Confession time: I hated guns since I was a small girl. While I’d never had a negative experience with a gun, my dad’s younger brother committed suicide via gunshot to the head when he was just 27. His death and the grief my family felt after are some of my very first memories in life.

Despite being a Marine, my father never owned a handgun again after that. For me, it wasn’t that my father spoke badly of guns (indeed, my father owned a shotgun and rifle). It was the idea of a machine that could and had been used to kill people made my stomach turn.

Whenever I had the occasion to be around guns (which was not often) I stayed away and refused to touch them. I made fun of girls I knew who went shooting for fun and posted Instagram pics of themselves posing with firearms. The idea that pointing at a target and pulling a trigger could be fun was lost on me. 

The journey to gun-ownership hasn’t been easy. I have a love-hate relationship with the idea of defending myself with a lethal weapon. I simply cannot help but think of the uncle I never got to know every time I pick up a gun. It was the last thing he ever did. It’s powerful and sits heavy in my heart. 

Two summers ago, I was assaulted. Held down against my will. With no knowledge of how to fight back or defend myself, I felt totally powerless. It had never actually occurred to me until that moment — the moment of truth — that I might ever need to defend myself. I said it before, but it bears repeating: I felt utterly powerless to help myself when I needed myself the most. 

That incident was the catalyst for a great upheaval. A personal revolution had begun that would first take me through the dark alleyways of victimhood and grief. I had to trudge through the mud of processing what had actually happened to me and work out where to place the blame.

Obviously, the person who raped me was completely in the wrong. I did nothing to ask for it or deserve it. No one ever does— there is no such thing. But for me, I struggled to reconcile how helpless I felt. I struggled with blaming myself for being caught so off-guard. I never imagined that something like that could happen to me. It was a tough pill to swallow that my own naivety was a contributing factor to my assault. 

When I finally made the decision that I would never go down without a fight again, it wasn’t some glorious scene where I painted my face with war paint and screamed “I am woman, hear me roar!” It was quite the opposite. Reluctant and stoic better describes my first few steps toward self-defense.

I’m not a hunter and I don’t revel in the smell of gunpowder and lead. But taking Krav Maga self-defense classes and getting my LTC was a necessary step on my road to recovery. A road which I continue to travel. 

I’m eternally grateful to live in a country where my right to defend myself is constitutionally protected. I have great reverence for the reasons our Founding Fathers enshrined that in the Bill of Rights. They understood what I came to learn centuries later: that we are ultimately responsible for our own safety. 

Another fact will never leave me: the machine that ended my Uncle’s life too soon may one day be the same machine that saves mine. 

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52 Responses to It’s Complicated: My Love – Hate Relationship With Guns

  1. You discovered that guns are tools, and as such can be used for good or for evil. I am glad that the tool has found its way into your hands, as I’m confident you will only use it for good.

    • I agree that printing this took courage.

      “They understood what I came to learn centuries later: that we are ultimately responsible for our own safety. ”
      Preach it, sister!

  2. Great piece.

    It’s a shame it takes tragedy to shed light on wisdom.
    This shows both sides of the fence, but if carefully reviewed from an unbiased vantage point, it would at first appear the “machine” is responsible for both the evil and the good.
    But it is not, in both cases, the person chose.

    Its correct, its personal responsibility.

  3. I am very sorry to hear about your assault, but I am happy that you have joined the ranks of women that can say they will not be a victim from here on out. Good on you for being so brave.

    • Get past the hatred, bro. No matter what caused it, or how justified you feel holding onto it, it’s poisoning you. You are hurting yourself, not whatever created it.
      Good Luck to you.

        • BH: Though pursuing unsanctioned and violent revenge on a past assailant may fit your ethos (not yet tested, I feel sure…), to assert by implication that refusal to murder one’s rapist means one must “like it rough”… is a heinous and barbaric piece of insolence.

