Growing Up With Guns, Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader from the Rust Belt has a remarkable followup to these stories:

I’ve always grown up around guns and have very mixed feelings about them. My father is a lifelong hunter. Venison, pheasant, and duck were regular staples in our household and most of the meat we eat came from him. He’s passed down guns and hunting traditions to my two teenage nephews—avid video gamers who, other than hunting, would practically never go outside. He’s taught my French fiancee and me how to shoot a bullseye in our backyard. (My fiancee, a true Parisien, particularly enjoyed the experience.)

My father has also always kept a handgun in the house for protection. In our neighborhood, break-ins and robberies are quite common and nearly all of our neighbors keep guns in their homes for peace of mind. A good half of them concealed carry everywhere they go.

Dad also started concealed carrying in the early 2000s when he survived a mass shooting at a factory in our hometown.

Three of his fellow supervisors were shot by another employee while my dad was out smoking a cigarette. One died and two were critically injured, and the shooter killed himself. My dad knew the shooter personally and had taken him fishing before, but he always wondered if he was a target too, being the only one not shot from management. Finding his friend’s dead body left him feeling helpless, and I believe it led him to become a much more active member of the NRA.

Growing up I also frequently saw guns at parties and under beds and even had friends who carried them around—rarely legally. Two of my best friends were shot during high school. One, a 16-year-old male, was shot by a 20-year-old male over a petty argument during a party. The incident tore me up. Shortly afterward, another of my young friends, a 15-year-old girl, was accidentally shot in the chest by her boyfriend who received minimal charges. She survived, but I remember visiting her in the hospital with my Mom and being very afraid.

Today, I am a 27-year-old woman living in Manhattan and part of the top five percent of U.S. earners. My neighborhood is safe and I haven’t seen a gun in a decade, aside from the times when I go back home to the Rust Belt, where they’re everywhere.

My New York friends are much more anti-gun than I am. Even as a flaming Liberal, I'm in the middle on this issue. I believe in common-sense gun laws, but I find that most of the people who strongly oppose guns don’t live in places where people feel VERY unsafe and where a LOT of people around you carry a gun on them at all times—legally or not. They don’t live in neighborhoods where heroin addicts roam around like zombies breaking into your homes and cars. They don’t grow up in cities known for sex trafficking. I wonder if their opinions would be different if they did?

I see and support much of the anti-gun data out there, but I believe that the message is not being delivered by credible people who look and live like the ones who own guns. And that’s a big problem that leads us to stall out on even the most minimal of changes.

Update from a reader:

First off, by claiming that liberals don’t understand those who carry guns, and live in places where they have no contact with people who carry guns, your reader leaves a lot of us liberals out. I’m a staunch liberal, quite lefty, as well as a gun owner and hunter. I live in a rural part of New Hampshire. Owning a gun here is not a big deal, and it makes a lot of sense, as far as hunting goes.

But carrying a gun around everywhere to guarantee personal safety is frankly offensive to the community, and kind of stupid. Here in New Hampshire there is no need for a personal sidearm. In fact, having one makes everyone less safe, by increasing the risk of someone being shot. The data are clear; carrying a gun does not make you more safe; it makes you less safe.

As for your reader’s inaccuracies regarding gun-toting “open carry” advocates, there are a lot of gun-toters in New Hampshire, which does not fit her model that said gun-toters are driven by worries about personal safety. We’re a state where the rate of violent crime is minuscule. These New Hampsherites carrying sidearms are not doing so because they have to deal with violent crime. They do so because they’ve bought into the NRA mythology, that to “live free and die” means being some sort of pistol-packing militiaman, 2nd amendment cowboys,  yada yada yada. The only dangers that gun-toters in the Granite State face are in their fevered, NRA-stoked imaginations.