Why Own a Gun?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

guns (barjack/flickr)

A portrait of gun owners in America is a lot like a portrait of Americans as a whole — diverse. Some gun owners hunt, some are collectors, and others seek a means of self-defense.

But in the wake of the Newtown shooting, many Americans are wondering if our gun culture at large is to blame for such unthinkable violence, and why people choose to arm themselves in the first place.

Kyle Cassidy is a photographer and author of "Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes." He crossed the country three times asking Americans, "Why do you own a gun?" Michael Smith is a gun owner profiled in the book.


Kyle Cassidy and Michael Smith

Produced by:

Ellen Frankman

Comments [20]

Rita Freed from Brronx, NY

The commentariat 's wallowing in the latest gun massacre is an exercise in social blindness. The liberals who inevitably call for tighter gun control and mental health surveillance can't imagine themselves as targets of an ever more civil rights-shredding "antiterror" state. The "Die Hard" proponents of armed fortress schools won't object to the brutalization of more ghetto kids by school guards. And the very few commentators who speak of a culture of violence blame it on the infotainment industry. Apparently we are not supposed to notice that lynchings are still a living memory and that racist official violence flourishes -- or that this country has more prisoners than any other, more weaponry and bases than all developed countries combined, and a national religion of military-worship.

Dec. 22 2012 04:38 PM
Tyler from South Florida

The words of Ivan Chesnokov help to explain why I own a gun:
"Is no place in whole world without murder or rape or assault of lethal force. Is only place with more, and place with less. How high is price of your life? How high is price for life of person you are love? Saying again "probability is low" forgets theorem of expected value. When price is of infinite size, probability has no meaning."

I don't care how unlikely it is that someone will attack me or my loved ones in a way that requires deadly force to protect them. I am prepared. I have trained for it and am armed to meet any force brought against them.

The discussion for gun control is sickening; there is no argument for it that is not a fallacy-riddled demonstration of someone's poor understanding of the real world. The assault weapons and high capacity magazine ban will do nothing to prevent crime, just as the AWB of 1994 failed to do anything to stop the Columbine massacre. Such a law will only make them harder for good, law abiding citizens like me and you to obtain. Hundreds of thousands of them are already available and in criminal hands, criminals do not care about a petty gun control law when they are prepared to commit the ultimate crimes. You think a law would've prevented Adam Lanza from killing those innocent children? Get real! He was prevented from buying guns by existing laws, then killed his own mother and took hers. The only way to stop gun crime entirely would be to remove all guns from the face of the earth, as well as the knowledge of how to make them, and that's impossible.

How about instead of being unarmed and misinformed, you arm yourself and learn how to shoot? Maybe then if you are one day faced with such a horrible situation, you will be prepared to defend yourself and the ones you love. As Ivan said "when price is of infinite size, probability has no meaning".

Dec. 21 2012 09:31 AM
Tam from Brooklyn

I don't own a gun or want a gun. You ask on your show today, Why is America so violent? When Americans brutalized and slaughtered over half a million fellow Americans in the Civil War, enemies were neighbors, sometimes even family members in bordering states. That was only 150 years ago. Today we Americans kill tens of thousands of other Americans each year because we're enraged, frightened or suicidal. Or we just hate someone enough to kill him/her because he/she is a disagreeable spouse, of another faith or political party, a different color, is gay or lesbian, or is in your parking spot. It's really not so complicated. We learned all about violence from our not-so-distant ancestors. When caught in actual crossfire or the acrimonious politics-of-guns, our children only learn again how easy it is to kill.

Dec. 20 2012 06:14 PM

Everyone is saddened at the brutal violence in Connecticut. And the national conversation about gun control has ensued, as it should. I am 100% for laws, rules, policies and guidelines that would help prevent any future attacks on innocent people!
We need to be sure that this discussion be held on honest and open terms. First, the term "gun control" is a misnomer. The truth is we are limiting people’s rights to buy a product which most people use harmlessly. We are in fact, talking about controlling people and their buying habits. This fact is rarely acknowledged is a difficult for anyone to accept. So why not discuss controlling the dangerous people?
The counter point to the argument above is also valid!!
Assault weapons, tactical rifles whatever term you apply are designed to kill people, not really anything else. The military does not go hunting deer. So why permit the sale of these types of firearms at all. This point of view is short and sweet, very difficult to argue with this logic.
The answer to the topic of protecting our children from random evil and violent acts is one of balance. Balance the rights of our innocent citizen’s, old or young, with the rights of citizens who enjoy owning and responsibly using firearms.
Technologies that would help secure weapons produced in the future, presently exist and should be mandated. Employ these biometric technologies, if not on all firearms, then definitely on the type of assault rifles that are going to be targeted by legislators. So instead of banning them out right, produce them with biometric safety devices. If the cost is high, then you can’t afford it. I would like to drive a Ferrari, I just can’t afford one. The technology could be improved to the point of perfection. If humanity has the skill and knowledge to successfully explore Mars, we can do this. The industry just has to be convinced.
As for the approximately 100,000,000 firearms already in existence, NO ONE HAS A GOOD ANSWER FOR THIS!!!

