How to be a Gun Owner in the US

Allen Faulton
19 min readSep 1, 2023

An Article of the Modern Survival Guide

Photo by Karolina Grabowska:

You’re reading the Modern Survival Guide, a long-running blog that I’m writing to keep track of all the things I think that people need to know about living in, and surviving, the modern world. We’re going to focus on the last part of that sentence (survival) in this article, because today we’re talking about gun ownership in the United States.

As most people probably know, gun violence is a significant cause of death in the US¹, with about 48,000 people killed by firearms in 2022 (half of which were suicides). Mass-shooting incidents have also been on the rise for years, and firearms were the leading cause of death among American children in 2022.

We need to focus on those grim pronouncements, because what that means is that we are losing the equivalent of a small war’s worth of citizens, thousands of whom are children, to an entirely preventable cause every year. This is a national tragedy for which fully half of our population refuses to so much as consider a solution, which is both terrible and terrifying.

However, since nothing and no one can convince Americans to give up their guns, it becomes very important to understand what it should mean to be a gun owner in the US. There are things that every gun owner should do in order to prevent firearms-related accidents, injuries, and deaths. In this article I will outline the following seven points that I think are most important for any US gun owner:

  • Follow basic firearms safety
  • Keep it secret, keep it safe²
  • Monitor mental health
  • Know the purpose of your gun
  • Understand why you own a gun
  • Own the fewest guns possible
  • Don’t open-carry

These are my opinions, and you are welcome to disagree. But I think we can all agree that with power comes responsibility, and owning a gun means owning a lot of power. Therefore you have a lot of responsibility. Keep that in mind, and let’s dive in.

Follow Basic Firearms Safety at All Times

If you cannot follow basic firearms safety, you should not own a gun. I think this should be a disqualifying mark whenever it is uncovered. There are, broadly speaking, six main firearms safety rules that everyone who owns a gun should always follow:

  1. Know how to use your gun: Know how it works, know why it works, know how to store it and its ammunition safely, and practice with it enough to be confident in its use. All of these practices decrease the odds of an accident.
  2. Treat every gun as if it is loaded: Do not point the gun at anything you do not intend to shoot. Do not handle a gun as if it is unloaded unless you have personally checked to ensure that this is the case. Check every gun you pick up to see whether it is loaded, and continue to treat any gun you know is unloaded as if it were loaded, because you will do what you practice.
  3. Only aim a loaded gun at something you intend to shoot: This is a subtle difference from the previous point, and what it boils down to is deliberate action. You should always deliberately make a choice to point a gun in any given direction that contains a person or an object of value, and you should only make the choice to point a loaded gun at a particular thing if you intend to shoot that thing.
  4. Practice trigger discipline: Keep your finger off the trigger until you intend to fire the gun. Guns are not magic wands, and will not discharge unless you pull the trigger, but it is very easy to pull a trigger by accident if you don’t keep your finger off it. Similarly, do not trust safeties. They are mechanical tools that can break. Useful, yes, but not something you should assume is 100% effective.
  5. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it: Bullets generally do not magically stop in the first thing they hit. They usually continue right on through and into whatever is behind that thing, because kinetic energy is a beast. If you shoot at anything, you had better know what is behind it, because you are shooting that thing as well.
  6. Know the firearms laws of your state: Safe operation of a gun doesn’t just mean knowing how to handle it. You also need to protect yourself from the potential consequences of ownership and use of a weapon, and understand what you are actually allowed to do with it, which means knowing the law.

If you can’t or don’t want to follow these basic firearms safety rules, don’t own a gun. It only gets more complex from here.

Keep it Secret, Keep it Safe

The next step of basic gun ownership is to control access to your gun(s). There are two pieces to this, and the first is by far the most important: do not tell people you are a gun owner. I can’t believe how many people brag about their guns to people they barely know. Every person you tell that you have a gun now knows where to go to get a gun. And every person they tell knows the same. You can’t control how far that information goes once it’s out of the bag, so don’t tell anyone. If you live with others, make them promise not to tell anyone either. Make it serious, make sure they know the consequences, and then zip your lips.

