Packing heat in Kansas, part 2: "I do not want to be a victim"

What makes someone become a gun owner? The clients of Kansas shooting ranges explain

Published July 28, 2017 6:57PM (EDT)

This feature is part of Salon's Young Americans initiative, showcasing emerging journalists reporting from America's red states. Read more Young Americans stories.


In the second part of our exploration into guns in the heartland, we talk to newer members of the community about what made them want to learn about firearms.

Walking into a gun range in Kansas is a bit like walking into an underground community meeting. The people in charge have a strict regard for the rules, the regulars seem to all know each other’s names, and each member has a unique reason for joining. This club meeting features display cases filled with handguns and rifles and areas to shoot those weapons.

Kansas has been an epicenter of debate around guns, but there has been little conversation around why someone might choose to own a firearm.

The gun laws have gotten less restrictive in Kansas in recent years. Kansas now allows concealed carry on the campuses of all public universities and colleges. The Kansas Personal and Family Protection Act (KPFPA) law enables Kansans to carry concealed weapons in public buildings. Kansas also removed the requirement that individuals have a permit in order to conceal and carry a handgun in 2015

Two shooting and training gun ranges, Thunderbird Firearms Academy and RANGE 54, are working to create a more inclusive gun culture in the Wichita area. Both facilities offer classes on handgun fundamentals, conceal and carry, and self-defense.        

The people that use these businesses were asked what prompted them to be a firearm owner. Each reason for owning a gun is distinctive, but many share similar themes of safety, empowerment and self-reliance.

Ryan Pennock, owner of Thunderbird Firearms Academy, said that his goal is to help people feel safer and more prepared through focusing on the defensive aspect of guns. “I help people live safer lives through training by teaching them about the safety, fundamentals and defensive skills involved with using guns,” said Pennock.

Click the photos to enlarge.

Lori (asked not share her last name for safety reasons)

"Guns are about protection and safety. I went to the range to understand more about guns. My husband gave me my first gun after I found which one I liked the best. I like shooting and guns not only for the safety that they provide but for recreation as well. It’s one of the things that my husband and I share.”

Tiffany Beahan

"Prior to coming to work at the gun range, I had never handled a firearm before, never owned a firearm, wasn’t raised with them in the house, didn’t go hunting, nothing like that. It was a big introduction to me. When I first came and first started learning about them, it was the sports side of shooting. After I’d grown into learning about the guns and shooting them, I grew to respect them. The reason that I now own a firearm is because I do not want to be a victim. I want to be able to defend myself if I ever have to or am put in a situation where I need to, that I could.”

Lisa Jones

“I own a firearm because my husband is out of town a lot, and I have two kids, and I wanted to be able to protect us if I needed to. I also enjoy shooting. I’m signing up for a conceal and carry course so that I will able to understand the laws and everything that surrounds firearms. The reason I’m doing this is for the safety of my children.”

Tiana Kuntz

“Some girlfriends and I decided to go out shooting for recreation. I enjoyed shooting. I know a lot of people that have guns for home protection and didn’t see any reason why that we ourselves shouldn’t be able to. So we come to the range to get educated to know how to properly use guns and know the laws so that we are doing things right. We shoot both for fun and I’ve been blessed to never have to use it for protection but I do know how to if I have to.”

Angel (asked not to share her last name for safety reasons)

“I’m a single mom, and I own a firearm for personal protection of myself and my kids. It’s turned into a crazy world, and I think women are a huge target for people, and I don’t want to be caught off guard. I don’t want to have anything happen to my children or myself. I also enjoy shooting. I like to go the ranch and shoot targets. It’s fun and it’s a stress reliever.”

Richard (asked not to share his last name for safety reasons)

“I decided to purchase a firearm for my personal protection in case multiple people try to break in or try to mug me. One-on-one is coo,l but two-on-one is a different story. That’s why I became a gun owner. I feel confident walking the streets and in my house. Also my sister and my nephew came to visit, and I taught them how to shoot to get the feeling of firing a gun. So they got the scaredness out of their head.”

Devaughn and Angela Granger (son and mother)

Devaughn: “I wanted to pick up another hobby. That’s where it started. I have a couple of close friends that are gun owners, and I came to the range with them once or twice. I got started there, and then it eventually grew into something that I have a passion for and do multiple times a week now. I decided to get my mom involved, and it developed into something that my mom and I do together.”

Angela: “I like guns for personal protection purposes. I got into them because of my son. He’s also a gun owner. He started before I did. I love being at the range with him. Anything we do, we are very competitive. To have him teaching me something is good and he’s a very good teacher.”

This feature is part of Salon's Young Americans initiative, showcasing emerging journalists reporting from America's red states. Read more Young Americans stories.

By LaRissa Lawrie

LaRissa Lawrie is a photojournalist and writer for Salon’s Young Americans. She decided to pursue this fellowship to showcase Kansas as a community rooted in connection and empathy. LaRissa graduated from Wichita State in May of 2017 with a B.A. in Strategic Communication and will return to pursue a Master of Arts in Communication this fall. LaRissa is a lifestyle photographer and co-owner of Modberry Market. She is also a University Innovation Fellow with the Stanford Design School.

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