The Guns in My Life

Not all gun owners are nuts.

I read something on Twitter this morning that really struck a nerve:

Monitoring? What did he mean by monitoring?

I read some of the comments and found this one:

I don’t think she meant “special” in a positive way. And that really got under my skin.

You see, I’m a gun owner. And although I like to think I’m special, I’m not special in the way Michelle seems to think all gun owners are.

And that’s why I decided to write this post. You see, I’m not the only person in my family who owns a gun and none of them are “special” in the sense that we need to be monitored.

My Father’s Guns

My father worked as a police officer in our small northern New Jersey town of Cresskill from around the time I was born in the early 1960s to his retirement. As you might expect, he owned a gun and I grew up with at least one gun in the house.

I say “at least” because I honestly don’t know how many guns he had. We were taught at a young age not to touch his gun and we didn’t. When he got home from work, he’d put it on the top shelf of a tall bookcase in the foyer or sometimes on top of the refrigerator when he came home for dinner. (He worked three different shifts: 8-4, 4-12, and “midnights” (12-8).) I knew the gun was dangerous and I knew I wasn’t supposed to touch it. I never did.

Well, that isn’t exactly true.

Every autumn, the town held what was called a “Turkey Shoot.” It was held at the local shooting range. They’d put up targets and participants would shoot. The targets were scored and the high score would win frozen turkeys. I think it was a fund raiser, but how would I know? I was a kid.

At least twice when we attended this event, my father let us shoot his gun at the target. He never handed us the gun. Instead, he held the gun with us to point and shoot. I remember it being heavy and the trigger being hard to pull. I don’t remember if I won a turkey. Again, I was a kid.

Girl Scouts

When I was in Girl Scouts, we learned to shoot rifles. This was at an indoor range in the nearby town of Tenafly (I think). The rifles were probably World War II surplus. They could hold one shot and had a bolt action. Again, I was a kid and don’t remember much about it.

I also don’t know why learning to shoot rifles was a Girl Scout activity in my area around 1970, but today I think it’s kind of cool.

I do remember that they taught us to shoot from multiple positions including prone and sitting cross-legged. I was a pretty decent shot.

My Uncle’s Guns

My uncle was a flag-waving veteran of the Korean War, although the closest he got to Korea was the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. He became quite a gun collector and kept most of them in a big gun safe down in his basement, right at the foot of the basement stairs. I vaguely remember him showing some of them to me. Most of them were collector’s items.

In his younger days, he was also a hunter. For years, he had a bearskin rug on the floor in his living room. He’d got the bear on the same trip my dad had shot a deer. (That’s when I first ate venison.)

He was a little crazy with the guns sometimes, but I don’t think he was unsafe. One day when I was just out of college, I visited his family with my boyfriend, who had a very “plain vanilla” family life. My uncle’s family was anything but “plain vanilla.” My uncle staged a fight with his son, my cousin, with my cousin yelling at him from down in the basement stairs. My uncle pulled out a gun and shot it down the stairs from the kitchen. Yes, in his house. The gunshot was loud! But the bullet was a blank. He’d apparently set the whole thing up to give my boyfriend something to talk about when he got home.

I don’t know how many guns he had, but I suspect it was more than 20. I don’t know what happened to them when he passed away.

My First Gun

I got my first gun in the early 2000s, not long after moving from the New Jersey suburbs to Arizona. My future wasband telecommuted to work back in New Jersey, which required him to be away from home 7 to 10 days every month. While he was gone, I was alone with a deaf dog in a house that creaked a lot more than I was used to. I used to lay awake at night, convinced that the creaking I was hearing was someone creeping up the stairs. Keep in mind that the house was at the end of a gravel road, pretty far from the neighbors so it wasn’t as if help could arrive quickly if there was an intruder.

At my request, my future wasband bought us a gun to keep in the bedroom. It was a 38 special revolver.

Of course, being responsible (not “special”) gun owners, we immediately sought training to make sure we could use it safely. The only training we found in the area was a Concealed Weapons Permit class. It was a weekend long and included lots of information about guns, including safety and legality. The guy who taught it with his wife — both of whom wore camouflage outfits to class — was very pro-carry. Remember, Arizona is an open carry state, meaning you can wear or carry a visible gun in most places. The concealed weapons permit enabled holders to carry a gun concealed by clothing or in a purse or backpack. Some people think this is important. I was the only woman in the class and they kept trying to convince me that I’d be safer if I carried a gun with me at all times. I said I wasn’t interested. They said, “Well, what about if you’re in a mall parking lot late at night, parked way out on the edge, and a gang of guys comes toward you.” I replied, “I’d never put myself in a situation like that. I’m not an idiot.”

The class was informative, opening my eyes to a different gun mentality than mine. It also included range time where we had to qualify before passing. Since I was the only woman in the class, I got a bit of attention. I was told that with a little practice, I could be a good shooter. Great.

