A friend who doesn’t own a gun and has never fired a gun (who is still a friend despite those shortcomings) asked recently how many guns one man needed. In hindsight, I’d bet he wishes he’d asked someone else.
What follows is a condensed version of my answer as best I remember it.
Your question, I started, has no definitive answer. That’s like asking a carpenter how many tools he needs or a surgeon how many instruments he or she needs. The simple answer is, “However many it takes to do the jobs I need them to do.”
Complication arises when we try to justify owning a tool based solely on the job it’s intended to do. The average pro-gun person, I suppose, could own a handgun for personal protection, a shotgun for bird hunting and a rifle for shooting animals with four legs.
However that would require me and anyone else who appreciates firearms to ignore the individuality of guns—so many calibers and gauges and configurations, so fun to sample them all.
I own more than one gun and fewer than 20. I’d own more guns if I had more money and more time. Some of my friends have plenty of both—and have second and third large safes to hold all their guns.
Gun ownership, regardless of quantity, doesn’t make a person good or bad. Having guns in the house, at the office or in the truck only makes someone capable of doing things other people can’t do.
Add “responsible” as a qualifier to gun ownership, and the capabilities all are good. Gun owners can shoot a deer at 150 yards or drop a double on flushing quail or, with hope that none of us ever has to do either in real time, prevent a serious crime or save a life.
The types and quantities of guns in our safes says a great deal about how we use those tools. Don’t let anyone tell you that guns are only tools of destruction. Guns stop hogs from devastating ranches. Guns keep meat on tables through long winters. Guns prevent crimes, although you don’t read about that nearly so often as when they’re used illegally.
Ultimately, guns are tools that can be used for good or bad purposes. (I got into it a little with my friend on this point.) A gun in a corner is no different from a shovel or scalpel or screwdriver. In proper hands, any of the three can perform a specific, valued task. In the wrong hands—but only in a person’s hands—each of the same three can be used unlawfully to threaten or harm someone.
So back to types and quantities, a person who owns 10 shotguns and a single rifle probably is a bird hunter who occasionally chases big game, and vice versa. Someone who owns more handguns than long guns probably does a lot of target shooting, perhaps competitively, and might hunt occasionally.
Regardless of what guns are owned, the overwhelming majority of gun owners are law followers and not law breakers. They shoot when they want, but only where they can do so safely and legally.
It makes no difference, either, whether a gun owner shoots fewer than 20 rounds per month or more than 2,000. That trigger-pull count is of relevance and importance only to the shooter, the retailer who sells ammo to that shooter and the manufacturer who mates primers, power, casings and projectiles that are sold to the retailer.
In addition to being tools, guns also are works of art and instruments of investment.
From a practical side, I own working-class rifles in several calibers, enough to hunt anything from squirrels to elk with confidence. My shotgun collection includes 20- and 12-gauge pieces, some with one barrel and some with two. To anyone who isn’t a threat, it doesn’t matter how many handguns I own.
(By this time, my friend’s head was about to wobble off his neck. He’d had enough.)
So you see, I concluded, you can’t pick a number of guns that’s either too few or too many. Like Jay Leno and his cars or Hugh Hefner—may he rest in peace—and his girlfriends.
One of the fundamental differences in this country and the rest of the world is our option here to own or not to own firearms. Laws regarding the carry and/or public display of those guns vary from state to state, but we can own firearms. If we choose, and for so long as we don’t do anything illegal with them, we can own as many as we can afford and want.
How many guns does one man need? If asked by anyone I didn’t know well, I’d have to answer that question with one of my own.
Who wants to know?
Email Doug Pike at [email protected]