Why I don’t own a gun

Jeff Jones
Engagement Editor
Public Insight Network

President Obama has proposed a plan for reducing gun violence in the U.S., which includes strengthening background checks for gun buyers, restoring a ban on military-style assault weapons and creating a 10-round limit for ammunition magazines. The national debate the president’s plan — and the mass shootings that prompted it — has rekindled a vigorous gun-rights debate in Congress, on social media and around dinner tables across the country.

As with many issues, how we feel about guns often depends on our experiences with them. And our reasons are as varied as our stories. If you think everyone who chooses not to own a gun does so for the same reasons, read the stories below. And if you think everyone who owns a gun feels the same way about gun control, read these stories, too: “Why I own a gun.”



Lakewood, Colo.

Her gun story: On the one hand, I have been a teacher at Columbine High School since 1986. I was a debate coach in 1999 and lost two members of my speech team, another student I was close to and a colleague [in the shootings]. I have never been comfortable around guns, and this certainly didn’t help.

On the other hand, my 22-year-old son owns guns and shoots them recreationally. (He got into them in Boy Scouts; he was not raised around guns.) He is very responsible. He will tell you outright that he doesn’t own guns for protection, because in order for them to be of any use, they have to be loaded and accessible, and he keeps his guns and ammunition locked separately, so as to keep him and his college friends safe. He owns them for sport, and he and his buddies love to go up in the mountains and target shoot. I really don’t have a problem with this, though I would never go with them.

Her take on the president’s plan: I’m still trying to decide exactly what looks effective to me. I don’t feel like I know exactly why someone needs large magazines of ammunition. Maybe there’s some use I don’t understand. I do think everything we can do to tighten background checks is a step in the right direction.



His gun story: I was about 13 or 14 years old. My father liked guns and kept them in the house, but he didn’t go over any safety points regarding automatic pistols or revolvers.

I found the guns, and secretly fired them, but I didn’t keep track of my sequence of actions and I left a round in the chamber of the automatic. The results were traumatic.

I had invited a friend over to show him the guns, but he didn’t show up. No one was hurt when I pulled the trigger, but as of that moment I lost interest in owning guns. I don’t hate them, I don’t hate hunters, and I don’t hate gun owners — but I do think the NRA and the gun lobby have gone off the rails.

His take on the president’s plan: It doesn’t go far enough. He needs to restrict ammunition sales, and back the restrictions up with action, local or federal. Make it a felony. Expand the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to cover ammunition. This country needs to be kept apprised of the number and manner of injury, suicide and homicide by firearm. The public health system and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention need to have access to, and the right to publish, all statistics regarding firearms. We need to know what we are doing to ourselves.


Arlington, Texas

His gun story: My own experience with weapons is Army basic training and the once-a-year rifle qualification, when I fired one clip of ammunition from someone else’s weapon. Cleaning the weapon was one of those jobs in life that I never wanted to do again. The barrel takes a long, long time to clean out. Seeing the size of the paper chewn out on the target sheet by one round was enough to make me hope that I would never be shot. I never wanted to be around a weapon again.

I recently retired from working at a public service job in a library. It worried me during the past 10 years that someone with a gun would come in and start shooting. I was also worried that other people in the library would pull out concealed weapons and start shooting at other shooters.

His take on the president’s plan: I think that military-style automatic weapons have no place in civilian society. I cannot believe that almost anyone today can acquire an automatic weapon and get a banana clip magazine for it, and buy thousands of rounds of ammunition.



His gun story: I was in Vietnam. (Not in combat — I was a Navy lawyer trying courts martial in the Danang area.) The Navy trained me on assault weapons before I went. I had to practice with them in-country. I know what an AR-15 can do (on fully automatic, no less). I also practiced on a variety of other combat weapons.

So, I know what weapons made for combat can do. They were designed for hard combat. Their design even sacrifices accuracy for the sake of durability. (Such as getting wet and dirty but still be able to fire.) There is no earthly reason why a civilian would need one. Nobody (reasonably) hunts anything with an assault weapon. There are better choices for accuracy.

His take on the president’s plan: I am impressed with the breadth and depth of the president’s proposals. I was used to talk — and no action — on gun control. But Obama is clearly serious about it.


Birmingham, Ala.

His gun story: As a former law enforcement officer, I have a great deal of experience with guns. However, once I left the force, I determined that gun ownership was not for me, and I sold my duty weapons.

In the 25 years since, I have never needed a gun, and the thought of such weapons being anywhere near me is highly disturbing. We had a saying in my department: “If you carry a gun, you are going to use it.”

In addition, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Detroit and across the river in Windsor, Ontario. The difference in personal safety is stark. Detroit is armed to the teeth and it’s not safe to go outside in most areas. In Windsor, a lovely city, one always feels secure. Canada has very restrictive gun laws, combined with a superb medical system that is highly inclusive of the mentally ill, and their problems with guns are miniscule compared to the United States.

His take on the president’s plan: Yes, I agree with the president’s proposals, but they do not go far enough on the mental health end. Until the government provides adequate funding for hospital beds and institutions for treatment and prevention, the president’s efforts, if successful, will have only marginal success.



Jeff Jones Engagement Editor
Public Insight Network

Jeff Jones is the Engagement Editor for the Public Insight Network. He’s worked for Minnesota Public Radio/American Public Media since 2003, including producing and directing MPR’s “All Things Considered” with host Tom Crann from 2006 to 2010. He has edited hundreds of broadcast interviews, but the most memorable ones feature “regular folks” with surprising stories to tell.

Jeff strongly believes that places have stories, too. So he created MPR Sound Point, a mobile phone-based audio tour of interesting places in Minneapolis and Duluth that gives listeners a chance to “talk back” via the PIN.