Why Four Firearm Owners Keep Sticking to Their Guns

And they want to make it clear: armed and safe, not armed and dangerous.

Assault rifles hang on the wall for sale at Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, VA. Photo: WBUR.org.

It was like a scene out of Salem, circa 1692: A teen is nearly stoned to death by other teens after it’s discovered she’s a witch. The only difference here? It happened in Delaware in 1998.

The horrific experience with her classmates left Amy Blackthorn, now 35, so fearful that it could occur again that she turned to her best friend, a military veteran, for his help. He taught her the basics of firearms safety, giving her a thorough tutorial.

Yet, even after that, Blackthorn, an author of an upcoming book on witchcraft, did not purchase a gun. Later on, after buying a house and starting a meetup group for like-minded witches, wiccans and pagans, Blackthorn was faced once again with multiple threats from so-called upstanding members of her community — threats that ranged from the destruction of her home to rape and murder. Someone even spray-painted her driveway with the words “Witch bitch fuck you.” Soon the threats became reality.

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“I had a man show up at my house with a claw hammer,” she related. “Police were minutes away. They suggested I get a gun to protect myself. I got an unlisted number and started using my magical name instead of my legal name in public.”

Still, she held off owning a firearm. It was only after a religious extremist, in a car, tried to force Blackthorn, who had also been driving, off the road and into incoming traffic while shouting “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” that she finally changed her mind and bought a gun.

”I took a concealed carry class,” she continued. “I started open carrying while waiting the six months for my concealed carry deadly weapons license to be approved. That was in 2010 and I’ve carried continuously since then.”

Although the circumstances that led to Blackthorn to become a gun owner are unusual, her reason for arming herself with a firearm — personal safety — is not. According to a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 67 percent of firearm owners cited personal protection as their major reason for owning a gun.

“Responsible gun owners are the good guys.”

While some owners hold different views on gun control, the ones I’ve been in contact with for this article seem to bristle at being portrayed by detractors as evil fanatics who place a higher premium on firearms over everything else. The vilification has made them feel misunderstood, even though the Second Amendment is on their side. But in light of the unending epidemic of shootings at schools, most recently in Parkland, FL, there’s no question they are in the hot seat as few issues polarize contemporary American society as much as owning guns.

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It’s a firestorm of controversy that seems to engulf all firearm owners, whether they like it or not.

Patrick Dunn is an example. A 56-year-old management consultant and Maine resident, Dunn hates being lumped in with the firearm movement’s radical-right contingent.

“I am a responsible gun owner and I don’t believe that the Second Amendment should be used as an excuse to be a vigilante,” he said.

Dunn, who has owned a hunting rifle since he was a teenager as well as a handgun for the last 15 years, does support gun control, such as enhanced background checks; however, he does feel that assault rifles should be available to the general public.

Like Blackthorn, Dunn invokes personal safety as his reason for owning guns. Interestingly, he is a former member of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

“In my youth, I was a member when the NRA focused on hunting,” explained Dunn. “But when they turned radical, I turned in my life membership and disassociated myself from them.” (Dunn is also no longer a hunter, having, he said, “simply lost interest.”).

Dunn keeps his guns locked away and rarely takes them out other than to clean them or go to the firing range. This is different from Blackthorn who carries a gun, and different from Hyapatia Lee, a 57-year-old former adult film actress turned writer-author.

A firearm owner for 32 years, Lee’s mini-arsenal includes one rifle and three handguns. She first acquired a gun while living as a single parent in Indiana (she now resides in Colorado). Although she has never fired any of her weapons, Lee did brandish one of them to a would-be intruder “to get him to leave my front porch.”

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Not everyone invokes personal protection as their reason for owning a firearm. Rep. Martin Grohman, 49, currently in his second term in the Maine House of Representatives, said he has owned a gun for so long it has become a staple in his life.

“I grew up on a farm,” said Grohman, who is a member of his state legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and the NRA. “A gun was an essential tool when the fox was literally in the henhouse.”

An owner of two rifles and three shotguns (“for deer, moose, varmints, ducks, pheasants and geese”), Grohman resents the assumption that all gun owners are a danger to society.

“Responsible gun owners are the good guys,” said Grohman, who also stated his support for gun control. “They are armed and safe, not armed and dangerous.”

“Hunting allows me to provide for my family.”

Lee used to belong to the NRA until she “became disheartened at their policies.”

“There is no need for bump stocks, [which make it easier to fire rounds more quickly], and other high-powered weapons of war,” she said.

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Lee doesn’t feel she’s under siege as a gun owner as no one has threatened to take away her guns. She does feel that being a gun owner has afforded her a security she would not have without firearms at her disposal.

“The best part about being a gun owner is that I can go where I want without fear of being overpowered by some sex-crazed man or group of men,” said Lee. “At the age of 18, I woke up to find a man standing over me in my apartment with a pair of scissors at my throat.  He raped me. If I had a gun under the pillow next to me, as I do now, I would have shot him. I feel like the odds of that happening again are slim.”

For Grohman, there are also no negatives about being a gun owner.

“There is nothing better than a good day afield with my hunting dog,” he added. “If it all comes together with a shot over a point, it is magical. Hunting allows me to provide for my family, which is a great feeling. There isn’t really a worst part, other than I suppose when I miss an early shot.”

Update: On March 9, 2018, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law the first gun control legislation following the Parkland school shooting on Feb. 14. Dubbed the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” the law will tighten gun control while also allowing some teachers to be armed. A key provision of the law is raising the minimum age for gun purchases from 18 to 21. Immediately after the law was passed, the NRA filed a lawsuit against the state, arguing that the age restriction of the new gun law violates the Second Amendment. And so it continues.