Living in Texas isn’t always riding to the trading post on horseback and shooting Injuns. Between Dallas, Houston, and Austin, we have some serious high power, hi tech cities. I just happen to live in the liberal oasis of Travis County. Seen in this photograph. Keep in mind that I grew up in the sea of red west of Austin where guns are tools a person uses to get things done. They aren’t scary killing machines. They are like tractors, trucks, and women. Some are a little nicer than others, some a little heavier, some a little shinier; some have a bit too much power. But, when the rubber meets the road, they all have a purpose . . .

Austin is a bit different. It is as close to Berkley as Texas can manage. The kind of place where you can enjoy fine foie gras one night, and make talk of secession the next day while carrying concealed. But I digress.

The other night, I was attempting to take some pictures of my guns for RF. It was going horribly, and I was quite frustrated when I heard a knock at my door. At this point, I realized I had two major problems. One, the door wasn’t dead bolted. Two, I had a firearm in hand and no ammo close by. Way to properly prepare for an evening alone, right? Luckily, it was just my new neighbor coming by to deliver some fresh basil and to ask if I would water the plants while they were out of town for their honeymoon.

Back home, answering the door with a gun isn’t exactly common. But, it wouldn’t really surprise anyone. It would be akin to answering the door with a spatula.

Again, Austin can be a bit different. What should have been a totally innocuous conversation between neighbors became one that was quite awkward. Once I figured out that my neighbor was knocking, and not some meth addled zombie hellbent on kicking my cat, I realized I was standing in my living room with a gun. Which is why I answered her knock with a gruff, “Who is it?”

That probably threw her off a bit. Then, I felt it necessary to apologize for my tone. Which I did by telling her, “Sorry for sounding so surprised. I was here taking pictures of my gun when you knocked.”

To which she responded, “Oh. Well, at least we know where to go if we need a gun.”

We needed to exchange contact info, which required her to come in my home. I caught her checking out my gun from the corner of her eye a few times during our conversation. Before she left, I told her that I write in my spare time for TTAG and that taking pictures of guns in my living room is a totally normal activity, which seemed to alleviate things a bit.

And it is days like this that make me homesick. I’ve never had to explain having guns in my home. In fact, I’ve had to explain a lack of guns before! So why did I feel like my mom just caught me with a dirty magazine? Better yet, why did my neighbor feel so uncomfortable? We’ve met outside before. I’m a nice enough guy. I set the gun down before I answered the door.

So I turn to you loyal TTAG readers. Should I pretend this never happened? Should I offer to take my neighbor and her husband to the range upon their return? In the immortal words of Lebron James, “What Should I Do?”

42 Responses to Question of the Day: How Do You Explain Your Gun to Non-Gun Folk?

  1. Should I pretend this never happened? Should I offer to take my neighbor and her husband to the range upon their return?

    Well, no and no, in that order. If you pretend it didn’t happen, you’re admitting that something happened. You were discovered as a gun guy? BFD. It’s about as important as being discovered wearing contact lenses.

    If your neighbors engage you in conversation about your guns, by all means invite them. If they don’t, don’t.

    BTW, some neighbors and business associates know of my guns. Even in gun-unfriendly Massachusetts where I reside, the reaction ranges from ho-hum to favorable interest. I haven’t faced anything resembling hoplophobia. But if I did, I couldn’t care less. That would be their problem, not mine.

    • Actually, I favor the no and yes approach here. Offering to take them to the range at an appropriate moment is a neighborly way of offering them an experience that you are comfortable with and they may be interested in doing but might not think to ask.

      Who knows, they may decide to buy a gun at the end of the process.

      • And they may have a single lady friend they can bring along (if you’re single). That’s one of my wife and I’s first dates was to the range. we had a college class together and one day she asked what I was going to do on our day off and I say go to the range. She mentioned she had never shot a gun before and would like to learn. I offered to take her shooting and she’s loved it ever since.

