I'm Seeking a Handgun License. I Still Support Gun Reform | Sojourners

I'm Seeking a Handgun License. I Still Support Gun Reform

Image of a target at a gun range.

“Don’t point your firearm at anything you don’t want to kill or destroy. Never point your gun at something or someone you don’t want to shoot.”

This is a primary gun safety rule — at least, according to my instructor, Mr. Mo, who taught my Maryland Handgun Qualification License (HQL) course. The point of the rule is that a firearm — any firearm — is a deadly weapon whose purpose is to maim, destroy, and/or kill.

Taking a gun safety course with Mr. Mo was the result of threats of personal safety turned into one of the best birthday gifts I’ve ever received. As a Black woman, I’ve always known that my skin color could get me killed. As I watched Capitol rioters carry the Confederate flag through the Capitol on Jan. 6, I knew the danger was more present than ever. In the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection, the increase in white nationalist terrorism made me realize that I needed to take drastic measures to ensure my safety. Things in this country are so bad that the Department of Homeland Security’s most recent National Terrorism Advisory System states the we are in a heightened threat environment, with racial minorities and perceived ideological opponents listed as high risk potential targets. The knowledge that someone could point a gun at me simply because of the color of my skin made me realize that I needed to learn how to handle a gun safely should I need to protect myself.

In the few weeks since I have taken the course, the United States has lost countless humans to mass shootings. Best practices dictate that I include the actual number of shootings, but the number increases so frequently that it would be wrong by the time this is published. For some context, there were four mass shootings on my birthday. On the day that I celebrated life, 16 people were maliciously injured and two people lost their own lives.

Those 26 words — “Don’t point your firearm at anything you don’t want to kill or destroy. Never point your gun at something or someone you don’t want to shoot” — run through my mind whenever I see the news of another mass shooting. It fills me with grief that people will spend a considerable amount of money on a firearm and bullets with the intent to maim, destroy, and kill people they’ve never met. The God I know was abundantly clear about what our intentions toward each other should be: “Do not plan harm against your neighbor who lives trustingly beside you” (Proverbs 3:29). Carrying that kind of darkness and desire to harm others is antithetical to who and what God calls us to be.

There is a clear difference between the values God wants us to have and the values our country upholds. We are a country that allows someone to purchase over 1,600 bullets — more ammunition than a U.S. soldier carries into combat — in one day. Birthdays, including my own, are very meaningful to me because they always feel like a celebration of life, a designated day to reaffirm someone’s worth and purpose. My soul feels weary trying to understand why and how someone like the Uvalde shooter would spend their birthday with maiming, destruction, and murder brewing in their heart.

Guns are not a toy. Yet, our country treats them as child’s playthings while real children and communities suffer and die because legislators lack the courage to stand up to gun enthusiasts. I think of people like Representative Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) and her testimony as a mother mourning the loss of her teenage son, Jordan Davis, in a rage-filled, gun violence hate crime. McBath and the millions of Americans grieving the cruel impact of gun violence shouldn’t have to wonder whether their loved ones were in pain because of the gunshot.

The debate on guns is seemingly bunched into two camps: those who are pro-gun and the people they perceive to be anti-gun. My instructor referred to any and all gun safety legislation or gun safety reform advocates as “anti-gun.” Ironically, under this definition, I would be considered anti-gun. This black and white thinking ignores a third option: a camp of people who are not trying to abolish the Second Amendment but still believe that our country desperately needs to pass legislation that promotes public safety — and quickly — because the continued loss of life is an affront to the life God intends for us.

Yet it’s one thing to call for change — it’s an entirely different story once you’re tasked with actually making it happen. But I fervently believe it can be done.

For example, Mr. Mo told our class that Maryland has the strictest “anti-gun” laws in the country, yet the state only requires a four-hour gun safety course to qualify for an HQL. I did have to demonstrate competency and safety in handling an actual firearm, but that meant pointing down range, aiming, and firing once in the presence of my instructor. Before that course, I had never held or shot a gun in my life. Taking the four-hour course and firing one shot was all I needed to prove I was qualified to own a handgun. If that is the “strictest” law in the land, no wonder people with the intent to maim, destroy, and kill have such an easy time accessing weapons of mass destruction. Surely, Americans can agree that we deserve a country that prioritizes collective public safety over the individual desire to possess deadly weapons?

Another example of the need for collective gun safety standards is the lack of cohesive definitions about what constitutes a handgun and what’s considered an assault rifle. In Maryland, a sawed-off shotgun is considered a handgun as long as one or both barrels measure less than 18 inches long; or, it has an overall length of less than 26 inches and was manufactured from a shotgun either by alteration or modification. Across the bridge in Virginia, a state with much laxer gun laws, sawed-off shotguns are considered illegal unless the weapon itself is rendered useless and incapable of being discharged.

This inconsistency is due to a lack of federal standards on what actually constitutes a handgun, so almost every locality and state has a different definition. This enables people to buy guns and supplies in a different state or locality that may be illegal in their own town. That means that guns from Indiana, a state with lax gun laws, make their way into Chicago in a form of interstate commerce that traffics in terror and pain. Even my “pro-gun” instructor, Mr. Mo, expressed frustration and incredulity about the disjointed and unsafe nature of gun safety laws.

Looking at gun violence and public safety reforms through the lens of interstate commerce makes it necessary for one coordinating body to ensure that there is synergy and equilibrium from one place to another. This is one of the express roles of the federal government. We must stop looking at the relationship between local, state, and federal governments like a layer cake with a hierarchy designed to impose power from the top-down. Instead, we should view the relationship more like a marble cake, in which each government plays a different, but equally significant role, in working together to create a common, national good for all Americans. Pro-gun advocates must embrace this fact and stop seeing this as a campaign to infringe on their individual rights. Only then can real reforms take place that will promote and protect an ethic of life for all Americans.

Editor's note: An earlier headline of this article incorrectly identified the author as a gun owner. The article was futher updated on June 24, 2022 to clarify that the author was taking the Maryland Handgun Qualification License to learn how to handle a gun safely ​​​​​​​for self protection. 

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