As the gun control debate has re-ignited with a vengeance since the shootings in Newton, CT, one of the most common points brought into question is our need for firearms. In online debates, I have seen everything from people insisting they are an integral part of our social fabric, that they have no place in civilized society and virtually every degree of difference in between.
The question, though, starts off on the wrong foot. "Need" is a loaded word, as there is an implied follow up of "need to do what?" that must follow. The only things people really need are food, shelter, clothing and maybe medicine; everything else is optional. The very device I'm writing this article is beneficial and a positive thing, but if it were to disappear from my life, I would not starve or die of exposure.
So the better question, with any artifact, is what purpose does it serve and why would you want to uses something to that purpose?
Many will be quick to point out that guns are weapons, first and foremost. The purpose of a weapon is to destroy things. There is no arguing this.
However, on rare occasion, people have found that without a weapon, their lives would be at risk if not at an end. As such, weapons might not be necessary, but they are damn handy when that rare occasion does arise.
Furthermore, while any firearm is capable of being used as a weapon, there are plenty of them that no one expects will be used as such.
There are, as I see it, five reasons one would keep a firearm.
The first is collecting. We keep things that are of monetary or sentimental value. Firearms fall into those categories, and there are some that are practical works of art. This is still the most trivial reason why one might keep them, but it is one reason people do.
The second is hunting. For many people, hunting is just a recreation. It is a chance to walk in the woods and be unplugged for some amount of time. I've only been deer hunting once, but it is the only time I can say that I watched the sun rise and fall from the same spot on the same day.
For others, hunting is more than a pastime, but a practical way to put food on the table. A deer can yield 40 to 100 pounds of dressed, boned meat. Depending on the area, you might be able to shoot more than one a year. For the investment of a good rifle and some weekends, you can feed a lot of people off of that. And that's before you take in what one can get by hunting turkey's, duck and other fowl, rabbits and other small game animals.
In addition to the benefits of fur and meat, hunting helps the environment by culling animal populations. There are taxes on firearms and ammunition that go directly towards the preservation of National Forests as well.
The third reason you might keep firearms is sport shooting. By this I mean shooting that is not intended to involve live creatures, but only paper, metal or clay targets. There is something uniquely rewarding about hitting a target with a projectile, be that from a slingshot or bow or gun. That this is the choice of hobby for many people is not surprising.
There are firearms that are designed for the purpose, from .22 rifles to the .45 handguns used for speed shooting competitions. Even the currently debated AR-15 has a home here in competitions where one switches from rifles to shotguns to handguns on a timed course.
At this point, there are two other reasons and they are the ones that generate the most controversy. The three listed so far are considered by some to be eccentric, but would find little objection. The following two do, however, as they add into the mix shooting at another person.
Those reasons are home defense and self-defense away from the home. These purposes are similar in concept, that being to have the option to use a firearm if one's life is in danger. The former is usually best accomplished with a long arm while the former is pretty strictly the domain for handguns.
The critics will be quick to point out studies that have shown that one is more likely to shoot one's self or someone you who isn't attacking you than an intruder. The counter-argument is that a successful defensive gun use does not necessarily involve firing a shot, much less shooting anyone; if you rack the slide on a shotgun or produce a handgun and that ends the conflict, the gun has done it's job. The merits of these two points are topics for another discussion.
The fact of the matter is, though, that people do get attacked by other people. The option to respond with force is helped by having a firearm and for some people, they have been the difference between suffering injury or death and not having to take those pains.
These are the reasons most people own guns. There is one other, though this is one I dare say no one alive has ever had to perform and it is unlikely any American would have to use it. That use has been spoken of a great deal, however, by a number of gun rights advocates of late. That purpose is defending one's country, either from conquering forces or from the reach of domestic tyranny.
I will not dismiss this as a reason one might keep a firearm. One might argue that with the might of tanks, aircraft, drones, artillery and other modern tools of the battlefield, a rather small rifle isn't going to help one much. My question, though, is would you be more likely to participate in your own defense without it?
Despite this acknowledgement, I feel like focusing on firearms for this purpose is a bit like focusing on how many places you have to keep fire extinguishers in a house before buying it. The sort of chaos that would be required before bringing a gun into the streets to protect one's liberty is unthinkable, and while the unthinkable happens, it seems a peculiar place to seat one's concerns.
An oppressive dictator or an invading foreign power could come one day to the shores of the United States, but it is the remotest of possibilities. While the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, as Jefferson said, there is a fine line between steadfast and paranoid and too many gun owners straddle that line on their tiptoes.
As they have been the source of the debate, I feel I must also make mention of the focus of our national contention: assault weapons.
It is important to note that an assault weapon is not defined by it's fire rate or by it's lethality, but by certain external features that make it look to some as if it is a military weapon, not a civilian one.
While they are well made firearms and intended for use in adverse conditions, capable of frequent employment while maintaining function, they are not particularly different from other firearms chambered for the same rounds. A rifle in .223 caliber is a rifle in .223 caliber, whether or not it has a pistol grip or a threaded barrel. It will shoot more or less with the same force and be more or less similarly accurate. It will be suitable to any of the reasons one might keep firearms, particularly hunting or home defense, as any other well made rifle in a similar caliber.
Again, in the strictest sense, one does not need a gun. They are useful for a number of purposes. Whether or not one wishes to have them as an option to employ in one of those purposes is a personal choice, one which is guaranteed as a right in the United States.
I personally do not think that right is antiquated, but I understand why others might have different opinions.