Victora, Cathy, and Raphael with Romulus and Remus, Pennsylvania. Raphael: “I was a criminal justice major in college, and while I am a big supporter of law enforcement, I was always struck by how reactive law enforcement ultimately is. In other words, too often, crime has already been committed before law enforcement becomes involved. That sent me a strong and clear message. It is up to us, as citizens, to protect ourselves, our families, and our property. Our constitution provides us with the right and the method by which to achieve that objective. I choose to exercise that right.”
At first glance, the people in
Kyle Cassidy’s portraits couldn’t look more dissimilar from one another. They’re different ages, races, and genders, and they come from all across the United States. But they all have one thing in common: guns.
In 2004, Cassidy started wondering why people purchase firearms. To investigate, he bought a gun and started hanging out at a gun store in Philadelphia, where he lives. Over the next three years, he took three cross-country trips, photographing gun owners in their homes along the way. He also asked them a simple question—“Why do you own a gun?”—and recorded their answers.
“I realized that there’s not one gun culture. I met several gun cultures,” he said.
Bash with Cisco, Pennsylvania. “I just think it’s a good thing to have.”
Michelle and Kyle, Missouri. Kyle: “There are too many idiots who own guns. I have major problems with some parts of the firearm culture. I’ve met completely irresponsible gun owners who do a good job of making the rest of us look bad. They don’t seem to understand the serious responsibility that you take on when you own and operate firearms. I’ve made it my mission to take as many people out to the range as I can to raise interest and add more responsible firearm owners to our society. I constantly preach the importance of taking a safety course and developing good habits from the start. Also, since the majority of my friends are politically liberal, I’m trying to do my part to break through this very ridiculous partisan split over gun rights. And, of course, firearms are a great defense against nonstationary cadavers if my neighborhood ever becomes the victim of a zombie infestation.” Michelle: “I’m not really ‘into’ guns. I own one because there are guns in the house, and I figured I should know how to use them.”
Avery, Miles, Gregg, and Theresa with Ginny, Arizona. Greg: “The people who are anti-gun can name instance after instance, situation after situation where a gun would do you no good—and I would agree with them. But if there’s that 101
st time, one time out of 101 where having a gun would have meant saving your own child—you would sell your soul or trade everything you have to do that.” Theresa: “Years ago I saw a burglar on television who said that his greatest fear was a homeowner with a gun and that if a homeowner even just pointed a gun at him, he’d surrender and if he knew that a house had a gun in it, he wouldn’t rob it, and, in fact, that’s how he was caught, a woman pulled a gun on him while he was robbing her house. I wouldn’t want to be in a situation where I needed a gun to protect my family and didn’t have one. Plus, we like to go target shooting.”
Nicky, Pennsylvania. “I have 32 handguns and 17 long arms. I’m not a collector. I just love to purchase firearms. I don’t know if I could choose—between my guns and my motorcycle.”
Barbara and Ryan with Mauser and Star, Pennsylvania. Barbara: “I own a handgun for self-defense. I own a rifle for target shooting. I have both because I live in the best country in the world and have the right as an American citizen. When we were first married, I was a bit hesitant to have a gun in the house because I was not used to it. Then I went to the range with Ryan several times, and I realized how responsible he was with firearms and as I became familiar with guns, I changed my mind.” Ryan: “My father served in the Second World War and taught me at a young age that freedom often comes with a high price. I own a gun because it’s my God-given right as a citizen of the greatest country ever, the United States of America. God bless America!”
Ochressandro, New Mexico. “As the Founding Fathers said, sometimes the tree of liberty must be watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots. If that day comes, I will be ready, to defend my country against all threats, domestic and foreign. I have sworn eternal enmity to the forces of socialism and control. I own firearms and have drilled myself to proficiency with their use because I have read
Gulag Archipelago, and I will not let it happen here without a fight. Advocates of gun control think that they will someday take my arms from me. But they are wrong. I’ll own guns all my life.”
Sean, Florida. “I own a weapon because I really enjoy going to the range and shooting. I’m a Buddhist: I don’t believe in violence, and I don’t believe in using a weapon for violence. But I think that when it comes down to the core essence of owning a gun that a gun isn’t violent—the nature of the person can become violent. The biggest test is when someone is confronted and chooses to react with violence.”
