After enjoying steady growth during the last decade in public acceptance, popularity and positive media presence, gun ownership in the United States is once again being vilified in the news and on Capitol Hill.
There's no need to dig into the specifics of this latest swing of the political pendulum because it's the same story as before. A criminal has harmed and killed innocent people with firearms. Therefore, those in power must "do something" about it right now. And, as in the past, rather than pursuing criminal prosecutions and enforcing existing laws, politicians and lobbyists are blaming the Average Joes and the types of guns they choose to own.
One of the best ways of combating this misguided activism is to adhere to (and preach) best practices when it comes to the guns in your home. Here's our rundown of the keys to the responsible approach:
Know Where You Stand
A common argument against civilian gun ownership is based on what could be called a Sheep vs. Wolves model. Basically the argument goes, there are two kinds of people who live in this country: the peace-loving, guileless and socially well-adjusted individuals who do no harm (Sheep) and the evil, heartless, twisted predators that ruthlessly maim and murder innocent people (Wolves). How do we go about sorting the safe Sheep from the dangerous Wolves? According to some, the answer is neat and simple: The Wolves have guns!
This kind of bi-polar political argument is popular — and seemingly effective — because it boils a multi-faceted social issue down to just two choices; either you're a "good guy" or a "bad guy," a victim or the victimizer. But now is the right time for us to talk about and promote the third category of citizen, one that's purposefully ignored. If we're going to continue with the Sheep vs. Wolves model, then the overlooked third player is the Shepherd. The Shepherds in our society are those who consciously take a stand against the Wolves in defense of the Sheep, willingly placing themselves in danger to protect those who cannot defend themselves. They are motivated by patriotism, a sense of duty, and devotion to their family and friends. Some Shepherds choose to wear a uniform and others carry a badge. But most of them in this country are honest, hard-working people who exercise their Second Amendment right to legally carry a concealed firearm or to have personal protection and sporting firearms in their homes. In other words, their motives for owning firearms are both pure and noble.
But is it enough to know in your heart that you're a good, responsible gun owner? It's time to do more than just feel good about ourselves. We need to be the kind of gun owners that cannot be easily impugned and who do not simply stand by and allow this political fiasco to continue unchallenged. The first step to being a responsible gun owner is to declare yourself a Shepherd.
How many of us rely on someone else to give us the skinny on the current gun debate? Are all of those handy, condensed-information resources reliable? Some news outlets are presenting eight news reports in favor of gun bans for every single report that shows gun ownership in a positive light. A few taps on the screen or keys of an electronic device will display the full text of bills and even play the videos of congressional hearings. There is no reason to settle for being told what to believe when it's so easy to access and evaluate the information for ourselves. Take the time to understand the issues, develop your own set of talking points, and be ready to hold a calm, clear discussion with those who ask you about your opinion. You may not convert others to your way of thinking, but they are more likely to respect you if your thoughts are well presented.
Practice Safe Gun Storage
Even though some of us grew up in a time and place when gun storage consisted of leaning rifles up in the corner of a closet or dropping a handgun into a nightstand drawer, those days are long past. Every gun owner needs to explore and implement a strategy for preventing unauthorized access to his or her firearms. Today, a wide variety of safe gun storage systems are available. Many devices now offer an excellent balance of secure storage with quick access for self-defense. There's something out there for everyone, priced to fit any budget and designed to fit every need.
Seek Out the Proper Training
Whether you just bought your first firearm or you have been shooting since you were knee-high to a grasshopper, there is a single rule every gun owner must follow: Learn safe gun handling practices. It's not possible to over-emphasize the importance of gun safety. Once a bullet leaves the barrel of a gun, it cannot be un-fired. Therefore, we are each wholly and completely, morally and legally responsible for each and every round we fire. The good news is gun accidents have enjoyed a steady decline — 27-percent reduction over the last decade — even though the number of guns in circulation has increased. Firearms currently account for only 0.5 percent of accidental deaths in this country, a direct result of owners learning and following sound gun safety techniques. But until that number reaches zero, there will be room for improvement. Excellent resources for gun safety are provided by the NRA's training programs, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and Kalkomey Enterprises' teaching materials.
