Responsible Gun Ownership: How and Why

Firearms ownership is a great thing. Few pursuits offer such a wide range of activities, including hunting, competition, collecting, or just a fun afternoon of plinking. Many of these are lifelong activities, offering decades of enjoyment. Firearms can also put food on the table and save your life in an emergency.

Firing a Henry Golden Boy rifle
Firearms offer many pursuits that can be enjoyed for a lifetime. (Author’s Photo)

But guns themselves can’t do any of those things. They’re merely tools we use to accomplish our ends. Their capabilities, however, make them inherently dangerous, meaning gun owners must accept responsibility for using them properly. But responsibility goes beyond safety into realms you may not have previously considered. Let’s break it down into some component parts and briefly examine how we can approach being responsible firearms owners.

Firearm Safety

Responsible firearms ownership begins with safety. We’ve covered that in detail elsewhere, but the four basic rules bear repeating:

  1. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
  2. Treat every firearm as if it were loaded.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
  4. Know your target and what is beyond it.

I always throw in a bonus rule too: Alcohol, drugs, and guns do not mix. We don’t need to break those down again, but they’re extremely important. If you can follow those rules all the time, even when no one is watching, you will be good to go when handling guns.

But proper safety goes beyond our personal habits. As much as we wish it were otherwise, not everyone follows those rules, or is even aware of them. Go to any public range if you don’t believe me. If we pay attention to other shooters, we can find opportunities to help them incorporate proper safety into their gun handling.

Firing an AK rifle
This shooter has presented his rifle, but note that his finger isn’t on the trigger. It won’t move there until he’s ready to shoot. Basic firearm safety becomes automatic when practiced. (Author’s Photo)

That doesn’t mean you should be the self-appointed hall monitor at your range. Imperiously sticking your nose in other people’s business rarely ends well. But asking questions, perhaps about someone’s gun or gear, may provide an opening to talk to them. Seriously, who doesn’t like being asked about their guns? You may find out that they have little experience and no training. Coming down on them about it won’t help. But friendly tips just might. Maybe something along the lines of “Have you tried it this way?”

Admittedly, some people don’t want help and don’t care all that much. We do what we can. I’ve sometimes chosen to leave and come back another time.

The point is that we can help each other be safe, making it more fun for everyone.

Firearm Proficiency

If you decide to own a gun, you should also commit to becoming proficient with that gun. Proficiency means you understand your gun’s capabilities and how it operates. It means that you can run it safely and effectively. No one says you have to be John Wick, but if that’s your goal, I say book that room at the Continental. After you learn to shoot. Proficiency also makes your shooting much more enjoyable. After all, hitting your target is a lot more fun than missing.

Firearm training class
Become proficient with your firearms. There’s really no excuse not to. (

Now, I’m not so naïve as to think that every gun owner is proficient, or even tries to be. But we should encourage them to do the work, whether through formal training or shooting with a knowledgeable friend. Proficiency promotes safety and safety promotes enjoyment.

Proficiency also counters the gun control narrative about the dangers posed by everyday gun owners. They love to portray us as reckless, though most of us are the exact opposite. But we have to model that when we’re in public. Obvious proficiency works in our favor.

Firearm Courtesy

This one is simple, though not always easy. Just act right. Don’t be the guy at the range who doesn’t clean up after himself. Or, if you have a big honking muzzle brake, or perhaps a Mosin-Nagant M44, maybe go down to the far end. If you’ve ever stood next to someone firing either one of those, you understand. Seriously, you feel that M44’s shockwave in your shins.

I’ll also extend this to how you carry your firearm. I know this may tick some of you off, but it needs to be said. Openly carrying a gun in a park, or other such place, just because you can, is kind of a jerk move. Tactical considerations aside, it makes people nervous. It scares the bejeezus out of some timid souls. I get that their hangups are their problem. Personally, I’m happy to have a fellow gun person around.

But not everyone is like us, whether it’s from ignorance, personal trauma, or maybe they just don’t like guns, which is their right. I’ve heard guys say that open carrying around such people is good because it desensitizes them to seeing guns. Well, you can think that, but you’re wrong. There will never be enough people with a hog leg strapped to their hip to make it seem normal. That went out with the 1890s, and it ain’t coming back until the Zombie Apocalypse. When that happens, feel free to gear up.

concealed carry vs. open carry
It’s up to you. But try to be courteous. (

What it does is make us look like jerks, and it plays into the gun control narrative that those of us who carry are dangerous to public safety. Yes, we have the right to carry, and we should exercise that right. But we don’t have the right to scare people. And doing so hurts our image and our cause. You can flame me in the comments if you want, but I’m not changing my mind on that one. Consider carrying concealed like the Good Lord and John Moses Browning intended.

