Friday, September 22, 2006

On the Prospective Gun Owner

OK, it's soapbox time. I apologize if this comes across as patronizing or obvious in its statements to some, or even all of you. I feel, however, that it's an important subject that I need to talk about. I came across this article, titled An Arming of One, last night and a few points stood out, some welcome and some that made me angry. First, I was happy to see a citizen taking steps to take control of her own security after realizing that the authorities are unable to protect every person at every moment:
The people charged with my public safety [. . .] keep telling me, most recently in a meeting with reporters, to calm down. Overall, they say, crime is down. Homicides and shootings are up, but they're up everywhere. And more cops on the streets isn't the answer.

And then there's the fact that the overwhelming majority of shooters have criminal records, and the thugs who rape, rob and murder are just passing time, awaiting trial for some previous crime.

So if the police can't protect me, and the criminal justice system can't protect me, shouldn't I protect myself?
Yes, my dear, you should. After all, self-preservation is one of our most deeply-ingrained instincts and there is nothing wrong with equipping yourself with the tools to do so. I was additionally buoyed to see that the author is attempting to go about her self-introduction to firearms in a responsible manner: attempting to find a gun that "fits" her and that she'll be willing to practice with, making the commitment necessary to master the safe operation of a handgun, analyzing the reasons for firearms ownership, etc. This is the kind of thinking person I want included in the ranks of firearms owners, and I hope other "gun people" do as well.

Which brings me to the part of the article that brought me down from my cordite cloud-nine: her interaction with a gun-store salesperson. Yeah, all the long-time firearms enthusiasts have "gun-store jackass" stories; I have a few myself. Such stories may be humorous to relate to each other at the range, over IM chats, or on message boards, but we should not ignore their lessons: just like our beloved firearms, knowledge can be a weapon used for good or ill. Moreover, how that knowledge is imparted to the novice gun owner reflects on all experienced gun owners, especially the outspoken ones who promote our sport and our industry in the mainstream media, on blogs, in break rooms, at public functions, etc. While organizations such as the NRA, the NSSF, and many others, along with many individuals, promote responsible and knowledgeable gun ownership, these organizations are often not the first point of contact for a first-time civilian shooter. Instead, the first time shooter will most likely seek information, guidance, and experience from either a family member/friend or the salesperson at a gun store, and sometimes both.

In the case of the woman in question, the first point of contact were gun salesmen, one of whom is illustrated by this scene:
After I emptied the Ruger, I took my target to the counter and turned in my ear protection and goggles. I told the guy behind the counter I did much better with the .22.

Disappointment clouded his face.

The bullet from a .22, he said, could easily travel through a wall, killing my next door neighbor. Oh no. Not sweet, little Ms. Mason. Or the bullet from a .22 can enter and exit the body, simply annoying my would-be attacker. Great.

"Then he takes it from you, and starts shooting you with it," he said, aiming his finger at the ground, saying the word "Pow!" over and over.

I asked him what he carried, and he pulled a black Beretta from his pocket. It fit in the palm of his hand.

He said he uses only hollow-point bullets, which once inside, saw through veins, bones and organs.

He told the story of a recent trip to a bad neighborhood. He carried a gun on his ankle, another on his waist and the Beretta in his pocket.

The building's elevator was broken and he had no qualms about taking the dimly lit stairs. "I was the baddest guy in there," he says with a proud grin. "I'd light that whole place up."
"I'd light that whole place up," said with a broad smile, is not the best way to influence a person who might be on a very shaky fence regarding buying and carrying a gun. Nor is somewhat incorrectly, and graphically, describing why you carry hollow point loads. Or telling our shaky-fence sitter that they might kill their neighbor and subsequently be killed themselves with their own gun. Or, worst of all, showing the slightest disappointment toward an apprehensive shooter showing even a hint of optimism following a range session.

