Conflicts about gun ownership

Hi, I would like to know some perspectives about gun ownership in a household where one partner wants to buy a gun, but the other does not. I am watching a friend go through this in her marriage, where her husband feels increasingly unsafe in these times and intends on buying a gun (and I believe he will go through with it, so it's not just a what-if conversation). She is staunchly opposed to having a gun in the house. I find it's not helpful for me to  simply echo her sentiments (because I agree with her) but to actually see if there are ways to look at this issue beyond the knee-jerk reactions that cause very emotionally heated conflicts. If you ever had this conflict in your own relationship, did you manage to resolve it and how? I am sure there are healthy partnerships out there where one person does not like the idea of guns in the house, but the other person happens to be/became a gun owner. What are some actual ways to approach this that won't always end up in a knockdown drag-out fight? What are some healthy baseline agreements people on opposite sides can come to, knowing that in the end, only one person can realistically get what they want (i.e., own a gun, or not)? Thanks!

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I had never been exposed to firearms until I met my husband of 20 years. He grew up in West Texas surrounded by firearms. As a matter of fact, he received his first firearm for his 3rd birthday. While I was very reluctant to have any firearms in our house, I came to terms with the fact that he is an experienced gun owner and isn't buying guns only for home protection or otherwise. He abides by all state and locals laws regarding registration and safety and I trust him implicitly. I think if someone is buying a firearm and doesn't have a long history of exposure and they're doing it only for home protection, it is not a good idea. That's when accidents happen.

For any conflict it can help for each person to write down, and then share, what their major concerns are in a concrete way. Drop the emotional rhetoric and get down to specifics. In this case specifically, is the pro-gun party willing to get formal training and to adhere to laws about gun storage (in the case of children coming to the house)? Does he have a plan to gain proficiency by attending a firing range or does he think he's just going to brandish it at an intruder? Does he have a history of impulsive or careless behavior that would make his partner nervous about him having a weapon? Does she have a bad prior experience involving guns? Is she worried that intruders will gain control of their gun and use it against them or that he will talk about the gun carelessly and potentially make their home a break-in target (since guns are a popular items in burglaries)? Are there statistics or trends that would make him feel safe enough to drop the idea? Do they live in a neighborhood with violent crime? Have they discussed, at length, how they would handle a break-in or other potentially violent conflict with or without a gun?

They should discuss all these specifics if they haven't, otherwise it's just an emotional argument that only one person (or no one) can win. If they can discuss the concrete issues around gun ownership, they will still end up wither getting a gun or not but may avoid feeling like one of them "lost."

FWIW, I grew up in a house with guns because my father is a former hunter and avid target shooter. They were always locked up. I wasn't crazy about my husband getting a gun but he is sensible about it and, other than once in a blue moon when he goes target shooting, I don't see or think about it. Our child has never seen it and can't access it. I consider a car far more dangerous in terms of practical safety hazards, but I understand the negative emotional impact of a gun, especially if a person has only seen them in the context of crime/war in the news.

Hello there. This world is becoming increasingly unsafe, but a question to ask is in what situation would having a gun make them feel more safe? When would they even have it available to protect them? Is protection against home invasion? Used to threaten ruckus outside your house? Events of riots/looting? What event would cause you to actually bring it out/use it? Do they have/will have kids? How are they going to keep them safe from gun accidents? They need to think though and answer these questions. Then on the other side, instead of the knee jerk NO for gun ownership, perhaps they can go to a gun store AND gun range together to learn about them and how to use one properly. This will offer some more perspective so that if she is still against gun ownership for their household, at least it’s not a blind decision. Good luck!

There are millions of safe gun owners & ways to be safe and comfortable having a gun in your home. She needs to say what she specifically/rationally is worried about so it can be addressed. A gun safe & husband taking lessons likely would address any safety concerns. Once it’s in the safe, it will probably never come out except when he goes to a shooting range. 

A new study found that states with the highest rate of firearm ownership had a 65 percent higher rate of domestic gun homicide compared to states with a lower rate of ownership. Credit...Erin Schaff for The New York Times

And women, who make up most victims of domestic homicide, are among those most at risk.

