological issues who has been rejected by girls cannot walk into a store and walk out with handguns on the same day, before going on a killing spree. Would there still be gun crime? Of course. There is gun crime in the UK and gun ownership is illegal for everyday citizens. Would you have the same mass murders that continually plague the news…?
The saddest thing is that we’ll probably never know.