Pass it On

Firearms culture is a great American tradition. It’s been passed down through families for centuries. My Dad taught my brother and me about guns and shooting before we were even big enough to hold a gun. But he told us about them, showing us how they worked, always explaining what he was doing. And he never failed to model proper safety, explaining that as well. When we were old enough, he took us shooting and hunting, even before we were able to handle a gun ourselves. We were ready when the time came, but he never stopped doing what he did, especially on the safety front.

Our Dad also taught us why gun ownership is important, and what it means to our country. Dad wasn’t one for bumper stickers, but his best friend had one that read, “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” Most of you have probably heard that plenty of times. As a young boy, I asked him about it. He took the time to explain it to me, and I’ve always appreciated that. Talk to your kids about that stuff too.

We’ve passed what Dad taught us on to our kids, doing it just as he did. My daughters aren’t into guns, but they understand firearm safety and basic shooting. But my son might be more enthusiastic than I am, and that’s saying something. Thanks to my Dad, and his Dad, I knew how to teach him and how to model certain habits and behaviors. He’s an adult now, but the process never stops. The only difference is that now he teaches me some things too. I expect he will pass his knowledge along when the time comes.

man teaching boy to shoot
Be this parent. Pass it on. (

Sons and daughters are best taught by their parents if we want American firearms culture to continue. Even if you’re new to guns, and didn’t have an experience like mine, you can start the chain and help continue the tradition.

Political Awareness

You may not care about politics. If not, I don’t blame you. There are few slimier environs than the political realm. But like it or not, politicians, staffers, and lobbyists control much of what happens in our country and the world. And several stripes of politicians, staffers, and lobbyists despise our gun rights.

Their reasons for despising gun rights vary, but their methods are similar, and they are almost always underhanded. They will twist, misrepresent, and outright lie to get their way. It pains me that gun controllers are often able to use us against each other, or perhaps it’s more that some of us are willing for that to happen.

I understand that many gun owners aren’t interested in AR-15s and the like. I also understand why many younger shooters deride those who prefer traditional firearms as “Fudds,” because they sometimes deserve it. But I’m saddened that we do that to one another when we should be united against a movement that wants to take all our guns, not just the scary black ones.

If gun controllers succeed in banning so-called “assault weapons,” it won’t be long before your deer rifle is characterized as a dangerous “sniper rifle.” They will go on about how much more powerful your .30-06 is than the 5.56 NATO they already addressed. Or how much farther your 6.5 Creedmoor can shoot accurately. And don’t think the short-range power of your 12-gauge shotgun will be ignored. AR-15s are the low-hanging fruit. But they will eventually try to climb the tree.

gun control activists
Most of these people are well-intentioned but ignorant or misinformed. That doesn’t make them less effective. We can counter them by modeling responsibility, being politically aware, and voting. (Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

On the other side, high speed and low drag are all the rage. I get that. I went through that phase too, stocking up on all the latest and greatest. I’m still engaged in that world, but I’ve also turned back to the beauty, craftsmanship, and utility of traditional rifles and shotguns. I’m even getting into revolvers, which I never thought would happen.

The point is that our commonalities are far more numerous than our differences. How about we stand up for everyone’s gun rights, understanding that we really are in the same boat? As Ben Franklin said, “We must hang together, or we will surely hang separately.” Get involved, or at least pay attention. And VOTE. Vote for gun rights. Gun control is far easier, and less expensive, to defeat at the ballot box than it is in the courtroom.

It’s Important

I hope I haven’t come across as lecturing or sounding like your mother. I hate it when people do that to me. If so, I apologize. But this stuff is important. The importance of safe gun handling needs no explanation. But maybe some of the other stuff hadn’t occurred to some of you.

Everything we do represents the firearm community in one way or another. Modeling safe and courteous handling, being proficient, and projecting a positive image of gun owners. All that plays a part in continuing our firearms culture. We attract fence sitters by doing things right. Acting a fool might push them to the other side.

Most of us understand responsibility and how to embody it. But the gun controllers are in a full-court press. We must be self-aware and support one another. I daresay we should be ambassadors of our lifestyle because there are plenty of people out there who want to take it away. Some are doing it purposely, while others are just ignorant. But one thing is clear: only we can stop it, and it starts with taking responsibility.

William "Bucky" Lawson is a self-described "typical Appalachian-American gun enthusiast". He is a military historian specializing in World War II and has written a few things, as he says, "here and there". A featured contributor for Strategy & Tactics, he likes dogs, range time, and a good cigar - preferably with an Old Fashioned that has an extra orange slice.

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