*****NOTE: To everyone – please see that this is a guest post – not written by Rourke. I appreciate JS for his honesty.
Firstly, I should say a bit about myself. I am a 28-year-old man, and I’ve voted democratic in every election since I came of age. Growing up, I was aware that my father owned a handgun, but, to this day, I’ve never actually seen it. Needless to say, he and I never went hunting or spent weekends together at the range. What follows is a brief account of my recent love affair with guns and how it has changed my perspective on what it means to be an American, a liberal, and someone who has decided to cultivate a survival mindset.
Since my graduation in 2008, I’ve seen the economy take a nosedive. I fall into that unfortunate category of people with a great deal of education, but little practical experience. Unable to find steady work, I turned to temp services to make ends meet. I found myself with a great deal of free time (and no television), so I started reading survival blogs and educating myself on related topics. I read about fur trappers in Alaska, and guys who advocate saving dryer lint for tinder. I’m an avid camper, so learning about deadfall traps and alternative fire starting methods is very entertaining. I began buying ferro rods in bulk, attaching antler handles to them, and selling them on a website I’d created. Also, I started putting together a few preps at home; some basic first aid supplies, dry food storage, and even maintaining a “bug-out-bag.” All this seemed very logical to me. I live in Florida, and have always been aware that hurricanes and floods could pose a problem. However, the concept of self-defense and urban survival rarely entered my mind.
Living in a comfortable suburb, as many Americans do, it’s easy to push news about violent crimes to the back of your mind. I was raised to believe that police exist to keep the peace, and prisons exist to punish those who transgress against that peace. I recall having heated debates with my good friend, John, about gun massacres on college campuses. He, as a gun owner, argued that concealed carry laws should be changed to allow students to defend themselves in such an terrible situation. I, the gun-shy liberal, simply pictured bullets flying in all directions and greater loss of life. So, without specific knowledge of gun laws, I hopped up on my soap box and argued for tighter restrictions. I don’t wish to over simplify the issue because I still have the same discussions, as many of us do, following a tragedy. It is unfortunate that the blinders only come off in extreme situations, and it took the recent events in Arizona last January to fundamentally alter my perspective.
The January 2011 shooting, carried out by Jared Lee Loughner, claimed several lives and caused many more injuries. The country reeled, as it always does in the wake of such an event. The competing news organizations offered their perspectives, situated within their red and blue mindsets. Some called for tighter restrictions, others for open carry laws. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I’d been reading heavily on survival, or the fact that the shooting had taken place at a political rally, but I realized that, in the same situation, I could easily have been a victim. I have attended numerous political rallies in large crowds, and never considered the potential danger from a single, unbalanced individual. That realization lead inevitably to thoughts about my own safety while traveling to other events, even shopping for groceries. I started becoming more mindful of my surroundings and reading about my local laws concerning concealed weapons. Eventually, I came to a simple conclusion: no realistic plan for surviving unforeseen events can exclude guns. Whether someone loves or hates them, guns are a reality in our society, and willful ignorance about guns can be dangerous.
So, my gun education began in the blogosphere. There is no shortage of information about which guns are best, how to carry concealed, what ammunition to use, etc. I spent the better part of a week reading anything and everything I could find. My head literally spun. Eventually, I had the bright idea to seek out a local gun range. I took a class for first-time shooters, and I was hooked. I quickly returned for my concealed weapons class, then started jumping through all the hoops associated with obtaining my permit. While I waited for all the paperwork to go through, I rented every gun at my local range, from the .22 pistol to the Ar-15. The day my permit arrived, I was awaiting delivery of an old police service revolver and purchased a Ruger LC9 on the spot. I practice regularly with both guns, and I’ve taken three of my friends (all first-timers) to the range with me. I went from being afraid of guns to carrying concealed in about 4 months! I’m still assimilating all the information, and wondering what effect it will have on my opinions of gun laws, crime and politics in the long run.
I recently attended my second gun show, with a wish list in hand. Presently, I’m learning all I can about different types of ammunition. In my browsing, I saw several anti-Obama bumper stickers and overheard people bashing the liberal politicians currently seeking to limit high capacity magazines. I was, and am, an avid Obama supporter, and remain politically liberal. The gun show is not a welcoming space for people on the far left; that came as no surprise to me. But I’m not there to talk politics, I’m there to shop. So I smile and bite my tongue. I think the clash between conservatives and progressives in gun culture mirrors the greater polarization of America at large. Since the 2000 presidential election, when I was 17, the country seems more divided than ever. On gun laws, I believe that both sides are capable of making reasonable arguments in support of their opinions. But, my purpose in writing this article is not to stir up that debate. On the contrary, I would remind both sides, liberal and conservative, that our similarities far outweigh our differences. As Obama said in February 2009, “The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose.” The Constitution of this great nation entitles all Americans to pursue our happiness and defend our lives. My newfound love of guns allows me to do both.