Guns Are Just Tools. Or Are They?

David Yamane is a sociologist at Wake Forest University who is doing some great work on how gun owners talk about guns. He currently is looking at how gun companies market guns and whether guns are just tools for us to wield, or if they mean something more. 

It’s an interesting question, because the answer isn’t a binary “yes/no” choice. On the one hand, a gun is an inanimate object and therefore has no meaning or emotion beyond that which we give it. However, we give meaning to our guns. We really do. 

Tools With a History

For instance, I have two guns that mean quite a lot to me. They are not “just tools.” They represent much, much, more than just metal and wood. They are both M1903 Springfield bolt action rifles in .30-06, and they have stories attached to them. 

First, let’s talk about my father-in-law Riley, who passed away in 2006. He started work for the Forest Service in the Tonto Basin, Arizona area right after he got home from the Pacific Theater, and did so until he retired 32 years later. His family was one of the first to settle that area of the state, but they never got rich. Instead, his family worked the land for the people who got rich. As such, his guns were those of a working man. These are two of them.

Just tools. Or are they?

The M1903 in the foreground is decrepit and unusable. The stock is in tatters, the front sight is silver-soldered on, and it’s in the 40xxx serial number range, meaning the receiver was probably not heat-treated correctly and is unsafe to shoot. 

The M1903A3 in the back is another story. I don’t know when it was sporterized, but whoever built it didn’t bed the action correctly. That has since been corrected, and that gun, with that scope, will now do 1.5” groups at 100 yards. It was this rifle (minus the scope) that was in Riley’s hands when he stayed up all night long one evening in 1970, sitting on the porch of his home in Payson watching as an outlaw motorcycle gang rode up and down the road outside, threatening violence on him, his wife,  and my future wife. That gun allowed him to defend all that he held dear. It has now been passed on to me.

You are darn right that gun is more than a tool to me, as is the other M1903 I received from Riley. They are family heirlooms. One day my sons will have them, just as I received them from my wife’s father. 

Same thing with a gun. Yes, it’s a tool, but it’s a tool that means something. Some people have an affinity for the 1911, others appreciate the Garand and its role in 20th century American history. Sometimes, it’s none of the above. Sometimes, a gun truly is just a tool. 

Are Guns ToolsFor instance, there is a Mossberg 500 shotgun loaded with Federal Flite Control buckshot in the safe room in my house. This gun’s primary purpose is to protect my family in the event of a violent home invasion. Yet, I feel no attachment to it. It is truly just a tool to me, one that I have optimized for a specific purpose. Yet, strangely, it’s also one of the most important guns I own, because if it comes into play my life and the lives of all I hold dear are on the line.

Are guns tools? In the end, yes they are. They are just lumps of metal (and possibly plastic or wood) and they cannot be anything other than that. However, they are tools that can (and do) play a significant role in our lives, elevating the metal they’re made from into something that is more than just the sum of their (gun) parts.