Last week I purchased my first handgun. It is a .45 caliber Heckler & Koch USP. This is a full-sized, semi-automatic pistol which means that every time you pull the trigger it fires a shot (if the chamber has a round in it.) A .45 caliber is a large and powerful load frequently propelling a bullet that weighs 230 grains or 15 grams. The specific cartridge for my gun is a .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol.) This cartridge was designed by the legendary John Browning in 1904. He designed it for use in his automatic handgun design, the M1911, so called because of its adoption by the United States army as its official sidearm in 1911. The cartridge is known to have superior “stopping power,” or the ability to do maximum damage to a human target. The gun’s magazine (legal in Connecticut) holds ten of these rounds and can also have one in its chamber for a maximum capacity of 11 cartridges. In other states it is possible to buy a twelve round magazine.
The gun is German designed and manufactured. Heckler & Koch is a high-end armorer, know for innovative, reliable and durable weapons. It was expensive, costing just about a $1,000. I purchased it after shooting several different handguns, all .45 ACPs. I test-shot a Beretta PX4-Storm, a Ruger 1911, a Glock 21, a Smith & Wesson M&P (Military & Police) and the HK USP. Each of these guns felt very different in terms of grip, recoil, weight, and sight-configuration. I felt most comfortable (and shot most accurately) with the USP so that is what I bought.
Owning this gun comes with a responsibility. It is a weapon designed to deliver deadly force – to kill another human being. Learning its proper operation and safe handling is something that I take very seriously. Storing it properly is very important. When it is in my house, I store it in a biometric gun safe which can only be opened by my fingerprint. I keep its ammunition locked up in a separate place. I try to follow basic safety rules – I always point the gun in a safe direction, never at something I do not want to harm or destroy; I always keep the gun unloaded but assume that it is loaded until I have confirmed it is not; I do not put my finger on the trigger until I intend to fire and; I know my target and what is beyond it.
I have shot and enjoyed long-guns (rifles and shotguns) since I was twelve years old but until now I did not have an interest in handguns. When I took the Connecticut-required gun safety course at a local shooting range, I found that handguns are fun to shoot and much more challenging and exhilarating than I had ever imagined. Pistols are powerful, skillfully engineered tools and I look forward to becoming proficient in using them.
But why did I decide to buy this gun now? There are many parts to the answer. I first became interested in learning more about handguns when the national debate about gun control was re-kindled by the tragedy at Sandy Hook, CT, a mere 18 miles away from my home. As I observed the emotional and non-rational response to the tragedy and saw shameless politicians move swiftly to exploit it, I became concerned that the right to obtain a handgun was at risk of being taken away. And I believe that owning one may be a more important right than ever before.
For a number of reasons, I feel far less confident and secure about my family’s safety and my ability to protect them. We live in an affluent community that is only miles away from severe urban poverty. The national dialogue about income inequality, the vilification of capitalism, media caricatures of greed-driven, soulless corporations, our country’s confiscatory tax regime and the redistributionist rhetoric of the current administration are all of a piece. In today’s America, I have come to believe that protecting my home and family, and securing my personal property from conventional criminals or from the ones in our government are ultimately my own responsibilities.
Will I need a handgun to do this? If confronted by a home invader, would I be able and willing to use deadly force? I am not sure. I need to continue to practicing with my pistol and become expert in its use. When it comes down to protecting my family, I want to have every available tool and advantage. Though it may present me with hard choices to make, as a legally licensed handgun owner, I at least have the freedom to make those choices.