30 December 2012

An Accidental Activist

Dec 2015 Update - In the wake of San Bernardino, I've realized that the more things change, the more things stay the same. I don't particularly care for getting political, but I don't feel like I am left any choice to protect both the options I want to keep available for my self defense and for the sport I am passionate about. I'm no hero or hero wannabe; I just want the right to keep effective tools at hand rather than to die cowering and with regret. I've become a safe and effective shooter for love of the game, and I see no reason I should be forced to leave those skills at the range when someone means to and is able to do me imminent, grievous bodily harm.

It's not that I think it likely that I will be in the vicinity of some sort of mass attack, or that evil overwhelmingly walks among us. It's that if it does, when it does, I'm not left hiding and wishing for a better way to survive. If I were diagnosed with a terminal disease, I'd feel the same way: I'd want to live and to fight for every day I can have with the best quality of life I can get. I don't live in fear; I live in the powerful optimism that life is beautiful and worth fighting for (hat tip, Cornered Cat).

Like the rest of the world, I watched in horror as the recent events in Sandy Hook unfolded, along with other violent events of the past few months. I don't have a specific frame of reference to say that I can understand what the victims and survivors are feeling, so I can only offer my sympathy and condolences. My friends span the entire political spectrum so in the past few weeks I've heard most of the rhetoric that's been swirling around mental health treatment, school security, gun ownership, and more. I generally try to stay apolitical but it'd be like talking around the mastodon in the room to not speak at least briefly to gun rights, gun control, and my journey towards advocating for simplification of existing laws and enforcement of what is in place, rather than adding more layers of regulation in response to the call to "do something".

When I first learned to shoot, it was mainly because I thought it was the sort of skill every girl should pick up - just like learning to change a tire or use power tools. The fun part of it came as a surprise, and I bought my first .22lr pistol to enjoy going to the range every couple weeks to plink. In order to make it easier to comply with transport laws, I got my license to carry firearms soon after. That was my first hint that complying with gun laws might be a little more complex than I suspected. Even though I waited many weeks for my license to come through, and learned that the sheriff's office called and spoke to each of my references, that extensive process apparently wasn't enough for me to stay legal everywhere I went. In fact, one of the routes to the range involved hopping into another a state to get back into my home state, and I had to remember to follow federal interstate transport laws to stay legal. Figuring out how to get licensed in a manner that would allow me to just stop for dinner on the most efficient route home, then finding the required training classes, getting the right pictures taken, figuring out where to get fingerprints done...I had no idea at the time how complicated it could get!

Over time, I noticed a theme - being a law-abiding gun owner wasn't easy, and it got even harder once I started thinking about the intricacies of permissible self-defense. Before I got into shooting, I'd only considered the use of deadly force as an academic problem. After I became more proficient, partially through defensive and tactical shooting classes because they were the most accessible way to get formal training, it seemed obvious to me that my newly-won skills were something I could use in my everyday life...one that involved late evening walks through a city known for crime but was where I worked and went to school, and a minor disability that makes running away less of an option than it might be for others. Even so, it wasn't an easy decision to make, and one I learned raised many of the same questions other responsible gun owners ask: the practicalities of how to carry, the morality of balancing my life against an attacker's, the legality of where I could have my gun and when I could use it. And that last question? So incredibly confusing to tease out the exact circumstances when using a gun in self-defense wouldn't lead to me becoming a criminal defendant.

As I acquired more guns for different aspects of my new hobby, I learned that many features I found fun or useful - or even necessary - were formerly illegal under the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, currently illegal in certain states, and now proposed to become illegal under new proposals. Features like collapsible stocks, which allow me to properly shoulder a rifle, pistol grips that are more comfortable for my hands and wrists, or suppressors that help protect my hearing. The full capacity magazines that came with many of my pistols can't be taken into many neighboring states without breaking the law. And if not illegal, many items are or are proposed to be taxed in a way to make an already pricey sport even more expensive. For example, a short-barreled rifle that would be easier for my 5'4" self to handle requires a $200 tax stamp and 5-8+ months of processing.

I didn't want to become a firearms activist. It started only because I couldn't understand why it was so difficult to avoid inadvertently breaking the law. It continued when I realized that my new friends in the firearms community were well-trained, level-headed, thoughtful people - not exactly the hot-headed, violent, impulsive types I was led to believe permeated the gun owning crowd (though they're out there! just not everyone, or even most everyone). And as I stand here today, I've realized that I must stand for my community or risk losing what brought us together. So this is one of my New Year's resolutions: to continue to be a good example of a gun owner, and not to stay silent about it. I'm going to teach more, train more, and be a vocal reminder of what this shooter looks like: a law-abiding, white-collar professional passionately enjoying a hobby that has given me good friendships, a way to defend myself, and a sport that I will physically be able to continue with indefinitely. But only if the proposed legislation comes to a grinding halt.