What my gun means to me: Meet four gun-owning Americans, from a geek to a grandma

Out here in the middle of the country, we went in search of the middle ground of the Great American Gun Debate.

We met 29-year-old Haley Smith of Paola. About a year ago, a stranger knocked on Smith’s door at 2 in the morning.

It took her breath away.

In that moment, the 20-something single mom said she thought, Is someone breaking into my house? How was she going to protect herself? How would she protect her then-6-year-old daughter?

“I didn’t know who the person was,” said Smith. “And then I was like, it was time for me to purchase a gun.”

The next part shocked her a little.

She had grown up around guns and hunters. She knows a few law officers. Her fiance is in the military. She had done her research and knew what she was going to buy before she walked into the store. But still. It took all of 10 minutes to buy her Glock19 9mm handgun.

“That was just insane to me,” she said. “I mean, I have a clean background — I’ve had maybe two speeding tickets in my entire life. But I was a little appalled by how quick it was.”

Gun rights and gun control are touchy issues. Bring up firearms and expect to hear yelling. And blame. And misunderstanding.

Locally, it’s easy to understand why. Last year, Kansas City saw its highest homicide rate in 24 years, and at least 113 of those deaths involved a firearm.

Nationally, the mass shootings get the big headlines. In November, a man killed 26 worshippers at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. That tragedy came only weeks after 58 people were murdered and another 500 were injured at a concert in Las Vegas. USA Today declared 2017 the deadliest year for mass killings in at least a decade.

But the 208 victims killed in mass shootings are but a fraction of the 33,000 gun deaths in the U.S. Two-thirds are suicides. Another third are single homicides. Then there are accidents, shootings by police, domestic violence.

FiveThirtyEight.com said the only common element in those thousands of deaths is a gun, but the causes are very different. Which makes it nearly impossible to find a one-size-fits-all solution.

On the far end of one side of the debate, you have well-armed constitutionalists who would let loose of their firearm only from cold, dead hands. Conversely, the fringe element of the gun-control crowd wants a world where most (if not all) firearms are banned outright.

But what about everybody else? The ones closer to the middle, who keep guns in safes in houses and teach their children to use them for hunting?

“The middle’s not real sexy,” said a Lenexa gun owner, avid hunter and father of two. “Nobody wants to tune in to Fox News to hear, ‘Reasonable man talks gun control.’ Not a lot of red meat there.”

     

The Star sought out that middle ground. We heard from dozens of people. We talked with a few, including:

▪ A self-professed “gun nerd” and collector in Missouri who, by his own admission, owns more firearms than anyone needs.

▪ A couple of Kansas sisters, ages 12 and 15, who have taken up hunting because they love the outdoors and being with their dogs.

▪ A Johnson County gun owner who tells other parents about his safe, and is OK with some saying they’d rather not have their kids hang out at his home.

▪ A Lee’s Summit grandmother who inherited her father’s revolver and trains regularly to stay sharp.

And Smith, the single mom, who bought her handgun for safety reasons.

“I lived at home by myself for years, and I am the protector of my child,” she said. “And in the world that we live in today, unfortunately, you just never feel safe, which is really, really sad.”

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