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Packing Heat: Why we keep a gun in the house

At a recent pediatrician’s visit, the nurse asked me – as part of a series of standard questions – if we had any guns in our house. Like I always do, I answered with a quick, emphatic “no.” I’m not sure why I lie, because we do, in fact, have a gun. My husband keeps one safely stored in a closet. It’s unloaded and completely inaccessible to our daughters. Yet even though we are responsible gun owners, I guess admitting the truth makes me feel like a bad mother.

I understand the implication behind the question: owning a gun may pose a danger to my child’s health and safety. The American Academy of Pediatrics concludes that although one may feel safer by owning a gun, it’s actually safer to maintain a gun-free home. In their official policy statement regarding firearms, the AAP points to some pretty compelling research against gun ownership. They state, “Guns kept in the home are forty-three times more likely to be used to kill someone known to the family than to be used to kill in self-defense.” I understand this, but nevertheless I’ll still keep a firearm.

I grew up in a house with guns. My father kept a small collection of hunting rifles and shotguns propped up against the wall in his bedroom closet. I could open that closet at anytime and look at those guns. Of course, I would never be as lackadaisical as my dad was back then, but by having them around, I did learn to respect firearms. It was very clear that I was to never touch those guns unattended. And I understood their power. Watching an animal fall to its death from a bullet wound teaches you the power a gun yields far better than any anecdotal lesson about gun safety ever will.

That being said, I’m not a hunter and neither is my husband. We keep a gun, one, because my husband is in the military, and two, for safety. I understand the statistics, and yet, they do not sway me. Instead I trust myself and my husband to determine how to protect our daughters. I trust our ability to safely store that firearm more than I trust the statistic that says there’s only a small chance someone will enter my home and try to harm my family.

In my own community I’ve never heard of any child being accidentally killed by a firearm, yet there have been home break-ins. Several years ago, our community faced a series of house invasions where the homeowners were bound at gunpoint and robbed. And last year near Knoxville, Tennessee, down where my grandmother used to live, a young mother did in fact defend herself against an intruder in her home. Suzanne Carson was alone in her home with her two young children when she heard a noise at her back door. When she went to investigate, she was confronted by a young man trying to break into her home. She retrieved her gun with just one thought: she had to protect her kids. She shot three times and scared off the intruder.

Regardless of all this, I realize my choice may hold some inherent contradictions. As a practicing Christian, my faith informs most of how I live my life and raise my family. I’m pretty sure that Jesus would be anti-gun. He would advocate peace. I get this, and I do struggle with my choice, otherwise I imagine I wouldn’t be lying to that nurse. But I will not love any enemy who forcibly enters my home. If threatened, I would aim that gun and shoot if it meant protecting my children. Under the Second Amendment that is my right, and I believe whole-heartedly in protecting that freedom.

Holding a gun hardly feels maternal. Yet it’s that very maternal instinct that moves me to protect my children at all costs. As a parent, I’ll always be a little ambivalent about my pro-gun choice. On a day-to-day basis I see myself as a nurturer. It’s my job to hug and kiss my girls – to make them feel loved and secure. Holding a gun hardly feels maternal. Yet it’s that very maternal instinct that moves me to protect my children at all costs. In a sense, I’m no different than a wild mother bear who will tear anyone or anything apart if she perceives a threat to her cubs. But being human, we are held to a different standard – a moral standard. But that’s the whole rub: if my children were threatened, all moral reasoning goes out the window.

Any kind of risk to my children’s life is scary to me. In the end, though, I realize the kind of risk gun-ownership poses is a risk I can confidently control and minimize. Crime is not. So next time, I’ll be answering that nurse with a “yes.” Owning a gun might be a difficult choice, but it’s nothing to feel guilty about.

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