As a child, I was pretty much fearless.
My mom relates plenty of stories — me, at the age of three, marching down the street to confront a bully who had tormented my older sister. And at the age of five, sitting atop the streetlight waving to the occasional passing car, a good 20 feet below.
Of course, we've all heard the saying that courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to act in the face of fear. So perhaps I wasn't so much brave as simply stupid. I prefer brave although, after reading this article, I'm sure most of you will choose stupid (but hopefully getting smarter by the day).
I guess I grew a bit more cautious as I entered adulthood, although not a lot. But through it all, no matter what stage of life, there was something that was sure to strike complete fear into me. It took only the mention of the word to make my heart nearly stop beating. The thing that I viewed as the devil itself, the worst invention ever, the single biggest cause of most of our country's woes — yes, THE GUN. I didn't want to touch one or even see one, much less own one. And I firmly believed that no one else should either. Guns killed people. No one needed that.
It was one of those issues that, for me, was completely black and white. No grey areas. I made my position clear to anyone who asked. I was a card-carrying member of Handgun Control, Inc, a fact I am now ashamed to admit (hey, think they'll give my money back if I ask?).
I felt these beliefs were already set in stone, but then something happened to really cement them. In the spring of 2000, one of my son's best friends was killed by a grown man showing off his new handgun. He had removed the clip but didn't realize there was a bullet in the chamber. He pointed the gun, pulled the trigger, and killed a 14-year old boy in full view of several other teenagers. Three weeks after that incident, my son attended the Million Mom March in Washington with his friend's parents. I was not in attendance only because I happened to be in Chicago on business.
After this incident, I grew even more adamant that guns should not be in the hands of the “ordinary citizen.” I gave even more money to whatever anti-gun organizations I could find, and made no secret that I felt all guns (not just assault weapons, or handguns) should be outlawed.
I've written a few articles here on lewrockwell.com, in which I've told a bit about my experiences as a new libertarian. But nothing else is as drastic a change as the change I've had in my attitude toward guns. I'm not sure which is more embarrassing the ignorance I displayed in my previous attitude, or the speed at which I was convinced how wrong I was by someone I barely knew. Oh, I tried to put up a fight with the person who started all of this, but I found out quickly how truly unarmed I was. I found nothing on the Internet to support my arguments, and everything to support his.
Now, don't get me wrong. I tried to bluff my way through the debates, but I realized I was doomed when it wasn't long before all I had left was “well, I'm against guns because, um, because, well, I just am!”
So, eventually I grudgingly admitted hell had indeed frozen over, and I was wrong. But what next?
I ignored it, hoping it would go away. I concentrated on other aspects of my newly identified libertarian beliefs, all the while knowing that eventually I would have to deal with this issue of guns. And soon enough, I was ready just not quite sure how to go about it.
The first step, I was told, is to get comfortable with guns. But I live in Maryland, which may be one of the biggest anti-gun states in the nation, and I'm not sure that anyone I know actually owns a gun. In addition, I can't stress enough how admitting my newfound interest in guns would have convinced the rest of my family that I had indeed gone off my rocker, and I wasn't yet ready to fight that battle. So I did the next best thing I took a trip. I knew just where to go Memphis, my birthplace, and the home of numerous gun-totin' relatives.
I had other reasons to head to Memphis as well, so it was a good excuse to make some progress on the gun issue. One of the first things I did there was to meet up with a good friend, whom I had made aware of my gun enlightenment. He brought along one of his smaller guns, a .32 Seecamp.
The first thing he did was unload the pistol in front of me, with the muzzle pointed away. He took out the magazine, and then ejected the round in the chamber. After showing me the pistol was empty, he said to always assume every gun is loaded, and never point it at anyone unless you plan to shoot him. He then handed the gun to me, and this gun became the first one I ever held in my hands.
He showed me how it works, how to load and unload the gun, how it comes apart, but mostly how it feels to simply hold something so small that had the potential to do so much damage if not handled properly.
It was, to say the least, an unforgettable experience. I held that gun for a very long time. It's small, so I put it in my pocket. I carried it around, aimed it (unloaded) at every inanimate object in the room, and otherwise started to become comfortable with what it felt like to have a gun in your hands. When it was time to part ways, I reluctantly gave up the gun. But I wanted more.
My cousins were delighted to find out about this new interest of mine. They had learned to accept many things about those damn Yankee liberal cousins from Maryland (I'm not sure how it was Maryland became "north", since we are decidedly south of the Mason-Dixon line, but north we are), but I'm sure they were glad to find out I was on my way to becoming one of them again. They all enthusiastically brought out their guns.
I found it funny that the only female cousin had the only gun that still managed to scare me to death — a .44 Magnum. That thing was huge. She carefully unloaded it and handed it to me, but I still didn't like holding it. So I gave it back to her, and we moved on.
I was shown the .38 that one cousin keeps in his Suburban — in the little spot where we unarmed folks keep our sunglasses. And the .22 that my uncle keeps near the refrigerator — I presume so that he can offer the intruder a drink and grab the gun in the process. I learned more about automatic vs. semi-automatic, types of bullets, calibers, and how to handle a gun safely. And then my cousins threw in a few shotguns and rifles for good measure, but I didn't spend much time with those. Too much information for one trip. Those will come later.
All-in-all, my first experience with guns was very educational and eye-opening. It wasn't limited to learning about how to handle guns — it caused me to think a great deal more about why I had hated them so much, and why that attitude was so wrong.
I know now that if the idiot who shot my son's friend had grown up with guns, if he'd learned about guns earlier, he would have known that there was a bullet in the chamber. Ignorance causes death, not guns. Guns, as Mark Twain commented, are “the most harmless of things.”
I know now that the reason Maryland has such a high crime rate is because of its gun laws, not in spite of its gun laws. I know now that if an intruder tries to cause me harm, I want to be able to defend myself and not rely on the police or anyone else to defend me.
And I know that forming opinions before you know all the facts, such as I did about guns, can certainly lead one down the wrong path. I'm glad I had someone who pointed out the error of my ways in such a way that I had no choice but to change my mind. I may be stubborn, but I'm really not stupid. However, I would never have learned this lesson by listening to what I viewed as NRA propaganda.
My most recent article was about the apparent shortage of female libertarians. I'm sure that the libertarian position on guns is one of the roadblocks toward attracting more women, as women are much more likely than men to be anti-gun. I should know. And yet, if I can be convinced, I have to believe anyone can.
In recent weeks there have been numerous articles about guns on lewrockwell.com. The timing of my gun journey and those articles has been a coincidence, and I've enjoyed reading them all. I haven't written this because they're there, and I won't repeat all of the valuable information that was put forth in those articles. But perhaps between those articles and this, and I'm sure even more to come, we can change a few more minds. As I read recently, in an email from an LRC reader, "If you don't enforce the Second Amendment, the rest aren't worth a hill of beans!".
My favorite gun was the Seecamp, but maybe that's because we never forget our first. I do know that the trip to Memphis was merely the next step down a path that I have yet to come anywhere close to completing. I still haven't fired a gun, but I will. And then I'll decide what type of gun it is I want to own, and get to know that gun inside and out. And once I've done that, I'll teach my son about guns. It's a lesson he needs to learn as well, and I believe I'll be able to convince him of that.
I'll let you know how it goes.
November 12, 2003