Arming for self-defense
There is a huge division in the United States regarding the use of guns. While many gun opponents believe that these weapons cause more harm than good, advocates state that it is their Second Amendment right to own firearms. Anyone can be found in a situation where they may need to use guns for protection. Yet, according to Pew Research Center, guns are rarely ever used in self-defense situations.
In fact, sociologist David Hemenway completed research that actually states that guns are only used about .9 percent of the time in incidents where the victim is present. Hemenway’s studies also conclude that guns are used more often to threaten and intimidate than they are used for self-defense, and that most self-reported self-defense gun uses are most likely illegal.
So why do so many people support guns on the grounds of self-defense?
Sociologist David Yamane, who is currently teaching a course on the sociology of guns at Wake Forest University, believes that people are attracted to guns because they make certain people feel safer. “It’s the most lethal weapon that civilians are allowed to possess,” said Yamane. “It can be seen as an equalizer.”
Yamane also noted that guns have been part of the history of self-defense in the United States since the country’s founding. “It’s a part of the American social scene,” said Yamane. “Guns have been a constant in society, but people’s attitudes shift when things are happening socially and economically over time.”
Cliff Pfleger, who works for Long Island Gun Source, said that about a third of their customers purchase firearms for self-defense purposes. “People feel safer just knowing that they have their guns,” said Pfleger. “Like for Hurricane Sandy, when the power went out for weeks… it was good for people to know that they [could] protect their house and their family.”
Police officers, who Pfleger stated make up another 1/3 of Long Island Gun Source’s customers, also use guns on duty for protection. Retired NYPD police officer Sal Vanchieri even stated that having a firearm on him might have prevented some criminal acts.
“I think that my having a gun would in many cases prevent certain crimes from escalating,” said Vanchieri. “It might prevent some low level criminals from rising to the level of more violent crimes and using deadly weapons for the fear of possibly being shot by the police…Having a gun makes me feel more confident in that it evens out the playing field when the use of force is escalated to the highest level.”
That leaves one with the question: Is owning a firearm the best way to protect oneself?
“That’s an open-ended question,” said Pfleger. “I also recommend alarms to protect homes before [I recommend] buying a firearm. But I do think that [owning] a firearm and knowing how to use it is great for home security.”
Frank Castelluccio, gun owner and member of the National Rifle Association since 1996, agrees that guns are usually not one’s go-to choice for protection. “When you hear something, your first reaction is to lock down and call the police,” said Castelluccio. “The gun is [a] last resort. It’s never an easy thing and it’s never a first choice.”