Dec. 20 2012 03:24 PM
Albert from Portland, OR

Why do you keeping asking about gun ownership, gun laws, registrations, etc.? Remember the NRA quote "GUNS DO NOT KILL PEOPLE, PEOPLE KILL PEOPLE." Hummmmm just like cars"Cars do not kill people people kill people, or look at drugs---- Drugs do not kill people people kill people---- See how much clearer it is!!! We need no laws at all---- its people who kill people!!!

Dec. 20 2012 02:02 PM
Jerrold Richards from Lyle, Washington

Why are Americans so violent, asks one of your guests. Who can deny that there is a fractured, whacked-out aspect to American society and politics, that manifests itself in verious ways, including more than average violence. Tocqueville commented on this quality of our character in the 1830s. I believe it relates to denial of what, as I understand it, more historians are calling The American Holocaust. Population estimates in North and South America in, say, 1000AD range as high as 150,000,000. Much of the land east of The Mississippi River was farmed. An ecosystem and social fabric maybe quite like that portrayed in the recent Hobbit movie, except for the round doors. Then the Portuguese showed up, started fishing and one must assume socializing off what is now Massachusetts, at least 100 years before Columbus. Sneeze. Within a few decades the farms had turned into trackless wilderness. Most of this population crash and then continuing decline until 1900 or so happened from disease. But a good portion of it was perpetrated by intent, pursued with methodical ferocity over decades. After all, we Europeans arrived on this newly depopulated land, armed to the teeth, with the specific intent in mind of taking the land away from those who were left. Which we did. So to this day a lot of people here do not want to look at themselves, at their real motives. Thus the violence.

Dec. 20 2012 01:58 PM
Isaac from Portland

"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government"

-- Thomas Jefferson

This is why we have a right to military style weapons. I would gladly give up my right to own assault weapons if the government does likewise.

Dec. 20 2012 01:55 PM
Jon from Portland, OR

I was a soldier and did 2 tours in Iraq. I was in many firefights and had to fight for my life with these type of weapons many times. I slept night and day with a pistol and a rifle on me at all times. When I came back from war I bought the same civilian versions of these weapons. I found it was the only way I could sleep soundly anymore was with them at my side. The knowledge that if or when something should ever go wrong, I would always still be ready gave me peace of mind. I can tell you from real life experience. If or when something goes wrong and you need a gun the most ready guy wins the day. There will be no time to deal with hyperbole conversations about banning all weapons.

The problem of gun violence in America will not be solved by banning guns. Its a culture of violence that must be dealt with first.

Dec. 20 2012 01:36 PM
Julie from Vancouver, WA

Your next questions should be why we demonize people with mental illness. NO ONE, I repeat, NO ONE C-H-O-O-S-E-S to have a mental illness. But as long as we treat people with mental disorders as criminals, access to proper/effective mental health will be continued to be denied.
I used to work in the mental health industry, but got out because it was too frustrating--to work with the professionals, who were most likely to treat the client as if the clients actually WANTED to be mentally ill! The professionals were more likely to victimize the clients and their families.
It was ALWAYS the clients and/or their families who were to blame for the clients' mental disorders (remember the "cold" mothers who were blamed for causing autism. The attitude has not changed).
Imagine what kind of uproar there would be if cancer patients were treated as if they WANTED to have cancer!

Dec. 20 2012 01:30 PM
Joe R from Seattle, WA

I would like to ask the more specific question of "Why do you own a semi automatic gun or assault rifle?".

Dec. 20 2012 01:26 PM
Debbie from Lyle, WA

My husband and I own several guns. We live on a farm and due to his job I am frequently left alone. Dogs are my best defense, however, I have come face to face with any number of critters attacking my livestock and dealt with a bear several times that had no fear of me or my dogs. I seldom shoot to kill, mostly want to make a lot of noise. I have no illusions about my own abilities. Our children are grown and live elsewhere but every gun is locked in a safe. There need to be some restrictions on assault rifles. We need to use common sense where guns are concerned but one size fits all approaches will not work.

