it all started when i arrived home from a quick sprint of a trip to the NC Triangle area. mr cs and i pulled up and our neighbor stopped us. she said that a SUV carrying a few people had stopped in front of our house this afternoon, got out, walked around, peeked in the windows and knocked. i suggested they were interested in mowing our lawn. she claimed they didn’t have any tools in their car.
mr cs and i were suspicious, but not enough to do anything. our neighborhood has consistently been safe, albeit odd, but safe.
that changed around 8:30 pm that same evening. i watched from our couch as the headlights of a small car slowed, then stopped in front of our house. i stood up to get a better view when the driver pointed a flashlight in the window and then drove away.
more suspicious, right? is this a very lost, very bad pizza-delivery guy (missing his sign)? did our landlord list our house in the newspaper? a text to him confirmed that wasn’t the case.
so we called the non-emergency police line and a patrol car stopped by to check in on us. here’s the highlights of our conversation:
police officer (PO): how long have you been living here?
mr cs: about three years.
PO: and you haven’t installed a security alarm yet? this neighborhood is city-living.
mr cs: we’ve never had any issues.
PO: well, activity in this neighborhood generally picks up after italian fest (side bar: the festival is held in the park across the street from our street and our neighborhood is prime street parking). what sort of firearms do you have in the house?
me: [adamantly] none.
PO: NONE! [as if i had just told him i didn’t have running water]
this continues for several more minutes. the officers were kindly alerting us to the dangers of city living, yes, but they were also exposing their cultural bias: you must own guns to be safe.
as you might imagine, mr cs and i have our own cultural bias: absolutely no guns, ever. instead, mr cs started looking into inexpensive and transferable security systems.
in the meantime, i took this story to my coworkers. they were relieved to find out that we hadn’t been robbed (yet). and then i discovered something i wasn’t expecting. a good chunk of my coworkers had the same reaction as the police officers, several of them proudly revealing that they were gun owners themselves.
one of them asked me, “well, have you ever shot a gun?”
and that stopped me in my tracks. it was a pretty simple question, and the answer was no, but it stuck with me. i realized that i didn’t really have a leg to stand on in the gun-rights debate. my cultural bias was just that: extremely biased, and therefore i had nothing new to offer to the conversation.
i toyed with the idea and brought it to mr cs for consideration. maybe - while we still live in TN - we should seek out some education. take a class. go to a range. develop our own informed opinions.
now before you think “boy, you two are off your rocker” or “hell yea, go murica,” consider your own biases. have you ever been challenged to consider the other perspective? how far would you go to understand the issue at hand and create your own experiences?
i wanted that. i know that i’ll face all sorts of opinions. i really like supplying a smart response from time to time. taking a class seemed like a genuinely good solution. and mr cs, well, his coworkers mocked his lack of guns, too. and he figured “my wife told me to take us to a shooting range. i should get on that right away.”
and so, on an ordinary tuesday after work, mr cs and i met at a shooting range for a intro to handguns class.
sitting in this room, with an ammunition shop just on the other side of the wall, i was as skeptical as ever. the instructor - a woman (worth noting because i believe she was the only woman i saw among all of the staff) - invites us to introduce ourselves to the class with a brief description of while we’re here.
oh no, i thought. i’m going to sound like a liberal freak in this crowd.
but i was relieved to find that my skepticism and desire to learn was shared. not all students had shot a gun before. many were there at the urging of their families, and they were uncomfortable with the idea. some wanted a new hobby. our opinions and reasons for our interest were diverse, and that was comforting.
the class was excellent. it emphasized safety. when the instructor digressed into the topic of concealed carry or home defense, she only discussed it for a moment. we learned about gun safety around children…that they are naturally curious, and because of that not much will stop them from firing a gun. she even developed her own youth curriculum to educate middle school-high school aged kids about safety. the basics - how to hold a gun, how to fire - were fascinating, eye-opening and easy to follow. i feel better knowing those things. my own ignorance might have been dangerous to myself or others if i ever found myself in a situation with a weapon. i’ll admit: before this class, i didn’t even know how to check if a gun was loaded.
"what’s the number one way to protect your home?" she asked. "a pump shotgun." she explained the noise - you know, the distinctive clunk-clunk of an armed shotgun - had a universal meaning. me to mr cs: "so, we should just get a mock-up that makes that exact noise, huh?"
the class was nearly two hours long, and close to an additional hour was spent with two instructors on a closed range. think about that: no one has to take this class. mr cs and i could have just walked in off the street, rented a handgun and stepped onto the range, no questions asked. (moreover, in TN, you can walk in to a variety of stores and buy a gun and bullets, no questions asked.) but it takes nearly two hours to prepare us the right way. that’s a huge disconnect.
but we did finally step onto the range. carefully, with thorough step-by-step guidance from the instructors to half the students at a time, we fired three different handguns toward a close paper target.
so, i did it. prepared with the right amount of knowledge and safety tools, i felt secure. the whole experience, i’ll admit, was exhilarating. the power, on the other hand, was alarming. that realization alone is enough to cement my feelings on the topic.
on the drive home, i started thinking about how teenagers get their drivers license. cars - by definition - are not meant to cause harm, but we all know they can be very dangerous. to prepare for that, our teens take courses, complete certified hours and pass a test before they are legally permitted to drive. imagine how scary the roads would be if no one knew what the traffic signs meant.
i also considered my own experiences growing up in a mid-size city. what if i had grown up on a farm? it’s very likely that my parents would have taught me to driver earlier out of necessity. and how much danger could i really do on hundreds of acres of land? still, in order to leave that property and drive on highways, i’d need to have my license.
firearms, on the other hand, are meant to cause harm by definition…perhaps not to people, but to some living thing. and in some parts of our country, particularly rural areas, gun ownership is part of life, just like the farm-driving example. it’s their tradition.
you can probably tell where i’m going with this. and now that i have an informed opinion, i feel more comfortable sharing it. i don’t believe it’s asking too much to ask gun owners, like car owners, to attend a two hour class to reinforce the basics. they might already be perfectly equipped to handle a weapon, just like a teen who grew up driving on the farm would be behind the wheel, but why not take the extra two hours to make that knowledge legally viable? to make sure they know how to properly store and clean their gun? to make sure their children are out of harm’s way? we already expect these concerns will be addressed by a drivers license; why not have the same expectations for ownership of a machine that is actually meant to cause harm?
i know my opinions place me firmly in what some would call the “liberal freak” crowd. now, after checking my biases and expanding my comfort zone, i truly feel okay with it.
thanks, tennessee, for all your wildly challenging quirks. i can tell this story is going to be one of our favorites.
More reading: check out this Gawker opinion piece “ It’s really hard to be a good guy with a gun.”