A side benefit of having a concealed weapons permit was that I could worry a lot less about rules when I took my gun to the range or elsewhere. For example, suppose I’ve got the gun out of sight in my car’s glove box when I get pulled over for speeding. The gun would be considered “concealed” and without a permit to carry it that way, I could get in deep trouble. The course explained how to handle such a situation and the permit made it legal to have the gun in the glove box to begin with.

Beretta 21A Bobcat
My Beretta isn’t very practical, but it holds a place in my heart as my first gun. And yes, that’s my hand holding it.

Of course the 38 Special wasn’t really my gun. It was my future wasband’s. I wound up buying something quite a bit smaller, easier to handle, and less practical: a Beretta 21A Bobcat. It’s a semi-automatic handgun with a magazine that holds 7 22 caliber rounds. I bought it brand new in a gun shop and, yes, I did go through a background check process before it was sold to me. It’s less practical for three main reasons:

  • If I ever did have to use it to stop a serious attacker, I’d basically have to empty it into his body to stop him/her. 22 rounds aren’t very big.
  • It’s extremely picky about ammunition and will jam if I don’t buy the right stuff. A recent trip to the range for some additional training confirmed what I remembered about it: there’s a popular (and not cheap) brand of ammo it simply chokes on. No one wants a gun that will jam when it’s needed.
  • I’m not nearly as accurate firing it as I am with a bigger gun. I think that could be resolved with more practice, though.

But since I really don’t need a gun, I never saw a reason to replace it.

And it does have a nice feature that I thought was handy for horseback riding out in the desert: it’s rather unique flip up barrel makes it easy to load a single 22 long “snake shot” round. That turns the little gun into a small shotgun suitable for killing rattlesnakes or deterring coyotes out on the trail.

My wasband eventually replaced the 38 special with a Glock. I don’t know which one, but I do know that I was more accurate with the Glock than the Beretta.

The Big Sandy Shoot

As I’ve blogged about here and here, there’s a twice-yearly event called the Big Sandy Shoot, which his held on some private property in the middle of the Arizona desert. It’s a gathering of gun enthusiasts who get to fire a wide range of weapons at reactive targets. There are strict safety rules with range officers to enforce them. No one gets hurt, although the tracer rounds they use at night have been known to start fires.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, a “reactive target” is one that literally explodes when hit.

These are hobbyists, mostly, although I suspect more than a few of them are “special.” (Ever see a cannon made out of a fire extinguisher that fires bowling balls? I have.) They’re really into their guns and showing off. It’s interesting, but a bit too hard core for my taste. Since I’ve already blogged about it, I’ll let you read those blog posts to learn how crazy it is.

My Brother’s Guns

My brother shoots for a hobby. He owns fifteen guns — as he just informed me in answer to my texted question — and he’s quite proficient using them. He regularly competes using an STI Edge handgun. According to him:

It’s specifically for competition. I have different barrels for it so I can shoot 9mm, .40 Cal and .22 with it.

My shotgun is a Benelli M2 and my rifle was built by a company called JP

Back in 2013, when I was visiting my brother and his wife, I went with them to one of their competitions. (They both shoot.) It was professionally managed and extremely safety oriented. Rules were followed with no exception — range officers made sure of it. I could see why he enjoyed it. It was challenging stuff, with a variety of target types and scenarios. It got him outdoors year-round, with other people who enjoyed the same hobby. Beats parking his ass on a sofa watching TV, no?

Keep in mind that my brother lives in New Jersey where gun laws are pretty strict. (My uncle lived in New Jersey, too.) I don’t know the details on how he’s required to register, store, transport, or shoot them. But I do know that he competes all along the eastern seaboard.

He and his wife divorced a few years ago. They still see each other occasionally at the range and at competitions.

I tried to find a YouTube video of him shooting but came up empty. He sent me a 30-second video of himself at a competition shooting a rifle but I don’t think it’s up to me to share it online. If he sends me a YouTube link, I’ll add it to this post.

My Shotgun

Concealed Carry Permit
I got a concealed carry permit good for Washington State when I moved here.

When I moved to Washington state, which I believe is also an open carry state, I brought my little Beretta with me. Then I did the paperwork to get a concealed carry permit here. It’s actually easier here than in Arizona; no class is required. (I think that’s wrong.) I carry it in my wallet, even though I don’t carry the gun.

Reminton 870
My Remington 870 Tactical shotgun. I had it sitting by the front deck door with a box of ammo for weeks after the second dog attack.

But when I started having serious worries about coyotes coming into my property to steal chickens or possibly my dog, I started thinking that maybe I needed a more practical weapon. And when my neighbor’s dog got into my chicken yard and slaughtered a total of 18 laying hens and two roosters (over two visits), I made my decision. I bought a shotgun.

