William McGurn is one of the editors of The Wall Street Journal. He decided to get a gun for self defense and was righteously upset at the bureaucrapic loop-d-loops he had to go through in New Jersey to get his state permission slip.
My answer to his half in jest plaintive cry “Do other Americans buying guns for the first time find it as grating as I do to learn that we need government permission to exercise a constitutional right?”
‘Welcome to the party, Pal’
Confessions of a New Gun Owner
Even in suburbia, people are losing confidence the police will keep them safe.
On Monday it became official: The police issued me a gun permit.
Never did I imagine I’d be here. Not because I was anti-gun. My dad was a career FBI agent, so my siblings and I grew up with guns.
At the same time, my father was never particularly interested in guns. To no avail, we would beg him to go to shoots to show off his skills. More frequently he would remind us that many who keep guns in the house are more likely to shoot a friend or family member than a would-be robber or rapist. His proudest boast about his own career was that not once did he have to shoot anybody.
This may help explain why we all grew up supporting the Second Amendment in principle while not much interested in the practice. What changed? Certainly the rioters played a key part. But far more shocking than the rioters themselves has been the associated spectacle of police and political authorities across America standing down in the face of night after night of criminal behavior directed at the lives and livelihoods of innocent, law-abiding citizens.
Even in suburbia, many are no longer confident our authorities would or could keep us safe. In a small suburb such as mine, what would happen if even 100 or 200 people bent on violence were to arrive at once? Could our small police force really handle it? Or would we be left to fend for ourselves like Mark and Pat McCloskey in St. Louis, who defended their home and were then treated as if they were criminals?
A few years back, I asked a former colleague whom I knew to be pro-Second Amendment philosophically if he owned a gun. He answered no, and then asked if I had one. I said I wouldn’t know what to write down as my reason for wanting one.
He told me, “Write down, ‘Because I don’t trust the government.’ ”
That might have worked for the Founding Fathers. But in today’s New Jersey—a state ranked by the Giffords Law Center’s annual Gun Law Scorecard as the nation’s most restrictive after California—the response might be 40 squad cars on the front lawn by morning. I say this only half in jest: Do other Americans buying guns for the first time find it as grating as I do to learn that we need government permission to exercise a constitutional right?
Equally illuminating has been learning about guns and those who own them. Over four decades in the news business, I have often written about the National Rifle Association, usually about some proposed new gun law. Most recently the NRA has been in the headlines over a lawsuit filed by New York’s attorney general in which she accuses top leaders of decades-long corruption and misspending.
But our family’s decision to buy a gun has introduced us to the side of the NRA more Americans see: the education side. The NRA has courses, online and in person, for almost everything. The NRA instructor my wife and I engaged, Billy De Almedia, was firm, professional and patient.
It’s not just the instruction that impresses. It’s the sheer Americanness of a private organization established to support a constitutional right in all its manifestations, from defending the Second Amendment legally and philosophically to instilling in newbies such as myself the respect for guns necessary to keep and use them safely. Not to mention a taste of the satisfaction that comes from mastering a new discipline.
Surely if the government were to assume the functions the NRA provides, the experience would be akin to going to your local Department of Motor Vehicles. In America, by contrast, the ethos emphasizes private initiative and responsibility. In our new interactions with gun owners, gun instructors and owners of gun ranges, my wife and I have found them unfailingly eager to help and to answer even the dumbest questions.
This year a record five million law-abiding Americans, like us, have become new gun owners. Many don’t fit the stereotype: African-Americans account for the largest percentage jump in gun ownership, while women are 40% of first-time buyers. These new buyers join an even larger demographic: the 43% of American households that already have a gun.
The record gun sales for 2020 may have implications for swing states in November as well. In Pennsylvania alone, the National Shooting Sports Foundation reckons there are 276,648 first-time gun owners this year. To put this in perspective, in 2016 Donald Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,292 votes.
Now, I appreciate how unlikely it is that I will ever reach for a gun to defend my home or myself. But after watching the mayhem that’s taken over so many city streets I wonder, probably with plenty of my fellow first-time gun buyers, what alternative I’d have if ever I had to make that terrible 911 call—and it went unanswered?