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Disturbing Yet Humanizing Portraits Of Gun Owners At Home

Come cozy up to the fireplace with your AK-47.

  • <p>Avery, Oregon. “It started out as a childhood fascination and kind of went from there. I started out collecting photographs and making drawings of guns—it’s just ones of those things; from fascination to ownership. There are a lot of people who assume that because you own guns you’re more of a violent person—I don’t believe that.”</p>
  • <p>Barbara and Ryan with Mauser and Star, Pennsylvania. Barbara: “I own a handgun for self-defense. I own a rifle for target shooting. I have both because I live in the best country in the world and have the right as an American citizen. When we were first married, I was a bit hesitant to have a gun in the house because I was not used to it. Then I went to the range with Ryan several times, and I realized how responsible he was with firearms and as I became familiar with guns, I changed my mind.” Ryan: “My father served in the Second World War and taught me at a young age that freedom often comes with a high price. I own a gun because it’s my God-given right as a citizen of the greatest country ever, the United States of America. God bless America!”</p>
  • <p>Bash with Cisco, Pennsylvania. “I just think it’s a good thing to have.”</p>
  • <p>Victora, Cathy, and Raphael with Romulus and Remus, Pennsylvania. Raphael: “I was a criminal justice major in college, and while I am a big supporter of law enforcement, I was always struck by how reactive law enforcement ultimately is. In other words, too often, crime has already been committed before law enforcement becomes involved. That sent me a strong and clear message. It is up to us, as citizens, to protect ourselves, our families, and our property. Our constitution provides us with the right and the method by which to achieve that objective. I choose to exercise that right.”</p>
  • <p>Gail, Eric, Morgan, and Michael with Misty, Indiana. Michael: “I’m a reservist. I need to maintain proficiency, and we only practice once a year, so any extra training I can get, especially with military weapons, is better for me if we deploy. I sometimes carry a handgun when I travel. There are always areas where you feel more comfortable if you have some form of defense on hand—you can’t avoid everything. I’m puzzled when I run into people who are adamantly opposed to the concept.” Gail: “I’m not really into guns, but they’re in the house, and I know how to use them. I’m in the military right now. I hope that I’ll never have to put a person at the other end of one, but if I do it’s because it’s me or them, and I’m going to choose me.” Morgan: “I like shooting. Mom helps me.” Eric: “I shoot targets. And bows and arrows.”</p>
  • <p>Avery, Miles, Gregg, and Theresa with Ginny, Arizona. Greg: “The people who are anti-gun can name instance after instance, situation after situation where a gun would do you no good—and I would agree with them. But if there’s that 101st time, one time out of 101 where having a gun would have meant saving your own child—you would sell your soul or trade everything you have to do that.” Theresa: “Years ago I saw a burglar on television who said that his greatest fear was a homeowner with a gun and that if a homeowner even just pointed a gun at him, he’d surrender and if he knew that a house had a gun in it, he wouldn’t rob it, and, in fact, that’s how he was caught, a woman pulled a gun on him while he was robbing her house. I wouldn’t want to be in a situation where I needed a gun to protect my family and didn’t have one. Plus, we like to go target shooting.”</p>
  • <p>James with Nicky, Pennsylvania. “When I was diagnosed with cancer I found myself and my family in need of protection. I was too old to fight, too sick to run, and since cancer took my vocal cords, I couldn’t yell for help. I purchased my first firearm.”</p>
  • <p>Uzi, Judy, and Donno, Pennsylvania. Donno: “I own guns for the same reason I own fire extinguishers—while I certainly don’t expect or hope for a worst-case scenario, should one present itself, I’m prepared to take an active role in ensuring that my family survives. I grew up with guns in the house that were used regularly to put food on our table. I’ve known gun safety inside and out since I was a child. I’m confident my son will grow up with the same understanding and handle them with the same respect and care ... whether he chooses to own guns or not.” Judy: “I grew up in the South, and I come from a family of hunters. One of my first memories is learning to shoot a gun in my backyard. When I moved to Philadelphia, I quickly realized that I wanted to buy a gun for home defense. The bottom line is if someone is threatening my child or me, I want to be able to protect us. My shotgun will take care of any intruder, and I know how to use it.”</p>
  • <p>Maggie and Gwen, Pennsylvania. Gwen: “I find shooting enjoyable, but I also own guns for self-defense, against criminals of all sorts, including those who single out minorities. Being a survivor of sexual assault, I find comfort in being able to take back the strength that was stolen from me by force. Arming myself equalizes force levels between an attacker and myself, giving me a fighting chance should someone once again decide to take what I do not wish to give. We each have the right to be the source of our own salvation from evil if we so choose. That right must not be usurped by those who would run our lives for us according to their own agendas, whether it be for the basest of self-interests or for the noblest of altruisms.” Maggie: “Well, my reasons are pretty much the same as Gwen’s, which she expressed very well—save that I’ve never been the victim of sexual assault myself.”</p>
  • <p>Michelle and Kyle, Missouri. Kyle: “There are too many idiots who own guns. I have major problems with some parts of the firearm culture. I’ve met completely irresponsible gun owners who do a good job of making the rest of us look bad. They don’t seem to understand the serious responsibility that you take on when you own and operate firearms. I’ve made it my mission to take as many people out to the range as I can to raise interest and add more responsible firearm owners to our society. I constantly preach the importance of taking a safety course and developing good habits from the start. Also, since the majority of my friends are politically liberal, I’m trying to do my part to break through this very ridiculous partisan split over gun rights. And, of course, firearms are a great defense against nonstationary cadavers if my neighborhood ever becomes the victim of a zombie infestation.” Michelle: “I’m not really ‘into’ guns. I own one because there are guns in the house, and I figured I should know how to use them.”</p>
  • <p>Nicky, Pennsylvania. “I have 32 handguns and 17 long arms. I’m not a collector. I just love to purchase firearms. I don’t know if I could choose—between my guns and my motorcycle.”</p>
  • <p>Ochressandro, New Mexico. “As the Founding Fathers said, sometimes the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots. If that day comes, I will be ready, to defend my country against all threats, domestic and foreign. I have sworn eternal enmity to the forces of socialism and control. I own firearms and have drilled myself to proficiency with their use because I have read Gulag Archipelago, and I will not let it happen here without a fight. Advocates of gun control think that they will someday take my arms from me. But they are wrong. I’ll own guns all my life.”</p>
  • <p>Brother Robb, Ohio. “I’m from Indiana—the subculture there is not a subculture, it’s the predominant culture. But I was never into guns until I saw Bowling for Columbine. It seemed to attempt to demonize an inanimate object, and I don’t think you can do that with something that doesn’t think, feel, or understand the concept of morality. I understand why people have an emotional reaction to things that are bad, murder and robbery, for example. It got me thinking and anyway, after the movie some friends and I went to a local target range to experience it firsthand—to see what all the hype was about. It was a spark. After that, I bought two pistols.”</p>
  • <p>Sean, Florida. “I own a weapon because I really enjoy going to the range and shooting. I’m a Buddhist: I don’t believe in violence, and I don’t believe in using a weapon for violence. But I think that when it comes down to the core essence of owning a gun that a gun isn’t violent—the nature of the person can become violent. The biggest test is when someone is confronted and chooses to react with violence.”</p>
  • 01 /14

