9 min read

Concerning Guns

Photo of a government helicopter over the heads of people gathered in a street.
Photo by Chris Grafton on Unsplash

We’re going to take this slowly because firearms are not a prep I’d typically recommend. My typical recommended prep is, of course, beans. Winter storm? Beans. Drought? Beans. Protesting? Bean soup.

This is a newsletter about preparedness, and I would be remiss if I didn’t include self-defense and security in it. The threats we are facing, and are going to face, seem to mount by the day. I don’t take this tack to scare-monger—I’m not selling you a gun—I say it simply to address it. There is a natural impulse, I think, to hide from what we’re seeing. I don’t fault anyone for that. But that’s not going to help you or anybody else.

Last Sunday morning I woke up and went to work. It was bitterly cold, but the sunrise was gorgeous. Pinks and oranges straight from a Creamsicle. I drove toward downtown and the skyline was pastel, those same colors showing on the buildings. I was listening to NPR, and the physicist Frank Wilczek was talking about one of my favorite things: the collision of physics and philosophy. And I couldn’t help but think, “The experiment might be over.” I haven’t been able to shake that feeling since the 6th. How do I prepare for this? How can I possibly?

The answer, I think, is staring back at me. I prepare by trying to prepare you. Because the heart of this endeavor for me was to share some of my limited experience with people who may be lacking in it, people who are of the same mind. I prepare for myself by creating a community of people who are prepared.

So when I say that today we’ve got to talk about guns, know that I don’t take it lightly.

Against Nonviolence

There is a lot to be said for nonviolence. There is too much said for nonviolence. Liberals will point to the Civil Rights movement as an example of the power of nonviolent demonstration, but they lack the full context. This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed by Charles E. Cobb Jr. tells us there were guns in every black household in the South, and that even Martin Luther King Jr. had a small arsenal in his house. If it came to an attack at home outside of the specific context of a protest? Firearms saved lives.

Note that nonviolence has a place and time. It should be seen as chosen political recourse, and not something a body is forced into. When it is the chosen method, it can be a powerful one. But even in the context of protest (which I’m largely not trying to address), it has real problems. When nonviolent protest is ignored, as it was at times last summer, then it has lost some of its power, and other actions must be taken. When the apparatus being addressed by nonviolence is militarized, or unwilling to meet protesters symmetrically, bad things happen. We saw that last summer, too—and saw the inverse last week.


This isn't about protest, though. We've gone well beyond protest in this country, in that it's limited efficacy has been drawn in stark relief, and the other side is unwilling to engage in it, or respond to it, peacefully. This is about defending yourself and others, whether at home or elsewhere, when faced with violence from fascists (or whomever).

We are nearing dangerous economic waters, and our environmental waters are beginning to boil. People are going to be hot, hungry, and thirsty, and some of those in power are going to explain that the reason you're hot, hungry, and thirsty is because of immigrants, minorities, and the left.

You've seen the footage from the 6th. New clips and angles are released all the time. I assume you've seen the cop get beaten to death. Despite what you might immediately think, these people were not heavily armed. They left a lot at home, or in their trucks, or strategically cached in the event that Trump said it was time for all-out war. What I'm saying is, this is how these people behaved empty-handed. If they had come armed, as they say they will soon, the carnage could be far worse.

However unlikely for a single one of us, the threat of fascism is immediate and not going away (as seen in last week's letter). If you expect things to stabilize on the long-term after Biden is in office, then you don't understand radicalization or the increasing stressors of the future. We are nearing dangerous economic waters, and I've already told you our environmental waters are beginning to boil. People are going to be hot, hungry, and thirsty, and some of those in power are going to explain that the reason you're hot, hungry, and thirsty is because of immigrants, minorities, and the left.

I said it with the last newsletter, and I meant it, that I don’t think fascist violence will manifest as some manner of open warfare. We could talk about the fact that the far-right has infiltrated police departments across the country, that they’re in the military as well, and so the possibility exists that there would be an orchestrated lack of response to another, larger insurrection. All that is required for a serious blow to be struck against the government is something of a hiccup in the chain of command to delay response, like the National Guard to the Capitol on the 6th. It’s possible, but not likely. The threat of the military still prevents a normally-defined war.

But that does not preclude skirmishes, terrorism, and limited insurrectionist acts across the country—if you’re reading this Sunday afternoon, or later, something may have already happened. There is a very real possibility that some lone fascist will blow up a piece of critical infrastructure, or that a band of Q fanatics will manage to keep their lids on long enough to successfully kidnap a politician. Even while they had their demagogue in power, far-right groups were the primary source of terror in the US. That’s not going to change—it’s going to escalate, and the threats will multiply as climate change makes us all feel the pinch. What do we do in the face of this? Like any other threat I’ve talked about: we prepare for it.

A Leftist Walks into a Gun Store

My goal for you this week is a big one. We’re going to work up to it.

When I started writing this letter, I mentioned that I wasn’t going to recommend anyone go out and buy a gun because the amount of time it takes to get good with it is prohibitive and a big buy-in. We’re in a different boat now—or, more accurately, the same boat is further down a fairly predictable river. It’s no longer responsible to remain on standby when it comes to defense. We’ve talked about the reasons for some time now, including just a minute ago, and last week.

