It is late March of 2020. As the gravity of the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak directs many of us into home isolation, and anxiety about the stalling economy grows stronger, I've suddenly gotten a LOT of inquiries about people who want to buy their first gun and learn how to shoot it.
Although I was raised in a pacifist family, I own several rifles and a shotgun. I hunt for food, and I teach others to use firearms safely for that purpose. I honor the right of people to defend themselves, and that guns can sometimes be the equalizer that allows a marginalized person to protect their body and and their family.
I also don't think most people should buy their first gun right now. And let me be clear: I'm a queer, white, educated, assigned-female person who has experienced virtually no interpersonal violence in my life. Most of the people I know who are asking about guns are of a similar demographic. I offer these ideas to anyone who finds them helpful, and do not intend to tell more marginalized people than myself how thew should respond to their circumstances.
Learning from Psychology and History
Let's look at human psychology: studies show that after a big disaster, the most common human response is empathy and helpfulness, including towards strangers. This is very different from the riots, theft, and violence that many of us are taught to imagine. Studies show this compassion rises quickly, peaks after one week, and then drops off sharply (1). Yet that does not mean violence is the next stage.
Let's look at history. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, overall health and longevity rose noticeably across the population of the US. One cause of death that did rise was suicide, which showed a direct relationship with unemployment (2). We know from gun death statistics that suicide is the number one cause of death by guns: in 2017 in the US, six out of ten gun deaths were suicides(3). That means that if you keep a gun in your home, it's far more likely that you or someone in your family will be harmed by an accident or suicide than it is that you'll need to use the gun in self-defense. Also, if you are not trained in using your gun, you likely won't be effective in defending yourself. In-person training isn't advisable as we try to slow this pandemic, and the idea of people learning to shoot purely from online resources frightens me... especially when those people's critical thinking capacity is reduced by a constant state of fear and anxiety. We humans get pretty stupid when we're afraid.
I do believe guns are a great tool for acquiring meat. For some people, in some circumstances, they can offer an empowering path towards strength and self-protection. Personally, I choose to only own rifles and shotguns, because handguns were designed to shoot humans and that's not something I intend to do. I keep all my guns locked up, with additional trigger locks on each firearm, and ammo stored separately. None of my guns are stored in my home. I've made a vow to myself that if I'm feeling really low and start thinking about self harm, I'll tell a friend and ask them to keep my gun-lock keys until I'm feeling better. I have actually taken this step before, many years ago after a bad breakup. It was very humbling, but I trust myself to do it again if I need to.
While individual circumstances vary, I don't recommend that most people become first-time gun owners right now. But what can you do instead? Well, a basic hunting rifle and ammo would have cost you between $400 and $2500. So that's a pretty nice budget to work with as we plan our non-gun survival strategies. What tools will we need?
First Alternative: Plant a Big Garden
My first suggestion is to plant a Corona Victory Garden. This is a brand-new movement that encourages anyone with access to fertile land to plant an extra-large garden this year so they can share that bounty with people in need. There is good evidence that gardening actually REDUCES depression(4), so it seems logical it could also help mitigate the tendency for suicide that accompanies an economic depression. Also, gardening begets community! When people help each other in their gardens and give away their bumper crops, it strengthens the system of mutual aid among their friends and neighbors. If the world really goes to pieces, your ammo will eventually run out. The goodwill of your neighbors is a renewable resource that tends to strengthen in tough times, and it could be far more important to your survival. Think of how many seeds you could buy with the money you would have spent on a gun! If you do not have access to fertile land, you could invest in a CSA share instead.
Second Alternative: Make a Go Bag
My second suggestion is to make yourself a Go Bag and a Survival Cache. First, a little background: many of us have anxiety about people coming for our resources, and being harmed or left with nothing. These fears are vividly narrated in books like Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth Trilogy. These kinds of fears are inevitable in any society based on inequality of resources: the Haves must always guard against the Have-Nots, usually with military force. The history of colonization gives us a stark rendering of this scenario, from the Middle Passage to the Trail of Tears, and many other acts of theft and genocide. Much of this violence continues today, in forms like the Prison Industrial Complex (a.k.a. modern slave labor) and the continual breach of treaties with Indigenous People that has recently been very visible in the movements to defend Standing Rock and the Wet'suwet'en Nation against pipelines (a.k.a. modern land theft & degradation). Such violence and theft was also practice in Europe, especially during the witch trials in the middle ages.