A lot of mass shootings are perpetrated by people who steal guns from relatives or friends. As a gun owner, you should be aware that a gun does not care who fires it, and you should take ownership of keeping your guns out of the wrong hands. It’s much easier to do that if no one in your immediate social circle knows you own guns.

Secondly, as a gun owner you should take appropriate measures to keep your guns secure in your home. This can take different forms depending on how many people live with you, and whether any of them are children, mentally ill, or untrustworthy.

The most basic step you can take is to keep your guns stored with the firing chamber empty. That alone decreases the odds of all sorts of accidents happening, and frankly if a self-defense scenario comes down to the amount of time you need to rack a slide, you’ve already lost. There are zero practical reasons to store guns locked and loaded. So don’t do it.

Moving up a step, if you live with others it is a good idea to lock your guns up and separate the gun from the ammunition. Buy a safe or a hard case with a padlock, and do not store the guns loose in drawers or closets. When I lived with roommates this is what I did.

If you live with children, you should buy a serious safe and store all guns and gun paraphernalia there. Leave nothing lying around — not your guns, not your ammo, not your cleaning kits, and none of the peripherals. No child should have the ability to access your firearms, ever. I’ll go so far as to say that no person under the age of 15 should have access to firearms at all. If I can’t trust you to drive, I don’t trust you to shoot. I recognize that among gun owners I would be in the extreme minority in that opinion, and I frankly do not care. Giving a child the power of life and death is the height of irresponsibility. Children shoot people in the US all the time, and that’s just stupid.

Finally, if you live with someone who is mentally ill (or just plain untrustworthy for any reason, including basic stupidity), do NOT own a gun. Period, full stop. Get that risk out of your home.

In general, I would argue that if you feel that you must own guns, and you live with others, you should take steps to reduce the number of guns you own as a matter of course, because it makes all of this easier. I’ll talk more on that in a minute.

Know and Monitor Your Mental State

Mental health gets a lot of play in the current gun debate, and there’s a pretty good reason why — it’s a convenient excuse for violence. You can’t turn on the TV without seeing politicians harping about how mental health treatment would reduce mass shootings. My personal opinion is that most rampage shooters are actually fairly sane, and mental health screening would only pick up a few of them. Most of them seem like they are just pissed off, lack emotional control, and would probably dodge a mental health check anyway.

No, the real reason why mental health is important to gun ownership is that more than half of the gun deaths in the US are due to suicide. Depression is a mental health issue that we should take into account.

If you are a gun owner, therefore, you need to take responsibility for your mental health. If you feel that you are becoming depressed, or are ideating on violence, it is your job to seek treatment. Do not wait until the intrusive thoughts overwhelm you. Get treatment. There’s no shame in it, and even if you think there is, it is certainly much less than the shame of committing unjustified violence.

If you can’t or don’t want to do that, and especially if you think mental healthcare is not real or for pussies, I would strongly advise not owning a gun.

Know the Purpose of Your Gun

Ok, let’s get down to some brass tacks here: different guns are for different things. Some guns are for hunting. Some guns are for sport. Some guns are for self-defense. And some guns are best at killing people. I know, I know, some fifty year old man with a beer belly is already screaming “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and any gun can theoretically be used for any of those purposes, and there’s some truth to that, thanks so much for toeing the NRA³ line… but certain guns sure do help with certain things.

If you want to hunt, there are hunting rifles and shotguns that accomplish that purpose beautifully and relatively cheaply. If you’re a sport shooter, there are target pistols and rifles that are expressly designed for that game. If you are interested in self defense, I would point you squarely back to the shotgun for home defense. If you want something to carry around (spoiler, you probably shouldn’t bother), there are a variety of pistols that suit that need.⁴

If you want to kill a bunch of people very quickly, that is what semi-automatic, small-caliber, high-velocity, magazine-fed rifles such as the AR-15 and similar platforms are for. That is expressly what they were designed to do. That is what their ammunition is designed to do. You can argue with me as long as you want on this point, but anyone with the slightest shred of historical knowledge knows where these types of weapons came from, when, and why, and it wasn’t to hunt gophers. You opinion on the validity of owning such a weapon is immaterial at this point in the argument, the point is that these guns are for killing people.

