If you had told me when I was a teenager that I would be a gun owner as an adult, I would have looked at you askew. Me? If you had gone on to tell me that I would possess a concealed-carry permit, that I would own an AR-15—actually, make that three AR-15s, all of which I built myself—and that I would be a steadfast champion of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, I would have thought you had lost your marbles. I grew up in England, where such things were not only prohibited but considered extremely strange. Even though I loved America, I, too, thought its attachment to the right to bear arms was a relic and a curiosity, driven by eccentrics.
And then two things happened. While studying the issue in college, I learned that the claim that the Second Amendment protected a “collective right”—a claim that was much repeated in England—was an outright lie that was contradicted by all the available history. And then, while visiting the United States in 2005, I was taken to a gun range by a friend and taught how to use a pistol. Together, these experiences changed everything.
Having spent some time around people who understood firearms, and who were determined to treat them appropriately, I could see how wrong I had been.
Contrary to the stereotypes I had been sold, the friend who took me to the range was entirely normal. And so was everyone else there. They were white, black, Hispanic, Asian and more—from both major political parties—and all of them were helpful. The image in England was of Yosemite Sam. But these were responsible people from all walks of life who were keen not only to teach me what they knew, but also to convey to me the awesome responsibility that comes with picking up a gun. “This is not a toy,” one guy said. I didn’t think it was, but his seriousness impressed me nevertheless.
My friend only had one firearm with him, but that didn’t matter, because, having learned that it was my first time shooting a handgun, everyone else there let me shoot theirs, too. By the end, I had tried 10 or 11 different models. I shot at neon targets and pictures of zombies. I was shown how to hold the guns, how to load them, aim them and control them, and, later on, how to clean them. It was an education. Silly as it may sound, until that day, I had absorbed as if by osmosis the idea that guns had a life of their own—especially handguns, which were uniformly banned in Britain. Having spent some time around people who understood firearms, and who were determined to treat them appropriately, I could see how wrong I had been.
In the car on the way back from the range, my friend explained to me how frustrated he was with the rules in the state in which he lived, which, at the time, prohibited him from carrying in most circumstances. “As you can see,” he told me, “I train with my gun and know how to use it. I’m happy to apply for a license. I have no criminal record. Why am I denied the chance to protect myself?” At most points in my life, this would have sounded ridiculous to me. But it didn’t sound ridiculous anymore. Back in England, I had already accepted that the Second Amendment applied to my friend, not to some abstract government-led “militia.” Now, I could see why. What ill could come from the people I had just met owning or carrying their guns? They were not the problem. And neither was I.