Stories: “Why I own a gun”

Jeff Jones
Engagement Editor
Public Insight Network
Anna Weggel
Public Insight Network

Reports of a shooting on a Texas college campus had the nation holding its breath again yesterday afternoon. (Three people were wounded, but no one was killed.)

President Obama’s plan for reducing gun violence in the United States — which includes strengthened background checks for gun buyers, restoring a ban on military-style assault weapons and creating a 10-round limit for ammunition magazines — has rekindled a vigorous gun 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 don’t personally know many people who own and use guns, the voices here might provide insight into that experience. On the other hand, if you can’t understand why someone choose not to own a gun, you might find these stories helpful instead: Why we don’t carry.


Columbia, Mo.

His gun story: I know personally the impact of “gun violence.” My father, Wil Downey, was a police officer killed on the job in December of 1969. I was 11 years old at the time.

You might think that would make me anti-gun. But here’s something else: My mother was killed in an auto accident 18 months later. Should that make me anti-car?

I have owned guns all my life (my father gave me my first when I was about 8, and taught me about hunting and gun safety). Guns are a tool, nothing more. Just as cars are. Both have advanced technologically since I was a child, and both are actually much safer now when used correctly.

Certainly, both can be misused. But with a little intelligent regulation, both can be very safe. The vast majority of people are capable of using both with minimal oversight, and we can trust them to both have guns with greater than 5- or 10-shot capacity just as we can trust people to drive cars which have the ability to go in excess of 100 mph.

His take on the president’s plan: Strengthening background checks, boosting security for schools, restoring much of the care for people with mental health problems — all of these things are likely to have the greatest impact in the current environment. And they are all things I can support without qualms.

But re-instituting and strengthening the assault weapons ban and limitations on magazine capacity is both misguided and likely to fail. I’ll just say that I think it is a waste of the president’s political capital, and one which plays into stereotypes of Democrats being anti-gun.


Parachute, Colo.

His gun story: When I was young, I was expected (and required) to serve my country in the U.S. military. In the Army, I learned many things — first aid, land navigation, teamwork, leadership and firearms safety and effectiveness. I also learned again that every right comes with a responsibility, including the right mentioned in the Second Amendment to our Constitution.

I was routinely screened for my capacity to be a team player, my capacity to be a leader, and my capacity to comport with firearms. I retired from the Army with an honorable discharge, and thus was allowed to purchase sporting firearms as a civilian.

When I need it, my revolver is worn OUTSIDE MY PANTS for all the world to see. I’m always ready to explain to all comers why I am wearing it.

His take on the president’s plan: The limitation that makes sense to me is to ban new sales of any weapon that will accept a magazine with capacity greater than 10 rounds.


Stony Point, N.C.

Her gun story: I grew up with guns. I learned to shoot from my uncle, who was a military police officer in World War II.

I had my first rifle, a .22-caliber, when I was 12 years old. Since we spent a lot of time in the woods, someone always had a rifle with them.

I taught my nephew and my niece to shoot a BB gun and a pistol when they were small. We had contests in the backyard, with targets. They both now have concealed carry permits as adults; they are both “city kids.”

Her take on the president’s plan: You can not give an inch to a liberal. One gun will become 10. One ammo clip will become all ammo clips.


Duluth, Minn.

His gun story: Growing up urban in Philadelphia, where usually only thugs and police had guns, I realized early how foolish people could act with a gun.

My own experience in qualifying for my current job [with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement], being exposed to “shoot/don’t shoot” scenarios (even in a training environment), made me realize how difficult those decisions are, especially under stress. As a result, I’m much more afraid of my neighbor with a gun than some stranger.

His take on the president’s plan: I think every effort (even those that may not in themselves solve the problem) should be tried.


Colchester, Vt.

His gun story: I have lived in rural Vermont all my life and learned firearms safety and shooting skills while my age was still in the single digits.

Today’s media looks at me like a monster because I’m totally comfortable with guns and defend the continued use of and access to them. I’d love nothing more than to host a session where those media people come out to rural areas and actually learn how to respect and properly use a firearm.

His take on the president’s plan: I have no issues with the improved coordination between mental health authorities and those running NICS [the National Instant Criminal Background Check System], but I am flatly and totally against any reduction in access to guns, ammunition and magazines.


David Hines

Louisville, Ky.

His gun story: I used to regularly visit a couple of the ranges in the Louisville area. In years past, at a local outdoor range famous for its machine-gun shoots, I have witnessed glaring displays of the lack of good sense in firearms handling, to the point that I was uncomfortable at the range.

Stupid people spend money, too, and just because one can purchase a firearm does not mean that one knows anything about that firearm. Unless we are going to impose some sort of Orwellian psychological competency test before one purchases a firearm, an automobile, or begins to indulge in sexual practices, we have to exhibit some level of trust in our fellow humans, and hope that moronic displays will be short-lived and not-too-frequently exhibited.

His take on the president’s plan: The ban on the sale of military-style assault rifles is well-intentioned, but comes much too late in the scheme of things. Had Congress [acted] in the late 1980s, when the first commercially available assault-style rifles appeared on the civilian market, impediments to the easy purchase of HK-91s and AR-16s could have been put into place, such as was done with sub-machine guns in the 1930s.

At the same time, I am suspicious of the president’s agenda. Well-intentioned big government does not necessarily result in a good government. Witness the Patriot Act. The president means well, but how his intentions are interpreted by the swarm of bureaucrats to whom the task of implementing those intentions falls is a different matter altogether. Think of Fast and Furious.


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.

Anna Weggel Analyst
Public Insight Network

Anna Weggel is a Public Insight Analyst, which means she spends her time crafting questions about upcoming story topics to send to sources in the Public Insight Network and then produces web, audio and video content featuring those sources.

Before finding her home at APM in 2008, Anna received her B.A. in journalism, was the editor in chief of The Minnesota Daily, and internship hopped through Mother Jones, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Pioneer Press, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, and the Downtown Journal. Anna's non-work life is held hostage by the stage -- where she performs improv comedy and shows with her lady bluegrass band.