In our series Gun Stories, we’re hearing from people who have direct experience with firearms. We’ll hear from police, criminals, and gun violence victims, among others. In the first installment, we heard from people who sell firearms. Now, Rob Manning checks in with people who own them.
Daniel McMahan lives on the edge of Bend.
He grew up in Alabama.
Two childhood events made him a lifelong gun owner.
He says the first was when he was 8-years-old.
“I was attacked by someone who was under 18 years old. Tortured for about a half hour, choked into unconsciousness, and then upon getting — waking up, and getting home, I — and having the sheriff called - found that since he was under 18 — there were no other witnesses — essentially, they could do nothing for me, the victim.”
McMahan’s dad taught him to hunt with a rifle when he was 12.
He liked the power of it.
He says not long after he’d started learning to use a rifle, a teenager he didn’t know pulled a knife on him.
McMahan says he lunged at his attacker and grabbed his arm.
“… and slammed the arm down on my knee. When I saw the knife trickling down the hallway, several feet behind me, bang against the wall, and stop — I realized I’d won. He was no longer fighting me.”
McMahan came away from those experiences with a new outlook that has lasted his whole life:
“Pretty much from then on, I’ve understood that if I lived in a place where there was violence, that I wanted to turn from being a victim into being a victor.”
McMahan now owns several guns, including an AR-15 semi-automatic.
Glenn Brown has a number of rifles — for hunting.
“Here, Ben, here.”
He sometimes spends days in the wilderness living out of his truck, tracking elk or chasing birds, with his two dogs.
“I’ve got one dog who retrieves, and who doesn’t,” Brown says.
Brown lives outside of Sisters. But some of his favorite hunting trips are to Malheur County in southeastern Oregon.
“And most hunters have that poignant moment when the game goes down – I mean it is a …. mmm, spiritual, or — that’s (not) quite the right word, or existential, or profound — but there is that moment, I know most hunters have. It’s not bloodlust that drives us.”
Brown carries a sidearm for protection when he’s in a remote area, but he has never fired it in self-defense.
He grew up around firearms. But they have a tragic role in his family.
“I had an uncle who got into a gunfight with a drunk stalker. And he ended up shooting the guy and killing him. Um, my uncle never quite got over it, ended up committing suicide a few years later. And this all started with over a disagreement about an 8-track tape in a strip mall parking lot.”
Those events go back forty years, to when Brown was a much younger man.
Some Oregonians who grew up with guns recall the experience fondly.
Michelle Finn is from Independence, west of Salem.
She says the first gun she knew was her grandfather’s .357.
The family called it “Baby.”
“All of us granddaughters would go in Gram and Grampa’s bedroom, and we’d sit on the bed and eat cookies and candy, and just talk. And ‘Baby’ was always there. It was never — it was like no big deal. It was like seeing a pillow in a bedroom.”
Finn’s now married with kids of her own, and has guns in the house.
She says it’s necessary to protect her home — like one night a few years ago, when she says her daughter woke her up.
“And says ‘Mom, there’s somebody in the house.’ I throw my bathrobe on, I reach over. I grab my husband’s Glock. I go down the hallway. And there’s no better feeling in the world, than you when you’re walking down the hallway, and you see the shadow of somebody in your house, and you cock that Glock, and they go right back out the window.”
When we spoke, Finn’s pistol was on her hip outside her jacket.
Her concealed carry permit was one of nearly 3000 waiting for county approval.
So for Finn’s gun to be legal, she has to carry it openly.
Donny Adair grew up in urban Portland. His family didn’t have guns.
An interest in fishing evolved into hunting, and he’s now’s president of a group he created called the African American Hunting Association.
He’s on a mission to get more minorities into hunting. I asked him “why?”
“Well, because it’s a hell of a lot of fun, Rob!”
Adair says he wants to offer a positive view of guns – especially for people who grew up with a negative image of them.
“Particularly, African Americans – maybe they’ve had a bad experience, or may have had someone in their family who was a victim. Conversely, they have not ever had a positive experience. They didn’t grow up with somebody introducing them to firearms in a positive way.”
Adair says he wants people to learn to respect firearms.
That’s also the aim of the Armed Defense Training Association in Federal Way, Washington.
Trainer: “Step one, is we’re going to slam our hand down onto the gun. Support hand comes across your chest. Step two, gun comes straight up to your underarm…”
On this evening, they’re practicing how to draw and fire their weapons – without live bullets.
Trainer: “… You’ve got good sight picture, the slock is out of the trigger, and that point you are on target and ready to fire. Go ahead and shoot.”
But some long-time gun owners are queasy about armed citizens – no matter how well trained.
“ ‘The only solution to a lot of bad guys having guns is good guys having guns?’ Well, what are we going to have – a shootout in the street? That’s crazy,” says Joe Cantrell, whose gun collection includes a relic from his Cherokee ancestors’ forced march along the Trail of Tears.
Cantrell says he experienced gunfights as both a sailor in Vietnam and as a journalist in the Philippines.
“Unless you’re - the participants are highly trained military – I mean really trained – it’s not like the movies. It is not. It is a really, really scary place.”
Back in Bend, Daniel McMahan says his traumatic childhood justifies his gun ownership.
But he feels responsible for keeping his guns secure.
“So this is an AR-15. So, to drop the magazine, only requires a push of a button.”
McMahan says it’s so easy to disable an AR-15 that there’s no reason that thieves should have access to a ready-to-fire weapon.
McMahan also favors more government involvement. Owning some guns should require training, he says.
And this: “A universal gun database. And I do believe that private citizens should have access to that database.”
McMahan says the database would allow individual buyers and sellers to run their own background checks for private sales.
Individual sellers in Oregon are only required to run background checks at gun shows.
Up the road in Sisters, hunter Glenn Brown questions whether Oregon authorities can realistically police such transactions.
Brown says he might support limiting the size of magazines – a step some other gun owners disagree with.
But Brown says the answer is complex when it comes to stopping mass violence.
“I think this is a national problem, but I think the solution is largely on a personal, one-to-one kind of a basis. And I’m hoping that is part of everybody’s conscience, in light of all that has happened recently.”
In other words, he says, it comes down to people.
Many of the sources for this series came to us from OPB’s Public Insight Network. You can share your perspective on our “Gun Stories” tumblr page, and hear all of the features in this series by visiting opb.org/gunstories.