One of the strangest statements I hear from women on the subject of firearms is, “oh, I don’t think I would trust myself to have a gun in the house.”
The first time I heard this was from a student sitting in one of my Introduction to Handgun classes. I chuckled when she said it but she stared at me, stone-faced. “No, I’m serious. I’m not sure I should learn how to shoot a gun.”
Trying to hide my growing alarm, I walked her through some gently probing questions.
“Then why are you here?”
“My husband wanted me to learn how to shoot since he has several guns in the house and he worries about what would happen if someone broke in and he wasn’t home.”
“How long have you and your husband been together?”
“Oh, 35 very happy years,” she beamed.
Okay…no immediate evidence of domestic violence. So how to approach the next topic?
“Uh…and you’re afraid that you might, uh, hurt yourself if you have a gun?”
She shrugged, not really getting the gist of the question. “Oh, not really, I’m a pretty careful person.”
“No, I mean…intentionally…” I tried to be delicate but I just wasn’t sure where this conversation was headed.
She look appalled. “Suicide? Oh no! That never even crossed my mind!”
Okay, okay…that was two concerns abated. But what, exactly, was her fear?
“I guess I don’t understand. Why are you concerned about learning to shoot?” I bluntly asked.
“Well, I’m afraid I’ll use it in a fit of anger or frustration,” she blurted, shaking her head with vague embarrassment.
“Do you…do you have a problem with anger, or a history of violence,” I took the gloves off completely. No point dancing around this subject any further. If there was something in her history that made gun ownership questionable I would not hesitate to refund her money and recommend some other form of personal protection.
“Oh my no!” Once again, her shock and horror told me that she wasn’t headed where I thought she was headed.
I shook my head and executed a mental face palm before deciding to take another tack.
“Do you own carving knives?” I asked.
She knodded, looking at me like I’d lost my mind.
“Well, have you ever chopped up a family member in the middle of a dispute?”
“Of course not!” she affirmed, sounding more than a little incensed.
“Ever run over anyone with the family car because they weren’t listening to you? Ever feel the urge to grab the hubby’s chain saw and cut him in half,” I continued. “You probably have hammers in the house…ever whacked one of the kids up side the noggin with a claw foot?”
She was shaking her head vigorously now and I thought I saw just the hint of a smile.
“No, no, of course not. I get your point. I guess I just wonder if…knowing how to use a gun will make me more careless…more likely to use it in a situation where it really isn’t necessary,” she explained. “I don’t want to regret taking this class…bringing a lethal weapon into my house. I mean my husband has guns but as long as only one of us knows how they work, it just seems safer, you know?”
I wasn’t sure how to tell her that the opposite was true. Having no gun in the house offered no protection in the event a bad guy decided to let himself in (and, as the wife of a LEO, I can tell you that the old adage is true…”when seconds count, cops are minutes away“) but having guns in the house and not knowing how to use them seemed like the most potentially heart breaking scenario of all.
Still, I finally understood her fear — in fact, I could even relate to it. And it wasn’t without a small measure of merit.
Gun ownership carries with it a specific level of accountability and responsibility. Just because you CAN use a gun doesn’t always mean you should. That’s where training and practice kick in. That’s why I always advise people not to invest in a gun unless they are also ready to invest ample time in proficiency shooting. Yes, of course you must be careful if you own a gun — but the same is true of many other household tools that no one seems to think twice about owning. The CDC reported in 2013 that there were 35,365 deaths from automobile accidents. Wow! Over 35,000 Americans lost their lives to the misuse of a car. Meanwhile, that same year, there were only 505 accidental discharge firearms deaths (I say “only” with the full knowledge that even one is one too many). But if you continue on a google search from the same year, you will see that almost 12,000 Americans lost their lives to intentional gun violence (and that figure is from the Huffington Post…not a publication likely to minimize the impact of gun violence). That’s a lot, but it doesn’t come close to the number of people killed in car wrecks. In fact, if you factor in firearms suicides from that same year…you STILL don’t reach the number of people killed by a “tool” that is not only common but almost mandatory in today’s society. Yet no one seems agitated by the fact that two or more “lethal weapons” sit within arms reach of every family member of almost every household in America.
I reassured my anxious student that, by understanding firearms and how they work, she would be less likely to misuse them — or to have them used against her. I told her I had once shared her fears; that I, too, bought into the media malarkey promoting the belief that owning a gun somehow changes you…makes you more prone to savagery, more immune to the fear of consequences, or more vulnerable to violence in general.
I also challenged her to be the best kind of gun owner — one that practices safe gun handling, one that studies new trends and laws, one that visits the range often enough to be instinctively proficient, and one that understands that guns are not toys, but they are also not animate objects with motivations or intentions. They are tools, and, just like cars, knives, chainsaws or hammers, they are capable of only as much as the user is determined to allow, or is careless enough to permit.
She was far from the last woman to make that puzzling statement to me. And, interestingly, I have never had a male student say anything even remotely similar — even those who were unfamiliar with firearms. I’m not prepared to say it’s a gender thing but it may be a cultural one — maybe men still work with tools more frequently and, thus, have a better understanding of their uses and limitations.
Still, her fears, however inflated, are somewhat borne out by automobile statistics. We are complacent when it comes to the use of our cars — and some 35,000 pay with their lives each year. While I am not a fan of government regulations, I am a huge fan of common sense and we could all use a little more of it, whether we are practicing our constitutional right to protect hearth and home — or whether we are heading out with our peeps for a drive in the country.