  2. Being a former Texan (and one-time Austinite) who has now lived in both San Francisco and Boston, I can totally relate to this. It is almost impossible to explain gun ownership to either San Franciscans or Bostonites in a way that will prevent them from feeling ill. I usually just shrug and say “I’m from Texas.”

    • Agreed. I travel a lot with family, and I’m the kind of guy that starts conversations with everybody I meet. Whether in be in Charleston, Boston, or San Francisco, the conversations often turn to something strange. My one-size-fits-all response to weird looks is ‘I’m from Texas,’ Usually met by a knowing nod and a ‘Oh, that makes sense.’

    • I live in Pittsburgh and while Pittsburgh is not an epicenter for gun bashing, it is a city with a several universities, and well, enough said. When it comes up in conversation and inquisitive minds inquire, then I usually just say “I’m from Georgia, ain’t much else to do round there.” Most people either laugh or give an uneasy nod. All about diffusing a situation that could turn into what would look like an ignorant child blabbering to a rambling gun nut with a beard.

  3. I’m a Yankee (grew up on the coast of Massachusetts) who moved to Richmond, Virginia after college and still finds himself being looked at like a crazy person for having a concealed handgun permit, even down here. I have begun to feel that we need to have ambassadors for gun ownership – people who will “introduce” folks to guns the way that some people will travel to schools and such with wildlife, so that they can encounter “scary things like guns” in a safe environment and begin to desensitize.

    Upon request, I once showed my brother-in-law my S&W 442. I was VERY careful. I emptied the cylinder and had all five cartridges on the table top. I poked the tip of my finger on all five cylinders. I closed the cylinder, pointed the gun in a safe direction behind me, and dry-fired ten times (two complete circuits of the cylinder) to prove that the gun was entirely empty and entirely safe. I opened the cylinder again, and offered the revolver to him, with the barrel pointing always in a safe direction. You would have thought that I was offering him an open test tube of Ebola virus. He would not touch it. I just don’t get it.

    • Just an fyi, Richmond is like the parts of VA around DC and Norfolk, urban. Once you get outside of those 3 areas you’ll get a lot fewer funny looks about the CHP.

  4. I’d treat it as a non-issue unless they bring it up. Perhaps they are less (or even more) freaked or stressed than you think. Look for clues that they need assurance you’re not what the gun-grabbers paint us as – or clues that they have had their interest piqued.

    But more likely than not this follows what I have heard when I worry what someone thinks about me. The fact is that most people don’t think about me or what I do or what I say or think. They think about their lives and that’s okay.

  5. I tell ’em it’s my sport, which is true. Chances are, if a non-gunner somehow gets wind of your guns, you’re more than just someone who has a gun stashed in the drawer for self-defense. I’m betting most of us here really like shooting and the mechanics of firearms, ammunition and shooting. So why is it any different than playing rugby or rebuilding cars? So they think you’re weird. Civil War re-enactors and RPG enthusiasts are far weirder than shooters. Heck, just about everyone in San Francisco is weirder.

  6. Everyone who knows me knows that I love guns and their fine with it, even if they don’t like guns (my mom hates guns,but she loves me). Most of the new people I meet who know I have any guns are at the range, and they also like guns so it’s no big deal. As far as anyone else goes, I don’t care how they feel about guns and I don’t need to explain anything to them.

  7. Got my flu shot at a local WalMart last night, and mentioned to the male RN that afterwards I was on my way to the shooting range. He looked up with a start, causing some of the other people waiting to chuckle. “You’re not from around here (New Hampshire), I take it,” I said to him. “No,” he replied, “I’m actually from Boston.” Case closed. Living in the PRM seems to have narrowed his mind drastically. Which is pathognomonic of being a liberal.

    Apparently the saturation media marketing in liberal areas by the Bloomberg and Brady bunch sinks in at a visceral level, causing the victims to associate guns and shooting with criminals and low-lives. These parochial and narrow-minded people may not even understand their revulsion. Pity them; treat them as the probably incurable ignoramuses that they are, through no fault of their own.

    But don’t let their ignorance affect you at any level, especially an emotional guilt level.

