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Guns, Part I

December 22, 2012

I don’t ever really post about politics here, but I feel that this is an important topic that I need to comment on.  We, as a nation, are in a particular, energetic moment, and this energy should not be lost.  However, most of the rhetoric I’m hearing, on both sides, is a lot of fear mongering.  Hopefully, I can address this topic from a reasoned perspective and I invite your participation.  I would like to go about this addressing three principal areas in three different posts: gun ownership for self defense; the ethics of gun ownership: what it might mean; and finally, armed police officers in public schools.


A Decision: Owning a Gun for Self Defense

When it comes to gun ownership, there are any number of reasons why an average, law abiding citizen might choose to do so.  They could be a hunter, or a collector of antiques or modern firearms, a sport shooting enthusiast, or a competitive target shooter.  But let’s face it, those reasons are not what this national debate is about, despite how the different lobbies choose to frame it.  This debate is about owning a gun for the purpose of shooting a human being.  That’s the part that’s got everyone so riled up and so that’s the part I want to talk about.

Before we go any further, for the purposes of full disclosure, you should know I am a gun owner.  I own a single firearm: a Remington 870 Express pump-action 12 gauge shotgun.  I bought it for the sole purpose of clay pigeon shooting.  I have never hunted a day in my life, and the firearm is expressly not for self or home defense.  To me, it is as any other piece of sporting equipment which I own, like my softball bats or my golf clubs.

I tell you that not just for full disclosure, but also as a part of my point.  You’ll note that I said the gun was expressly not for self or home defense.  When you are a gun owner, you have to make a decision, and it is a very important one with all kinds of implications for safety.  The decision is whether or not your gun will be used for home defense.  If you decide it is for the purpose of home defense, you will need to abandon most safety protocols.  The gun should be kept loaded, within easy reach of your bed, with the safety off.  Why on earth would you do that?  Because no self-respecting home intruder is going to wait for you to retrieve your gun from another room, load it, and then wait for you to remember to take the safety off.  If the gun is for home defense, it needs to be ready to go.  I make no judgments about whether a person chooses to do this or not, but it is a decision that needs to be thought about and clearly made before bringing a gun into the home.  We decided against this purpose of gun ownership, and so my shotgun, as all non-home-defense guns should be, is kept in a safe place, with a trigger lock on it, chamber open, safety on, and the ammo in a completely separate part of the house.  This is the safest I can make it and that was important to us.

While we’re on the subject of shotguns, I want to share with you some information I learned back when I was making the decisions about purchasing a gun and whether or not it would also be used for home defense.  A shotgun is the preferred firearm for home defense among most gun owners I know.  Usually a short barreled (18.5 inches or less) pump-action one.  The short barrel allows for easy movement and provides for a wider pattern, and the pump action ensures it won’t get jammed.  Also the psychological effect of the noise of chambering a round in a pump action shotgun is a profound one, especially if you feel you may soon be on the business end of it, and may be enough of a deterrent in and of itself.

But why not a semi- automatic pistol or a revolver (more ammo vs. doesn’t jam), you might ask?  Wouldn’t they be far easier to move around, especially inside a home at night?  They would indeed.  But they are also much, much harder to aim, especially at a moving target that you probably can’t see clearly, not to mention when your adrenaline is through the roof.  And more to the point, the bullet from a revolver or a pistol will penetrate walls (wood and drywall, quite easily) with killing power.  If you go shooting around your house at an intruder with this type of weapon, you stand a high chance of shooting someone in your household accidentally (or even a neighbor!), through a wall.   A shotgun’s pellet spread does not carry as much of this same risk.  Sure, some pellets may penetrate the wall, but the killing power will mostly be neutralized.  Now if you’re military, this doesn’t apply to you as much.  You know better than to just go blasting around at what you can’t see.  I’m talking about the average, non-military, gun owner.

So, it should go without saying that a semi-automatic, military style rifle like the AR-15 is a perfectly horrible choice for home defense, unless you live in the Alamo.  Even the most gun loving, NRA card carrying, makes-his-own-ammo gun nut I know (who owns multiple AR-15s and an AK-47) keeps those locked up and employs a short barreled shotgun for his home defense gun.  He doesn’t want to kill his family accidentally anymore than anyone does.  So, I simply cannot buy anyone’s argument that says an AR-15 is for home defense.  Even among gun lovers, it’s a dumb choice with potentially fatal repercussions for those you’re seeking to protect.

For all of the reasons listed above, home defense is not a valid reason to own an AR-15, an AK-47, or a similar assault rifle.  As they are silly hunting platforms (don’t listen to those who tell you they hunt with one – go ask a real hunter), I can’t think of any reason to own one, and so I would fully support an assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazine ban.

Next up – The Ethics of Gun Ownership for Self-Defense: What It Could Mean

Fr. Ryan+

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Rusty S. Calrissian permalink
    December 22, 2012 12:52 pm

    Can’t agree on your position on rifle bans or bans on regular capacity magazines, but I don’t subscribe to a lot of the typical reasons people suggest for owning firearms.

    Rusty S.

    • December 22, 2012 1:05 pm

      Didn’t figure you would, Rusty, but I appreciate the comment. I will be interested in what yu have to say about the next two entries, particulary part 2, as I think we’re going to have more common ground there.

  2. December 22, 2012 1:54 pm

    Who would have thought that the most intelligent and well-reasoned commentary about firearms would come from my rector? You always amaze me! Of course, with my Quaker roots, I believe that “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” applies to all weapons. But that is far into the future (if the coming of the Kingdom can even be measured by our concept of time – but that is another topic!) For the present, I am willing to hear all rational points of view on what it takes to make our children safe from gun violence. I do not consider the NRA manifesto from yesterday to be rational, but I would like to hear from responsible gun owners.

    • Rusty S. Calrissian permalink
      December 22, 2012 9:10 pm

      When people are as serious about protecting our schools as we are with protecting politicians and banks and airports (with armed guards, mind you), it seems odd to say the NRA calling for cops in schools is irrational, especially when some schools, such as my high school, had a cop. Obviously someone didn’t find that irrational.

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