An Anti-Gunner's Journey Toward Potential Gun Ownership

People become anti-gun for a number of reasons. For many, it’s simply that they’re told it will make things better. Some just don’t like the idea of people being able to have weapons. For others, they or someone they know has been the victim of a horrific shooting. There are far, far more reasons than just these, as well.

However, I tend to have a bit more sympathy for those who come to be anti-gun after a terrible experience with themselves or someone else being shot. While I don’t agree with it, by and large, I can at least understand how those feelings develop.

Yet in the Washington Post this week, they had a bit of a human interest story about a guy who has been anti-gun–a literal hoplophobe–and how he opted to face his fears.

In a nation plagued by gun violence, in a state scarred by mass shootings and bitterly divided over how to prevent them, would firing a weapon help Karns heal — or inflict more damage?

A month earlier, two men had killed themselves at the same gun range in a span of five days. Karns had heard about the suicides but wasn’t dissuaded.

“C’mon in,” CJ shouted, swinging open the door to the range as the pops suddenly grew louder.

Karns followed him to the end of an empty row of shooting bays, where his friend Jennifer Curran, a firefighter and avid gun owner, set down two black carrying cases and a green metal ammo box on the concrete floor.

As Karns picked at a box of bullets, she unzipped one of her cases and pulled out a Glock 9mm handgun, setting it carefully on the table in front of him.

She showed him how to load its magazine and aim through its sights. Karns slid the bullets into the magazine, thinking of the one that had been fired into his neck.

“Are you ready?” she asked, taking the loaded magazine from him.

That’s right, he opted to face his literal fear and go shooting.

Now, Karns is someone who has been shot. He apparently took a round to the neck, so he has some reasons to be afraid.

However, he also has made something of a crusade of being afraid of guns. In fact, remember the Lobby Day protests earlier this year? (Yeah, that was just this year, though it feels like five years ago thanks to it being 2020.) Well, Karns was there confronting pro-gun people.

Wearing a running jacket, glasses and a Brandeis University baseball cap, he began asking strangers why they needed body armor and high-powered weapons. Soon a small crowd had gathered around him, with some calling him an “agitator.”

He was chatting with a pair of teenagers sporting heavy rifles over their slender shoulders when a man in his 30s approached. He invoked what he claimed were Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics showing that guns save 2.5 million people a year from crime.

“You can look that up,” said the man, an AR-15-style rifle across his chest. “Don’t take my word for it.”

Bystanders began to film the conversation as it grew more heated, ignoring Karns’s requests that they stop.

OK, so Karns is a bit of a jerk about his anti-gun crusade. After all, he was actively confronting people at a pro-gun rally, then didn’t want to be recorded because, well, he was being a bit of a jerk apparently.

Yet Karns also suffered from PTSD after a couple of gun-related incidents. One was his proximity to a murder-suicide. The other was being shot after trying to stop an attack on a neighbor.

So yeah, I get him being shaken.

But, he still saw no problem with stirring stuff up while surrounded by armed people. Then again, PTSD works weird.

As a result of his PTSD, though, Karns ran into all kinds of problems. He drank and put on a ton of weight, which led to other health issues.

So eventually, he opted to try shooting. Some in his life were worried it would lead to a relapse of his past problems, but Karns tried it anyway. The result?

“Richmond will always be the place where I was shot, the place where my marriage fell apart, the place where I got drunk,” he said.

He had applied for a job in Maine, helping others recover from trauma and addiction. Three days after his trip to the range, he drove up to his family’s summer home, where Anna — college on hold because of the pandemic — was waiting for him.

Karns felt more at peace far from the noise and politics and memories of Virginia.

In Maine, he could hear the echo of hunters’ guns as he hiked along rural trails with Anna, trying to be the father she’d never known. But the sound bothered him less now. And since the trip to the range, a strange idea had taken hold of him.

There were bears in these parts. Karns could really use a gun.

Funny, huh?

Of course, Karns had reason to be bothered. I don’t agree with him and wish he’d had more grounding in the rights portion of gun rights before his first encounter with gun violence, but he didn’t have it. If he did, he might have recognized that the problem is with people, not the tools being misused.

However, by facing his fears over firearms, he managed to get past his issues to the point that now he’s considering getting a firearm himself. He also sees that protection and self-defense isn’t just about crime. Many of the millions of people who use a firearm to defend themselves every years aren’t using them against armed assailants. They’re using them against wild animals, things like bears.

The big question becomes, will Karns maintain his anti-gun stance, or will that mellow as well?