Dec. 20 2012 01:12 PM
Mike Stanfill from Dallas, Texas

Here are my three simple truths about guns:

(1) You cannot protect yourself from a gun WITH a gun.

(2) You are MUCH more likely to be shot by someone you know than by a stranger.

(3) The bad guys ALWAYS shoot first.

Dec. 20 2012 12:42 PM
Tamara from Texas

I was a TA at the University of Florida in 1990 when the student murderrs -- by knife -- took place. I bought a handgun the first night after the bodies were found and slept -- or tried to -- with it under my bed every night. I still have it and wish to God those students did.

Dec. 20 2012 12:32 PM

To: Sally from New Jersey
People like you quote and claim as fact that "people are more likely to get harmed by their own guns."
This tidbit is directly for what is known as the Kellerman study - one of the worst and most slanted statical studies on record.
Read the study yourself. Don't just repeat something you can't understand.
Take (and pass) one or two statistics classes.
Then when you are ready for a great awakening, read "More guns - less crime"

Dec. 20 2012 12:05 PM
Elizabeth from Medford MA

I believe one of the unspoken aspects of the shock over the Connecticut shootings is an issue of class. Until now, affluent Americans could more or less (after Columbine) tell themselves that they could move to a safe town and school system. This belief is shattered and it terrifies people.

Dec. 20 2012 11:43 AM
Federico from Cambridge, MA

Your conversation around Armed America sounds way too casual. How nice that you've captured human voices from actual gun owners. This kind of dialogue - while important - misses a key point: a gun's ability to fascinate its owner with the illusion of control and authority over anyone, when in fact a gun leads to chaos when used and powerlessness when taken away. Pay attention to the central question: dangerous arms are among us and must be controlled if not banned.

Dec. 20 2012 11:32 AM
Larry Fisher from Brooklyn, N.Y.

I grew up with guns. My Grandfather taught me how to hunt little animals and eat them, when I was a kid. He was a Holocaust survivor, who saved himself, his wife and three kids in hiding in Lithuania by hunting at night.

I had a gun for years. His handgun. I got rid of it because I have two little kids in the house. I will teach both kids how to shoot down the line, but martial arts will be the preferred choice of self defense and I guess some trapping and survival techniques.

Dec. 20 2012 11:23 AM
homebuilding from central america

Thank you, John, for your thoughtful commentary.

We are truly alone, in the world, in our out-sized gun love and gun worship.

Gun ownership is truly a haven for the disaffected powerless white male.
And really, what ARE we going to do with that half of the male population that's below average?

I own three guns and am well aware that in a home burglary, my guns will be considered of high value for thieves.

I have no fantasy about using guns to keep myself or my family safe--to challenge is to threaten my own welfare.

My father obtained a 30 06 military surplus rifle from a NRA source. My neighbor was a gunsmith and a fantastically accurate shooter. A college friend in OK is a state champion shooter with a 12 gauge.

Then, another acquaintance put up and shot at an effigy of Barack Obama (blackened cardboard face with big ears and nappy hair) during a session of target practice and plinking in MN woods, back in '08. (He'd recently purchased a .357 long barreled revolver).

I picked up my .22 ten shot Ruger rifle and walked home without a word (IN SUPREME DISGUST!) Without saying, he knows that his gun love and his Obama Hate Sydrome are completely out of line.

Dec. 20 2012 11:17 AM
Sally from New Jersey

I do not own a gun. I am too well aware of the many studies that show that gun owners are many more times likely to be killed by their gun, or have other family and friends killed by it, than they are to protect themselves by using it. So, though at times I feel vulnerable with nothing but words to protect me, I base my decision on the facts about the risk of protection vs the risk of dying.

At about the same time that the murders occurred in Newtown, there was an attack on children in an Asian country, reported on one of the inner pages in the NY Times. In that case, the perpetrator used a knife and injured 9 children. None died. Very revealing.

Dec. 20 2012 09:35 AM
Mark from Ft. Lauderdale

When i was a 14 year old boy, I traded my old 410 Skeet shooting Shotgun to a neighbor friend of mine for a bowling ball and shoes. His family had guns and were very safety conscious and our parents sanctioned the trade. A few weeks later, i found a box of left over shells and gave them to him. A week later, during a fight with his cousin, he loaded the gun and his cousin ended up dead. I much rather he had had the camera or the typewriter so he could have taken a photo of his cousin or a typewriter to write him a letter!

Dec. 20 2012 09:28 AM

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