Joseph Castillo and I met in the fall of 1976 as first year students at Yale University. He was from the southwest, I was from the Northeast; he was a science major, and I was an English major. Joe became an engineer and entrepreneur and I became a history professor, he is politically right of center, and I am politically left of center; he is a gun owner and I am not.
Joe lives and works in Texas, an open carry state, and I live and work in New York City, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. Below is a conversation that began on February 14 2018, after seventeen students and teachers were killed at a Parkland, Florida high school, by a former student armed with an AR-15.
Claire: I’m not sure how I would describe myself politically anymore, but my views on guns reflect the policy ideas of the liberal wing of the Democratic party. I am not an abolitionist: I understand why responsible people want and need guns for hunting and sport, but I would like to see guns intended to kill people — handguns, automatic and semi-automatic weapons — restricted to the military and the police.
Joe, how do your views on guns relate — or not relate — to your larger political convictions?
Joe: I am a Republican voter, although I had a soft spot for Bernie Sanders: he believed what he said and said what he believed. I also had an initial soft spot for Barack Obama because I thought he was going to be a uniter and would govern from the center. Generally, I believe less government and less regulation is better for citizens. I think taxes are too high, government is too big, and our overall system is very wasteful and inefficient. I am not an avid hunter, and I don’t belong to the NRA. So my views are probably to the left of your typical National Rifle Association member.
I do enjoy the mechanics of rifle and handgun marksmanship as a hobby. I own a variety of weapons including revolvers, semi-auto pistols, hunting rifles, AR-15s, and shotguns. I pray that I will never have to use any of my weapons to defend myself or my family, but I am prepared to do that if necessary. I believe that American citizens have the right to responsible gun ownership in this country, and that those rights should not be infringed upon. Someone asked me why I would want to own an AR-15 since it is truly a weapon of mass destruction. My response was that it is only a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of a deranged person intent on committing mass murder.
I am horrified by the rise of mass shootings in our country. As a society, we have to find a practical way to correct this now chronic problem. Based on the FBI’s definition of mass murder, there have been six mass shootings in the US this year; another source, The Gun Violence Archive, counts 30. Either statistic is unacceptable.
Claire: I don’t own guns, although I partly grew up around them. My friends in Idaho hunted with their parents: it was a bonding experience, and a deer was often necessary to a family economy. Yet, handgun ownership was rarer, and no one talked about needing weapons for self-defense. Our neighbors took care of their guns, paid attention to safety, and never treated them like toys. I never knew anyone who would have kept a gun loaded or unsecured. Locking guns up isn’t a guarantee, of course: the Parkland shooter’s weapons were in a gun safe that the people he lived with insisted on, but he had a duplicate key they were unaware of.
But it isn’t just that we can now obtain powerful weapons of war in Walmart, but also that they are being marketed and purchased by some people both as entertainment and as a domestic necessity. Does that make sense?
This was originally published at Public Seminar on February 21, 2018. You can read the rest of it here.