    Avery, Oregon. “It started out as a childhood fascination and kind of went from there. I started out collecting photographs and making drawings of guns—it’s just ones of those things; from fascination to ownership. There are a lot of people who assume that because you own guns you’re more of a violent person—I don’t believe that.”

  • 02 /14

    Barbara and Ryan with Mauser and Star, Pennsylvania. Barbara: “I own a handgun for self-defense. I own a rifle for target shooting. I have both because I live in the best country in the world and have the right as an American citizen. When we were first married, I was a bit hesitant to have a gun in the house because I was not used to it. Then I went to the range with Ryan several times, and I realized how responsible he was with firearms and as I became familiar with guns, I changed my mind.” Ryan: “My father served in the Second World War and taught me at a young age that freedom often comes with a high price. I own a gun because it’s my God-given right as a citizen of the greatest country ever, the United States of America. God bless America!”

  • 03 /14

    Bash with Cisco, Pennsylvania. “I just think it’s a good thing to have.”

  • 04 /14

    Victora, Cathy, and Raphael with Romulus and Remus, Pennsylvania. Raphael: “I was a criminal justice major in college, and while I am a big supporter of law enforcement, I was always struck by how reactive law enforcement ultimately is. In other words, too often, crime has already been committed before law enforcement becomes involved. That sent me a strong and clear message. It is up to us, as citizens, to protect ourselves, our families, and our property. Our constitution provides us with the right and the method by which to achieve that objective. I choose to exercise that right.”

  • 05 /14

    Gail, Eric, Morgan, and Michael with Misty, Indiana. Michael: “I’m a reservist. I need to maintain proficiency, and we only practice once a year, so any extra training I can get, especially with military weapons, is better for me if we deploy. I sometimes carry a handgun when I travel. There are always areas where you feel more comfortable if you have some form of defense on hand—you can’t avoid everything. I’m puzzled when I run into people who are adamantly opposed to the concept.” Gail: “I’m not really into guns, but they’re in the house, and I know how to use them. I’m in the military right now. I hope that I’ll never have to put a person at the other end of one, but if I do it’s because it’s me or them, and I’m going to choose me.” Morgan: “I like shooting. Mom helps me.” Eric: “I shoot targets. And bows and arrows.”