The shotgun I bought was a Remington 870 Tactical. It’s a pump action 12-gauge shotgun that can hold 7 rounds. (I don’t keep it loaded.) And no kidding here: I bought it at a local store called Hooked on Toys and yes, they did do a background check on me before completing the sale.

Once again, I took it (and my Beretta) to the range to work with an instructor. A friend and I actually took a course together. The course was created by the NRA and had NRA materials, but the instructor was not an NRA employee and he assured us that the educational and political arms of the NRA are completely separate. (Although I thought that was okay at the time, I now want absolutely nothing to do with the NRA and will never pay for anything if there’s any possibility that part of my money might go to the NRA.) The course was informative and I got a chance to learn how to shoot the shotgun. I discovered that the kickback with the butt against my shoulder hurts like hell and I can be pretty accurate shooting from the hip. Hell, if you can’t hit a target with a shotgun, you probably shouldn’t be shooting a gun at all.

Fortunately, the neighbor’s dog has not returned. Could I shoot it? I don’t know. But the Animal Control folks say it’s legal for me to do so, as long as I kill it.

Not All Gun Owners are Dangerous Nuts

You might be able to see why I was bugged by Michelle’s tweet above. As you might imagine, I didn’t let it go uncommented:

But she’s not the only one making uninformed comments about gun owners. There’s a lot of it going around right now. It happens after every mass shooting.

And although I am a gun owner and have insight why other people own guns, I agree that we need to have some common-sense gun control laws. At a minimum, we need:

  • A ban on all guns and accessories that make it possible to fire more than 10 rounds without reloading. These devices should be absolutely illegal to own, let alone sell or use. There is absolutely no reason anyone needs this kind of equipment.
  • Registration for all guns, including those sold in secondary markets such as gun shows or private sales. If you own a gun, it should be registered. Period.
  • Background checks for all gun owners. The check should be done before each gun is purchased and should include criminal activity, domestic violence complaints, and mental health checks.
  • Training requirement for all gun owners. Before you purchase a gun, you should be required to take a qualified class in its use and operation and have a certificate to prove that you’ve taken the class. Additional refresher course training should be required periodically, perhaps every five years.

I don’t believe guns are bad. I believe people are bad. I also believe that we should not make it easy for bad people to do bad things with guns.

The situation we have in this country is absurd, with different laws in every state, many of which make it all too easy for people who are crazy to obtain weapons of mass killing capabilities — like the bump stock the Las Vegas shooter used to fire over 500 rounds without reloading. How can anyone think that’s okay?

The Second Amendment was written in a time when a high-tech gun fired one shot at a time. The Founding Fathers likely never imagined the kind of carnage that could be done with today’s weapons, so it’s pretty silly to keep referring to our “right” to have these kinds of weapons.

And no, a good guy with a gun isn’t the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun. It’s a good way for others to be injured in a crossfire or for the “good guy” to get mistaken for a bad guy and gunned down by police.

And yes, I’m a gun owner. But if the only solution to the gun violence epidemic in this country was to take away everyone’s gun — as they have done in other civilized countries — I’d hand mine over in a heartbeat.


Please feel free to share your comments. But if this is your first time commenting here, you might want to read the Comment Policy first to avoid wasting your time. All comments are moderated and I have no qualms about deleting queued comments that violate the policy. Wouldn’t it be a shame if you composed a lengthy, hate-filled manifesto was never published?

24 thoughts on “The Guns in My Life

  1. The guns I’ve used have been many and varied. I’m guessing I’ve fired many thousands of rounds from an M-60 machine gun. Mostly at people. Many more rounds qualifying, usually as expert in the military or police academy. I’ve got a carry permit, but haven’t carried but a couple of times. I’ve gotten over the fear of dying a long time ago. Never gotten over the fear of killing someone accidentally as so often happens. I’m ok with you if you want to hunt. I don’t see the attraction, but if that’s your thing, I’m ok with it. I don’t see the need for silencers or automatic weapons. I’m not an anti-gun nut. Or a pro-gun nut. If they outlawed most guns, I’d be ok with that. I think that the NRA is unreasonable and Anti American. But that’s just me. I feel that way about most politicians that vote the way the NRA demands they vote. Laws will change, but it’ll take time.

    • It sounds like we’re on exactly the same page when it comes to gun ownership philosophy. And no, it’s isn’t just you thinking that about the NRA. Their political arm is nuts and needs to be stopped. It’s a shame because their educational arm can really benefit gun owners.

  2. Nice article Maria.
    I am English, presently in Venezuela, and guns are very common here – the homicide rate is the second highest in the world (so I believe).
    Contrast this with the homicide rate by guns in England where firearms are banned except for the armed forces and certain police units.
    I rest my case.