        • I’m assuming Mikey Bloomberg pays you to troll pro-2nd Amendment sites, but you really should insist on more money so that you can move out of your mom’s basement.

  4. I am sorry for the loss of your uncle. Suicide is very tough on families.
    Rape is horrible. Knew someone who was raped and watched helplessly as it destroyed her life. Nothing anyone tried helped her. Ultimately she chose to end it with an overdose of prescription medication.
    I am glad you are recovering. I mean that. What happened to you has got to be the most devastating thing that can happen to a woman.
    Train as often as you can in both Krav Maga and firearm usage.
    Stay strong.

  5. Really, really good article, H.L.

    Getting past negative experiences from childhood is tough as these are just as much involved as the positive experiences in forming us as adults. I’m sorry it took such a horrible experience to get through it.

    I hope you have no qualms about shooting the next human that intends you or yours harm.

  6. They say a conservative is a liberal mugged by reality, but unfortunately this morphs from a euphemism into a literal event for some people. I am glad you were not more severely injured by your experience. Fortunately, due to the way things work and as a result of living in a relatively safe industrialized country, you will most likely not experience a similar situation again. That probably is cold comfort in the face of your experience, but if lightning does strike twice you will be in a much better place to handle it, both physically and mentally.

  7. Wow. Surviving that, refusing to let it define you, and then sharing it takes a huge amount of courage and resolve; I have nothing but respect for that. And it speaks highly of your character too that you basically said, “Ok, I was a victim once, and it sucked. What steps can I take to prevent it from happening again?” I know that’s an oversimplification, but not everyone can do that. I’ve known people who were victimized and it destroyed their life. What happened to you is horrible, but I’m glad you’ve been able to move forward and I’m glad you’ve taken steps to prevent yourself from being a victim again. Mad props.

  8. My empathies to Ms. Harris for having endured such a horrific attack.

    Her tragic experience illustrates the propensity of so many people’s brains to operate on altruism, fantasy, and emotion. As Ms. Harris stated, “It had never actually occurred to me … that I might ever need to defend myself.” Her statement reveals her altruism (people are not supposed to attack other people) and fantasy (therefore no one will ever attack me and I do not need to consider self-defense). Of course emotion drives that state-of-mind because it feels much better to ignore the ugly reality that we plainly see around us — not to mention the fact that actually facing reality crimps your style. (Carrying a self-defense firearm limits your fashion choices … horror!!!)

    Unfortunately, no amount of facts, explanation, or persuasion will ever reach such people. Only harsh experiences can bring them, kicking and screaming, into reality. And even then some people will continue to cling to their altruism, fantasy, and emotion.

  9. I am very sorry for your loss Ms. Harris, for both accounts you shared. As I search through my inbox for TTAG articles to read, yours get picked out often, and this latest post confirms you are quickly becoming one of my favorite writers here.

    May you continue to heal and find peace on your journey, and thank you for your vulnerability and contributions here.

  10. Ms. Harris, thank you for sharing your story. I’m sure that wasn’t easy and I hope it helps you regain mental strength and confidence.

  11. God bless you. I admire your strength and courage in posting this article, in being a survivor and in taking control of your own safety, which is ultimately taking control of your own life.

  12. I have high school classmates who died in car crashes. I miss them. It didn’t make me want to give up cars, though it does make me more aware of always using a seatbelt and not mixing alcohol and vehicles. I just don’t find the irrational antipathy towards an inanimate object – one of just many options to commit suicide – to be compelling.

    Heck, a college buddy jumped from a 16th story apartment. A friend from high school jumped off a bridge – I don’t avoid apartments and bridges.

  13. “It had never actually occurred to me until that moment — the moment of truth — that I might ever need to defend myself.”

    That is the same thought process that so many have. You see it in writings and comments constantly: “I’ve been in NYC for 40 years and never…”, “I’ve lived in the worst area of Chicago my whole life and never…”, etc., etc.

    And that is the point. You don’t need a fire extinguisher until you have fire. Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

  14. Thanks for having the gravel to write this.

    I wish you well in your journey.

