Ever since Newtown, I've been thinking about what really drives "civilian" (non-law enforcement, non-hunter) gun ownership.
I'm in a unique position to think about it. I was raised in a liberal family - and I'm the only person in it (with the exception of two uncles who served in the Navy) to have ever owned a firearm. It was a Ruger GP-100 .357 magnum revolver - a big, reliable, easy-to-operate hand cannon. I bought it in 1992 after the LA Riots; and it was part of my LA "earthquake and emergency kit" until I sold it and moved back to the East Coast in 2010.
The reason I bought it was fear, pure and simple. I had been driving through South Central when the riots began, and I had friends in the area. For a while it looked like I would have to drive back down to Exposition Boulevard to pick them up, and I felt defenseless. As I sat home watching the news on TV, I saw how mid-city merchants were successfully protecting their shops from looters with rifles and carbines. Afterward, I bought a gun.
For 18 years, I kept it safely in a case, unloaded, with a speed loader of bullets to one side. I practiced with it twice a year at the shooting range; I cleaned it carefully, disassembling and reassembling it in my yard, to allow the gun-oil fumes to disperse. I contemplated sending it back to Sturm Ruger to have the trigger pull adjusted, but I never did it. Occasionally I would fire other handguns at the range - an Army .45, a Glock 9mm, a Sig Sauer P210. It was fun...like really, really dangerous bowling.
The one time it looked like I might actually have to use my gun - when there was a break-in at my neighbor's bungalow in the middle of the night - I reached for my 18" club of a MagLite instead of my gun. I entered the apartment with another neighbor, and we scared the intruder away. No one died.
Not once, in all those 18 years, did I ever feel like a badass when I held the Ruger. I never asked the mirror if it felt lucky, or if it was talking to me. When I first saw the guns in the case at the shop and realized I was actually going to buy one, it felt cool; but once I actually held it in my hand, it felt like a snake that could bite me at any moment. The feeling faded over time; but if I ever saw a moron at the range posing with a gun for pictures, I made sure to get a shooting lane as far away from him as possible.
Those are the feelings I want all gun owners to have. I don't want them renewing their "man cards." I don't want them playing to the gallery like little Chuck Hestons. I want them to see guns as what they are to virtually everyone but trained professionals - a desperate last resort.
And it occurs to me that I was born in 1965, and I grew up in one of the nastiest big cities in the United States: pre-renaissance New York. I was a pudgy, spectacled, solitary kid who walked the streets by himself for 24 years before he left town, through Central Park and Morningside Heights and Crack Alley...and not once, in all that time, did I ever need a gun.