  3. I would love to be public here, but I’ve got too many people who would stop hiring me, or talking to me if they read these comments.
    I don’t own a gun, but I am a member of a rifle range where I go to shoot a 22 cal semi-automatic rifle that the range owns.
    I enjoy it. There’s a challenge to shoot as close as possible to a specific point on the target and group the 5 rounds close together.
    I shoot as target practice. As the same way I might shoot a bow and arrow. It’s a hobby. And although the noise of the range is loud, there is a feeling of relaxation as well as energy.
    But the laws in NY are horribly onerous and make it almost impossible to own and transport a rifle to and from the range.
    What I would like is to be able to purchase a rifle with ammunition and then keep it at the range in my locked locker.
    I would never have the rifle with me on the street. It could never be stolen from my house. Kids could never get at it.
    But the law won’t allow it.
    I think what I want is reasonable. But New York is so paranoid about guns that they won’t consider this.
    So I go to the range and use only their 22 rifles which are in bad shape, not cleaned well, and not adjusted to shoot well.

  4. Good sense in that article, Maria.
    I’m from UK farming stock. My dad gave me an air gun when I was twelve, it was weak and .177. At 14 it was a powerful .22. Shotgun at 15.
    At 16 the Army Cadets taught me to shoot .303 rifles and fully automatic Brens (a sort of upside down Kalashnikov with a bipod). I liked this stuff. The army gave me a marksman certificate for 5 successive rounds in a ten inch target from 300 yds. I was a drummer in the regimental band and when an inspecting brigadier saw my marksman badge he said “A bandsman who’s a marksman. Amazing! I thought you were all poofters (gays)”.
    I have kept the skill set since but I have no interest in handguns. To me a gun is a tool, but I have affection for quality engraving and fine workmanship. I don’t doubt that your Remington does the job, but it has little artistic grace and would not be considered tasteful on an English country shoot.

  5. Thanks for taking the time to put your point across so well.

    I feel genuinely sorry that ‘proper’ gun owners like your family become labelled as gun nuts because owners like Stephen Paddock go on a shooting spree, with no apparent motive. It’s clear that most gun owners pose no danger and enjoy their hobby.

    The problem is with the word ‘most’. It should be ‘all’. There are too many gun deaths in the USA to be ignored, sensible people have to do something about it.

    In the UK you can’t own guns unless you’re a member of a gun club and that club has a regulatory responsibility to check it’s members. The member’s guns are stored at the gun club or the owner must spend an arm and a leg securing their guns at home. It’s not easy owning a gun here, but people do and I’ve been to a gun club for a shooting event and had lots of fun.

    For a small while I was in the armed forces and fired a couple of different weapons. The safety drills we had to do left us in no doubt they are lethal weapons that have to be handled carefully.

    My impression is that a rifle or pistol in the UK is notable, and looks dangerous. In the USA they’re not so notable and look less dangerous. The attitude to gun ownership in the USA is too relaxed, people are murdered by them and the voices of concern are muffled by people like the NRA who tell us it’s not really a problem.

    IMHO two things need to change. 1 – Not a single weapon is unrecorded and anyone found in possession of an unrecorded weapon is in a heap of trouble. 2 – You need more messages that guns are lethal weapons all over the TV. The NRA won’t pay for public service messages like that because it hurts sales, but the attitude to gun ownership generally needs to firm up.

    • I pretty much agree with everything you’ve said.

      I heard a interview on NPR (National Public Radio, which I consider pretty objective although conservatives would disagree) with a man who knows a lot about the NRA. He said it was their goal to normalize the carrying of guns pretty much anywhere in the country. Open carry. I used to see it quite often when I lived in Arizona; guys would come into the supermarket or some other mundane place with gun in a holster on their hip. I don’t want that normalized. I want people to understand that a gun is a deadly weapon that should not be trivialized.

      Frankly, I blame the NRA for whipping up a frenzy over “Second Amendment rights” when all most people want are reasonable laws controlling background checks, training, and registration.

  6. The Las Vegas murders have received saturation coverage in the UK press.
    In yesterday’s Guardian newspaper (p18) it states that the bump stock conversion devices of the type used by Paddock to turn his semi-automatics into full automatics have sold out across the US.
    It seems counter intuitive but these outrages actually cause military-style rifle sales to soar, not drop, as one might wish. Full automatics are illegal in most states, I believe; yet a simple DIY conversion device is for sale without restriction. Something wrong there…

    • The selling out of bump stocks is a typical reaction by Second Amendment gun lovers. They worry that the bump stocks will be made illegal so they buy before that happens.

      In the meantime, I’ve heard in the news that a variety of gun sellers who used to sell them have removed them from their websites.

  7. Presuming that stat that set you off is even accurate, you and your family are almost certainly not in the 3%, but in the 19%. The suggestion is that the 3% are stockpiling, and the motivations behind stacking massive arsenals may be suspect.