  • 06 /14

    Avery, Miles, Gregg, and Theresa with Ginny, Arizona. Greg: “The people who are anti-gun can name instance after instance, situation after situation where a gun would do you no good—and I would agree with them. But if there’s that 101st time, one time out of 101 where having a gun would have meant saving your own child—you would sell your soul or trade everything you have to do that.” Theresa: “Years ago I saw a burglar on television who said that his greatest fear was a homeowner with a gun and that if a homeowner even just pointed a gun at him, he’d surrender and if he knew that a house had a gun in it, he wouldn’t rob it, and, in fact, that’s how he was caught, a woman pulled a gun on him while he was robbing her house. I wouldn’t want to be in a situation where I needed a gun to protect my family and didn’t have one. Plus, we like to go target shooting.”

  • 07 /14

    James with Nicky, Pennsylvania. “When I was diagnosed with cancer I found myself and my family in need of protection. I was too old to fight, too sick to run, and since cancer took my vocal cords, I couldn’t yell for help. I purchased my first firearm.”

  • 08 /14

    Uzi, Judy, and Donno, Pennsylvania. Donno: “I own guns for the same reason I own fire extinguishers—while I certainly don’t expect or hope for a worst-case scenario, should one present itself, I’m prepared to take an active role in ensuring that my family survives. I grew up with guns in the house that were used regularly to put food on our table. I’ve known gun safety inside and out since I was a child. I’m confident my son will grow up with the same understanding and handle them with the same respect and care ... whether he chooses to own guns or not.” Judy: “I grew up in the South, and I come from a family of hunters. One of my first memories is learning to shoot a gun in my backyard. When I moved to Philadelphia, I quickly realized that I wanted to buy a gun for home defense. The bottom line is if someone is threatening my child or me, I want to be able to protect us. My shotgun will take care of any intruder, and I know how to use it.”

  • 09 /14

    Maggie and Gwen, Pennsylvania. Gwen: “I find shooting enjoyable, but I also own guns for self-defense, against criminals of all sorts, including those who single out minorities. Being a survivor of sexual assault, I find comfort in being able to take back the strength that was stolen from me by force. Arming myself equalizes force levels between an attacker and myself, giving me a fighting chance should someone once again decide to take what I do not wish to give. We each have the right to be the source of our own salvation from evil if we so choose. That right must not be usurped by those who would run our lives for us according to their own agendas, whether it be for the basest of self-interests or for the noblest of altruisms.” Maggie: “Well, my reasons are pretty much the same as Gwen’s, which she expressed very well—save that I’ve never been the victim of sexual assault myself.”

  • 10 /14

    Michelle and Kyle, Missouri. Kyle: “There are too many idiots who own guns. I have major problems with some parts of the firearm culture. I’ve met completely irresponsible gun owners who do a good job of making the rest of us look bad. They don’t seem to understand the serious responsibility that you take on when you own and operate firearms. I’ve made it my mission to take as many people out to the range as I can to raise interest and add more responsible firearm owners to our society. I constantly preach the importance of taking a safety course and developing good habits from the start. Also, since the majority of my friends are politically liberal, I’m trying to do my part to break through this very ridiculous partisan split over gun rights. And, of course, firearms are a great defense against nonstationary cadavers if my neighborhood ever becomes the victim of a zombie infestation.” Michelle: “I’m not really ‘into’ guns. I own one because there are guns in the house, and I figured I should know how to use them.”

  • 11 /14

    Nicky, Pennsylvania. “I have 32 handguns and 17 long arms. I’m not a collector. I just love to purchase firearms. I don’t know if I could choose—between my guns and my motorcycle.”

  • 12 /14

    Ochressandro, New Mexico. “As the Founding Fathers said, sometimes the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots. If that day comes, I will be ready, to defend my country against all threats, domestic and foreign. I have sworn eternal enmity to the forces of socialism and control. I own firearms and have drilled myself to proficiency with their use because I have read Gulag Archipelago, and I will not let it happen here without a fight. Advocates of gun control think that they will someday take my arms from me. But they are wrong. I’ll own guns all my life.”

