Do You Need a Gun to Be Prepared?
Preppers love guns, but are they essential for preparedness?
A question I’ve received many times over the years: “Do I have to have a gun?” What they’re really saying is: “I don’t like guns and don’t own guns, but every prepper seems to own a gun and I feel left out.”
Short answer: no, you don’t need to own a gun. You don’t need to own a hammer, either. You might go for years without owning one and be none the wiser. But one day you cut yourself on a loose nail hanging out of some trim and you suddenly really wished you owned one.
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Unlike hammers, many of us have strong emotions surrounding guns, which makes discussing them in any sort of rational way difficult.
I won’t tell you to do something that violates your conscience, but I’d like to change your thinking a bit, peeling back emotional attachment and looking at the question objectively: would you be better off with a gun?
Emotions Around Guns
Guns are unique in that they carry an emotional attachment not often seen with other tools. Most pro-gun types have fond memories of target shooting or hunting with their fathers. To them, guns are associated with family and security.
On the flip side, anti-gun types usually associate guns with school shootings and other violent acts. They may even have had a bad personal experience with guns. Maybe they had one pointed at them or even survived a mass shooting themselves.
Where you live also has a big impact on how you feel about guns. I live in the sticks, and if I hear gunfire, I either assume my neighbors are goofing around or hunting. If I’m in the city and hear gunfire, I assume someone is being murdered.
Guns instill deep emotions, and those can be expressed in bizarre ways. On one end, you have the gun-nut types who compulsively buy guns with every paycheck even if they have no room to store them properly or time to maintain them. Maybe they send Christmas cards with the entire family dressed up like they’re shipping out to Ukraine.
On the other, you have people like Gersh Kuntzman, who wrote years ago in the New York Daily News about firing an AR-15 for the first time: “It felt to me like a bazooka — and sounded like a cannon.” He went on:
“The recoil bruised my shoulder, which can happen if you don't know what you're doing. The brass shell casings disoriented me as they flew past my face. The smell of sulfur and destruction made me sick. The explosions — loud like a bomb — gave me a temporary form of PTSD. For at least an hour after firing the gun just a few times, I was anxious and irritable.”
Gun people love to laugh at guys like Kuntzman because an AR-15 isn’t louder than most other types of guns, and the kickback is minimal — YouTube is full of videos of little girls happily shooting AR-15s. But it just goes to demonstrate the strong emotions associated with guns.
And then there’s the classic video of BuzzFeed reporters firing guns for the first time, having the times of their lives, and afterward being full of confusion and trying their best to muster horror and concern.
One thing that drives gun people crazy is how the anti-gun crowd regularly gets basic facts about guns wrong. You’d think that if someone were truly concerned about preventing gun violence, they’d want to know enough to push for legislation that, you know, is actually effective1.
I’ve posed this question many times over the years, and only one of my anti-gun friends has given me an honest answer: he hates guns on principle, but he’s afraid that if he learns about guns, he’ll start to like them. That rings true to me, and it’s reflected in the confused reactions from the BuzzFeed reports.
But we can’t let afford to let our emotions drive us to ignorance.
Guns Are Tools
To get a sober grasp on firearms, we have to recognize that fundamentally, guns are tools, and like any other tool, they have a purpose and place, and we have to be able to assess what role they fill in our preps.
Do you need a gun to hunt? No, not necessarily. One of the best-prepared people I know hates guns and hunts with a crossbow (not a compound bow due to a shoulder injury). You could hunt smaller game, like squirrel, with an air rifle.
A lot of people hunt with bows, air rifles, and even slingshots and have decent success. But a rifle gives you more range, more power, and often a cleaner, more merciful kill.
Do you need a gun for defense? There are alternatives and sometimes preferable options to guns. For instance, we’ve discussed when pepper spray is more appropriate for self-defense.
But the reality is we live in a world full of guns, and if someone breaks into your house — admittedly a rare occurrence — they will likely have a gun themselves. If you don’t, you’re going to be at a serious disadvantage.
There are also times when pepper spray fails. I recently read the tragic story of a woman killed by a bear despite dumping a can of bear spray on it. Meanwhile, handguns are 97% effective against bears, even “weaker” calibers like the 9mm.
Guns: The Great Equalizer
One of the more absurd anti-gun arguments I’ve heard is that guns are for the weak and that strong people don’t need guns. First of all: what’s your point? Frankly, that’s pretty ableist language, to borrow from the modern vernacular. Should a wheelchair user not be allowed to defend themselves? Should a woman be at the complete mercy of an abusive man?
