When I was 18 and I moved from Connecticut to California, the very first thing I did was to buy a gun. I bought a 9-shot Harrington & Richardson .22 caliber revolver. Eighteen! was the legal age required for gun ownership in California then. I bought a shoulder holster along with that gun and carried it concealed with me everywhere I went, once on an American Airlines cross-country flight! (Obviously, this was a number of decades ago, before terrorists filled the skies). Growing up in a dangerous, low-income housing project, the need for a gun was obvious to me.
At one point I owned a dozen guns – several rifles, a shotgun, revolvers, semi-automatic pistols, even a little 2-shot .32 caliber Derringer. I loved guns.
More Dangerous to the Owner
The first inkling I had that guns could be trouble for the gun owner was a day when I was alone in my bedroom cleaning one of my semi-automatics. I took the top slide off with the bullet clip still in the handle. This maneuver unwittingly loaded a live round into the firing chamber. I’d never had a lesson in gun safety. I put the gun back together and left the clip full of bullets on the bed. Then, thinking the gun was empty, I playfully pointed the barrel at the bedroom wall and pulled the trigger. The loud bang left me startled and shocked. The .32 caliber bullet blasted through the bedroom wall and out into the kitchen where it hit the open refrigerator door, just missing my roommate Larry Labovitz, standing in front of it (Larry would later go on to become a renown Hollywood civil rights lawyer. He almost didn’t).
The next inkling I had that guns could be dangerous for the gun owner was one day when I had a bunch of guy friends over. We were horsing around as teen guys do, and at one point I pulled out my revolver and pointed it at Art Gerstel’s head. I’d previously loaded the gun with blanks, and so imagine Art’s surprise when I pulled the trigger! I was just about to pull the trigger a second time, when suddenly there was a loud knock on the front door. A neighbor wanted to know what all the noise was about. We appeased her and things settled down. Later, back in my room I emptied the gun and discovered there was an actual live round still in the cylinder! It was right in line to fire the next time the trigger was pulled. Were it not for that knock on the door, I would have gone to jail for involuntary manslaughter and Art Gerstel would be dead.
Defense Is the First Act of War
The main reason I told myself I owned guns was “for protection.” But I truly loved guns. I loved the way they looked. I loved the heft of them in my hands. I loved the way they smelled. I loved cleaning and caring for them. I loved “the power in the palm of my hands.” In retrospect, I had an extremely sensual love affair with guns. They calmed my fear circuitry and stoked my dopamine and oxytocin networks.
But as I got older, the love affair began to fade. In my early thirties I got to a point developmentally where I could have love affairs with actual people. I could have sensual and consensual experiences with them and they could reciprocate. Guns aren’t so great with contingent sensual reciprocity. They don’t give back.
Not only that, but I was actually becoming able to put my cognitive brain in charge, rather than my emotional, fear-fueled reactive brain. I went and did research to find out if my fear – the main reason I told myself I needed a gun – was legitimate. It turns out a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to injure its owner or an innocent person than it is to stop an intruder. I can personally attest to that. And in 2015, gun deaths exceeded traffic fatalities for the first time – a reflection of how much safer our cars are, as well as how many more guns we’ve littered the country with. But here’s the thing: in the rural areas there are only 600 burglaries per 100,000 people. Only 444 of those are residential break-ins, and only 269 of those are through forcible entry. Average loss is a little over $2000.
For me, the much larger question becomes, do I want the traumatic memory of injuring or killing another human being burned into my neural network for the rest of my life over the extremely slim (.27%) chance that an intruder will break into my house to steal $2000 worth of my belongings that insurance covers anyway?
Should such an unlikely event take place, I would hope and prefer to react the way Shichiri Kojun did. That seems a worthwhile level of heart and brain development to aspire to.