Safety, security and self-reliance — Part 1. Guns

In many cash-strapped cities, residents are getting used to longer grass in the parks or volunteering to mow.

Private contributions are shoring up public libraries.

We even talked to a woman last year who took her own shovel and a bucket of gravel to fill potholes instead of calling the city.

What does this kind of self-reliance look like when it comes to public safety? Since more than 100,000 Minnesotans now have a permit to carry a handgun, it seemed like a good question for MPR News’ Public Insight Network as part of our project, “The Price of Safety.”

So we asked 700 Minnesotans in our network what they thought about owning guns and their sense of personal responsibility for their and their family’s security.

Let’s just say we’re not all of a mind on this.

For some people, protecting yourself is the whole point of having a gun, whether it’s because law enforcement is too far away or because they derive a general sense of security from gun ownership.

For others, personal protection is the last reason to have a gun and the prospect of using one for that reason is unsettling.

It’s also clear that for some people the equation is changing, either because of specific incidents or out of a more general perception the world has gotten more threatening.

Here’s what people told us:

To what extent is your gun ownership tied to taking personal responsibility for your and your family’s safety and security?

charliehurd.JPGI keep a shotgun at the top of the stairs in case an intruder enters my home and tries to come up. My house was broken into and burglars entered lower floor in the middle of the night. I decided to be armed the next time this happens.

-Charlie Hurd, Mankato

juliedeslauriers.JPG(Our guns) are for hunting and for family safety if you count rabid skunks, raccoons (yes, each made its way to the front step last month despite dog) and coyote that circle livestock. Wild dog deterrent as well. My husband would use it against a home invasion if necessary.

-Julie Deslauriers, Canby

bradleeser1.jpgI hope I never have to use any weapon for self defense. I would hope that if the need ever arose, just showing the gun would scare off a criminal, but if anyone is trying to harm me or my family, someone is going to get hurt, and I want it to be the bad guy. I own guns for three reasons. First, I enjoy target shooting. Secondly, I want to be able to protect myself and, third, it is my constitutional right and I choose to exercise it. Frankly, I think the liberal politicians want to ban private gun ownership. I’ve always enjoyed shooting, but I’ve come to realize that a right not exercised is a right that is lost.

-Brad Leeser, Moorhead

Mostly I own guns for hunting. However, in Lake County, there are only half a dozen sheriff’s deputies to serve 1,600+ square miles. If you live outside of Two Harbors or Silver Bay, response time can be long. If a violent crime were to be attempted against me or my family, law enforcement would likely arrive too late to intervene.

-Matt Tyler, Finland

jeffschroeder.JPGI live in rural northern MN, wouldn’t feel comfortable not having some means to defend myself and my family. Some of the guns are primarily for hunting and target shooting.

-Jeff Schroeder, Grand Rapids

boblloyd.JPG(Personal responsibility for safety) was not the first reason that I purchased my first firearm. It has become more important as time has passed and things have become a lot different than when I bought my first firearm.

-Bob Lloyd, Aurora

daleekmark.JPGGun ownership is tied directly to taking responsibility for our safety. We live in a rural area with the closest neighbor a mile away. The closest ‘base-office’ for law enforcement is over 30 minutes away. Response time for an emergency call is totally dependent on State Patrol and County Sheriff patrols and assuming worse case that they would have to respond from the base office, that is over 30 minutes away and lifetime for lots of bad things to happen to my family. Hence, I feel it is my responsibility, duty and above all my right to be able to protect and defend my home and family whilst waiting for law enforcement to respond.

-Dale Ekmark, Angora

It is the ultimate in personal responsibility and an extremely heavy burden. I do it solely because we live in uncertain times, and violent random crime does happen to some of us as we go about our lives. I would do anything to protect my family, including carrying and, hopefully never, using a firearm to protect us. The responsibility is on me to be trained in its usage, and to understand the ramifications of any response involving it. I don’t believe anyone “wants” to become involved in an altercation involving lethal force, in fact I know I personally don’t ever go ‘looking’ for trouble, and would take every available opportunity to de-escalate or retreat from a situation if possible. Sometimes, retreat and de-escalation are not possible, and we’re back to how I would do anything to protect my family.