Recently, the membership of the NRA — one of the most well recognized gun advocacy groups in the nation — jumped from about 4.1 million to 4.5 million. That's an impressive number, until we look at a few other relevant statistics.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service reported 13.7 million hunting licenses were issued in 2011, while the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported about 8 million active concealed carry permits during that same year. Add to that 157.7 million gun-related FBI NICS background checks from 1998 through 2012.
Let's be clear: None of these statistics provide an exact count of gun owners. Not every NICS check results in a gun purchase, and it's common for one person to own more than one gun. Many gun owners both hunt and carry concealed, creating a number-reducing overlap. Folks who obtain carry and hunting permits can and do pay for multiple licenses, reducing the numbers even more. But then we have the gun owners who don't participate in license-required activities at all, and this is the number of gun owners for whom we have no meaningful count.
The point is, somewhere between the number of active NRA members and the millions of guns sold over the last 14 years is a massive group of gun owners who are currently choosing to remain silent about their Second Amendment rights. The anti-gunners complain about what a big bully the NRA is with its 4.5 million members. What would happen in a gun ban hearing if the NRA strolled in with the backing of 10 million, 15 million or even more members? An annual membership costs about the same as one dinner in a nice restaurant or a single trip to the shooting range, so the claim of it being unaffordable is not a reasonable excuse.
What's that you say? The NRA is not your cup of tea? Then consider joining the National Association for Gun Rights, the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), Gun Owners of America (GOA), the NSSF or a local grassroots movement.
As important as gun rights advocacy groups are, the most powerful pro-gun tool every American has can be purchased for the price of a postage stamp. Write to your representatives and let them know how you want them to vote on gun-related legislation. Their positions are only as secure as their approval ratings. You're paying for them to go to work every day, so go ahead and tell them how to do their jobs.
Are ARs Doomed?
Recent tragedies involving so-called "assault weapons" has prompted more than several elected officials to call for a renewed assault weapons ban.
One proposal by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has no expiration date — as opposed to the one passed during the Clinton Administration — and even goes so far as to name certain companies and models by name, such as Stag Arms (pictured, the Stag Arms Executive Survivor's Kit.
The Rise of Bargain Guns
In the midst of all this hubbub, all Americans are still faced with a grim economy — and that includes gun owners. Crippled by our wallets, many of us are unable to expand our collection.
Luckily, a few companies have stepped in with some modestly priced handguns, rifles and shotguns for the coming year. You don't have to break the bank to get a quality product, and these new offerings help shooters enjoy their hobby without winding up in the poorhouse.
Will High-Cap Mags Survive?
Along with semi-auto rifles, high-capacity magazines could also be on the chopping block, including 30-round magazines for the AR-15 platform, though handguns could also be affected.
Such proposals have caused unprecedented demand for high-capacity magazines before it's too late, which has in turn led to...
The Inevitable Legal Quagmire
If history has taught us anything, it's that no new law passes without a little push-back in the following months. That said, should new gun control legislation be signed into law, it will open the door for countless legal battles in statehouses across the nation regarding wording or interpretation of these new policies.
This could obviously affect gun companies, who would be forced to either shut down or restructure if an "assault weapons" ban passes.
"Until gun shops, cops, game wardens, courts and your buddies get the new facts straight, few people will know exactly what is and isn't legal. I don't think anarchy will result. Rather, law-abiding citizens attempting to do the right thing will have a permanent pain implanted in their posteriors," writes Joseph von Benedikt of our sister magazine, Shooting Times. "... There are only so many government contracts to be had, and if private-citizen sales go away, it will strangle a huge industry that provides jobs and quality products for Americans."
With the legality of certain firearms and feeding devices up in the air, demand has risen to an astronomical level, and orders are being placed faster than companies can keep up with.
Stag Arms is reporting two years worth of backlogged orders, while Smith & Wesson has $332.7 million in backlogged orders — nearly double its backlogged orders in 2011. Ammunition is also in short supply; vendors are having trouble keeping ammo in stock, and even law enforcement agencies are being affected.
'This is the largest and hardest stampeding 'buffalo herd' (tactical firearms consumers) I've ever seen in my 30-plus years in the firearms industry, ' said S.P. Fjestad of Blue Book of Gun Values. 'Are they destined to run off the cliff and plunge to their deaths? We're going to find out in the next six months. '