So your friend, as a woman, is right to be concerned.

PS This study was based on scientific research. For those who eschew science, but use cell phones, cars, computers, and any other technological devise, you may want to question that outlook….

I'm glad that mine's the not only household who experienced this problem. At the start of the pandemic, many people in my circle got shotguns, hunting guns, crossbows, etc, because they feel genuinely threatened. And these are not uneducated and ignorant people -- These are scientists, engineers, and lawyers with advanced degrees and years of living in the Bay Area, so they've weighed their options.

I wanted my husband to get a gun, but he is strongly against this. So we sat down for two nights in a row to discuss how the location of our home and its security setup determine our risk of being robbed. Ultimately we reached the conclusion that, because of our circumstances, we are highly unlikely (note, not impossible) to be a situation where we need a gun, and my husband dutifully got pepper sprays, door bar, and setup home security. We now lock our fence gates every night.

Are we 100 percent certain that we would ever not need a gun? No. Are we fine with the risk of not owning a gun? Yes. Just like all the discussions about the pandemic, every family has their unique situation and risk perception. Maybe start by aligning on the level of risk both you and your husband can accept, then list all the pros and cons of gun ownership.

-- From a family where we build a risk or cost/benefit model for major decisions such as moving and having a child.

I am a law enforcement officer, so my job requires that I carry a gun.  When I retire, I will turn in my gun and will not purchase a personal firearm.  My personal belief is that only law enforcement should own guns.  That said, it is legal and your post says the husband intends to purchase a gun.  My advice to the wife - and to the husband too - is to negotiate a compromise in advance to make this as safe as possible.  This means that whoever intends to handle the gun be trained (as extensively as possible) on how to use it.  I don't have experience with private training, but have heard that the NRA is a source (yes, I know, I hate them too).  Training should be ongoing (i.e. 4 times a year, the husband should go to a shooting range for practice).  The other critical thing is that they need to get a gun safe.  There are small home gun safes that can accommodate a handgun.  I recommend the type that opens with a push button code (which allows you to open them by feel, very quickly, in total darkness).  The gun should be loaded while in the safe, so all you need to do to access it is to open the safe.  The most dangerous thing is when the gun is not in the safe - so there has to be a procedure to ensure that if the husband takes it out to bring it to the range, when he walks into the house, he goes immediately to the gun safe to lock it up.  

I will also say that even with all of my training and experience, I learned the last lesson the hard way.  There was a time that I had to take my kid to the pediatrician on the way home from work. I didn't want to take my gun into the pediatrician's office, so I left it under the seat of my car.  After I got home, I was distracted by my sick kid and forgot I had left the gun in the car.  I forgot about it for the whole weekend until I went to grab my gun for work on Monday and discovered it wasn't in the safe.  I felt physically sick when I discovered my error and am grateful to this day that nothing happened.  My point is - it only takes once.  This lack of vigilance is what leads to the very sad statistics about guns in the home making you more, not less, likely to be a victim of gun violence.

If your friend is opposed to having a gun, perhaps the husband can explore other less lethal options like BB/paintball guns, tasers, baseball bat, etc so the husband can feel safer. I have a relative that wants a gun in his house for similar reasons as your friend's husband. His partner is against that idea so their compromise is that he can have a paintball gun which looks like a gun. 

Lots of statistics re most household gun injuries occur from the guns in the home. This weeks New Eng Journal of Medicine has an article which also highlights the greatly elevated and enduring risk of suicide by firearm assoc w handgun ownership. Each of us has our own compass so I guess ultimately your friend will have to decide what they can and cannot live with. Guns make me feel so much more unsafe not safe and science has supported that opinion over and over.