If you’re not ready, or you’re simply worried about COVID, that’s understandable. Buying a firearm is a sobering affair, and this is basically the worst time to do it. My concern is that each day we wait will be worse than the last.

With that in mind, we need to move forward with the subject. If I haven't already convinced you, if you're on the precipice of agreeing with me, I have some acclimatization steps:

  • Research: I’ll be providing some guidance on this next week, but if you wanted to browse around for a particular make and model of firearm, now’s the time to do that so that you walk into the store knowledgeable. Don’t commit, though—if you’re new to firearms, I can’t stress enough how important it is to feel the weapon in your hands before you settle. You may think you’re streamlining the process by ordering a gun online to pickup at the store, but that’s a mistake. Get a feel for one first.
  • Acquire training gear: You’ll need to take some time on the range, so you’ll need safety glasses and ear protection. You might want some gloves as well—the moving parts of a gun have a lot of power behind them, and a slide bite can put a damper on a good day of shooting. This all paves the way for you to start some target practice.
  • A gun safe is a necessary purchase if you intend to buy a firearm. Good ones can double as fireproof storage for your important documents, so if you balk at the guns, ultimately, you've still got a good prep out of it.

All that I really want you to do this week, though, is go to a gun store. That’s all—and that’s a lot. I’ll explain why.

A few months back, before the election, I looked into purchasing my first firearm. I went all around town over the course of a couple weeks, and I wound up driving to a whole other city to find what I wanted. The reason I had to do this is because most shops were packed, and they were picked clean, and not by leftists just starting to come around to the idea of gun ownership. I waited in line for a total of probably two or more hours just to get up to a gun counter and be told they didn’t have what I wanted. A coworker told me that wait times are even worse now.

Setting foot into a store, any store, in the time of COVID is a potentially dangerous act. I don't suggest it flippantly. Going to a gun store is, in several ways, more dangerous. It’s gonna be crowded, and there will likely be folks in there who flaunt mask rules.

I've weighed the risk, though. Is it responsible for me to suggest that we meet a fascist uprising empty-handed? Is it responsible to carry on with community-building preps, with a gardening post, with climate change warnings, without bringing up the subject of self-defense? I don't think it is. I am by no means trying to minimize the dangers of COVID—I work in a hospital. But to delay this discussion until we reach herd immunity, which is likely more than nine months away, feels like a dereliction.

If you're ready, then, and I sincerely hope you are, here are a few tips:

  1. Go early in the morning to beat crowds—there will still be people there, but it won’t be as bad. Avoid weekends if possible, as this is when everyone goes.
  2. Pick a store away from major cities if you can. I went to a Rural King about 40 miles away from my home. It wasn’t crowded, and they had a greater selection of firearms and ammunition. There are still some roadside mom & pop stores out there, and they might be a good option as well.
  3. Dress casual. You don’t need to put on camo, but if you have a sports t-shirt or something similar you could throw on, that might help you blend in and feel better.
  4. Mask up, of course, and have a little bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket.
  5. It’s not a strange thing for someone new to show up and ask to see a gun. These people are used to new faces, out-of-towners, and nervous folks. Days like this are stressful on both sides, and both sides think the other is plotting something—so you can really get away with “Hoo, boy, things are wild out there, huh?” as your reason for being there. Not that you need one.
  6. Most of the people behind the gun counter, despite your probable difference in politics, genuinely want to help you. They're firearm enthusiasts, and they like helping people learn.

Now if you’re in the store and you want to plow ahead and hold a gun, great! As a new owner, I can tell you the most important thing to me about picking out a weapon was how it felt in my hand—I could have stopped my search early if I’d just bought the first gun I saw. Getting an idea of how a gun feels, and taking that step to simply hold a weapon like that, is an important one.

On the off-chance that you do want to hold a gun, maybe even make a purchase of your first firearm, I will make the simplest recommendation possible so you can move forward: go for a 9mm pistol. It’s a middle-ground, multi-use weapon, and there are a lot of options. I’ll warn you that you might walk out of there without any ammunition, but it can be found if you look hard enough. We’ll talk more about that later.

As for the rest of you, I know this is a big deal. I get it. If you’re not ready to go to a store, or you’re simply worried about COVID while there, that’s understandable. Buying a firearm is a sobering affair, and this is basically the worst time to do it. My concern is that each day we wait will be worse than the last. You can put this prep off for any number of practical reasons: COVID is raging; guns and ammunition are scarce; and it is, paradoxically, a bad time to travel due to the dangers of political violence. But the reasons for that potential violence are not going away, and the sooner we prepare, the more prepared we will be.

I wish that today’s letter could have been a lighter one. If you believe it, I had planned on sending out a kind of game today, weeks back, in order to illuminate how individuals can bring skills together to form a resilient community. Maybe I’ll be able to get to that eventually. But of course the real world interferes, and I have to react to that.

Like every possible emergency, the threat that has me concerned today is only a possibility. It could be that Trump passes from the Earth, that his followers sit down, that this is, somehow, fascism’s last stirring before hibernation. But I don’t believe it. And I don’t believe that even a world devoid of this particular emergency is one safe enough to discount defense. This was always an issue I would need to address—it’s just come more quickly than I’d thought.