-Patrick Watson, Mendota Heights

I own guns almost entirely for fulfilling my duty to protect myself and others. While I occasionally target shoot for fun, an underlying purpose is always to maintain competence in weapons skills.

-Jon Eggleston, Duluth

williamconger.JPG10%. I have acquired these weapons primarily for hunting and target shooting. However, in the unlikely event that I could use one effectively to protect my family or property, I would not hesitate to use one.

-William Conger, Cook

jimfontaine.jpg100% of my ownership is for personal safety, recreation, and plain old exercising my rights as a human being and especially, an American.

-James Fontaine, Britt

aaronnelson1.jpgThe safety and security of my family is the sole purpose for my firearms. I believe that without arms I could not adequately provide security for my family in times of uncertainty, nor could I adequately provide sustenance for my family in times of need. But firearms are not our first line of defense for such situations, they are in fact the last.

-Aaron Nelson, Minneapolis

feliciaherman.JPGCompletely. Because I am Jewish, I feel very strongly that I cannot rely on others to protect me, or that it could never happen here.

-Felicia Herman, Minneapolis

I don’t currently own a gun, but I plan to get some advice and training from my neighbor and then purchase one or two. It is definitely related to taking personal responsibility.

-Roberta Reed, Erhard

lisapekuri.jpgI have taken gun safety class, permit-to-carry-concealed weapon class, but did not apply for the permit. I realize that if I am carrying a gun that means I am willing to shoot another human being. This horrifies me. I do not believe most people are prepared to respond completely rationally, rather than emotionally, to a threatening situation.

-Lisa Pekuri, Ely

Personal safety is not the reason my family owns guns. If any of us were to wake up to the sound of someone breaking into the house our firearms would be coming out–but that isn’t the reason we own them.

-Brian Finstad, Hanska

haroldbeckala.JPGVery little…too dangerous to keep loaded & handy.

-Harold Beckala, Rochester

Anyone that thinks they have the right to kill someone over the protection of personal property needs psychiatric help. Most people are inadequately trained for using weapons for self-protection – conceal/carry training is an absolute joke in this and most states.

-Jeffrey Reed, Alexandria.

A gun in your home is much more likely to injure a family member than be used in any legitimate form of self defense.

-Robert Alberti, Minneapolis

chrisblum.JPGI have my guns for hunting and target shooting. The idea of killing an intruder is horrifying to me. I guess I would, but it’s not something I plan for.

-Chris Blum, Rochester

I think pack and carry laws are not in the public’s best interest. Maybe I would feel different if I lived in an urban area. It is difficult enough for law enforcement to make correct decisions under pressure even though they are trained constantly, so the average Joe or Sally is more likely to make a mistake.

-Dean Flugstad, Lake City

jimstromberg.JPGIt would take me 10 minutes to get the gun, figure out where the trigger key is, and find the ammunition. If I needed it for self defense, I would use it as a club.

-James Stromberg, Houston

jayyoumans.JPG(Four guns) are locked in a secure room, we have no ammunition in the house and there is no way they are tied to self defense or enhancing security in our house.

-Jay Youmans, Rochester

I believe in karmic safety. Create no harm and no harm will befall you. If one strikes you; turn the other cheek, it is the highest path. Seek education to properly help all others with whom we are interconnected.

-Michael Willemsen, Sauk Rapids

tommaertens2007.jpgSome people claim not to feel safe walking in a small town like Mankato. I might want to carry a weapon in North Minneapolis, but I don’t go there.

-Tom Maertens, Mankato

brentgurtek1.jpgFor my family and myself, there is little connection between the guns I own and their potential for family security. Criminal activity is a concern primarily for urbanites and we live in a rural setting.

