Gun Control: A Veteran's Perspective

Feb 20, 2013

The reasons why people own guns vary as much as the opinions over what to do about gun violence. We’ve been hearing from Illinois gun owners to learn more about their relationships to firearms. American soldiers serving in wartime have a unique relationship to guns and shooting.

Credit Alex Keefe / Illinois Public Radio

Justin Wigg says it took about three years of being out of the Marine Corps before he stopped having - “the dream.”

"You could ask just about any military vet if they’ve ever had ‘that dream,’ and they’ll know what you’re talking about, and it’s that dream where you wake up in the middle of the night and you are like, ‘Oh s***, I don’t know where my rifle is.’" - Justin Wigg

Wigg is now 28 - and no longer worried about getting chewed out for not having his gun handy. He no longer sleeps with his gun at arm’s length - as he often did during his two tours in Iraq.

Now, he keeps it in a blue plastic carrying case, tucked inside his bedroom wardrobe, loaded.

When he first got out, Wigg says NOT carrying a gun made him feel kinda naked - like when you forget your cell phone at home.

He says he’d probably carry a concealed weapon if Illinois law allowed it - like a lot of his buddies in other states did when they got out of the service.

"And part of it probably is because of that - that dream feeling and that - you know, I’ve had a gun stuck to my hip for the last four years, and why - why not just go buy a pistol and keep myself calm with that sense of safety?"

Wigg’s experience with guns is unique.

He carried a loaded gun as part of his job, for months on end, to guard against the very real danger that somebody would try to kill him.

He was trained until his gun became an extension of his body, trained to where he dreamt the training itself.

And he trained to do what many hunters and sportsmen are trained NOT to do - to shoot other people.

"I’d say that, you know, once you get out past that 50-yard distance, you know, like, you can’t see faces and you can’t - you know, it - it makes it a little easier to - to not have that emotional connection."

Wigg says he knows that doesn’t sound politically correct, but that lack of emotion - “dehumanizing,” he calls it - that was part of his training, too.

Now that he’s out of the Marine Corps, he says he’s able to think of his enemies differently.

"I know that they all have the same feelings and families and things like that, and that’s just - that’s part of war and that’s the stuff that you - you don’t have time to think about at the time, and you spend the rest of your life dealing with."

He believes carrying a concealed weapon is a right - one he one day hopes to exercise in Illinois.

Wigg says that familiar refrain - only a good guy with a gun, can stop a bad guy with a gun - appeals to his sense of duty, even if he no longer wears a uniform.