Knowing what guns are for is a key component of understanding why you want to own one, which brings us to our next point.

Understand Why You Want to Own a Gun

There are, broadly speaking, only a handful of reasons to own a gun, and they dovetail nicely with the list of what guns are for. These are:

  1. For hunting: Because killing a deer is easier when it can’t outrun or outjump an object travelling at 2,600 fps.
  2. For sport: Because shooting sports are basically Zen meditation with ballistics.
  3. For self-defense: Because a gun is still the most efficient means of convincing a home intruder that they should vacate the premises, when seconds count and the cops are only minutes away.
  4. For defense against a tyrannical government, against whom you are the last free patriot holding the line: Because some people think a militia of rifle-wielding, untrained, disorganized, middle-aged men is somehow going to stop a vast conspiracy that, in any case, will always start by getting them on its side.
  5. For murder: Because a gun is still the most efficient means of killing someone without the bother of involving the legal system, if not necessarily the most stealthy.
  6. Because they are cool: Because the firearms industry has spent cigarette-level money and multiple decades convincing Americans that guns are patriotically cool and you should own all of them. Also, these days they come with more accessories than a Barbie doll, they are cheaper than a Ferrari, and they are culturally tied to manhood in most rural areas.

In case you missed it, I have very little respect for reasons 4, 5 and 6. I think it’s important to own guns for the right reasons, because owning them for the wrong reasons leads to unpleasantness.

You are not going to defeat a tyrannical government in this day and age with a rifle. I’m sorry, but you’re not. Leaving aside the delicate subjects of armored vehicles, artillery, missiles, aircraft, tactics, and logistics, tyrannical governments have gotten a lot smarter. At the moment they are, broadly speaking, being pushed by right-wing groups around the world, and those groups tend to have the gun owners as paying members long before they turn to an agenda of taking over the government.

If you and your buddies are having conversations at the range to discuss how liberals are “not real Americans,” for example, they’ve already got you. You’ve already been captured by the propaganda machine that works for the most likely tyrannical government. It’s telling that, in the US, most of the people who claim to own guns to defend against a dictator taking over the government are the same people who think the Jan. 6 incident was just a peaceful protest.

Adding to that, owning a gun to defend against a tyrannical government tends to put one in proximity to other people who have very strong opinions about government tyranny. Quite often, those people have a viewpoint that starts at “skewed,” and rapidly progresses towards conspiracy theories and outright unreality. It is almost never a good idea to indulge too much in these kinds of power fantasies, especially when they involve weapons, and especially when the reality is that voting, calling your Congressman, social organization, and writing to your local newspaper are still vastly more useful in deterring a tyrannical government than gun ownership.

Moving on, you shouldn’t murder people. That stands as a normal statement of fact in any civilized society. Don’t do that. So owning a gun to murder people is not a good idea.

Which leaves us with the “cool” factor. As an adult, I’m not a big fan of basing decisions on whether or not something is cool. It’s ok to like things, I’m not trying to say anything different, but peer pressure and a desire to inflate one’s standing in the community by showing off are things we should try our best to leave in high school. Yes, I am aware that just about everyone fails that test on a semi-regular basis, but being an adult is about making good choices for good reasons, and this isn’t one of them.

If you want to own guns just because you think they’re neat, I understand, but I don’t agree. A lot of things are neat. Yellow cake uranium is pretty neat. Arsenic and mercury are very interesting. Ricin and anthrax are, from a certain point of view, fascinating. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to have large amounts of such things lying around the house. It’s not illegal in most places to own lots of guns just because you want to, and far be it from me to tell you how to spend your money, but in my opinion this isn’t an argument that holds water, because guns are dangerous by default.

Owning all the Pokémon cards, for example, does not materially increase my family’s risk of death. Owning guns does. The data are fairly clear on that point.⁵

As a rule, I would argue that part of the responsibility that comes with gun ownership is knowing what you are owning a gun for, and only owning a gun or guns that meet that purpose. Every gun that you own logically increases the risk of it being misused. This leads to our next point…

Own the Fewest Guns Possible

This flies directly in the face of the current Cult of the Gun, which is full of men who thoroughly enjoy owning, like, all the guns. In my opinion, there are far better uses for one’s time and money, but far be it from me to tell you how to spend either.

