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Gun-Shy Writer Has Second Thoughts About Defenselessness

AP Photo/Michael Hill

Since the start of the pandemic and the corresponding Great Gun Run of 2020/2021, we’ve seen millions of Americans embrace their Second Amendment rights for the very first time, and not all of them are conservatives worried about their individual freedoms being taken away. There’s been a rise in the number of self-described liberals with a growing interest in gun ownership over the past 20 months or so as well, including Samuel Ligon, a novelist and teacher at Eastern Washington University.

Ligon recently wrote about what drove him to take class on basic firearms handling as he debated buying a gun, and as it turns out, it was conservative 2A activists that had the biggest impact on him.

This was a few months after the BLM demonstrations in Spokane, Washington, when the militia was out at night with their guns and camouflage costumes. Kate and I saw them on TV and Twitter, in Spokane and all over the West, men with assault weapons ready for war.

I’d seen them in Olympia, too, armed citizens asserting their rights. The third-grade teachers would usher their students back to the buses, their Capitol tour abruptly over. This was before the Capitol grounds were fenced, before people started shooting each other during weekend protests. In August, Kate and I saw a guy at the Country Store shopping with his wife and toddler with a gun on his hip, a posture I found idiotic, intimidating, infuriating. He was why I wanted to go to gun school. I hated him for walking around like that.

I didn’t tell Kate I was going for weeks, and when I did tell her, she didn’t say much. In fact, she didn’t say anything. I considered canceling, but it had been so hard to get a spot. Everyone wanted to go to gun school. The pandemic — or something worse, whatever it was that had been tearing us apart for years — was working our fear, making some of us conclude that we might have to shoot somebody soon, which is what we mean when we talk about self-defense.

For Ligon, it was the armed response to the “demonstrations” that made him want a firearm for protection, but for many others, it was the riots, looting, and violence in cities from coast-to-coast that made them think about their Second Amendment rights for the first time in their lives. And even after the riots and demonstrations subsided, the violence has remained. Ligon doesn’t say anything about the crime rate in Spokane influencing his desire to own a gun, but homicides in the city doubled in 2020 compared to 2019, and I don’t think the “militia” was responsible for any of them.

But it wasn’t just Ligon who was interested in picking up a firearm. His brother told him he’d bought a gun. His brother-in-law admitted he’d bought a shotgun, though he hadn’t yet purchased any shells.

We hadn’t grown up with guns in my family and now everyone was getting one. We’d lived in safe neighborhoods and could rely on the protection of the police. We were starting to understand just how lucky we’d been. I hadn’t shot one in years.

And I hadn’t been out of my pajamas since April, when we came back to Spokane from Olympia, where I serve as a legislative liaison.

Summer got smoky. One night it was so bad in our creaky, old house I woke to Kate in a mask beside me. I made an air purifier out of a furnace filter taped to a box fan. She was 8 months pregnant. “At least the baby doesn’t have to breathe this,” she said.

I planned what I’d wear to gun school — black jeans, black T-shirt, steel-toed boots. My brother called when I was getting ready, and we kept talking as I drove. He wanted to know what kind of guns I’d be shooting. I told him I wasn’t sure. “I don’t know how to use mine,” he said. “It scares the hell out of me.”

“Get rid of it,” I said.

“I can’t,” he said.

“Why do you even have it?”

“Just in case,” he said.

If this conversation actually took place the way Ligon describes it, then I have to agree with him; if his brother his scared of his gun and doesn’t know how to use it, he should absolutely take it back to the gun store and sell it to them, even at a loss. Get rid of it, because you don’t really want it. Even if you own a gun “just in case” you need it, you still need to be comfortable and confident enough to actually know how to operate it under duress. Chances are if that ever “just in case” moment comes, you’re going to be scared enough as it is. You don’t need to be scared of your gun too.

I won’t spoil Ligon’s actual trip to “gun school” and the range, or whether or not he decided to join the ranks of gun owners, but if you want his full story you can read it here. I certainly don’t agree with most of Ligon’s politics or his conclusions, but I’ll give him points for at least educating himself on the basics of gun handling, which is more than can be said about his brother.

Nov 29, 2021 4:30 PM ET