Clark Aposhian sits in his office, where his gun safe is close by.
Clark Aposhian walks into his office with a bullet-riddled briefcase in one hand and the newest model rifle from Browning in the other. This man is all about guns.
Check out his website, fairwarning.biz—Aposhian’s firearms resume is impressive. He’s an NRA Certified Training Counselor, a Chief Range Safety Officer, an instructor for NRA seminars, a Utah Certified Concealed Carry Instructor, chairman of the State of Utah’s Concealed Weapon Hearing/Licensure Board, chairman of the board of the Utah Shooting Sports Council and a powerful lobbyist with the state of Utah dealing with firearm and self-defense laws. Not to mention host of the talk show Guns I’ve Loved on KIQN AM radio.
Aposhian’s website is incorrect in only one regard: The picture showing him scowling at a gun range might make you think Aposhian is a badass. In his office, despite the multiple gun lockers and the filled cartridge belts draped over the black leather sofa, he comes across as a very nice guy. Who happens to love guns, unabashedly. “My daughter could fieldstrip a Glock when she was 8 years old,” he boasts.
Nevertheless, he is slightly perplexed by the question, “Why do Utahns love their guns so much?”
“I’ve wondered about that,” he says. “Why do Utahns love guns so much?” Part of it, he thinks, is the Western mentality, the idea of self-sufficiency. To the Americans who settled the West, a gun was simply a tool. “You needed a gun just to feed your family. Hunting has always been a big sport.”
But the number of people taking out hunting licenses has declined overall in recent years. (It rose slightly in 2011.) Aposhian himself doesn’t hunt, and he has the same disconnect between meat and violence that most Americans do. “I visited a meat packing plant in Idaho once, and it looked like a horror movie,” he recalls.
Gun love runs far deeper than the idea that if all the Smith’s stores were to close, you could still feed the family. “Utah was built on a frontier, beyond the borders of law and order,” he says. “The absence of reliable law meant you had to bring your own order with you. Self-defense and self-preservation both depended on your self-reliance. That meant a gun.”
But there’s very little differentiation between the types of guns in our laws. The NRA promotes the idea that the Second Amendment guarantees our right to bear arms. Period. You can go into a gun store in Utah and buy a .50 caliber sniper rifle, deadly at up to a mile. Clearly not for hunting, let alone self-defense. Utah’s love of guns stands out even in the gun-loving West, Aposhian says. Some of it may stem from the state’s distinct culture.
“Other cultures in the West have been diluted more than Utah,” he says. “People move in, and people move on. But many people in Utah can trace their families back for generations. Utahns tend to stay here, and if they move, they come back.” According to Aposhian, a Mormon, this is largely because Utah is the center of that religion. “The LDS church preaches preparedness: Be ready for an emergency or an apocalypse. Have two years of food stored. Have working smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. That implies having a gun. Luck favors the prepared.” And, he says, “This is a religion that has always had an us vs. them mentality when it comes to government, for pretty good reason. Mormons were chased out of New York, Missouri and Illinois by mobs backed unofficially—or sometimes officially—by the governments of those states. Utah has an in-your-face attitude towards the feds. They resent federal regulations of all kinds.”
That’s why, he says, four years ago when Barack Obama first ran for president, there was a widespread shortage of ammo in Utah.
“Before the election, there had been a lot of rumors and predictions by the NRA that there was going to be a gun and ammo shortage. Gun owners flooded the stores, buying and hoarding ammunition. So stores did run out of ammo, because they’d sold more than they usually did, leaving shelves bare. Gun lovers immediately blamed the government, claiming it was holding back ammunition.”
The thing is, Aposhian points out, around the same time, there was also a shortage of lids for Mason jars. “Was the government controlling that, too?”
Aposhian shares Oda’s view that the more people know about guns—the more familiar they are with handling guns—the less they fear them as objects and the more they respect their power. But the whole idea of power is seductive, and guns have life-or-death power. Even in the most controlled environments, accidents happen. In August 2011, a 15-year-old boy shot himself in the head with a .45 caliber handgun after losing his balance on a swivel seat at the Wahsatch Shooters Association Public Shooting Range. A family shooting outing in November ended with a 24-year-old man dead.
Carrying a gun “feels like a force field around you,” says Aposhian. “It’s not.”