    We’ll worth reading and reflecting upon.

  15. “I hated guns since I was a small girl………….It was the idea of a machine that could and had been used to kill people made my stomach turn”.

    Gee how does she “feel” about cars/trucks and SUVs?

    #Nice

    #Berlin

    #Columbus/Ohio State

    #Israel (dozens of attacks)

  16. H.L.

    Thankful for the healing that you have experienced in your painful experiences. May your courage and honesty inspire other women!

  17. What we need to work on is how someone could have convinced you without your having to be raped. You are one of a small number of people unfortunate enough to have the perspective which has been forced on you. I hope you can find a way to exploit that.

  18. As others said, thank you for sharing your sad experiences. Like you, my wife can tell of the emotionally draining of family member suicide. Her oldest brother took his life by M1 Garand. Earlier, the couple living above her in another apartment had martial troubles and the husband took her life and then his, in front of their children, while my wife living below was at home. We were dating at the time. My wife recognized that “machines” as you call them, were nothing but instruments used by humans. It could have been knives, bow and arrows (highly difficult with suicide, I know), or any other means such as hanging or driving into a heavy truck to jumping in front of a train. It is the human that makes the commitment and follows through. My wife and I are seniors, suffering from total knee replacements and other ailments, licensed to carry and we carry everywhere – home and away. A firearm is nothing but something that a human may possibly utilize to to defend against danger. Like any device or object, the human is the one that determines how it is used. I hope you find some comfort in your memories and I appreciate your progress in accepting a firearm as an extension of your own being. GOD bless you and wishing you well.

  19. “my dad’s younger brother committed suicide via gunshot to the head when he was just 27”

    I’m sorry for your loss, and for what happened to you after, but I don’t understand the aversion. If your uncle had jumped off a tall building (like one of my friends did in college), would you refuse to enter a building taller than one story? If he had hung himself with a wire hanger (as a friend of mine did over a decade ago), would you refuse to use a closet?

    No matter how sympathetic I am to you — and I am — this doesn’t make sense to me.

  20. Holy cow, you have COURAGE! I hope the POS that assaulted you received justice. My condolences in any event.

    My brother committed suicide via drugs. It still affects the remaining family today.

    Thanks for sharing and keep up the great work!!

  21. I’m sorry you had to learn a lesson in a very hard way. Guns are just tools. Evil and Good people can both use them. Only evil people will have them, if they are banned from good people.

  22. There’s a corny old saw about how you define a conservative: it’s a liberal who has been mugged. Buried in that fatuous, simplistic attempt at humor is a dose of reality. We, many of us, live in a bubble of belief that the stories we hear are just stories, and if true, affect – in any case – other people, not us. And then the moment occurs. Suddenly, the Lord of the Flies and all the violence and baser instincts of humanity snap into sharp, seething focus.

    It happened to me on a summer cab-driving job. I went into the projects where the other cabbies wouldn’t, reasoning that those people needed rides just like all of us. I was caught in an alley, robbed, and threatened with a broken bottle. The robbery was nothing; it was the bottle that did it. I could have backed over the perps coming to rob me, but reasoned that it was only money, so I didn’t. It wasn’t only money; it was the same loss of power you experienced, threatening my life.

    We both lived through it. We both were changed. I made myself a victim with silly, naive beliefs of invulnerability and benevolence. Like you, not any more. I think more of us, if exposed to the same circumstances that led to both my and your epiphany, would see the other side of gun ownership. That may be a benefit of the street violence that escalates around us – it is a dose of ice water in the lap of at least some of the anti-gunners, with the potential to shake some reality into their worldview. It’s a jungle out there.

  23. Thank you, HL.

    Every sane person has a love / hate relationship with guns.

    Every sane person loves the agency a gun provides (especially to protect their own life), and hates the thought of using a gun on another human being (even in just cause, as a last resort.) A gun, being powerful, amplifies the tension of having a power to use for good or evil. A gun, being passive by itself, exposes the fact that the agency is yours.