-Brent Gurtek, Duluth Township

I really don’t ever anticipate having to use a gun to defend my family or home. The gun lobby and gun periodicals now seem to be obsessed with personal/family defense as a reason to own a firearm. No firearms safety training is required in Minnesota to simply own a gun and keep it at home, although classes are required to obtain a concealed/carry permit to carry a handgun outside the home. When in the highly stressful situation of confronting an intruder, how many homeowners could actually bring themselves to shoot another human being? And what then, could they be overpowered and have the firearm used against them?

-Alan DuCett, Winona

Most people that carry, my permit instructor included, carry with a bullet in the chamber. This is a incredibly dangerous practice, and shows how messed up people’s priorities are. Carrying a gun is a right in this country, but that doesn’t mean you should do it regularly. I think carrying as a means of personal protection on a daily basis is absurd; who is out to get you that you need a loaded gun at the ready?

Phillip Rivers, St. Paul

Has the reason for your gun ownership changed over time? If so, how?

howardmccollister.jpgYes, it’s become a more dangerous world. I have only rarely carried a concealed weapon until recent years, where random acts of violence appear to have become more prevalent. The shootings by the insane person at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado is a perfect example of why I would be more likely to carry a handgun with me in public these days. I also find myself taking more instructional courses on the use of firearms in self-protection. I have taken 5 such courses in the last 3 years.

-Howard McCollister, Deerwood

At first firearms were purchased for hunting and sport shooting. Then started purchasing certain firearms mainly for safety and security.

-Bob Lloyd, Aurora

Yes, I purchased a hand gun recently and I have it easily accessible because there are more violent offenders in the communities using mood-altering chemicals that interfere with the rational decision making process.

-Wayne Schreck, Alexandria

Yes. I initially owned guns for hunting, but have come to appreciate the self-defense preparedness aspect.

-Matt Tyler, Finland

dicklacher.JPGYes. The pistol was a recent purchase for both safety in the woods and at home.

-Richard Lacher, Dora Lake

patwatson.JPGI used to own firearms strictly for hunting. In fact, I was a member of Protect Minnesota back when it was known as “Citizens for a Safer Minnesota”. I left the group when it became apparent they weren’t interested in simply preventing firearms violence – but in actually banning nearly all firearms from private ownership – including my hunting firearms. At this point I took a reduced cost MN Carry permit class when the opportunity was offerred to me strictly to educate myself on the laws regarding self-defence and handguns. It opened my eyes. I also began paying more attention to legal battles raging in the Supreme Court at the time (Heller and MacDonald) – these led me to educate myself further, and to begin advocating for increased firearm rights within MN and Nationwide.

-Patrick Watson, Mendota Heights

Yes. I initially bought my first gun because of personal and family protection. I have also come to to realize that gun ownership also promotes caution among politicians and leaders. An armed populace is less likely to be forced to do things against their will or forced into involuntary servitude. The main purpose of gun ownership in the founding of this country was to keep government in check. Germany in the 1930s and ’40s went into action once the victims were disarmed and did not fight back. Thus, in the forefront of my mind now as compared to many years ago when I was younger, I own a gun first and foremost to ensure my liberty. Personal and familial protection follows.

-Cari Lucas, Cushing

I started as a hunter. Now I rarely hunt at all. Self defense has become the defining reason for gun ownership for me.

Mark Gobel, West. St. Paul

I’m going to give the last word to Pat Medure, retired sheriff in Itasca County, where there is a high concentration of gun permits. He said he’s talked to a lot of residents concerned for their safety and worried that in an isolated rural area it can take a deputy a long time to arrive at a crime scene.

Medure says he has advice regarding the role of a gun in that situation: Just like you’d talk with your family about a fire plan or a severe weather plan, “have a safety plan” in the event of an intruder.

Having a gun handy isn’t the main thing to think about, Medure says.

“Where will you feel the safest and what’s the quickest way to get to that spot? And does it have phone access to call 911? And don’t always center it around, ‘I gotta have a firearm.’ ”