Americans are buying guns and ammunition at a clip rarely if ever seen in history, not only in this nation, but anywhere, at any time, worldwide.
Consider: In the first six months of last year, the FBI conducted more than 19 million background checks on Americans wanting to purchase or possess a gun. That's more background checks than were completed in the entirety of 2012 or any year before, dating to the system's origin in the late 1990s.
In June 2020 alone, 3.9 million background checks were completed, a record that topped the previous 30-day mark set three months previously.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, 96,554 permits to carry a pistol or "concealed carry permits," were issued last year out of 101,897 applications. Compare that to 2019, when only 51,404 permits were issued.
Most Minnesota permits were given out in the metro. Hennepin was tops with 11,346 permits issued, followed by Dakota, Anoka, Ramsey and Washington counties.
Hunters and target shooters, of course, don't need statistics to know what has been obvious to them for a few years: While you might — might — be able to find the new gun you want to buy if you check enough shops and travel far enough, ammunition of all kinds is in very short supply.
For confirmation, check out any sporting-goods shop or other ammunition dealer. You'll likely be greeted by empty or sparsely stocked shelves and signs limiting the number of rounds one person can purchase if a particular caliber or gauge is in stock.
All of which is fascinating, considering the countless known and unknown sociological attitudes and beliefs that underlie the nation's gun-buying spree.
This is particularly true when considering the number of Minnesotans — 96,544! — who received permits to carry loaded and uncased handguns in public last year.
Certainly self-defense is one reason people buy handguns. Protecting one's home or other property is another. Still other people are primarily interested in having the right to carry a loaded, uncased handgun in their vehicle, in case they become stranded somewhere or otherwise find trouble while traveling.
All of which is fine by me.
But I wonder how many people, particularly those new to firearms, especially handguns, believe, with the relatively limited training they undergo to secure a permit, that they will have the presence of mind in a split-second, life-threatening situation to make the correct decision whether to shoot.
As the tragedy that unfolded Sunday in Brooklyn Center claiming the life of Daunte Wright, 20, appears to illustrate, even long-serving police with years of training can make mistakes with guns, especially in high-pressure situations.
Most hunters, if they're honest, have encountered potentially catastrophic gun situations of their own in the field.
Example: A bird gets up, say a fast-departing pheasant or ruffed grouse, and a wingshooter swings on it, simultaneously attempting to confirm in that flash of a moment where he last saw his hunting partner.
As quickly, the bird careens to the left, in the last-seen direction of the partner. Should the shooter pull the trigger and hope to put the bird in his vest — or hold off because he's not quite sure where his buddy is?
Similarly, a hunter on a deer stand watches her buddy walk a trail to a cabin to eat lunch, knowing the friend will return in a half-hour or so. In about that time, a big buck comes down the same trail and the only opening the hunter is given to shoot the animal is while he's on the trail.
But squeezing the trigger in an attempt to bag the buck means firing in the direction of the path her friend intends to walk when returning from lunch.
Now speed everything up, and instead of a hunting situation, consider life-or-death circumstances involving people, and instead of a shotgun or rifle, put a 9mm or a .357 in a person's hand.
"I stress to my students all the time that carrying a loaded handgun is a life-changing, mind- and behavior-changing event," said a friend of mine who asked not to be named who teaches the classes required to apply for a Minnesota Permit to Carry. "If you can't appreciate the seriousness that goes along with that responsibility, then don't carry a loaded, uncased handgun on your person or in your car."
Four legal guideposts (condensed here for brevity) govern use in Minnesota of a handgun or other firearm for self-defense:
• The gun owner must be in great danger of bodily harm or death.
• The gun owner must be a reluctant participant.
• The gun owner must have no practical means of retreat.
• The gun owner must determine that deadly force is the only option. No lesser force will do.
"I tell my students all the time," my friend said, "if I see you on the street two weeks from now and I ask you what are the four pillars guiding the use of deadly force, and if you can't name them when you have a moment to think about them, how will you make the correct decision in a split second?"
Upshot: Buying and owning a gun, or guns, is an American right, as it should be.
But gun ownership is also a privilege, governed by laws, and its proper exercise requires mental as well as physical skills, both of which require practice, and more practice.