The patriarch of our large family came out of the closet as an elderly man nearing the end of his life; he now has a husband who is much younger, whom I will call Tim. The family embraced Tim, but the adjustment has been rocky, especially among some of the men. Tim has earned back this trust by being both husband and physical caretaker of our ailing relative. One recent evening, while his husband was ill, Tim and I sat alone in their home. The conversation turned to gun politics; I’m a closeted gun rights sympathizer. Perhaps sensing some undue camaraderie, Tim stole away to the foyer, then returned with an unloaded black shotgun and ammunition. Tim told me not to mention this to our family — or to my relative, who doesn’t know about the shotgun even though they live together. We also have children in the family, who visit Tim and his husband with frequency, and I’m well aware of the statistics about households that keep guns. I plan to advise Tim at least to move the gun elsewhere, out of the house. However, that does not seem to be enough. Having the gun in the house suggests a lack of judgment; it seems like a serious breach of trust and, God forbid, potentially dangerous. Doesn’t this directly contravene Tim’s claim to being a responsible caretaker, an ethical impetus that overrides confidentiality? Another twist: I also know that if the gun (or ammunition) were discovered, it could be just the excuse our extremely anti-gun family needs to disavow Tim. This seems like a bitter pileup of issues — gay equality, gun safety and family loyalty. Name Withheld
My response: Your contradictions complicate answering. Do you support gun rights or consider them unethical? Why do you add “back” in “earned back his trust”? Why “patriarch” and not uncle, father-in-law, or whatever?
You may consider guns dangerous, but people who own them consider them safe. You probably consider cars and airplanes safe, even when used properly. I consider them dangerous. Will you stop flying? If not, then why should he get rid of the gun? You consider it dangerous, not him. From his perspective, what if a robber comes? Or if he wants to go hunting?
I would like to see fewer guns, but I long ago recognized that people like having them, many for safety. What do tolerance and support mean if not for people you disagree with? Beyond having the law on their side, they have the Bill of Rights. If you want him to get rid of the gun, I recommend talking to him and leading him, not trying to use authority, such as trying to get the New York Times to label it unethical. He considers it ethical and its his house.
You can tell other family members about it, which will cause great disruption, possibly tearing up your “patriarch”‘s relationship.
I recommend considering your options, creating new ones if possible, considering your resources and constraints, imagining their outcomes as best you can, and choosing among them based on empathy and compassion.
The New York Times response:
Let’s be clear: Tim didn’t show you an Altoids tin filled with crystal meth. Provided he has the necessary permits, he is entitled to keep a gun in his home. The largest danger posed by firearms in the household is that they will be used for suicide, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of gun deaths. I assume you don’t think he or your relative is at risk for that. (If they were, the solution would involve more than getting rid of a weapon.) True, there’s good evidence that people living in homes with guns are more likely to be homicide victims as well. And obviously, accidents with guns do occur, and you need guns around to have accidents with them. But a reasonable person who knows all this might decide to keep a gun. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 44 percent of American households have at least one gun. Tim’s not depressive or alcoholic — or you would have mentioned it — and it’s his home.
Certainly, guns should be stored where children can’t get at them; Tim should keep his locked up. (Maybe he does.) But I don’t agree that having an unloaded gun, even with its ammunition nearby, is evidence that you’re not a responsible spouse and caretaker. Our country is full of responsible spouses and caretakers who have guns stored safely in their houses.
In our divided country, though, people who disagree about gun ownership and regulation seem to be split into two great tribes. Each regards those on the other side as not just mistaken about policy but also wicked or corrupt. (For what it’s worth, I think guns should be more heavily regulated; I don’t think gun ownership is wicked.) The members of your family are on one side of the divide; Tim is on the other. Because of this, telling your kinfolk he has a gun, which he showed you in confidence, will give them an excuse to do what some of them are inclined to do anyway, which is repudiate him.