Since these fears are so deeply rooted in ancestral trauma, I think we need to first honor them by LISTENING TO THEM, and then do the healing work needed to unlearn them. That work is long and follows its own timeline. In the meantime, honor these ancestral fears by making sure you'll have what you need.
A Go Bag or Bug Out Bag is a small backpack that contains the things you need for basic survival for a few days to a week. A Survival Cache is a sealed bucket of survival tools buried or hidden in a place that you've memorized and can reach on foot from your home. Some good things to include in them are:
- Matches, lighters, or other fire-making tools
- Dry tinder for kindling fires (cottonballs soaked in vaseline are commonly recommended, but dry birchbark works just as well).
- A sturdy survival knife. I recommend the Mora Companion (especially the version with a built-in fire steel).
- Lots of paracord. You can't have too much.
- A lightweight cooking pot with a lid. You can use this to cook food and boil water.
- A week's supply of rice and lentils (I eat about 1.25 cups per day when I am active).
- A generous amount of salt.
- A sturdy water bottle
- A dropper bottle of plain chlorine bleach. To purify one liter of water, add two drops of bleach and wait 40 minutes.
- An emergency blanket
- A small tarp
- A poncho or other rain-gear
- A warm hat
- A small first aid kit that includes good blister are supplies
- Some cash in a waterproof baggie
- A flashlight & batteries (or a hand-crank flashlight)
Extra goodies that could be great to have:
- A knife sharpener
- An ax or hatchet
- A shelf-stable source of fat (maybe crisco?). Lack of fat in your diet is what you will begin to feel first.
- Leather work gloves
- Extra thick wool socks
- A sleeping bag
- A radio (especially a hand-crank radio -- often these have a flashlight and a phone charger incorporated)
- A compass
- Relevant medications for your circumstances, such as Doxycyline for Lyme Disease (you'll need a prescription)
- Good hiking boots (if you're likely to not already be wearing them).
In a true crisis, imagine being on the run with just a gun, versus being on the run with all these incredible tools. In which scenario do you feel most empowered?
Lastly, the most important resource you can have in your Go Bag is your skills. Do you know how to build an emergency shelter to stay warm and dry? If not, google "debris hut." Are you skilled at making a fire in wet weather? If not, practice. Can you navigate by the sun and stars? If not, read The Natural Navigator by Tristan Gooley. Do you know the edible plants in your region? If not, find someone who can teach you. Are you skilled in making decisions and solving conflicts in a small group? Explore consensus decision-making and restorative/transformative justice.
Third Alternative: Archery
You know what I do keep in my home? My hunting bow & broadhead arrows. Since modern compound hunting bows do not need to be stored un-strung, it is always ready to go if the need for self-protection should arise. It also give me hours of calm mediative archery practice, and could help me acquire some wild meat in a pinch. Archery takes even more practice than firearms to become accurate, but it's dang intimidating -- if you walked into someone's home and they were pointing at you with a fully drawn bow and arrow and yelling, would you stick around? As an added benefit, bows are not generally a workable tool for serious self-harm. Children tend not to be strong enough to draw an adult hunting bow, so accidents involving children are less likely.
What part of yourself do you want to feed? Do you want to feed the part that fears your fellow humans and assumes bad intentions, or the part that believes in compassion and mutual aid? Do you want to build your capacity to fend people off, or the capacity to tend your neighbor?
We can move on all fronts at once. If you do decide to buy a gun, I hope you'll implement these other strategies as well. Let's move forward in the direction of our dreams: a world where resources are distributed fairly, justice is a daily reality, and we can stop fearing each other.
About the Author: Murphy Robinson is a hunting and archery instructor and the founder of Mountainsong Expeditions. They are also a Street Medic and decolonization activist. They live on a mountainside in Vermont.