    I didn’t have the heart to tell him that about 100 feet behind him, in the sporting section, WalMart had a nice selection of ammunition for sale, from handgun through rifle and shotgun ammo. Pretty decent prices, too.

  8. I recently told my sister that we have handguns. Her reply was, “guns? Scary!” I said back that guns aren’t scary; they’re tools. I said what’s scary is that there are Humans out there who want to take your stuff. She didn’t answer that.

  9. I’m surrounded by people who would never own a gun nor understand why anyone else would. So I know the look, the questions, the stance people take when they see a piece of hardware. These same people have ADT security and hung Obama signs in the yard back in ’08.

    The way I see it I promise not to ask them embarrassing questions about their lives if they don’t ask about my gun collection. Fair enough?

  10. Tyler, I’m a God fearing man. Really, I am. Go to Church twice on Sunday and read the Bible every day with my wife. So I don’t give this advice lightly.

    If you’re the sort of guy who thinks “Snap! I’m unarmed!” when there’s a knock at the door, if this ever happens again you should probably LIE THROUGH YOUR TEETH and tell your neighbor that shooting for you is just a sport and it has never occurred to you that you might one day need to use a firearm for self-defense.

    If you want to convert someone, a fun time at the range will go a lot farther than a display paranoia. Not bashing you or anything– I’m pretty paranoid too. Just saying, keep it low key.

    • In college one thing we did was take text books out as targets at the end of the semester for those particularly annoying course.

  11. Heck, I live in BANada and people who know me are surprised when there isn’t a firearm easily at hand in my household.
    People who don’t know me however, thats a different story. Up here many people think pistols are illegal… God knows where they got that “information”. I just explain with a quick; “Its my home, its my right, yes its legal.” That usually solves any wariness… But its a shame I have to mention the legalities.

  12. Here in NY, we don’t make eye contact. No pain-in-the-ass neighbors asking us to water their fuckin’ plants. And we never let anyone know when we’re not gonna be home.

  13. Unless I know a person well and they know me well, I wouldn’t want them to know I have a gun, at least not in a place where hoplophobia is the norm. This story could have easily turned out differently if that neighbor was an anti-gun sheep who decided to call the police and say her neighbor’s waving around an “assault pistol.”

  14. Austin is not the anti-gun mecca you think it is. It’s home to STI, Dawson Precision, Tripp Research, LaRue Tactical, CompetitionDVD, Oehler Chronographs, AR15 Targets and Chip McCormick. That’s more national level gun businesses than any other city in Texas. There are IPSC and IDPA matches at multiple ranges every weekend. Most of the lobbyists that enter our state capital building have carry permits (although most who got them don’t carry, they did have to take the class and pass the shooting test.).

    In addition to teaching CHL and a bunch of other pre and post-CHL level classes, I offer a 3 hour Basic Pistol 1 class 10-12 times a year in the Austin area. It’s a no politics, no blood and guts just-have-fun-shooting class that is basically NRA First Steps with live fire on big steel targets. The “come try shooting, it’s fun” approach is the best way to get someone over the “guns are scary” hump.

    • STI, Dawson Precision, Tripp Research, LaRue Tactical, CompetitionDVD, Oehler Chronographs, AR15 Targets and Chip McCormick

      ahem, Georgetown, Florence, Bastrop, Leander, (never heard of ’em), Austin, Austin & Spicewood.

      Of course we do have a fairly large number of heavily armed hippies in Austin.

    • Perhaps my tone was a bit too sharp. I’m well aware of how lucky I am to live in Austin, TX.

      I would love to get with you on the Basic Pistol class if possible. When is the next one in Austin? Where do you hold class?

  15. Here is a real life exchange:

    Me: “Yeah, I own guns.”

    She: Expressing outrage: ” How does your wife live with it?”

    Me: “She packs a Beretta.”

    • Definition of “winning hearts and minds”:

      Marrying a woman from a country which has virtually no private ownership of weapons, and having her ask you “when are you going to buy me my own pistol?”