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  9. Full disclosure, I am one of the so-called 3% here, I own several guns, including several military-style semi-automatic rifles. I am a member and supporter of several pro-gun-rights advocacy groups including the NRA. If you are not a gun person, it may surprise you to learn that the NRA is actually FAR from being the most extreme pro-gun organization, and that within the gun collector/enthusiast community the NRA is frequently criticized for being too soft and far too willing to compromise on gun rights. While I don’t agree with every measure the NRA backs and every candidate they support, my main disagreement is with the strident nature of their message rather than the message itself. I fully support their mission of preserving, supporting, and expanding my 2nd amendment rights.

    With that said, it’s obvious that the United States has a problem with how its gun culture has evolved, and that something needs to change. The questions is, what needs to change and how do we get that to actually happen? The various sides on this issue, (what, did you think there were only two?) all have their own agendas and plans, but they do have some things in common. Unfortunately, those things are that none of them are actively listening to the other side, and none of them are capable of trusting the others.

    It’s a microcosm of the current atmosphere of brinkmanship and extremism that has infested our national political culture, where we have allowed a winner-takes-all ethos to dominate. While that might play well to the base, it isn’t how politics really works. COMPROMISE is how politics is supposed to work, but decades of bad-faith reneging on past deals and ceaseless dirty political tricks have infuriated the party and organizational loyalists and stalwarts. That fury is in turn deliberately stoked by the political operators and deal makers, since it is what keeps the base energized and the fundraising machine grinding along. Outrage makes people open their checkbooks, so outrage is what we will have, in abundance.

    A real discussion of the gun issue could easily fill a novel, one that I have no intention of writing here. I will, however, leave three points for the pro-gun-control crowd to consider before I wrap up.

    1. When you train a dog, do you get better results from positive or negative reinforcement? As far as gun owners are concerned, the last forty years of attempting to impose gun control has been all rolled-up newspapers, no treats.

    2. The law of unintended consequences absolutely applies to the gun control issue. Every time the Washington DC crowd starts talking even halfway seriously about banning “assault rifles” or “high capacity” magazines (both are deliberately inflammatory, loaded terms), or imposing universal registration (which to gun owners translates to “confiscation list”), gun sales spike. The policies of the last few Democratic administrations have resulted in record gun sales, all inspired by their parties extremist pro-gun-control rhetoric. It’s probably a toss-up whether Obama or Hillary will go down as being the greatest gun salesman in history, albeit unintentionally.

    3. Can winner-take-all legislation lead to lasting, durable, reasonable policies, or just a see-saw of lurching from one extreme policy to the opposite as the political winds change?

    And for the Americans here who think they know all about how the bill of rights works, a quick question. Did the founding fathers know about Twitter, and internet blogs, and satellite TV when they drafted the First Amendment? No, of course not. What are you still talking about muskets when you discuss the 2nd?

    • An interesting post Sean.

      Like you I have used a variety of guns, I have been checked out on automatic rifles and once had a British Army instructor’s certificate for automatics. But many years on I do not feel the need to own one.
      The organisation that trained me to shoot, strip, load, adjust, clean and repair assault rifles did so in case I had to fight a foreign enemy. Now, as a civilian, I will no longer be called on to take on that task.
      But, if I was suddenly called on, in that role, then I would know that our nation’s prospects were pretty desperate. I would still try to help, I suppose.

      Can I ask you three questions please?

      1) given that semi-automatics can easily be converted to full automatics, and that fully automatic military weapons were designed to kill people, not game, why do you see the need to own such weapons?

      2) do you expect to see a full-on civil war in the US, in your life time?


      3) do you just keep guns because you like them and your nation’s laws say you can?

  10. Hello Bob,

    First off, thank you for keeping a civil and rational tone to your questions. Without that basic tenet of civilized discourse, all arguments eventually end up in useless shouting matches. Unfortunately, the angry diatribe and a complete lack of true engagement have become the defining characteristics of what passes for “discussion” in most public forums, both political and otherwise. Like yourself, I am a former military member (warrant officer/helicopter pilot) and have extensive experience and training with weapons from pistols on up to complex weapons systems like the Apache attack helicopter.

    In answer to your questions:

    Firstly, I do not agree with your assumption that all semi-automatics are easily converted to automatic weapons. The types that WERE easily converted, primarily open-bolt submachine guns in semi-auto, were removed from sale in the U.S. decades ago. You might not be aware of this, but ownership of automatic weapons actually IS legal in the U.S. (in most states) and has been since they were originally invented. Legally owning a full-auto rifle is, however, very expensive as the number of them that are legally available was capped in 1986 by the so-called “firearms owners protection act”, by a Republican president, you might note.

    There are lots of additional administrative steps to jump through compared to owning “regular” weapons, a $200 tax, fingerprints, FBI background check, etc. It takes months, and the price of these weapons has skyrocketed in the years since the machine gun ban. Look up “fully transferable Class III” for sale on the internet and you will see what I mean. If I had a time machine I’d go back to 1985 and mortgage everything I owned to buy as many legal machine guns (or the registered conversion parts) as I could, they have appreciated faster and further than nearly any other possible investment.