As with the other groups he’s photographed—
librarians and NASA scientists, for example—Cassidy took care to capture a sense of diversity among gun owners. In , which Krause Publications published in 2007, there are gun collectors, hunters, Second Amendment hardliners, shooting range hobbyists, and those who own a single gun for personal protection.
Armed America: Portraits of Gun Owners in Their Homes
“Some people are more invested in it than others. This is true of absolutely everything. Some people are very proud of their car, and other people have a car that they drive to work,” he said.
Like the other items in their homes, Cassidy found, people’s guns were, in part, expressions of themselves. And while gun ownership was then, and is still today, a highly political matter, Cassidy’s photographs serve as impressions of people, not illustrations of ideology.
“I wanted to give people a chance to tell their own stories.”
Avery, Oregon. “It started out as a childhood fascination and kind of went from there. I started out collecting photographs and making drawings of guns—it’s just ones of those things; from fascination to ownership. There are a lot of people who assume that because you own guns you’re more of a violent person—I don’t believe that.”
Uzi, Judy, and Donno, Pennsylvania. Donno: “I own guns for the same reason I own fire extinguishers—while I certainly don’t expect or hope for a worst-case scenario, should one present itself, I’m prepared to take an active role in ensuring that my family survives. I grew up with guns in the house that were used regularly to put food on our table. I’ve known gun safety inside and out since I was a child. I’m confident my son will grow up with the same understanding and handle them with the same respect and care … whether he chooses to own guns or not.” Judy: “I grew up in the South, and I come from a family of hunters. One of my first memories is learning to shoot a gun in my backyard. When I moved to Philadelphia, I quickly realized that I wanted to buy a gun for home defense. The bottom line is if someone is threatening my child or me, I want to be able to protect us. My shotgun will take care of any intruder, and I know how to use it.”
Brother Robb, Ohio. “I’m from Indiana—the subculture there is not a subculture, it’s the predominant culture. But I was never into guns until I saw
Bowling for Columbine. It seemed to attempt to demonize an inanimate object, and I don’t think you can do that with something that doesn’t think, feel, or understand the concept of morality. I understand why people have an emotional reaction to things that are bad, murder and robbery, for example. It got me thinking and anyway, after the movie some friends and I went to a local target range to experience it firsthand—to see what all the hype was about. It was a spark. After that, I bought two pistols.”
James with Nicky, Pennsylvania. “When I was diagnosed with cancer I found myself and my family in need of protection. I was too old to fight, too sick to run, and since cancer took my vocal cords, I couldn’t yell for help. I purchased my first firearm.”
Gail, Eric, Morgan, and Michael with Misty, Indiana. Michael: “I’m a reservist. I need to maintain proficiency, and we only practice once a year, so any extra training I can get, especially with military weapons, is better for me if we deploy. I sometimes carry a handgun when I travel. There are always areas where you feel more comfortable if you have some form of defense on hand—you can’t avoid everything. I’m puzzled when I run into people who are adamantly opposed to the concept.” Gail: “I’m not really into guns, but they’re in the house, and I know how to use them. I’m in the military right now. I hope that I’ll never have to put a person at the other end of one, but if I do it’s because it’s me or them, and I’m going to choose me.” Morgan: “I like shooting. Mom helps me.” Eric: “I shoot targets. And bows and arrows.”
Maggie and Gwen, Pennsylvania. Gwen: “I find shooting enjoyable, but I also own guns for self-defense, against criminals of all sorts, including those who single out minorities. Being a survivor of sexual assault, I find comfort in being able to take back the strength that was stolen from me by force. Arming myself equalizes force levels between an attacker and myself, giving me a fighting chance should someone once again decide to take what I do not wish to give. We each have the right to be the source of our own salvation from evil if we so choose. That right must not be usurped by those who would run our lives for us according to their own agendas, whether it be for the basest of self-interests or for the noblest of altruisms.” Maggie: “Well, my reasons are pretty much the same as Gwen’s, which she expressed very well—save that I’ve never been the victim of sexual assault myself.”