May 5, 2013


What I discovered when I got a gun (Alex Hannaford, 5/03/13,

So I went out an bought a gun.

A 9mm Sig Sauer P250 semi-automatic handgun, to be precise. And then I attended a one-day concealed handgun license course up the road from my home, which enabled me to take my gun (almost) everywhere I went, albeit squirreled away in a holster tucked into my jeans.

I had been commissioned by GQ magazine to write an in-depth story about American gun culture and under the strict rules of immersion journalism I'd, er, immersed myself. The results surprised me a little, but it was less to do with how I felt carrying the gun around (pretty stupid) and more to do with the exhaustive research I did alongside it. Here's what I learned:

1. The pro-gun brigade will have you believe that the police absolutely love concealed handgun license holders. Spoiler, if you're about to read the feature I wrote: they don't.

2. Where I live in Austin, there are about 82 home invasions a year - in a city of 820,000 people. You're far more likely to be injured by your own gun than to need one to use against somebody breaking in at night.

3. Concealed handgun license holders are mostly white, middle-class men who want to defend against people and places they perceive as dangerous - especially ethnic minority men. Actually, this one wasn't much of a surprise.

4. I actually enjoyed target shooting, and, afterwards, taking my gun apart and cleaning it. It's pretty therapeutic.

5. More of my Texas friends (Democrat, Libertarian and Republican alike) had guns than I'd thought.

6. So-called assault rifles like the AR-15 are also manufactured and sold in Britain. It's perfectly legal for someone living in Croydon, for example, to own an AR-15 - if he or she has a UK licence for target shooting.

This last piece of information I found particularly astonishing; and I wrote a follow-up piece explaining why attacks from the left in Europe often miss their target due to a complete lack of knowledge about guns and gun laws in their own countries, let alone in the United States; that some people railing against the availability of assault rifles, which are so often demonised in the gun debate, lived in countries like the UK where the same guns are actually manufactured and sold to civilians.

The difference is that, in the UK, we don't license guns for use in the killing of other human beings as they do in the US. I'm not being facetious either. On my concealed handgun licence course, we learned how hollow-point bullets (that you can buy from Walmart, incidentally) are designed to expand when they meet flesh, causing maximum, bloody, damage. Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, used this sort of ammunition.

The research I did for those stories also reinforced my belief that it's a very vocal minority in America whose affection for the right to bear arms isn't anything to do with hunting or target shooting. It's about arming themselves to the teeth so they can rise up against an oppressive government should the need arise. Because, you know, that kind of thing happens a lot in America. And they're going to be really effective against the most powerful military force in the world, if the need should ever arise.

Posted by at May 5, 2013 9:02 AM

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