February 15, 2013

On the road with gun owners

Dan Baum, Wall Street Journal - A lot of assumptions are made about gun owners, by the NRA and gun-control proponents alike. What nobody ever seems to do, though, is listen to them.

I recently drove 15,000 miles around the country doing just that, talking to gun guys in their homes and garages, at gun shows and ranges, at gun stores and in the woods, trying to figure out why they are so deeply attracted to firearms and why guns inspire such passion on all sides. In part, it was a voyage of self-discovery. I'm a weirdo hybrid: a lifelong gun guy who is also a lifelong liberal Democrat. I often feel like the child of a bitter divorce who has allegiance to both parents.

I obtained a concealed-carry permit and wore a gun every place I went. I'd flash it like a Masonic pin, and gun guys poured out their stories. They seemed very glad finally to be asked about their gun lives by someone who was both sympathetic and not trying to manipulate them.

The fondness for firearms is complex. At their simplest, guns are beautifully made things, richly satisfying to handle...

Then there's the Zen pleasure of marksmanship. One competitor at a match in Kentucky called it "a martial art," but even less serious shooting is a hoot. At a machine-gun shoot in the Arizona desert—yes, machine guns are legal with the right permit—I rented a Thompson submachine gun and fired it into an arroyo strewed with junked cars and sticks of dynamite. Choose the most antigun peacenik you know, let her shoot a Tommy gun at a stick of dynamite, then ask if it was fun...

Gun guys also talked of the welcome discipline that living with guns imposed on their lives, of their patriotic pride in the unique trust that America places in its people. They also get a charge from their proximity to the grim reaper. They stand apart from those who fear firearms, saying, essentially, "I am master of this death-dealing device, and you are not. I am prepared for the kind of situation you can't even bring yourself to think about." To live intimately with such lethal devices, to be able to handle them safely, is a powerful self-esteem builder.

Although I did my best to avoid gun politics, the subject came up constantly. What came through loudest of all was that gun guys feel insulted. The caustic and routine dismissal of "gun culture" is only part of it. Gun guys look at the most strident advocates of gun control and say, "You know nothing about what it means to handle guns, but you presume to make judgments about my ability to do so."

From Arizona to Michigan, I found America full of working people who won't listen to Democrats about anything because of the party's identification with gun control. A parks-and-recreation worker in Wisconsin told me he was offended by the Democrats' view "that guns are for the unwashed, the yokels." It's hard to think of a better organizing tool for the right than the left's tribal antipathy to guns...

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