      • Amen I say to that. My wife had no exposure to fireams at all, but did express a fascination so she was very willing to listen as I explained the two cardinal rules. She would even ask to hold them. I’m not quite sure but “fondle” might be the better word. Before long she hinted that she’s like one of her own.

        We made several shopping trips, eventually settling on a pristine, Colt Mustang Plus II. We went to the range and the live fire went very well and I was probably more comforted than she that it was readily available when I wasn’t home.

        Before long, the inevitable happened. I grew fond of her little gun. In fact, I became more fond of it than she – or so I thought. Out shopping again we went, hoping to find something she’d like more than that little Colt. Then one day she finally confessed to me, “I really like my gun.”

        “So if we find one you like more, I can’t have the Colt. You’ll just have two, right?” Right.

        Then one day, shortly after just having bought a new toy for myself, we were driving by the local gun store and I decided to drop in and pick up some ammo for plinking. She asked if she could come in, also. Not seeing what harm might come from that, I said “Sure.”

        In we went, I turning left once inside the front door as that’s where the ammo section is located. I wasn’t paying attention to where she went until I heard her sweet voice from nearby the display counter say, “Ooh, that’s cute. Can I see that?”

        I rushed over as quickly as I could but alas, not in time. $1,050 later, she is the proud owner (and I do mean proud) of a Kimber Ultra Carry with a Crimson Trace.

        Damn is she good with that gun! I actually feel sorry for any dirtbag that tries to break in.

        OK, not really. But the point is, there are a lot more people out there just waiting to be converted than you might think.

  16. When a non-gun person finds out I am a gun person, I always invite them to go to the range for a chance at shooting. I have a .22 pistol that I start everyone out with, and almost everyone that is willing to go has fun.

  17. Remember that hoplophobia is a phobia. It is not logical. It is an irrational emotion. You can not cure a phobia with logical arguments. You have to address the emotional reasons behind the phobia.

    I think I would nonchalantly ask the neighbor why he was so uncomfortable. Maybe the next time you see him, just say “I noticed that you looked a little uncomfortable when you saw my gun the other day.” Then just see how he responds.

    The point is to calm his concerns, not to change his opinions about firearms, at least not in this first conversation. You’re trying to gently address the psychology (the emotions) behind his discomfort at this time, and it may take a few low-key conversations before he begins to feel comfortable even talking about guns.

    There will be opportunities later to discuss the logical reasons why you own and carry a gun.

  18. The comment, “Well, at least we know where to go if we need a gun.” is remeniscent of the Twilight Zone episode wherein the neighbors scoffed at a family’s preparedness with a fallout shelter, until the sirens went off. Then, they EXPECTED to be accomodated for their own indifference.

    The proper response would have been, “Don’t bother. These guns are mine, for my own use. If you need a gun, go buy one yourself. That is your right. If the time comes when you need one and don’t have one, DON’T come here expecting to borrow any of mine.”

  19. When someone asks why I carry a firearm, I ask a counter-question, “Do you know CPR?” When they answer Yes, I ask a follow-up question, “Why?” Eventually they work out the answer that being trained in CPR might save a life. “Well, that’s why I also know CPR and conceal-carry a gun. ‘It might save a life someday.'”

  20. I consider Austin more-or-less to be my home town, since I spent much of my summers there growing up (maternal grandparents, plus my dad was born-and-raised there) and then went to UT. I also have a number of kinfolk in law enforcement in Austin, Travis county, and central Texas.

    I noticed a couple of things. First, your neighbor responded “Well, at least we know where to go if we need a gun.” Second, she was “checking out my gun from the corner of her eye a few times during our conversation. ”

    Together these show that, while she may be *unfamiliar* with firearms, she is not hoplophobic. Thus, she is at least somewhat open to the idea of personal firearms.

