Jason Hansman, Staff Writer
This is not a story about how I grew up with guns, as I did not. The first time I held a firearm I was 18 and in Basic Combat Training for the Army. Safety and responsibility where highly emphasized. There is nothing more controlled in the military, especially in basic training, than your Basic Rifle Marksmanship.
It is a highly regimented, choreographed affair. Despite never having held a rifle before that training, I seemed to understand the fundamentals readily. Steady position, aim, breath control, trigger squeeze. I haven’t held a rifle in years, but the training is so ingrained that I’m certain I could grab on and pick up where I left off. I still remember our simple acronym for clearing a weapons malfunction, SPORTS – I always thought of the Huey Lewis album – slap, pull, observe, release, tap, and squeeze. You are trained to the point it is second nature; I am confident I could take apart and reassemble an M-16 with ease today, many years after I got out, and skillfully use it in the manner in which I was trained.
In basic training, you also learn some of the ins and outs of the weapons. How best to clean the barrel – I should have taken out stock in Q-tips and Boresnake. How you can make the burst fire M-16A2 a fully automatic rifle with a file and some simple modification. It does not take a gunsmith, really just someone with a GED and the right tool.
After a year of carrying a firearm, many times two, for a year in Iraq, you get used to the idea of always having one around. When I got back to Seattle, within in the first couple of days I bought my first personally owned firearm, a Walther P99. It was a beautifully machined German handgun, a plastic lower receiver with a steel upper receiver with adjustable sights.
As I recall in 2005, there was a short waiting period, approximately 5 days. I assume they did a background check at the very least. That time is also often considered a “cooling off” period so that someone isn’t able to get a firearm right away in the heat of the moment. The only person to talk to me about gun ownership was my dad. He had been on my bank account in case something happened to me in Iraq, and so was notified when the bank became concerned that my card was stolen. My dad, himself a veteran, was the only one to ask two important questions concerning my purchase: why? And why now? I suspect that these are questions the vast majority of gun buyers are never asked or even think about themselves. Upon years of reflection these are critical reflections for responsible gun ownership. Many feel like it is their god given right to own any firearm that they want, with no other explanation. This doesn’t hold up for many other purchases, especially one that can kill.
A couple years later, I got my concealed carry permit (CCP) in Washington State. It seemed like the next step in gun ownership, to be able to actually carry the firearm around with me. The process was alarmingly simple: get your fingerprints taken and wait for about 30 days for a piece of paper to show up. Washington does do a background check when you apply for a CCP. They check against the FBI’s database, which is why they fingerprint applicants. They also check against state records, for both criminal activity and involuntary commitment to psychiatric care. I was not even required to demonstrate that I had training in firearms use and safety, even though other states, like neighboring Oregon, require a firearms class before getting a CCP (the military discharge certificate, known as a DD-214, can be used as proof of equivalent experience). More interesting, at no point during the process was any information taken by the government on the type of the firearm I had or its serial number. All of that information is held by the gun dealer.
I think I carried concealed only a couple times before I moved to New York City. I ended up selling it, quite legally, to my brother before I moved to NYC so I could take it to the range when I went home. Under the laws at the time, I could have sold it to anyone I wanted without knowing their background – Washington has since changed their laws.
I tell my personal background with firearms to make a point. Not just that I know how to use them and what they are used for, but that everyone’s experience is unique and highly personal. I would never suggest that we take this away from people. For some, their personal experience is bonding with a siblings or a parent. For others, they have had to protect themselves with a firearm. Moreover, for many, it is second nature to have one around.
Make no mistake, there are firearms that are being purchased that have no other intention aside from murdering other human beings – not for self defense, not for hunting, and not for sport shooting. Specifically, I think of my M16A2 that I used most of my military career, and my M4A3 that I used during my time in Iraq. These have one purpose and that is to take the life of another human being at a distance. This is to say that at no point in my life would I say that someone should buy an M16, AR15 or an M4 for self-defense. You buy one of these firearms for only a couple reasons – because you were in the military and are used to it, you wish you were in the military, or you want to kill people. There is very little middle ground here.
The New York Times editorial on gun control is exactly right. There are some weapons that are specifically designed to kill other human beings; those should not be available for consumers. Period. End of story. There is no earthly reason why consumers should be able to own them, much less feel like they have the right to such ownership.
At the same time, I am convinced and have always been convinced, that we can find common ground on this and any other issue. However, that belief has been tested in recent months given the level of violence that has been reported across the country. We need sensible gun laws in America. I told my personal story in an attempt to highlight deficiencies. No one (besides my father) questioned why I would want to buy a firearm. No one verified that I had proper training. No one took note of my gun’s identifying information.
If we want to fix this problem, let us bring together some of our brightest minds from both sides of the aisle and compel them to find common ground. Let’s bring together the military veteran, the life long hunter, the pacifist, the constitutional lawyers, the police officers, and the parents of those who lost their child to gun violence. Let us make sure we have people that are willing to find common ground. Let us make sure they are equipped to understand and speak to this issue, whether it is firearm training or, more so, speaking to victims of gun violence, and let us fix this massive problem that we have in America.
Jason Hansman is a Masters in Public Administration candidate at NYU Wagner. He has spent over six years in the non-profit sector working on program management and collaboration efforts between nonprofits in the veteran’s space. Previously, from 2000 – 2009, Jason served in the United States Army where he did a combat tour in Iraq in 2004 working on local Iraqi reconstruction efforts. All views are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other entity. You can find his other views on Twitter at @jasonhansman.