However, I think there are some objectively good reasons for owning fewer guns.

For one thing, you are essentially hoarding very portable condensations of money. Guns are valuable. They are also very easy to sell in most states in the US; the gun show loophole is alive and quite well, thank you very much. The more guns you own, the more likely someone knows about them; if no one else, your local gun shop presumably has some idea what you’ve got, as do the fellows at the range, and no gun owner I’ve ever met who owned an arsenal was capable of not talking about it. The more people know about your guns, the more likely they are to get stolen. The more guns you own, the more likely people are to know about them. Simple as.

Second, the more guns you have the more likely it is that your friends and family know about them and might appropriate them for their own use. While the chance that they might try to use them for nefarious ends is presumably small, it is never zero. Most school shooters steal guns from family members, and school shootings are getting more and more common, just for example. You don’t want to be holding that bag.

Third, the more guns you have the harder they are to store safely. Every dozen or so guns requires their own cabinet or safe, if you are dedicated to storing them correctly, and that takes space (and money). Not every home has that much space (or money). Also, I’ve very rarely run up on a serious gun nut who didn’t have a gun somewhere in every room of their home, which of course feeds back into the prior points.

Fourth, and again far be it from me to tell you how to spend your hard-earned cash, but there are a lot better things you can do with money than buy guns. Guns are a major resource sink and an expensive hobby. If you don’t feel like you have a lot of cash anyway, I would strongly advise against owning multiple guns. Given that the majority of American household have less than $1,000 in savings, this seems like relevant advice.

Do NOT Open-Carry

Last but by no means least — part of being a gun owner is using your weapons responsibly. It’s a big deal. You are granted the power of inflicting death, a right that very few countries afford their citizens. You are expected to use that power wisely.

A big part of that is not becoming a nuisance or a source of fear for your neighbors. Given that gun violence is very prominent in America right now, this is not an unreasonable view.

This is one of the big differences between country and city life, by the way. In the country, seeing a rifle or shotgun in public might be fairly common and just indicates that someone is going hunting. In the city, seeing a gun of any type in public and not in the hands of a police officer is very rare and almost always means that someone is about to get shot. It’s a very different perspective and reality. Keep this in mind.

All that being said, I would in the strongest possible terms urge any gun owner to NOT open-carry. Do NOT do this. It’s legal in most states to walk around with a pistol on your hip or a rifle over your shoulder, so long as they are not concealed. Nonetheless…


Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it smart. There are several things to keep in mind here.

First, recall that many states have Castle laws in effect, and the basis for those laws is that citizens have the right to defend themselves in public. Self-defense rests on the concept of threat. If you feel threatened, if you genuinely believe your life is in danger (or more precisely, you can convince a court of law you thought it was in danger), in these states you have the right to defend yourself with force.

That means that anyone who sees you carrying a gun, and then assumes you are about to perpetrate a mass shooting or otherwise threaten them, and then beats you to death or shoots you preemptively could very easily get away with that. After all, you’re dead in this scenario, and dead people don’t get to tell their side of the story. All the murderer has to say is that they saw you pull the gun. That and have a good lawyer. You’re only one bad encounter with such a person away from death, and the odds of that happening go up if you open-carry.

Second, if you are open-carrying in most places, you are making everyone else in that space uncomfortable for no particularly good reason. If that gives you a happy tingly feeling, you’re an asshole. In a world where you can be lots of things, don’t be an asshole. If you don’t know why people are uncomfortable, you’re clueless enough that you probably shouldn’t own a gun. If you think people should just understand that it’s legal and your right, dammit, you’re back to being an asshole; just because you have the right doesn’t make it right in a world where mass shootings get a lot of media attention. This is a “you” problem, is what I’m saying.