Whenever someone, like rocker Henry Rollins, says something like this, it’s revealing because what they’re really saying — whether they realize it or not — is, “If not for all these stupid guns, I could use my physical strength to bully, intimidate, and harass anyone I want.” And for millennia, that’s exactly what men did. If you were some poor peasant and the Vikings or the Samurai showed up, they could beat, kill, or rape anyone they wanted and there was jack and shit you could do about it. Firearms changed the equation.
Admittedly, men with guns still show up to villages and slaughter whoever they like — it happens every day — but at least now the peasants may have a fighting chance2.
As the old saying goes, “God made man, but Samuel Colt made them equal.” With the right caliber, a 97-pound woman has just as much chance of killing a bear as a 300-pound musclebound man. One of the most effective snipers of all time was Lyudmila Pavlichenko, dubbed Lady Death, who killed 309 Axis soldiers for the Soviets during World War II. With the technology of firearms, she was as effective on the battlefield as any man, if not moreso. As destructive and horrifying as guns can be, there’s something beautiful about that.
I grew up with a guy who had a real chip on his shoulder. Always wanted to fight somebody. Unfortunately, he never grew out of that. He had kids with a woman, and one night he decided that she’d spent enough time on planet Earth. He drove into her yard and proceeded to start beating down the door.
She shot him through the door before he could break it down and kill her.
He learned the hard way that night that we now live in a world of equality.
Guilt by Association
A lot of people these days have a jump-to-conclusions sort of mentality. “Oh, you like X? Well that means you must also like Y, which means you are Z!” This is common among certain anti-gun people, who equate responsible gun ownership with being a school shooter.
By owning guns, are you “part of the problem?” Assuming you handle and store them responsibly, you’re no more part of the problem than any of the rest of us.
You probably drive a car. Cars kill a lot of people. Cars also produce a lot of pollution. Most cars also run on fossil fuels, which enriches hostile nations and causes even more environmental damage. But not many people would call you a baby killer for driving a car. You’re just trying to get to work.
We live in a world surrounded by technologies with horrible consequences that we happen to use every day. Google has destroyed privacy with its data collection and ruined online content thanks to the commercial necessity of pleasing the algorithm for the lowest possible investment. Yet, when I need to find something on the Internet, to Google I go. I’ve tried all the alternatives and none work as well.
An infamous philosopher once wrote, “The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human race.” I generally agree with that statement, based on the horrors of industrialized warfare, the ecological damage to the planet, the hormonal and reproductive crisis caused by endocrine-disrupting chemicals, ad infinitum.
That said, I am a product of industrial society, and so are you. We must ask ourselves if we are going to responsibly harness the technologies that surround us to improve our lives or if we’re going to withdraw from the world to live in shacks in the woods.
Risks vs. Rewards of Gun Ownership
Since 2020, more Americans than ever are buying guns. But unfortunately, people often just buy stuff without thinking everything through, and a tool as destructive as a gun requires more thought than a pair of underwear. Some people really should not own a gun. Some are already over-indexed in firearms and would be better off putting that money to better use.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before you buy a gun:
Am I mentally stable? Do I have a bad temper? Is this gun just as likely to get me in trouble as get me out of it?
Is anyone in my house a potential threat? Could they use this gun against me, or steal it and attack someone with it?
What problem does this solve? Is this for defense, hunting, or do I just want it to because it’s cool and shiny?
Do I have a safe place to store this? Ideally, a gun vault that’s bolted to the floor.
Is this the best use of my money right now? Do I have my basic needs covered? Do I have an emergency fund? Do I have food and water stored? Do I have medical supplies? Can I light my house during a power outage?
Do I have the time to train with this weapon, become proficient with it, and learn its quirks? Am I going to clean it regularly and keep it in good working order?
Ultimately, only you can answer these questions. While I encourage responsible gun ownership, a gun in the wrong setting can put you in even more danger than not having one. As with any preparedness decision, we want to go about it soberly and without undue emotion.
Unlike say, California and New York, which allow AR-15s but with silly cosmetic restrictions like no pistol grips. Meanwhile, a Ruger Mini-14, which is functionally equivalent to an AR-15 — it’s just wooden like a traditional rifle — is fine. Or the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons ban, which outlawed aggressive-looking but benign things like barrel shrouds, which are actually a safety feature to prevent you from burning your hand on a hot barrel. A new proposed federal assault weapons ban defines an “assault weapon” in part as a rifle that has a pistol grip or a barrel shroud.
It also helps if rich Western nations are sending the peasants billions of dollars in weapons.