    Secondly, modern military small arms, as you well know, have for decades used ammunition that is woefully under-powered for hunting purposes. The overriding need to keep the weight down for soldiers and all the gear they have to carry has resulted in small caliber rifle rounds like the 5.56 NATO / .223 Remington becoming the default for infantry weapons. Only much larger and heavier crew-served weapons like belt-fed machine guns use full-powered rounds like the 7.62 NATO / .308 Winchester. Arguing that military weapons are somehow inherently deadlier than hunting rifles is just plain wrong. By any objective measure, they are actually less so.

    It is only their relative ease of use and moderate recoil that makes military-style rifles advantageous compared to functionally identical (but less scary-looking) “civilian” weapons. The moderate recoil is only really an advantage in fully automatic fire, which is not an issue for the vast majority of gun owners that do not own an automatic weapon. The fact that “bump stocks” can simulate fully-automatic fire is an anomaly, in my opinion it is a misuse of a legal loophole that should not have been allowed and will likely be closed very shortly.

    The fact that you can obtain and use detachable box magazines (that hold more rounds than a hunter would likely need) is another contentious characteristic of military-style weapons. These are, incidentally, standard-capacity magazines. You only use the term “high-capacity magazines” if you are deliberately demonizing them, or if you are looking to start a fight in a crowd of gun owners. That argument is also specious, as any weapons, semi-auto or otherwise, can be fitted with a higher capacity magazines if you so desire. Humanity is nothing if not clever about finding ways to make new weapons, after all.

    So, to get back to your questions, I’ll answer question one with question three. I own them because I am interested in military style weapons. Because it’s legal, and because I can. I actually don’t shoot them very much.

    And in answer to question two, GOD FORBID, I certainly hope not. Not in my lifetime, not in my childs lifetime, hopefully not ever. We’ve already been through that once in this country and we are still dealing with the scars that created in our society. With Trump in office, however, who the hell knows what will happen next?

  11. Thanks for getting back Sean.

    What follows will be:
    A confession,
    Some techy stuff,
    A brief account of why UK gun laws are so much stricter than yours, and lastly, a supplementary question, if I may.

    Firstly the confession.
    I did not realise that fully automatic weapons were still legal in the US. The checks are thorough and costly but not extreme by UK standards. (For shotguns we now need a criminal record check, police home visit to check storage cabinet and alarm system as well as a mental health confirmation from a doctor of medicine). Thanks for the clarification.

    Techy stuff.
    I agree that Paddock’s conversion is not really a ‘machine gun’. I have fired a Sten gun which can empty its 32 round magazine in 3 seconds. Rather faster than Paddock’s modification. That said, the lethality of Paddocks guns is a matter of record.
    I agree with you about the reasons for the gradual evolution of mass-issue military rifles to smaller calibres. Ammo is heavy stuff.
    But velocity of rounds has generally increased and this balances some of the loss of kinetic energy from lighter smaller rounds. I have seen foxes shot with very small calibre Centrefire HV cartridges and the resulting shock wave more or less turns them to mush.
    In a military setting, long range sniper rifles have retained medium to large calibres with an increase in velocities. Upto 3k feet/ sec, I believe.

    Reasons why UK gun laws are so tight.
    Back in the 1980’s it was possible to buy a Kalashnikov with armour-piercing ammunition by responding to an advert in Exchange and Mart. Few if any checks would be made. But then in August 1987 Michael Ryan, a 27 year old unemployed dealer living with his mother, used his legally owned M1 rifle, shotgun and pistols to kill his mother and a random selection of 16 other local adults and a dog. As usual in these cases, he then shot himself.
    This lead to a clamp down on military firearms in private hands. The general thrust of the law was to refuse applications unless a genuine need for a particular type of gun was demonstrated. Hunters and vermin controllers could establish that need with ease.
    The turning point for the restriction on handguns in the UK was the Dunblane Massacre in 1996, when 43 year old Thomas Hamilton, angry that his permit to work with children was not renewed, walked into his local primary school and shot to death 16 children (5 and six year olds) and their teacher who tried in vain to protect them. He used a legally owned S&W revolver, a 9mm Browning pistol and a shotgun.
    I remember the visceral sense of utter disgust we all felt on that day. Multi-shot handguns were soon banned and there was little protest. The crime was so vile it just demanded a radical solution. (I felt a similar visceral ache after Olumbine and Sandy Hook).

    I realise that the US law will never change in a similar way.

    One last question, please. It is obviously hypothetical:-

    If for whatever reason the United Staes DID ban military style semi-automatics, (whilst allowing you to keep hunting rifles, shotguns and handguns as at present) would you adjust to that change without protest or would you really miss that category of weapon from your cabinet?