    My thoughts are in line with Phil H: we need, in a sense, to be ambassadors. Not necessarily missionaries — out to convince more people to become shooters, nice as that may be — but to restore the idea that firearm ownership and usage is a normal activity. Most people, even if initially not-so-keen on the idea, are not adversaries who need to be overcome, but neighbors who may need to be persuaded. (Quite frankly, I believe that those who offer a gruff or in-your-face response should as for funding from the Brady foundation, for they are doing their bit to create a gun-banning environment.)

    For that reason, I would be open to offering to take your neighbors (she said “we”, not “I”) to the range. Having a female friend as part of the group may make it less intimidating to your neighbors. (Couple get-togethers have a good inter-personaldynamic.)

    Phrasing can be important: “I remember the other day that you mentioned that now
    you knew where to go if you needed a gun. Would you and your roomie/hubbie like to go with me and so-and-so to the range to go shooting sometime? It would be our treat.” [NB: first time only, of course. 🙂 ]

    Tailor this to fit the situation, of course, and be cognizant of the need for some familiarization and training beforehand. (When taking someone, I try to have a quick safety and familiarization time at the house first: “this is a revolver; it works like this. These are four Very Important Safety Rules which you need to know.” Etc.)

    One thing that surprised me once: hand size. Some people have short fingers, and have a terrible time firing a weapon with a full-sized grip (e.g., my wife, who physically can not shoot any of my weapons comfortably). If that is the case, make sure you have something that works. (My wife absolutely loves her .22 Buckmark and her 9mm XD-9.) This can easily make the difference between
    a pleasant and a negative experience.

    Finally, I think that terminology is important. I almost never use the term “gun” when talking to someone I don’t know. As others have pointed out, the antis and their ilk have tried to create a visceral negative reaction to the word. Use something else: I’ve found “firearm” to be a good term; “pistol”, “revolver”, and “twenty-two rifle” are also usually OK.

    I wish you well.

  21. She was rightly disgusted to see that heavy, low capacity 1911 instead of a Glock ANYTHING. 😉

    I just say whatever comes to mind. Trying to micromanage your responses to the non gun owners isn’t worth it. You failed to mention that your uncomfortable feeling was because this was a woman that came over. It’s part of our dna to panic when women “catch” us at something. There’s no magic solution but remember, chicks can smell fear. Don’t be so apologetic next time.

    Are you sure her husband is a non gun owner?

  22. FWIW, I think of myself as a nice guy too, but well, opinions vary.
    Nice guys tend to naturally project their inherent sense of honestly on others, want people to think the best of them, spend more time explaining their actions and / or intentions than is really ever necessary, and some even go so far as to garner opinions from other people over what to do about awkward situations which resulted from someone else‘s lack of forethought and / or common courtesy.
    That said, ( and always open to correction ) your neighbor’s husband should have been the one to let you know they were going on a trip, ask you about doing whatever he thinks might need to be done while they’re gone and provided you with the contact number and trip info. Preferably in one of those outside meetings.
    Since this wasn’t the case, he should have called you on the phone.
    ( This, in addition to having already done something for you of greater value than anything either of them would think to impose upon you to do. )
    That said, and thinking she’s simply taking care of some of the minor details while he’s doing something else, common courtesy on her part would have been to…call you on the phone.
    At that point you could have asked to speak to him, and if he wasn’t available, inquire as to how he’s doing, and then get the necessary info from her.
    Next contact should be with him. If she calls while they’re gone on the trip, ask to speak to him.
    In future conversations, and presuming you’re reasonably certain neither one of them are convicted felons, you think he might be worth getting to know a little better, and if you’re a mind to….
    you might consider casually mentioning that you’re involved in the shooting sports, and if he’s interested, he’s welcome to ride along with you to the range sometime,
    or not.

  23. Not sure why it would make much difference in this situation whether it was the husband or wife, assuming both had similar views or personalities.
    For a shooting introduction range trip, I think that the dynamics of a two-couples situation are lower key, although an all-male or all-female group would be reasonable as well.
    The male-inviter and female-invitee situation brings a lot of baggage with it, which causes me to rank it last by a significant amount. Not that it would never be OK, but that it in general have problems the other arrangements would not have.

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