Here’s something interesting. Please bear with me – at first glance, this may look like a gun control rant, but it’s not. We’re going to talk about something else entirely, but the best way to get there runs right through recent public events. So here we go.
Recently, Gallup released some numbers about the state of gun control discussions in America right now. According to a CBS article about the most recent Gallup poll, 44 percent of respondents supported “a ban on owning semi-automatic weapons.” At the same time, 75 percent of respondents opposed banning handguns.
That 75 percent of people would be against banning handguns is really good news. That’s the highest number in support of handgun ownership Gallup has ever reported. The number is almost certainly driven by people like us, who are interested in being able to protect themselves both inside and outside the home using small, efficient tools.
If you are new to the gun world, it might surprise you to learn that we haven’t always had as much social support as we enjoy right now. Depending on your circle of friends, you might believe there really isn’t any social support for learning how to protect yourself. But overall, there really is a great deal more support for our choices than there used to be. We can see how much social support there is for handguns by looking at a fascinating graphic put together by Jeff Dege, webmaster at www.gun-nuttery.com. Here’s the graphic, which I can post here because Jeff released it under a Creative Commons license.
It’s not just cool, however. It also represents a striking change in our social lives. Those laws did not change in a vacuum. They changed because people decided to change them. So trust me on this one: no matter how unfriendly toward handguns you might perceive your social circle to be, they would almost certainly have been much more unfriendly toward your decision to protect yourself just a few years ago. That’s some amazing progress, right there.
Back to the recent Gallup poll. Gallup found that 75 percent of respondents were against banning handguns – that’s the good part. The not so good part was, they found that 44 percent wanted to ban “semi automatic weapons,” according to CBS News. Oddly, though, when I stepped over to the Gallup page itself, I found that wasn’t the wording of the question at all! Here’s how Gallup actually worded the question:
“Are you for or against a law which would make it illegal to manufacture, sell, or possess semi-automatic guns known as assault rifles?”
Does this change in wording really matter? You bet your bippies it does! It matters because your friends and neighbors really don’t pay much attention to gun issues. They hear on the news that “semi automatic weapons” are bad, and that no one supports owning those things. But your friends and neighbors know you, and some of them know that you own handguns. That’s okay. You’re not a bad person, they think, and the guns you own are probably fine. It’s just those other people and those other guns. In their ignorance, your friends well might vote to take away your handguns – not because they are really against handgun ownership, or against you owning guns, but simply because they heard on the news that “semi automatic weapons” are bad and should be outlawed, so they are primed to vote for banning all semi automatic weapons – which would include your handgun. What this means is, some otherwise-supportive people could vote to outlaw your carry gun by accident!
Change gears. All of that was just an intro to what I really wanted to talk about anyway.
If you’re anything like me, you might be only marginally interested in how your gun works. When I first started shooting, my eyes would glaze over and my mind would start to wander any time someone wanted to tell me anything about the technical details. All I really cared about was learning how to use it safely and well. The specifics of how it did whatever it did inside didn’t matter to me in the slightest.
Some of my friends seemed to be really into the mechanical details. They passed around animations like this Glock, this 1911, this revolver, this semi-automatic shotgun, this pump shotgun, this semi-automatic rifle, this AR-15, and this Beretta.* They nattered on about “straight blowback” and “transfer bars” and “barrel twist rates.” They debated striker-fired versus traditional action types. Meanwhile, I just wanted to go shoot!
What’s the big deal? It’s just this: no matter how uninterested you might be in the mechanical details, you probably should make some effort to understand the basics of how your gun works. There are a lot of reasons for this – some personal, some practical, and some social.
On a personal level, understanding how your gun works helps you know how to be safest with it. If you carry a semi automatic weapon, as around 90% of concealed carry people do, when you want to load the gun you could simply memorize a sequence of moves that gets a round into the chamber and the gun ready to fire. But it’s much safer if you fully understand what’s happening inside the gun at each step of the process, and why doing things in the correct order is so important. It also gives you better confidence in yourself and your ability to make the gun do what you want it to do. Knowledge helps develop your personal confidence.
On a practical level, knowing how the gun works helps you know what to do about it when it doesn’t work as expected. If the gun makes some unusual noise, or fails to fire when you pull the trigger, or feels weird in your hand, you’re much more likely to diagnose what went wrong when you know just a tiny bit about how the gun works. Again, this can help you stay safe, because you’ll know or can figure out whether it’s dangerous to keep shooting at that point. But it can also help you know what to say to your gunsmith when you take the gun in for repairs, and it will help you know whether your gunsmith is being honest with you when you get the diagnosis and repair bill. Knowledge provides practical tools for you to use.
On a social level, we’ve just come full circle back to current events. Right now, many pundits and opinion-makers on television and radio are misusing terms like “semi-automatic weapons.” They are saying things that make semi-automatic firearms sound uniquely powerful and uniquely dangerous. Sometimes, that misuse and the confusion it causes is deliberate,** but sometimes it’s just that the talkers don’t know any better. It doesn’t matter why it happens, though. It only matters that it happens, and that it confuses our friends and family members who really don’t want to take our guns away or make it more difficult for us to defend ourselves.***
So, socially, when you have an honestly curious friend who wants to know why you think it would be bad to ban “those dangerous semi-automatic weapons,” you’ll probably have a much more pleasant conversation if you can explain to your friend how a gun works, and why semi-automatic weapons work so well for self-defense, and how semi-automatic guns differ from fully-automatic military weapons. A small amount of practical, mechanical knowledge helps you more comfortably navigate social conversations about guns.
* If you decide you want to know more about how firearms work, you’d do well to follow the animation links and really stare at those images. They’re amazing!
** “The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.” – Josh Sugarman, Assault Weapons and Accessories in America, 1988 (emphasis mine)
*** Of course, plenty of us also have friends and family members who do want to take our guns away and prevent us from protecting ourselves using modern weapons. I’m not talking about those folks here. I’m talking about the friendly neutrals, who would support us — or at least, not oppose us — if they just had a little education about why they should.