During these dead winter months while we’re all cooped up inside, and the festive autumnal chaos has come to an end, we have the opportunity to look back and reflect. Not everyone is into new years resolutions, and I get that. However, this time of year can give us the opportunity to sit down and really think about the past. What have we learned, and how we might move forward?
As I write this, I'm starting my final semester in college and bringing my undergraduate career to a close. In just the last three years, we’ve all had to learn and adapt. And the last four and a half years of working towards my degree have afforded me many opportunities for growth. However, since the start of the pandemic and it’s upending effects, guns, and the firearms communities that I’ve participated in have provided me the most growth and development of my identity.
Let's Not Jump the Gun
Now, I don’t want simply to rehash my earlier article on my experience in the gun community. But I do want to reflect on the place that having that community has had on my personal circumstances. Before the pandemic, I was full of energy, baby-faced and ready to take on the world. I had just moved back home from my overpriced broom closet in Boston and was commuting into town again. Working part time with a full load of classes was as easy as it had ever been. I had by then, however, split from many of the friend groups, online and in-person, to which I had dedicated much of my time in the two years prior.
When the pandemic hit, moving to online classes, being out of work and away from the gym, and feeling like I didn’t have a place socially was a significant blow to my mental health. This is also a story that I’m sure I don’t have to rehash; we were all there of course. But at the end of that quarantine tunnel was a light. And that light was the muzzle flash from an impulse-bought Taurus G3C from my local gun store.
Biting the Bullet
I was invited then by a friend whom I had known from my time in town to a Discord group of local gun owners. At the turn of 2021, I went to numerous meets both on the range and off. Eventually these events turned from day trips to weekends out hiking, camping, and sightseeing. Halfway across the country or just a few towns over, I could take my car to places unknown. Over two years later, I’m still finding new and interesting things to do, places to see, and skills to learn. All of this, however, was enabled by a little machine made of steel and polymer. It opened for me the rich culture, history, literature, and imagination surrounding guns and gun ownership. I’ve made friends and found family, met all kinds of people, and broken into a world of opportunities to grow and learn.
Through all this, chipping away at my credits and class requirements, I’ve been thankful to look back at what has transpired, and what time has done for me. The pandemic stole from me the perfect college experience. I’ll never get the opportunity to be back on campus toting a book bag around and drinking overpriced chain-café coffee while studying in the library. And frankly, I’m just fine with that. The pandemic gave me an opportunity to turn everything upside down. Even though it was cut short, that period of prolonged adolescence had to come to an end. But where I stand at the end of that journey is somewhere that I truly belong. I know that I’m surrounded by the people who were put there for the best in me.
Sticking by My Guns
What unites my friends and acquaintances is something more than just the idea of guns. Some of us are there for home- and self-defense. Others enjoy the deep history of war and military technology. Some are hunters or competitive target shooters, some gun makers and gun enjoyers. At one point in time, I put away the political and ideological echo chambers that I frequented. What I found in the gun community was an echo chamber that told me to explore, ask questions, defend myself, my property, and my identity, and never stop working to improve myself.
With their encouragement, I’ve learned to be a better cook, stay fit and active, hone my thinking and writing skills, set up camp and spend some time outdoors, and to reflect on this self-improvement as an affirmation of my self-worth. Oh, and I think I’m an alright shot now, too. Going to college is seen by many as the time to explore, try new things, and find one’s identity. But while my college experience was cut short and flipped upside down, I found everything I needed in the gun community.