All of us, but especially gun store owners and salespeople, must remember that novices seeking knowledge from us regarding defensive firearms ownership most often do so with no frame of reference other than,
"There exists a potential threat to myself and/or my family. I must take action to protect against that threat, therefore I should investigate firearms ownership."
They more than likely have no knowledge whatsoever of revolver vs. pistol, caliber differences, local laws, or safe gun-handling practices, much less knowledge of more involved subjects, such as ballistics or selection of proper 12ga home defense loads. We must remember that these are people making a rational, and entirely correct decision to arm themselves in the face of a threat, not because they want to. They don't care minutiae of full-length guide rods vs. conventional types or the religious war between the 1911 aficionados and the Glock zealots. They want to protect themselves, and if asked for guidance, it is our duty to give such in a respectful, patient, and most of all, rational manner.

The novice self-defensive gun owner certainly don't want to see glee expressed when describing what happens to flesh and bone when a bullet strikes it or how you feel like Charles Bronson when you're "strapped." Nor do they want sensationalist descriptions of gunfights or the reasons to carry a weapon. They already know why they want to arm themselves; that's why they're asking the what and the how of the matter. And the last thing they want to see is disappointment following what they thought was a successful trip to the range.

So when you're asked questions about guns, whether you own the biggest store in your state or you're just the "gun-nut brother-in-law," please don't go off the deep end with your answers. If a new shooter says they did better with a .22 than they did with your preferred defensive firearm, affirm their good experience, then calmly and rationally suggest that after they become comfortable and proficient, they move on to a more suitable defensive caliber. If they ask what kind of load you keep chambered in your carry pistol, tell them and explain the ballistics and the advantages/disadvantages of a particular load. Explain to them as simply as possible, without sensationalism, the concepts, facts, and contributing factors behind wound channels, muzzle velocity, and muzzle energy. Impress upon them the rationale behind the "4 Rules" and why safety should be paramount regarding firearms. Explain to them that having a mind prepared to react to violence with violence is not the same thing as being bloodthirsty or relishing such a confrontation. Please don't preach (like I feel I'm doing here) or act in a condescending manner towards them, and for God's sake, don't do anything to make them think that carrying a gun is the same thing as wanting to actually shoot someone.

Also, and I swear I'm getting to the end of this self-indulgent diatribe, save the politics for later. Again, these people just want to protect themselves, and have made the decision to do so. They don't care about the politics, at least not yet, they just want to protect themselves. Will they eventually become active, or at least interested, in the "politics of the gun?" Maybe, but that is not the issue; responsible, safe, and effective self-protection and preservation is.

Responsible gun ownership is more than just safe gunhandling; it is also responsible promotion and teaching of our sport, hobby, and lifestyle to those completely ignorant of it. If you're the first point of contact for a prospective gun owner who is approaching the subject from a strictly self-defense point of view, do you really want their first impression to be,
Listening to the ease with which gun-shop guys seem prepared to take someone's life, and knowing the ease with which criminals are prepared to take mine, I'm not sure if owning a gun makes me part of the solution or part of the problem.

But until the state Legislature and the city stand up against gun violence, I may not have much of a choice.
I certainly don't. I want that person to be confident in their decision to take some measure of control over their life and its safety, to become interested in the aforementioned minutiae, to eventually experience the same joy as I when going to the range, and maybe even become involved in the politics and further promotion of gun ownership. I truly hope I'm preaching to the converted, that anyone reading this thinks I'm a self-indulgent windbag, and that you all already know the proper manner to "handle" an apprehensive novice. Unfortunately, I've seen too many gun store commandos come across as bloodthirsty, too many 'net forum ninjas expound crackpot ideas, and too many prospective gun owners walk away from gun shows with confused, nervous expressions on their faces and nothing in their hands to truly believe that.

We as experienced gun owners have a responsibility to help the less experienced among us; to do less is a disservice to not only those novices but to the industry and the community as a whole.

Thanks for your time; now I'll get the hell off my giant soapbox. . . and go straight to the range.
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