Armed… and Dangerous?
Copyright © 2001 by Bill Nickless
It’s 10:00 PM. My wife and I are stopped at a gas station along I-65 between Chicago and Indianapolis. While she goes in to use the restroom I walk to the back of the hatchback and open it. Nervously looking around, I’m reassured that nobody is looking at me. I quietly open the gun case and remove my Makarov .380 pistol and slide in a clip of ammunition, all the while keeping my hands below the level of the car windows. Trying to control my breath, I slide the now-loaded handgun into my Bianchi Top Secret fanny pack holster. Strapping it around my waist I sense everything around me in great detail—the slight breeze, the sound of traffic on the Interstate, and the sweet/pungent smell of gasoline vapor. I walk quickly back to my car and sit in the drivers seat, waiting for my wife to return, all the while shaking from the adrenaline rush of the past three minutes.
So why was I so nervously strapping on heat along an Indiana highway? Me, the son of a minister and nurse, now 33 years old, married, and without so much as a traffic citation in my police record? A computer networking engineer/researcher who works at a government research laboratory?
While I was growing up my parents refused to buy their three children (all sons) toy guns of any sort, and forbade so much as pointing fingers at each other and saying “bang you’re dead.” Instead, they promised us that when we were old enough we could have real guns. One of my favorite memories of that time was when Dad took me out of elementary school for a day to spend with him. Part of the day we spent together was at a gravel pit, he teaching me to shoot his single-shot bolt-action .22 rifle.
Somehow I don’t think my parents were quite ready when, in 7th grade, I came home from my after-school job (fixing tires) with a Ruger Mini-14 rifle the owner gave me in lieu of a month’s wages. They were sort of trapped by their earlier promises and didn’t complain much.
I was already used to carrying a potential weapon. Hunting knives in belt holsters were the fashion for grade school boys in rural Alaska. I routinely drove a snowmobile to school, with enough tools on hand to fix the head gasket if it blew (again). The hunting knife on my belt was just another tool.
Fast-forward a few years. I’ve finished grade school, high school, and college. I’ve gotten a job and married. I have applied for and received an Illinois Firearms Owners Identification Card so I can bring my Mini-14 into our new Illinois home. I start going to the shooting range for fun, and end up buying a Makarov. I put about 200 rounds downrange with the Makarov every week or so.
Then I learn that Texas allows non-residents to get concealed handgun permits. I look over the requirements and realize that I qualify. When on a business trip to Dallas I take the required class, with the written and shooting test. I also apply for and receive a Florida concealed handgun permit, using the certificate from the Dallas class as proof of training. Both of these states required fingerprinting and an FBI background check.
Every year my extended family meets in Georgia for a vacation. My route to Georgia goes through Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. My research convinces me that all of these states recognize the Florida concealed handgun permit. Now I have to decide: do I really believe in the citizen’s right to carry a weapon? If so, do I trust myself to do so? Why would I do such a thing, anyway?
I was surprised at a few things during the time I was carrying a weapon on vacation.
Nobody I came in contact with seemed to care. That may seem obvious, because the weapon was concealed, but somehow I expected people to have x-ray vision, see the pistol, and scream in terror for the police.
By the end of the vacation I was as used to putting the Makarov in my fanny pack as I was putting the cell phone on my belt. The extra weight wasn’t even noticeable given the wallet, digital camera, flashlight, cell phone, and Leatherman tool that I already carry everywhere.
I never needed to use the “self defense tool”. This is the fifth year we’ve vacationed to the same place. Like every other year, we had good time and weren’t victimized by any criminals—or bears. But given the stories I’ve read about armed citizens resisting attacks, it was a relief to learn that the attacks don’t automatically come your way when you’re prepared to resist them!
I was able to see strangers as people, rather than potential threats. Somehow I didn’t feel the need to worry that the big, scary guy buying gas was going to ask me for money or worse. So when I looked across the parking lot I just saw people going about their daily lives—people who deserved my respect and courtesy.
Going through the mental preparation to carry a handgun for self-defense has led me to do a lot of thinking. Here are some thoughts along the way:
It’s no longer safe for me to get truly angry with people. When you have weapons readily available—and know how to use them—you need to realize that your unchecked emotions might have serious, permanent consequences! Also, when people know that I own and carry weapons, they may be more easily frightened of any (seemingly) erratic or out-of-control behavior.
Being a teetotaler already is good. Consuming alcohol while carrying a weapon is very much a bad idea.
If I ever start feeling depressed, it’s important for me to see a doctor or counselor. That’s obviously the right thing to do anyway, but a depressive episode could be fatal to someone with weapons around.
As a citizen of the United States, whose government is founded on the principle of the consent of the people, it is my responsibility to be politically aware and to vote. I may be naïve, but I figure that if the government respects my right to a weapon then the government is more likely to respect my other rights as a citizen. I learn the names of my local, state and national representatives, and communicate with them as I see fit. I join state and national political associations, and donate money to them as I can.
This leads to another reason I decided to get a permit and carry a concealed weapon. I know where my ethical and moral frameworks come from, and believe that society (the people all around) can trust me to responsibly carry a weapon. I also know that the right to keep and bear arms is continually under attack. By exercising my right to keep and bear arms, and doing so within the framework of the law, I am increasing (by one) the number of people who safely and responsibly do so. This strengthens the arguments of statisticians and other policy experts who fight on our behalf for this right.
Many otherwise trivial criminal offenses can lead to much graver consequences when a gun is involved, or can lead to lifelong loss of my right to keep and bear arms. Thus, I put forth an additional, special effort to observe the law. I really do try to come to a full stop at a stop sign, observe the speed limit, and pay my taxes.
Many stories I read about people who have engaged in combat with the government have gone out of their way to attract the attention of law enforcement and the criminal justice system, and/or have fallen prey to sting operations. Objectively speaking, these people may have the truth and right on their side. But the actions that got these people into their situations are often on the hairy edge of legality, and their speech can be nothing short of incendiary. Again, I want to be a person who is unambiguously responsible and law-abiding. At this time I see no need to gamble with my life, liberty, or property to prove a point about my natural or constitutional rights.
It has taken me quite a while to get up the courage to let people know that I’m a gun owner and enthusiast. The first time I put a Sturm, Ruger & Company sticker on my laptop computer, or wore a gun logo shirt in public, was very scary. I was afraid that even these low-key statements would cost me professional credibility.
In reality I had nothing to fear. I’ve been able to connect with colleagues who I never would have guessed enjoyed the shooting sports. Eric S. Raymond has been a big encouragement. A vocal, visible, and respected advocate of Open Source, he routinely arranges trips to shooting ranges from technical conferences.
When a school shooting occurs and is reported in the media, some of my colleagues inevitably talk it around our virtual water cooler. Within the past year I’ve begun to feel safe enough to speak up and suggest that guns aren’t necessarily the problem, and that banning the guns won’t even help to stop the violence. There are other, deeper problems in our society causing these tragedies.
I’m probably unlikely to dissuade the local proponents of stricter gun control. But what I can do is clearly articulate my point of view, calmly and rationally. Pretty much everyone I work with knows my position on gun rights. They also know whom the vocal gun control advocates are. I’m satisfied when my views are available in the local “marketplace of ideas.” Some of my colleagues have even gone with me to the range.
Five days after I first strapped on heat at a gas station in Indiana, I found myself driving back towards home, heading north on I-65. At the last Indiana rest area I calmly, almost sadly, unloaded the Makarov and put it in its locked case. Driving on into Illinois I thought about this year’s failed “shall issue” concealed handgun proposal, and considered how I could influence my Illinois state representatives to enact one next year.