  12. Hello Bob, thanks for an interesting conversation, and thanks to Maria for hosting this forum which has enabled it.

    I’ll respond to your question first. What I actually shoot most, like virtually every shooter I know, is semi-auto rifles and pistols in .22 Long Rifle (.22 LR, or 5.6x15mmR). It probably makes up 3/4 of the rounds I fire in an average year, and I’m definitely not alone in that respect as .22 LR apparently makes up half of U.S. ammunition production. That would be a staggering 5 billion (ten to the ninth) rounds of .22 manufactured per year, or approximately 13.7 million rounds either being tucked away or going downrange every day, just in the U.S. God only knows what the worldwide total would be, but the U.S. does make up a sizable part of the worldwide market for arms and ammunition.

    Despite the outrageous price increases resulting from the ammunition hoarding and panic buying that has only recently abated in the U.S. (especially for .22), the price of shooting .22 LR is typically less than half of what it costs to shoot even the cheapest centerfire rounds. The supply of ultra-cheap surplus military ammunition in 7.62×39 has largely dried up, due to increased demand for ammunition for the various wars going on in the middle east and various executive orders sanctioning Russian and Chinese imports. A decade ago it was sometimes cheaper to shoot surplus .223/5.56 Rem or 7.62×39 than it was to shoot .22 LR, but those days are over. The equation is a bit different down in the lower 48 states where shipment of ammunition is less complicated and expensive, but .22 is still typically the most affordable ammunition.That doesn’t mean that it’s the only thing I shoot, but .22 makes up the majority of the rounds I send downrange. After that it would probably be 9mm and .44 mag from handguns, and 7.62×39 and .308 from semi-auto rifles. I do sometimes shoot .223 from AR style rifles, but not much and not often. It’s not really a usable caliber up here in Alaska. I also shoot a surprising amount of 45-70 from a lever action, it’s still a very popular caliber up here despite being a design that’s150 years old.

    As far as your question about a theoretical nation-wide ban on semi-automatics/military-style weapons, I’d say that concept is an absolute non-starter in the U.S. for a minimum of at least three generations to come. Even then it would require a sustained, substantial, drop in incidents of terrorism and a decades-long period of world-wide peace and stability, coupled with a continuation of the current downward trends towards violent crime in the U.S. All of those factors seem unlikely, give the current geopolitical circumstances and the disruptive influence of increasing income inequality in the U.S. economy. It is probably impossible for outsiders to understand the profound cultural influence that firearms have in the United States, especially in the western states. The traditions and customs that are associated with guns and gun ownership permeate the history and the ethos of the U.S. as a whole and the west in particular, and like all deeply seated cultural issues they are changed only gradually and with considerable resistance and reluctance. Attempts to force that change early will always fail, even when great expense and effort are expended to hurry it along.

    This is not to say that the anti-gun forces won’t try, as futile and unwise as that effort might be. If the U.S. government attempted to force a nation-wide ban or draconian restrictions on possession/ownership of semi-automatics/military-style guns in this country, the very least I’d expect is nearly universal non-compliance, such as occurred in Canada when Ottawa tried to force national registration of long guns. Even given the Canadian history of nationwide handgun restrictions and their lack of a constitutional right to firearms, the Canadian public proved profoundly disinterested in having their government know exactly who possessed which rifles and shotguns. The Ottawa government tried over and over again to spin that debacle as a success, but the embarrassingly low level of citizen compliance coupled with the astounding increase in projected costs (from 2 million to over a billion dollars) eventually doomed the project to failure. See this Wikipedia article for a synopsis of the whole sordid story.

    As far as what would happen should a future liberal/progressive government attempt to impose a national gun registration (or worse, confiscation) scheme by force through the military or police, well, it’s best not to contemplate that too closely. The best case scenario is an avalanche of incredibly costly and contentious legal challenges that will drag on for decades. Firearms ownership is, after all, an individual right under our constitution, and changing the constitution is a very high bar indeed. The worst case scenario is a bloodbath the likes of which has not been seen on U.S. soil since our Civil War.

    Lets do some math on this. The U.S. has over a million military members, but less than half of those are direct combat related positions and even fewer of those are combat infantry troops. About half that force is National Guard and Reserve troops rather than full-time active-duty military. We have about 750,000 law enforcement personnel in the U.S., about half of that being sworn officers with arrest powers and the balance being administrative, technical, and support. In total, if you called up every single soldier and cop that either has combat infantry experience/training or that routinely handles firearms in their daily jobs, you might end up with 600,000-700,000 people to enforce that gun ban or confiscation effort.

    The U.S. has an estimated 330 million firearms in civilian hands, and while the number of gun owners is not known (both sides of the gun control debate have their own numbers) it can conservatively be estimated at over 100 million, perhaps as high as 150 million depending on whose numbers you believe. Not unlike the use of porn, it is notoriously difficult (perhaps impossible) to get accurate numbers about the actual rate of gun ownership in America. Most gun owners (perhaps all) routinely lie to or just refuse to speak with pollsters on this issue, regardless of how confidential the results are supposed to be. A long and sordid history of official lies and betrayals of gun owners at various levels of government from the federal level on down to the local has laid a deep seated foundation of mistrust when it comes to guns owners and government, which I doubt can ever be reversed. Most gun owners I know absolutely believe that neither the local, state, or federal government can EVER be trusted with that kind of data, and many go out of their way to ensure that they leave as little trace as possible paper-work wise.

