The Right Not to Bear Arms

I have owned at least one firearm for nearly fifty years, since I bought my first gun, a .22 single shot Ithaca rifle from the Sears catalog in 1968, at age 11 (yes, you could get mail-order guns in those days). We lived on a farm, so there were places I could shoot it safely. Over the next dozen or so years I accumulated a few other pieces that completed my collection—a 12 gauge pump shotgun, a Marlin 39A lever action .22 rifle that I’ve had since 1973 (quite a beautiful piece of art in wood and steel), a .300 Savage rifle with scope that I later traded for a banjo, a fully functional replica .45 caliber Hawken black powder “mountain man” rifle, and more recently when I inherited my deceased father’s vintage Colt single-action pistol, a cool cowboy gun.

I don’t hunt (at least not anymore), and I have only occasionally used them over the years for target shooting. My pitiful arsenal is useless for self-defense, especially since they were all stored in the back of a spare bedroom closet. Not exactly available in an emergency. Plus, any ammunition I had was stored separately in the attic. The main value of these firearms is sentimental—sentimentality, admittedly, being something I consider quite important.

But about six months ago, I gave them all away. I just didn’t want to be a gun owner anymore.

I’m not opposed to gun ownership for other (responsible, mentally competent) people, nor of hunting, target shooting, reasonable self-defense for those who need it, etc. Rather, I just lost any desire to own them myself. Deciding to give them away was not as difficult as I expected, perhaps because over the years I have rarely even used them. Out of sight, out of mind. But the pull of sentimentality and keepsakes is strong with me, and when I first thought about releasing them I expected some internal and emotional resistance, but that was not the case. Well, maybe a little. And I should note that I didn’t take them to one of the gun-recycling drives I hear about once in a while, where people turn in unused guns and they are smashed or ground up. I’m not that kind of crusader. I didn’t want them destroyed. So I gave them to my brother, who is a law enforcement officer and an outdoorsman, and who would appreciate their real and sentimental value. They’re in the family at least. So no, I didn’t even reduce the number of guns that exist, I just joined the ranks of those who don’t own any.

Why did I do this?

I’m not entirely sure. There certainly would have been no harm in keeping them in the back of my closet for another few decades (Lord willing) and eventually letting someone else inherit them when I’m gone. I know quite well that owning a gun has not made me a threat to anyone, not even an intruder. Perhaps it was for me the personal symbolism and sense of liberation in making that decision at a point when keeping and using them was still an option. The Second Amendment in reverse, so to speak. The right not to bear arms, if I so choose.

To be sure, the unending cycle of gun violence in our country factors in my decision on another emotional level. I grieve over so many lives destroyed, with no end in sight. The response of some to this violence is to call for more gun ownership by responsible people. My own response has been the opposite—a desire to let go of them. I don’t have the heart or interest in them anymore. I’m aware that giving my guns away won’t affect the cycles of gun violence one way or another. I’m not even calling on others to give up their firearms unless they feel empowered to do so. I’m just describing a personal decision that is mine alone. I have the right not to own firearms. But I did take a few photos of them as keepsakes before I gave them away.

Do I feel less safe without my single shot .22 and my muzzleloader, with the ammo in the attic? I guess I’ll take my chances…

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