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Opinion

How I came to accept guns – to a point

I used to simply want guns gone. But then I met my fiancé, a professional machinist who loves target shooting. Turns out, I'm a good shot, too. Chris has shown me there may be a compromise on gun control: Before you can buy a gun, you should have to be carefully licensed.

By Emily D. Johnson / January 15, 2013

President Obama gestures as he speaks during the last news conference of his first term at the White House Jan. 14. Mr. Obama will unveil a series of measures to counter gun violence during a White House event Wednesday. Op-ed contributor Emily D. Johnson writes: 'Owning a gun gives you added power, and therefore added responsibility to society.'

Carolyn Kaster/AP

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I never liked guns. I didn’t grow up around them, and while I support deer hunting, I never saw a reason for anyone who’s not a cop or soldier to have a handgun, or semiautomatic, or anything other than a hunting rifle. Those kinds of guns are made to kill people, and no one should be killing people, except in the line of duty.

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Then I met my fiancé. He didn’t have guns, but he had knives – mostly utilitarian, but a couple clearly designed for injuring people. He is a professional machinist, and he’s interested in anything carefully crafted from metal. His most expensive knives were in a safe, and he certainly didn’t carry them or brandish them or get them into any kind of situation where he would stab anyone. He saw them as a classic example of a machinist’s trade.

It’s weird, I thought, but I get it. Well-made gear is a lovely thing, whether it’s camping equipment, or fishing tackle, or furniture. There’s an element of design and care, and in the case of Chris’s knives, raw materials and handcrafting at the highest levels.

Then he bought a gun. A really scary-looking semiautomatic rifle like those carried by soldiers in Kevlar. And I was upset, for all the reasons I mentioned above. It seemed so unnecessary, and silly, in a way. And there’s always a risk of an accident or a theft.

Chris uses his gun to go to the range and target shoot. He’s a good shot, and he enjoys it. And I’ve gone with him, and it turns out I’m a good shot, and I enjoy it, too. Chris is obsessed with gun safety: He never keeps it loaded, he always has the safety on, and he has drilled it into me to never point the gun at anyone – even if it’s empty. He’s adamant that when we have children we will always have a proper gun safe and trigger locks, and that we will teach our child how dangerous guns are.

His affection for guns is just like his affection for knives. They are masterpieces of engineering and mechanical design, and the machining of quality guns is a real craft. For Chris, target shooting is both a sport and a way to appreciate his own machinist trade.

I’m all right with his guns now, after a long period of discussion with him. He is not planning to use the gun for self-protection, he does not brag about having guns, he understands their potential horror, and strongly dislikes shooter video games and movies that glorify guns.

But here’s the caveat. I know Chris. I have seen him at his best and his worst. I trust him to own a weapon made to kill, and to understand the responsibility that comes with it. I don’t feel that way about anyone else.

There is one more thing that Chris likes about his gun. It makes him feel tough. He’s kind of a manly man, and firepower, whether you intend to use it or not, is a pretty manly thing. This is the tiniest part of why Chris is a gun owner, but it’s there, and it’s the part that I don’t like, and that I can’t approve of.

So, along with not trusting other gun owners to handle their guns properly, I also don’t trust them to shake off that feeling of power that a gun gives them – power over other lives. In the end, that’s the real problem with guns – their corrupting force.

I used to simply want guns gone, but Chris has taught me there may be a compromise. Before you can buy a gun, you should have to be carefully licensed, the way you are to drive a car. Owning a gun gives you added power, and therefore added responsibility to society. You want a gun? Take a training course, pass a safety test, prove you own locks, and update your license every few years.

This way the people who own guns are likely to be those who take them seriously, and gun owners will be better informed about gun safety. But more important, we will send a message that owning a gun is a serious business. Guns are made to kill. It’s better to treat them that way instead of pretending they could ever all disappear.  

Emily D. Johnson works in product development for a New York technology firm. She has an MFA from the University of Minnesota and a bachelor's degree in geology from Princeton University.

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