Guns in America

The Battle Over Gun Ownership Revisited

For the last several years I’ve been helping convicted felons reinstate their gun rights. Until recently, however, I’d never shot a gun, let alone held one.

I did not grow up in a family of gun owners, nor did my friends. I was in college the first time I ever set foot in a home with guns. I went to visit my boyfriend’s family in downstate Harrisburg. My boyfriend’s father was a doctor, a hunter, and an avid gun collector. Everywhere I turned, there was a gun mounted on the wall.

 A Gun for the Uninitiated

Several weeks ago I attended an event at a shooting range. I thought it was time to experience what it felt to shoot a gun.

After arriving at the shooting range, it dawned on me that I might not get a chance to shoot a gun. Currently, I don’t have a F.O.I.D. card. I learned I could, provided an instructor stood by.  Originally, I planned on using the smallest available gun (in this case, a .22). After the clerk told me that only people who shoot squirrels use a .22, I was talked into trying a 9 mm.


The gun looked and felt like a toy until I inserted the magazine. For the uninitiated, a fully-loaded magazine holds fifteen bullets. I struggled to master a firm grip on the gun with both hands. I really can’t recall where my first shot landed -- my attention distracted by the gun’s recoil. Unexpectedly, I also found myself batting away warm bullet casings. When my time was up I collected my bullet-ridden target as proof I’d been there.

Another Shooting, Another Debate

My visit to the gun range took place less than a week after the school shooting in Florida. As is typical following such events, there have been calls to reform the country’s gun laws. The current outcry has focused on why a 19-year-old can purchase an AR-15 but not a handgun until age 21.

Having just held a 9 mm gun, I found strange comfort in learning that many people survive a 9 mm gunshot wound. On the other hand, it was heart breaking to learn that few, if any, survive an AR-15 gunshot wound. AR-15 bullets shred organs, leaving nothing for a surgeon to repair. Moreover, the bullets create exit wounds the size of an orange.

I’ve listened to the arguments on both sides of the debate. The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that the mentally ill should not be able to legally purchase or possess a firearm. While that is certainly sound policy, it ignores the fact that everyone who kills someone with a gun is not mentally ill.

The Evolution of Gun Ownership in the U.S.

Every day in the U.S., 96 people lose their lives to gunfire. Of this number, 34 will be murdered and 59 will commit suicide. In 2013, the Pew Research Center found that 48% of U.S. gun owners cite personal protection as the main reason why they own a gun. One-third (32%) stated they own a gun to hunt. Interestingly, in 1999, these figures were reversed: 49% (hunting) vs. 26% (personal protection).

Is There Room for Agreement?

If the U.S. Constitution guarantees each citizen a right to own a firearm -- any kind of firearm -- we must be fully cognizant of the risks accompanying gun ownership.

I know that the NRA likes to say that “guns don’t kill people, people do.” I’ve always found this argument woefully disingenuous. Given that the gun rights debate is not going to go away, I wish we all could agree: Guns in the wrong hands do kill people.

gunIna Silvergleid