    Out of those 300+ million firearms, at least 3 million are either AK or AR type “assault weapons”, the perennially favorite pejorative term used by gun banners in the U.S. In fact, the quantity of AR-15 style rifles in civilian hands substantially outnumbers the number of M-16 variants owned by the military, by a lot. They are now one of the most common firearms encountered at public shooting ranges, a noticeable change from a decade ago. The dramatic increase in the popularity and number of AR-pattern rifles is one of the most spectacular examples of unintended consequences in modern political history. Before the Obama administration and his “clinging to God and guns” gaffe on the election trail, ownership of military-style rifles was more of less restricted to a small cadre of collectors. Nearly a decade of routinely threatening to re-impose the expired ‘assault weapons ban” made them a coveted item, and they are now firmly in the mainstream and available nearly everywhere.

    Every one of those 330 million+ guns is capable of inflicting lethal or disabling injury, even to armored combat troops. And by every one of those, I am referring to nearly every single gun in civilian hands, not just the ~3 million military style rifles. Long story short, there is no way that the U.S. gun owner will ever be disarmed en-masse by force, even by the most powerful military in the world. A military composed disproportionately of soldiers from pro-gun states and rural areas, I might add. While I can’t say with absolute certainty that the troops would refuse any order to disarm the public at large, I can say that few of them would survive it.

    I fervently hope we never find out.

  13. Hello again Sean. That last was an informed and passionate piece. Thanks for taking the time. And yes, thanks to Maria for allowing us to explore this tributary of her blog.
    You are right about our two cultures, it is hard for Brits to appreciate the significance of the history of gun ownership to Americans. Barely a tenth of our friends have any experience of guns of any type. With the exception of our police and military, semi-automatic weapons are a rarity. If I told my friends that I envied your under-lever Martini-Henry action rifle, they would think I was talking Greek.
    But a gun-rare society like ours is not violence free. Nasty alternatives fill that niche. Knife-carrying by youths is routine in the cities and attacks using sprays with bleach and sulphuric acid, usually to the face, is a cruel new ‘fashion’. These acid attacks are now very common and often permanently disfiguring.
    As tourists to the US we are invariably treated with politeness and courtesy. But we employ ‘big city caution’.
    Only once have I been threatened with a gun in the US and that was in a ‘good’ downtown part of San Francisco in broad daylight.
    A very small and dishevelled black guy, shaking and sweaty, had offered us directions. I said “thanks” and walked away. He thought I owed him money for his help.
    He followed us for a while and then gave up. One incident from many trips.
    My American relatives are split 60/40 pro/ anti gun. They are mostly easterners. Some of the husbands keep guns that they have not disclosed to their wives!

    If I lived where you do and enjoyed your freedom to own more guns, I would probably end-up with a collection not unlike your own. But there are certainly strange and worrying features of the US system. The most obvious is the high death toll due to firearms. I watched a BBC programme on Monday called “Dark States; Murder in Milwaukee”. The journalist was Louis Theroux.
    I imagine that he chose Milwaukee because of its high level of gun murder. I imagine he went to the northern, largely black suburb, for the same reason. Everyone seemed to be armed. He interviewed an articulate black woman who carried her Mossberg pump action shotgun with her to the bathroom. It was always fully loaded.
    “what’s the use of an empty gun?!” She exclaimed.
    She saw this weapon as ‘defensive’ but her neighbours thought otherwise and there had been conflicts. She had served jail time but was still allowed her guns!
    What struck me was that, at least in Milwaukee, the saturation of gun ownership had not bought a sense of personal security but rather a crisis of mass anxiety and extreme fear, even amongst the police who expressed their concerns with clarity and logic. Is this not a real problem when gun-carrying becomes the norm?

    I know enough about the US to realise that what goes in run-down Wisconsin is not replicated in New Hampshire. I have been to the latter and the only guns I saw were on the hips of police. But even ‘safe’ New Hampshire has a firearms death rate 18 times greater than the UK. Some of the New Hampshire figure will be due to gun suicides, but that leaves many gun murders too.

    I will end with a few comments about the recent clashes in Charlottesville. Protesters from both sides appeared armed with semi-automatic weapons. Does this freedom not put the police in an extraordinary position whereby they find themselves potentially out-gunned by those they are expected to keep apart?
    That could never happen in any part of Europe I know about.
    I accept that any attempt at a general disarmament of US citizens is a non-starter but do you share my concerns about open challenges to the legitimate civil authority by opposing forces, each equipped with powerful semi-automatic weapons in an urban public space.

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