Over the years, I’ve been involved in many discussions/debates/arguments with folks who do not understand or respect the importance of their 2A rights. In fact, one of the more memorable debates occurred when my interlocutor tried to explain why AR-15s should be reclassified as weapons of mass destruction. I made them feel quite foolish about their opinion when I informed them of my background as a nuclear weapons launch officer, and the actual capabilities of real WMDs (though, I’m also quite sure they continued to use such foolish language after I was done with them).
Every so often in these debates, someone will say that people like me are just upset about having my hobby limited or taken away. They tell me that I need to get over it, and that I should want to give up my hobby if it meant saving lives. “Why should anyone,” they will ask, “be involved in a hobby that is all about killing?”
While I will certainly admit that I laugh at these kinds of arguments, as they come primarily from a place of ignorance, I cannot fully write them off. It is easy for us to parry such an statement with pointed language about competition, and how our guns have never killed anyone, but such a counter has never quite felt complete, if not hollow. The question has always lingered in the back of my mind: why do I enjoy what I do so much? Why is it that I fight so vehemently to keep my rights as they are? If this was purely about marksmanship and competition, then logic would dictate that I could do just as well with a bolt action or a simple .22 LR.
Sooner or later, we must dig into our motivations. I’m not talking about whatever thing first drew us to firearms in general. Some people like the noise and flash of shooting. Others enjoy the engineering and mechanics of it all. Yet more appreciate the historical context. Those are all great in their own right, but those things are what got us started. What is that actually makes us want to keep practicing?
I’ve written before on how we should communicate and the culture we should strive for. I’ve also written about the challenge of mastering marksmanship. I’ve spent quite a bit of time discussing the why *I* think it is important to continue teaching marksmanship, but not everyone will agree with my reasons. Something I’ve never really tackled, though, is the question that the antis present: why get involved in a skill/sport/practice/hobby that is so closely died with death and destruction?
I think we do ourselves a disservice when we shy away from that truth. We deflect by talking about competition, history, collection, and maybe hunting, but we rarely confront it head on. When presented with the notion that firearms are primarily designed as weapons, we recoil and redirect- perhaps to our own credibility’s detriment. Like any martial art, becoming proficient in the use of firearms is to become proficient in the application of violence. Whether or not we actually intend to use it is immaterial. I believe, culturally, we avoid the subject because we want to believe that “violence never solves anything.” Deep down, though, we know that this is simply not true. Violence, as horrid and unsavory as it may be, can be used to solve problems when necessary. For example, all forms of law are ultimately backed up with the threat of violence by the state. That is a simple fact that many forget. Sooner or later, someone committing illegal acts (even relatively benign ones like parking tickets) will be confronted by an armed agent of the state and will be threatened with violence. By becoming proficient in the use of violence ourselves, even if we never intend to use it, we presumably challenge that monopoly by the state. That fact terrifies a lot of of folks on the anti side. This is not a post about the benefits of breaking that monopoly, however. Instead, I want to discuss some of the other benefits and reasons that I enjoy practicing and encouraging marksmanship.
First, we build confidence in ourselves and our capabilities. This is true for anyone who has taken a self defense class, whether armed or unarmed. This is true for people who compete in athletic events like marathons, Spartan Races, Tough Mudders, and even GORUCK events. This is true for anyone who learns and practices a new skill that demonstrates control of yourself and your surroundings. When you become proficient at marksmanship, you understand that you now have a capability to take care of yourself- be it defensively, putting food on the table, or any other reason. When you succeed at these challenges, you feel more “in control” of your destiny. That is a significant revelation, and a scary one. I’ve taken a handful of folks shooting who were scared at first, but them came to enjoy it “a little too much.” Perhaps these folks recognized some dark trait in themselves that drove them to choose not to become firearms owners, but at least they now understand what shooting is about. Confidence and self reliance is a powerful thing.
Secondly, becoming proficient at marksmanship builds self control. Getting really good at shooting requires a lot of time, practice, focus, and self discipline. Marksmanship also requires a relentless awareness of safety and a conscious effort to ignore impulsive behavior in order to maintain that safety. Shooting in the real world is not like the movies, where the average person picks up a rifle and shoots like a USPSA Pro. People have practiced martial skills for millennia, be it boxing, jiu-jitsu, wrestling, defendu, krav-maga, archery, fencing, and many more. None of these disciplines will be mastered quickly, and all of them require self control. I find it interesting that individuals who are into shooting probably also engage in these other activities as well. Perhaps this it out of an appreciation for martial arts in general. To me, a good day at the range is almost meditation. When I am shooting, I am focusing on breathing, relaxing into positions, visually focusing on a small point, and controlling small muscle movements. All of these things help build self control by teaching the individual to be mindful of their actions, thoughts, and bodies.
Third, shooting is a useful skill. While this is related to confidence, I wanted to break it out as a separate category. Proficiency at marksmanship means that someone has a skill useful to society as a whole. The need for security is a fundamental component of life. Just as we need farmers, tradesmen, and teachers- we need people who can provide security (and food from hunting). It is naive to think that our high standard of living will also go along uninterrupted. The flooding in Louisiana happening right now is a good example. You never know when you might unexpectedly thrust into a situation where you are responsible for the safety of yourself and your loved ones. When that moment happens, you will either be able to meet the moment with your learned skills, curse under your breath about “shoulda woulda coulda” and improvise, or perish.
I know that these things can all be achieved by other means, but that is irrelevant. I understand the desire to be viewed as a “normal” person when engaged in these discussions. We don’t want to come across as violent people obsessing over a hobby that kills thousands per year. At the same time, however, we must also own the fact that we are practicing a military skill, no different than the hundreds of other martial skills that have killed billions throughout history. Ours is simply the modern iteration of personal small arms. This is not a bad thing. These skills have value both personally and societally, and we need to remember that fact.