Third, keep in mind that there is no particularly valid reason to open carry anywhere in the US. Even in bad neighborhoods, you should not open carry, because you’re just inviting violence. You are actively making a bad situation worse. This was what Kyle Rittenhouse did, it’s why two people died, and it’s why he’s such an absolute shit of an example of a gun owner. He did not have to be there, he did not have to have a gun, but because he was and because he did, he ended up killing two people. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

If you don’t feel like you’re in danger, you have no reason to be toting around a visible weapon anyway. Leave it at home or in the car, and try to be realistic here. Your odds of being the “good guy with a gun” are miniscule compared to the odds of literally anything else happening. Those guys sometimes get media attention, but as we all should know, media attention does not correlate with reality.

And finally, as I keep saying — advertising that you have guns is a bad idea. Open-carrying is a very good advertisement that you own guns, on par with putting a gun-owner sticker on your car (which is basically a “break into me, please” note). Do not do these things. Keep it secret, keep it safe, or don’t be surprised when it walks out your door.

Gun Ownership is a Responsibility

Summing up, if you own a gun you own a very serious responsibility. Not everyone should own a gun. If you’re not prepared to use it safely, if you’re not prepared to keep it safe, if you’re not prepared to keep yourself safe, if you don’t know why you have it, or if you insist on using guns badly… you shouldn’t own a gun.

The US is a very strange country in the sense that we have the right to own guns enshrined in our foundational documents, and for the most part it hasn’t worked out particularly well for us in recent years. If you are a gun owner, you own that, because you made the purchase that supports the system. You have a responsibility to use your guns correctly, and if you can’t do that you are not worthy of the term “citizen.”

None of our rights are limitless. None of our rights are guaranteed by anything but paper and political capital. If you are a gun owner in America, and you want to continue in that path, part of your job is to rein in gun culture and bring it back to reality. Because the alternative is that we perpetrate a system that kills 50,000 people a year, many of them children, just because we are “exercising our rights,” while also remaining one of the top locations on earth for gun violence in general (including warzones). That’s a terrible excuse for such a horrific outcome.

If you liked this article, check out the Modern Survival Guide Volume I, and my current work on Volume II! It’s an utterly random assortment of things I think people ought to know; there’s something in there for everyone.

¹If you want more information, here is a pretty decent summary:

²And I suppose I should get this out of the way: I’m going to break one of my core rules and tell you all that I am, in fact, a registered gun owner. I have owned firearms my whole life, and I come from a family of gun owners. This is no way decreases my support for legislation and policies to better control the proliferation of guns in the US; quite the opposite, it has convinced me fully that there are some firearms which are simply too dangerous for the average citizen to own because I know exactly how they function, and it has fully convinced me that the Cult of the Gun that some Americans follow is dangerous. At the same time, I do think there are practical reasons for gun ownership in the US, not the least of which being hunting and self-defense.

³The National Rifle Association of America, AKA the people who make it impossible to pass gun legislation, AKA one of the major legal action organizations that control gun-related decisions in the US courts. They used to be primarily a sport shooting and firearms safety organization, but under a fellow name Wayne LaPierre they have morphed into a Republican Party kingmaker group and conservative propaganda outlet. If all you remember is life under Uncle Wayne, you probably have no idea that the NRA used to be a driving force in gun safety legislation. Strange, but true.

⁴The odds of anyone with a concealed-carry permit actually needing to draw their gun are vanishingly small; the vast majority of us do not get mugged whenever we leave the house. The odds that anyone with a concealed gun being able to actually draw it in a circumstance where it would be necessary are even worse, because people who attack you generally are not considerate enough to give you a chance to draw a weapon first. The odds of anyone with a concealed gun being able to use it effectively are also very small; adrenaline fucks with your aim. Pistols are very difficult to shoot accurately when you’re stone-cold sober and calm, never mind when your body has just been hit with a chemical lightning bolt. You are also very likely to be accidentally shot by law enforcement if you draw a gun during an incident in which police are responding. In nearly every case, you’re not doing anyone any favors by concealed carrying. I know that everyone with a concealed carry permit who uses it thinks they will be John Wayne, and every once in a while a story hits the news that validates that view. But those are the outliers, and it’s very important to realize that. Your odds of getting anything worthwhile out of concealed carrying are vanishingly small. You are, on the other hand, at substantially higher risk of an accident or having the gun stolen if you carry in public. In most cases, I would argue it isn’t worth the risk.

⁵A summary of a few articles may be found here:

And here:

And here:

And here: