Confessions of a Gun-Toting Vegan. ~ Charlotte Heckscher

Via elephant journal
on Jan 27, 2013
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Let me start by saying I’ve never touched a gun.

My only friend who owns a gun lives off the grid in New Mexico, hunts elk and wild turkey and, in true Native American tradition, acknowledges a debt of gratitude to each life he takes so that he may feed himself.

Lately, my Facebook news feed has been plastered with anti-gun propaganda. Here are three of my faves:

guns and cheese

ceci n'est pas une 2nd


rednecks with guns
Source: Go Left


None of these clever images calls to mind a gentle and deeply thoughtful intelligence or a vegan lifestyle. Actually, it took my dentist to do that. He’s a mild-mannered young vegan, a loving father and a gourmet cook who plays Frank Sinatra instead of muzak. And, it turns out, he’s fiercely pro-gun.

Dr. B is always friendly but he was particularly relaxed yesterday, probably because he had some cancellations. When he came in to check my teeth, his assistant and I were talking but I was already in a prone position, prepared to close my eyes and open my mouth at his command.

Instead of probing my gums, he decided to hang out and join the conversation. We talked for an hour, while I lay on my back, about what it means to own a gun.

We could have changed the topic of conversation or found a way to slither out of an infuriating us-and-them debate but instead, we hung in there.

Have you ever wanted to know what makes someone tick more than you want to prove you’re right?

Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that I was acquainted with a gun enthusiast and he wasn’t a wacko! An attitude of mutual respect, curiosity and trust enabled us to engage in a conversation that’s been polarizing the nation.

I was determined not to get sidetracked by incendiary rhetoric like, “a gun is just a tool” or “cars kill more people than guns,” etc. I was mostly able to resist making my own knee-jerk, anti-gun responses because I wanted to understand one thing,

 What are you afraid of?

Likewise, the aspect of my viewpoint that baffled Dr. B might be formulated by the question, “Why don’t you take responsibility for your life?” The term he used for people, like myself, who choose not to arm themselves was ‘sheep.’

“Most people are sheep and don’t want to take any responsibility for their lives. They think it’ll never happen to them. Guess what? There are crazy people out there and bad things do happen. If some maniac appears out of nowhere pointing a gun at you or your children, how are you planning to react?” he asked.

“Are you ready to die? Most people are complacent, I want to be prepared.”

In fact, I am not prepared to face that situation and willingly choose not to contemplate it.

Dr. B has considered every aspect of that scenario and planned for it. Police are responders, he reminded me, they come after a situation has already occurred.

“I wonder what makes our worldviews so different, don’t you. It’s not that I’m naive, Jim,” I said, because by now we were on a first-name basis. “Although I’ve never been the victim of a violent crime; have you? You think people like me are sheep, and you may be right, but I think your position is much more defensive than mine and I wonder why.”

“People automatically assume that people who own guns are violent. I am not violent—I don’t hunt, nor do I wish to. I am against violence and I think the majority of gun owners are like me. When I go to the shooting range, these guys aren’t the bunch of redneck in-breeders you imagine. That’s a stereotype that prevents people from looking at the real issues of violent crime, mental health and socioeconomic status. If these root problems were addressed, you’d see violent crime go way down.”

“I have to be very careful who I talk to about these issues,” he continued. “You have no idea the kind of prejudice I face because I’m a gun owner. People assume that I’m something that I’m not.”

This led Jim to another point he felt was important which was tied to the issue of personal responsibility.

“I have a license to carry a weapon but if I’m out in public and someone calls me racist names or even hits me, I will do everything in my power to deescalate the situation and not respond. If I use my gun on someone, the burden is on me. I could be said to have provoked that person and I would lose my license and spend time in prison. The average gun owner has no desire for confrontation or to use his gun on someone.”

By the time I stood up to leave there were several patients in the waiting room and Jim waved me back from the open doorway.

“You asked before if I had ever been the victim of violent crime and the answer is yes. When I was a student—at a Quaker school, mind you—I was also working part-time at a skate shop. I looked just like anyone else in the store, just another skinny kid in a ripped t-shirt and jeans. All of a sudden, I look over and see a customer crouching on the ground—he was shaking and saying, ‘Please don’t kill me.’ For a split second I thought he was goofing around, till I saw someone aiming a gun at his head.

“The guy turns around, sees me, realizes I work there and next thing you know he’s pointing the gun at my head, like this.” Jim’s pointer finger is gently touching the center of my forehead. “I put my hands up and said, ‘You can have anything you want, dude.’ But he’s looking out the front window and at his look out, a guy in a trench coat telling him to get out quick.

“He’d spotted a cop who happened to be in the car wash right across the street, so they just took off.

“Most people never know what it feels like to have a gun pointed at their head. I do.”

I like Jim more, not less. We were both honored by that unexpected hour we shared—in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day– outside the safety zone of our habitual, preconceived, us-and-them notions. I’m honored that we didn’t feel obliged to agree or argue and wonder how rare this is.

How often do we allow curiosity and a genuine desire to understand another person trump our need to judge and be self-righteous?

I consider myself a pacifist but today I wonder if I weaponize my opinions? Why do I need to hold fast and defend my entrenched point of view before I understand my enemy? What if ‘enemy’ is a false distinction and means only, ‘one who doesn’t know me’ or ‘one I don’t know’?

Before I left Jim’s office, he offered to take me to the shooting range with his wife. (Oh stop, not so we could shoot each other!)

“It’s also fun,” he smiled.

I didn’t say yes but I honestly considered it. Maybe we hold our opinions so dear because we aren’t prepared to find out how far we’re willing to go to understand another person.

How far off the reservation can we go before we can’t or don’t want to find our way back?


Charlotte Heckscher

Charlotte Heckscher writes essays and creative nonfiction on her blog, The Daily Procrastinator.





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Assistant Ed: Madison Canary

Ed: Bryonie Wise


(Source: via Mary on Pinterest)



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17 Responses to “Confessions of a Gun-Toting Vegan. ~ Charlotte Heckscher”

  1. Donald says:

    I too know what it is like to have a gun pointed to my head. Twice in my life I have faced death through violence. On the first occasion I was tied up, blindfolded, gagged and led to believe that my roommate was already killed. After that, for several weeks, I carried an open knife in my belt and never let anyone walk behind me. Then one day I lost the knife and never replaced it. Many years later, on the second occasion, my friends and I were attacked by a street gang. One friend was shot in the back and another was sexually molested while she, I and others were held captive, with guns to our head. Both occasions were horrible and I will not forget them.
    Yet I will not arm myself. Weapons create a sense of false security. The likelihood that they would fall into the wrong hands is greater than the likelihood of using them in self-defense. In both of my attacks I would not have had the opportunity to access a weapon. So what’s the point? Why live life paranoid?

  2. Ryan says:

    Seems to me Jim had a better argument up to the point where he admitted his views on control are motivated by his personal fear of being a victim.
    This is human nature and will never be the solution to anything. If instead of being held up by in that skate shop, he were trampled by a cow… Perhaps he would have been anti-gun, pro meat.
    People who oppose gay marriage don't come to that decision based on logic and thought and , Jim didnt come to his views on gun control that way either.
    So people like Donald are the sheep? People who rather than just reacting to what they experience. feel, or fear actually use thought, logic and reason to form thier opinion are sheep?
    Unless he was referring to the very low sheep on sheep violence rate…

  3. I, myself, am pro-gun. Not just because my family and I hunt and have grown up around guns mind you, but because I'm also pro-choice. I'm a non-violent person by nature and will do whatever I can to calm a situation, but seeing what's happening to the world and people these days, I'm not just about to sit idly by, a sheep with wide, unknowing eyes, until one day, threat of violence finds me. Like Jim, I want to be able to fight for MY life and the lives of the ones I love if that's what it came down to. Even if it happens to be a false sense of security as Donald pointed out, it's better then accepting violence into your life and ultimately succumbing to it.

    Don't get me wrong, I respect those who are anti-gun and choose not to own a gun. This is why I'm pro-choice.

  4. Charlotte says:

    Donald, thank you for sharing your story. I'm so sorry for the horror you've had to endure–and I'm in awe of the courageous, philosophical attitude you have.

    I completely agree that weapons create a false sense of security. You bring up something so crucial when you ask "Why live life paranoid?"

  5. Sharon says:

    Thank you, Charlotte, for writing such an excellent and thought-provoking article. More people need to share in this way, to open their minds to understanding rather than arguing. There will always be those who want to own firearms and those who wish to ban them entirely. Since neither one of those ways is a realistic option in a nation that has millions of guns already in the general population I guess we will just have to find a solution we can all live with – and that always starts with talking to each other.

  6. Charlotte says:

    It's interesting, because Jim knew his personal experience of fear as a result of gun violence weakened his pro-gun argument, so he withheld that information till he knew I wouldn't use it against him. And I don't hold it against him.

    I agree with you, it's absolutely natural for us to respond defensively when we feel our lives or the lives of our loved ones are threatened…and I agree with you that owning a gun isn't likely to protect us from the random acts of gun violence that are rampant in this country.

    All of the above makes a great argument in favor of strict laws limiting availability and use of guns.

    I don't, however, feel comfortable demonizing or ridiculing gun owners as a group, and to that end I'm interested in knowing their personal reasons for gun ownership, minus the rhetorical crap.

  7. Charlotte says:

    Sharon, you just expressed perfectly in a few words the gist of what I'm trying to get at–understanding rather than arguing. Thank you.

  8. James says:

    Jim does raise a good point.

    However, I disagree with it.

    It sounds good on the surface…carrying a gun so you can deal with the person holding the gun to your head. But the moment you go for your gun, the person holding the gun to your head will most likely splatter your brains against the convenience store wall before you can get to it.

    Executive vice president of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre said “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Well, I say there is a better way to stop the bad guy with the gun…and that’s not to put the fucking gun in his hand in the first place. And there are a whole bunch of ways to accomplish that which don’t violate the 2nd Amendment.

    Jim’s argument is just the old, stale “if I would have had my gun with me, none of this would have happened” bullshit…and it holds about as much water as a colander.

  9. Charlotte says:

    I completely agree with your arguments in favor of gun control.

    I wonder, though, what happens when we stop arguing–when we don't have an agenda or try to control an outcome–and for a few minutes we just listen to an opposing viewpoint with nothing but curiosity and compassion.

    My experience is that it can be very liberating to let go of the us-and-them/win-or-lose crap for awhile, and that it can help us to stop fighting (even if it's just for an hour) to find a way to be compassionate and open to someone whose viewpoints run counter to our own. Even that's an agenda, I suppose, but it gets us out of the infinite regression of debating and into a frame of mind in which we can see ourselves as allies.

  10. Ryan says:

    I’m not against guns. I’m against people defending what they happen to think or enjoy with any argument that fits regardless of what the consequences may be.

    Most of the people who use the self defense argument would never settle for a hand gun designed only for personal self defense and most of the hunters wouldn’t be happy with the minimum fire power needed for the task. It’s a hobby or a false sense of security and power that will be defended with whatever argument sounds the best.

    The people who keep a single 22 revolver are not part of the problem. No matter mentally unstabke they get its going to be hard to commit mass murder with that gun.

    If the self defense argument were valid and the types of guns in existence were representative of that I’d probably own one. As it stands I can’t participate in the gun culture insanity we have now.

  11. Sharon says:

    Sometimes, it seems to me, the argument over gun control is similar to the Islamic argument that women should wear a burkha – cover the "temptation" of the woman and there will be no sexual desire generated in the man, completely negating the responsibility of the man to gain control over himself.

    Discussion about gun control is very much like the burkha, we are ignoring the bigger reality which is part of larger societal problems that we as a country need to address. We need better affordable mental health care. We need better education for the inner city marginalized youth in addition to putting in place ways to control the sale of guns and ammunition. We need to stop cultivating admiration for violence and celebrity.

    If we can begin to dialogue about helping rather than controlling whatever issue is in the news perhaps we can bring about a more peaceful and evolved country. I am willing to try.

  12. punaperson says:

    You're arguments are false on many counts. You apparently know nothing about various self-defense scenarios nor what weapons nor how many rounds of what caliber ammunition would suffice in those situations.
    President Reagan and Jim Brady were shot by a .22 caliber revolver.
    Other than false arguments, false information, and ad hominem assertions ("gun culture insanity") you really have no arguments, counter-arguments nor facts.
    Other than that, good job.

  13. punaperson says:

    Of course you have no idea what percentage of people that arm themselves with various kinds of weapons have "a false sense of security". And even if you did, so what? You want to deny people their right to make a choice based upon your (likely false) claim of what is best for them and/or wshat "might" happen to them. Actually, if you read all the literature you will find that armed people have an overall better outcome when they become victims of crime.
    Do you have a smoke detector in your home? Why live life paranoid? Do you have a fire extinguisher in your and/or car? Why live life paranoid? Do you have a first aid kit? Why live life paranoid? Do you take any precautions of any kind to avoid the worst outcome of any kind of potential threat, no matter how remote the statistical probability? Why live life paranoid?
    No one is asserting that you ought to arm yourselves. But please don't attempt to remove the choice from those of us who might want to be armed.

  14. punaperson says:

    You don't explain why someone taking precautionary action based upon a fear of a possible negative experience, especially one they've already experienced in the past, is invalid. Taking such precautionary action based upon past experience and knowledge of the statistical probability of being able to have a better outcome by being armed is precisely the result of thought, logic and reason. Other people, such as Donald and yourself may choose to respond to your life experiences in another way, but please don't try to impose your choices on the rest of us.

  15. punaperson says:

    How is "own firearms" not a "realistic option"? Not sure what you mean.

  16. punaperson says:

    Hi Charlotte. I'm a vegan who happens to be an active supporter of the natural, civil right of self-defense, via whatever tool the person would like to have for that purpose.
    It seems to me that people already do understand one another. The argument is about what kinds of laws will exist and who will be legally sanctioned for what, or not. That's where you have to have an "argument" and discuss "data", etc. If we didn't have to go and vote, or support (or not) the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government, we wouldn't need to discuss these issues. But people make laws, and even though quite a few of those laws are based upon emotion and misinformation rather than a logical analysis of data and the use of critical thinking skills, it all too real, and we must all bring those skills into play to the best of our abilities.

  17. punaperson says:

    You make several claims, but offer no supporting evidence. Are you familiar with the body of evidence on defensive gun uses (DGUs)? Are you asserting that all of it is false or fraudulent? Evidence?

    You wrote: "…there is a better way to stop the bad guy with the gun…and that's not to put the fucking gun in his hand in the first place. And there are a whole bunch of ways to accomplish that which don't violate the 2nd Amendment. "

    Please outline very specifically the language of such laws, and give us the evidence you have that supports your claim. I'm asking because I don't think there is any that will withstand critical scrutiny. If you have it, please publish it here. I don't think the outright "gun bans" in cities like Washington, D.C., or Chicago have proved anything but the opposite of your hypothesis, but then I have no idea what laws or policies you are proposing, thus I ask for you to be specific about what you claim. Thanks.