  • 13 /14

    Brother Robb, Ohio. “I’m from Indiana—the subculture there is not a subculture, it’s the predominant culture. But I was never into guns until I saw Bowling for Columbine. It seemed to attempt to demonize an inanimate object, and I don’t think you can do that with something that doesn’t think, feel, or understand the concept of morality. I understand why people have an emotional reaction to things that are bad, murder and robbery, for example. It got me thinking and anyway, after the movie some friends and I went to a local target range to experience it firsthand—to see what all the hype was about. It was a spark. After that, I bought two pistols.”

  • 14 /14

    Sean, Florida. “I own a weapon because I really enjoy going to the range and shooting. I’m a Buddhist: I don’t believe in violence, and I don’t believe in using a weapon for violence. But I think that when it comes down to the core essence of owning a gun that a gun isn’t violent—the nature of the person can become violent. The biggest test is when someone is confronted and chooses to react with violence.”

One evening, photographer Kyle Cassidy found himself at a dinner party, randomly seated next to a presidential campaign staffer who was lamenting the difficulty of crafting a message: how could he talk about guns in a way that would appeal to the widest array of gun owners? Even a pro-gun message is rife with potential missteps. Because while many people own guns, people are different, and so they all own them for different reasons.

It was a chance musing that sparked a life-changing journey in Cassidy’s life. "I thought it would be a good experience to drive across the country and talk to people about it," he says. The resulting profiles were published as a 2007 book, Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes.

Ochressandro, New Mexico. "As the Founding Fathers said, sometimes the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots. If that day comes, I will be ready, to defend my country against all threats, domestic and foreign. I have sworn eternal enmity to the forces of socialism and control. I own firearms and have drilled myself to proficiency with their use because I have read Gulag Archipelago, and I will not let it happen here without a fight. Advocates of gun control think that they will someday take my arms from me. But they are wrong. I’ll own guns all my life."

For any gun-loathing liberal, the fully loaded collection of photographs is borderline trolling. A toddler in Pennsylvania draws at her play table as her father stands proudly at her side, assault rifle at the ready. A punkish Missouri couple hangs in their kitchen, where a wall of crucifixes serves as the backdrop to a long shotgun being cradled like a baby. An entire family in Arizona holds their weaponry around the dinner table while the trusty dog sits by their side. The images juxtapose domestic mundanity with lethal militarism in a way that can make a leftist’s skin crawl. But that doesn’t stop the subjects from smiling right through the lens because, to them, it’s perfectly normal—even responsible—to arm their family to the nines.

"I’d like, and this seems to have worked, in retrospect, for people to be able to have conversations about things that are important to them without yelling or name calling," Cassidy says. "I hope that viewers are transformed into being more aware of what’s important to them, why it’s important to them, and why something else can be important to someone else."

Indeed. Those creepy, gun-toting smiles—once their immediate shock factor wears off—actually look kind, even welcoming, to the viewer. And that’s the really disturbing part of the portraits: the reminder, or perhaps revelation, that people who proudly carry the armament of a small militia can still be perfectly loving people in every other aspect of their life.

Maggie and Gwen, Pennsylvania. Gwen: "I find shooting enjoyable, but I also own guns for self-defense, against criminals of all sorts, including those who single out minorities. Being a survivor of sexual assault, I find comfort in being able to take back the strength that was stolen from me by force. Arming myself equalizes force levels between an attacker and myself, giving me a fighting chance should someone once again decide to take what I do not wish to give. We each have the right to be the source of our own salvation from evil if we so choose. That right must not be usurped by those who would run our lives for us according to their own agendas, whether it be for the basest of self-interests or for the noblest of altruisms." Maggie: "Well, my reasons are pretty much the same as Gwen’s, which she expressed very well—save that I’ve never been the victim of sexual assault myself."

"All of those people invited me into their homes and a bunch of them went a lot further—I slept on people’s couches and people fed me and I went to movies and theme parks with them, it was basically a giant vacation visiting people I’d never met. And it’s not rocket science—be nice to people and they’ll be nice back to you," Cassidy says, adding that he's still surprised when people react to the photos by wondering at how friendly the subjects look. "One of the things that makes life difficult for all of us is our ability to view people as ‘the other’—they’re not like me, they don’t have the same depth of feeling that I do, they don’t love their kids or whatever," he explains. "Photography in general, and documentary photography in specific, I think, provides an opportunity to make one-sided things multidimensional."

"That person who you hate with a seething passion whenever you see them on TV goes home to a family that loves them and they buy presents of their mothers and they have a best friend who thinks they’re awesome and they let the dog sleep on the bed and all that. Over the years I’ve found that people are pretty much like people—most everybody’s trying to do good in the world, we just disagree about what’s good sometimes."

All Photos and captions: courtesy Kyle Cassidy

[via Slate]

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