    From the author Harlan Ellison: “I curse the lesson, and bless the knowledge.”

    From a wise mentor of mine: “You already paid the tuition. Might as well take the lesson.”

    You have a love / hate relationship with guns because you are healing.

    • Good thinking. Every time I pick up my carry weapon, I say a prayer that I will not need to use it in anger. It is like having fire extinguishers in your home.

  24. Ms. Harris, I feel sorrow on the tragic loss of a loved one and your personal loss but I must say kudos to you for your inner strength and will to never be a victim again.

  25. HL: It seems natural enough to fear guns if your only memories of gun use involved tragedy. Let your training, sport, even “sisterhood of the gun”….over-match the evil associations. It will happen.

    In my life, including some horrendous war months, fights, a few business betrayals, my father’s self-initiated death when I was 14, I have found only one very helpful bit of advice to deal with loss or abuse actively caused by another. Really believe you did the best you could. Promise in an oath that the evil oppressor will regret he was ever born if he returns. Then with a cheerful determination, and when you have the time, prepare your spare set of tools and knowledges needed to make good your oath. A pistol is essential but you may also want to include a small sharp pocket knife should a second confrontation permit its proper use.

    The Illiad teaches the lesson with exemplary clarity, that, win or merely escape with your life, your mind and actions must indulge in only this, a celebration of preparation for the future battles, pleasure in the practice, joyfully making a sport of it. You could not know that every human is at times a warrior…because the matter is often lied about by parents and teachers. Eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is often an involuntary act. Enjoy with discretion the weapons with which you will fight off evil. Having that preparation, your work and your loves can get the full focus they deserve. Nice smile, BTW.

  26. Why is it on this website that when people see the word “rape” they immediately feel compassion but when they hear the word “hippie” they get insane feelings of hatred? Maybe hippies are the ones who are aware of all the “evil” in the world and choose to live peacefully in spite of it all. This website both glorifies and nullifies victims like a trite Trump card. We’re all victims and we should all own guns. HL, you are brave for sharing your story but don’t think that the simple act of owning and carrying a gun and your verbocious, eloquent talk will prevent you or others from being a victim in the future. A lot of people wouldn’t want to kill someone who raped them and it’s a likely truth that most victims are children who don’t have access to a gun. Just sayin. I feel for you, but it seems like you’re still lost in the emotion of it all. My best friend growing up was raped in her sleep – guns wouldn’t have saved her.

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    • Guns promise nothing. Except that you have a chance to fight back. Gun control mavens would take that chance from the victim.

  27. A hard read. I’m grateful you are recovering. We live in a world of dichotomy where most everything can be used for good or ill. I wish you continued peace on your journey.

  28. Thanks for sharing your story. I’m sure that it isn’t easy to talk about those tragic parts of your life. I wish you all the best and hope your story helps others learn to defend themselves.

  29. I am sorry for the loss of your uncle and for the horrible attack you suffered. I am glad that you chose to empower yourself. Nothing is certain in this world, but we prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

  30. Why are guns the only method of killing, suicide or homicide, that people get so emotionally reactive to? Can you imagine anyone going to the lengths of anti-gunners over, razor blades, ropes, sticks, bats, rocks, knives, cars, heights and even bare hands? I can’t. Is this born in to people or are we conditioned by society and the media and why are some people immune?

    I’ve known people that committed suicide with a gun and close relatives that have been permanently disabled by someone’s misuse of a gun and it has never occurred to me to abhor, revile and blame the gun.

  31. I’ve had a hand in raising 9 girls. Two were mine. I would want all of them armed, but can’t force them to do so. So far, I don’t think any are, but would not know about 4 of them. One has made plans to get trained and buy a gun. Maybe she’ll influence a few of the others. I hope so.

    This story is a good reason for them to make that decision and for me to wish for it. Thank you for writing it.

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