We had the same situation with my husband wanting gun for protection and me being nervous about them because of the kids.  We compromised.  I let him get the gun on the condition that we take the precautions that make me comfortable: it is kept in gun safe, unloaded or with the clip separated just as a second precaution, it is not cleaned or handled around kids at all, transported in lock container only, and he taught me how to use it.  It helped that my husband is experienced with weapons and is a very good shot -- I think a gun in an untrained hand is worse than no gun so if your friend does decide to get one and really intend to use it for protection make sure they get trained and know how to use it properly, otherwise it is pointless to have for protection and is guaranteed to lead to a worse result than having no gun.  Honestly I was very uncomfortable with it at first, but with the precautions i feel ok with it now and with the unrest happening the last few days and how close it is to us there is a small degree of comfort in having it at home -- my husband is not fighter and is not a big man so having it at home is the only way he has to protect his children and I know it has given him a lot of comfort the last few days. So the decision does not have to be an all or nothing, and there is a chance to compromise here where both feel ok with the decision. 

I don't have any specific suggestions about this, although I would think that this is similar to how people who disagree about having children, or other fundamental expectations about their lives together, have to figure things out. However, I just saw this study in the New England Journal of Medicine about the correlation between gun ownership and suicide. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMsa1916744?

I can't say definitively whether the science and validity of the study are robust, but NEJM is peer-reviewed and is one of the more preeminent medical journals. Hope it's helpful.

Keeping children and teens safe from unsecured firearms should be your first consideration.  I would ask anyone considering purchasing a gun to consider these facts:  4.6 million American children live in homes with guns that are both loaded and unlocked.  Every year, more than 600 children, 17 and under, die by suicide with a gun.  Most use a gun found in their own home.  Is it worth the risk? And while we are on the subject; please ask if there is a gun in the house when your child visits another home for a play date.  Please https://besmartforkids.org/

I meant to post this weeks ago, I think to a similar question, and the recent responses served as a reminder: One respondent said, as many folk do, that the world is increasingly unsafe, and I'm quite aware that certain cities and districts are much less safe than others. But, in fact, the rate of violent crime has been falling for the past 25 years:

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2019/09/30/new-fbi-data-violent-crime...

https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/10/17/facts-about-crime-in-th...

I do blame the 24-hour news cycle and social media, at least in part, for our perception of rising crime. Some of the otherwise most useful local tools, such as Nextdoor.com, are lightning quick to report theft, the possibility of a crime (as opposed to the actual fact of a crime's having occurred), and some people's idea that we're all endangered 24/7. The news outlets, of course, rely on the click-bait of loss, danger and bloodshed.

I try every day to look out for myself and my neighbors, but there's a difference between being careful and being afraid without good reason. (By the way, those two paragraphs by the law-enforcement officer might be the best summation I've ever read about why not to buy a gun, and what to do should you decide to buy one. If I ever start feeling scared to be alone in our home, I'll look for a dog.)

My husband and I were in a similar situation. He has wanted a gun "just in case" for many years and I have always vetoed it. In 2016 certain circumstances arose in the world that made me cave a little, and we've now finally gotten to the point of purchasing a gun. I'm still not excited about the fact that there is a gun in our house and it's very much my husband's "thing" but we got to a point where we have some mutual understanding. A few points about what allowed us to get to this point:

(1) Talk through what the actual purpose of it is. I think a lot of people tend to think that a gun will make them more safe in a very general way (when the statistics show the opposite is true). I forced my husband to walk through exactly what situations would arise that would make him go get the gun out of the safe, and then what situations would cause him to actually shoot the gun. Obviously we can't foresee everything but it was helpful to be very very clear about what situations the gun is for (for example, for us, the gun will not come out of the safe if we hear some rummaging in the backyard, but would if someone broke a window in our house in the middle of the night and was attempting to get in). 

(2) Talk through all the safety concerns and precautions. There are the obvious things like gun safes, making sure the kids never see it/don't know where it is, etc, but for us it also meant through talking through the logistics, as we explored various scenarios. For example, if you're in a situation where you need to fire the gun, you have to make sure you're in a situation where you're not aiming in the direction of the room where the children are sleeping. Etc. They're scary and uncomfortable conversations to have, but it helped me feel more comfortable that my husband was thinking through all the details in the safest and most responsible way.