Waking up Sunday morning to the tragic news of the Orlando nightclub shooting broke my heart. It's been days now, and my stomach still won't stop turning when I think about the terror and the horror of such a tragic incident. Since the shooting, my Facebook news feed has been filled with rage from both sides of the political spectrum, and in an attempt to walk the delicate line between being opinionated and being ridiculous, I've kept my mouth shut.
I've watched people place the blame on the guns and others point their fingers at the man who pulled the trigger. Who to blame here is an especially difficult question to answer for me, because I myself own guns. In my life, they serve as a means to protect my family and sometimes as a way to put food on the table.
I grew up around guns, was taught to have great respect for the power they yield, and I plan to teach my kids about guns and gun safety too. In all my years with a gun nearby, there has never been an accident or an incident.
I'm lucky to be able to say I've never lost a loved one to gun violence, and I've never had to fear for my life or the possibility of someone I loved being in any sort of danger. Owning a gun gives me peace of mind, but for so many others, they represent fear and havoc; they're a threat and a danger. Events like the Orlando shooting and Sandy Hook put an ugly spotlight on a tool that is supposed to serve as protection but, when left in the wrong hands, can be used against those they're meant to protect. I can't imagine how those parents and families must feel, how deeply they must hurt for the loss of their loved ones, just like they can't imagine how I feel about fearing for my own children's lives, how desperately I want to protect them and how strongly I believe my guns can help me achieve that if the need were ever to arise.
The cry for gun control has never been louder than it is this week, with Senate Democrats filibustering for nearly 15 hours to force GOP lawmakers to call for a vote.
As a parent, I get it. But as a gun owner, I'm still hesitant.
The thing that I and most of my friends and family who also own guns (and most gun owners, for that matter) fear the most is that if the government gets an inch, it will take a mile. It might start with a reasonable demand — the banning of assault rifles as many are demanding this week — but next it could be shotguns, then handguns, then hunting rifles, and eventually there could be so much red tape that for responsible, law-abiding citizens, owning a gun becomes impossible. Then we're left with nothing but happy thoughts and prayers to protect our families from the criminals who have no regard for red tape or laws.
Then what? Someone breaks into my house, and I'm supposed to hope that they're reasonable or that a cop just happens to be on my block? I used to think that my odds of encountering a terrorist were slim to none, but the many recent tragedies have me second-guessing that thinking, and if I'm ever put in such a situation, I want to have the ability to protect myself and my family.
If you met me on the street, you would never know I own a gun. I'm a typical woman, a mother, a former health care worker and a rare Southerner who leans somewhat liberal. I am no different from the Muslim family that lives a few blocks away from me. I'm no different from my Muslim friends. I don't judge any of them based on those who have radicalized their religion, who have used it to justify taking the lives of innocent people.
I don't judge them by the terrorist that went on a shooting rampage in Orlando, so why should I, a gun owner — or any responsible gun owner — be judged based on what I choose to protect my family?
Listen, I understand why people are calling for stricter gun laws, and I'm not entirely opposed to the notion. I don't personally think that anyone needs an assault rifle. What I do understand as a gun owner is that banning assault rifles isn't where this debate ends. Gun control doesn't stop at assault rifles. If it did, they would have been permanently banned by now, because I promise you that the majority of gun owners are very reasonable, responsible people. We want the same thing for our families that everyone wants — to protect them, to keep them safe from harm and terror, and for us, at least, owning a gun gives us the ability to do so.
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