14 Lessons from a Year of Thoughtful Carry
I have had the ability to openly carry a handgun in Minnesota for five years. For some individuals carrying is an automatic occurrence, but not for me. Like many of you carrying a weapon not an all-or-none or yes-no activity. While there are people who slide their gun on their person as a morning ritual I cannot be one of those people for some very good reasons – mainly I want to stay employed. Partly because I have to think about my carrying opportunities every day, and partly because of my work to responsibly arm others, my thoughts about being an armed citizen have changed over the past five years.
Like many people I got my first pistol and permit long before I had given the responsibility of carrying a weapon a full measure of consideration. It was fun to shoot the pistol and the new friends I met in the process made this almost seem like a purely recreational or pleasure activity. Only after I had the permit and began carrying my full size pistol did I begin to grasp the full scope of the responsibility at my right hand. I have talked to many responsible gun owners over the past five years and many related the same story of starting the carry process with some concern if not outright fear. Most of us progressed from thinking about protecting our families, to owning guns, to preparing to protect the home with a handgun to carrying in public. It is not a smooth or seamless transition from being a non-carrying person to being a carrying person. Putting the responsibility into some context in my life took a great deal of thinking as well as talking to others who have made the same choice. It was nice to know my experience was not unique. In short, with something this important I do not want to make a mistake so I did not rush into what the state issues permit said I could do. Most carry proponents feel the same way.
I vividly recall the first time I carried my handgun in public. I was certain the whole world could see the print of the cannon on my hip (it WAS a bit big for a carry gun) riding just under my untucked shirt. My coming out, so to speak, was pumping gas at the Holiday station in Sauk Centre. There was no doubt in my mind that “everyone” could see the gun, hear the low “creeek” as the leather holster was stretched for the first time and laugh at me for having one pants leg longer than the other. I had carried around the home for a few days so I felt some level of comfort about the sheer weight of the gun but being in public for the first time was an eye opener – there was so much to think about! Many ordinary movements shifted my clothing in such a way that I feared exposing my rightfully carried gun. Reaching to start pumping gas, stepping out of the car, putting on a heavy coat, or taking off that heavy coat in a restaurant or theater were no longer mindless tasks but actions that required forethought.
A year ago I made a conscious decision to try and carry every day for a year in some form or another. You see, I teach and work on college campuses, hospitals, courthouses, jails and mental health based group homes. In each case I’m prohibited by employer policy, state and federal law, or common sense, from bringing weapons into the court houses and other public buildings, some private businesses, homes, locked wards, emergency rooms, and classrooms. So for me a carry method of self-protection each day is not a routine matter. If you add places of worship, banks and some public transportation settings there are a lot of places I cannot carry a pistol. There are weeks when I am less likely to be able to protect myself than I would have hoped.
My experiment was to purposefully and thoughtfully carry each day for a year – as much as legally possible. This is what I observed:
- During the past five years I have become much more comfortable with carrying. In the past one year I have fallen into a routine of carrying, and strangely, I became more comfortable not carrying, knowing that I would have to use other skills should trouble arise. I am also now much more comfortable with other people carrying. I’ve read the statistics and studies and people who carry have a very low crime rate, relative to the general population. Sure, we permit holders make bad decisions and lose our tempers just like everyone else, having a gun does not change our human nature, but generally we are less likely than most to do something inhumane.
- Over the past year, once I knew that not “everyone” could tell if I was defensively carrying, I began to relax which meant I wasn’t giving “tells” about my carry status. Much of what changed was just my acceptance of the task. At first I was checking my shirt and the position of the gun minute by minute, almost reflexively and unconsciously. Nothing says you are carrying more than constantly touching your holster or tugging down your shirt. I knew I had become comfortable when my wife asked “are you carrying?” My uncomfortableness was obvious to all, but no one noticed my level of comfort with carrying.
- During the past year there were times when it is just inconvenient to carry or have a pistol strapped on my hip. While lying on the ground wrestling with a lawnmower blade – not good to be carrying. During long car rides the seatbelt buckle and the gun seem to always be pushing against each other – not good to be carrying on my person. Another situation I ran into was sharing a vehicle with someone who cannot legally carry. If I stop at a bank with a friend and I cannot carry into the bank or post office I am forced to make a choice between carrying where I should not (e.g., a bank with legal postings) and leaving a gun where you would rather not (e.g., tucked under a seat, in a hot trunk or glove box). Sometimes the logical choice may be to anticipate the situation and leave the gun at home.
- Over the past year the internet has become indispensible when traveling out-of-state. I always check two or three sites (they are not all up to date) so I know what my rights and limitations are. I always told my teenagers before they left to go out for the night “I don’t do bail” and I’m guessing they will repay the favor. Better to know and not be sorry.
- Over the past year, and largely due to #2, I have an even bigger box of holsters. Depending on my activities and clothing I need to be able to think through my day and pick the combination that will work best. In winter I’m leaning toward S.O.B. (Small-of-the-Back) with a small 9mm. Summer time leads to a pocket holster with an even smaller .22 caliber rig. When I head to the woods I break out a O.W. (Outside-the-Waistband) with extra retention as I walk through grasses and brush.
- In the past year I have had a definitive conversation with most of my family members about when I will and when I will not use my gun to defend them. Non-family members might be surprised how short the list is. I have protected myself with insurances and lawyers but I’d rather not use either of them thank you very much.
- In the past year my tendency to carry, rather than bringing anxiety to others, has resulted in calmness in certain situations. I distinctly remember driving through a good sized city when I made a wrong turn late at night. We ended up in a part of town where we were not welcome. My wife said “you are carrying aren’t you?” When I said “yes” she visibly relaxed. I don’t recommend seeking out potentially dangerous situations, but when those situations are thrust upon you people will note your confidence, or at least follow you as you run away at top speed. Just today we were hiking in the woods and something grunted and busted through the brush. My fellow hikers started to watch where my hand moved. It has been my experience that once close friends and family know you are carrying a weapon they expect a certain level of bravery and protection.
- In the past year I have become much more aware of my surroundings. I try not to walk into trouble and I certainly am aware of the limits of security a gun brings.
- Over the past year I have become increasingly aware of how crowded my world is. The safety rule of “be sure of your target and beyond” certainly seems to get complicated while walking in public spaces. There are very few clear shooting lanes in my world.
- In the past year I have had some great conversations with others who have decided to protect their families and themselves. I am able to have these conversations about carrying experiences with other men and women who are thoughtful and want to learn from others. I don’t learn much from the reflexively in-your-face individuals who openly brag about carrying and how much they trust their own skills. That isn’t exactly true, I learned they will likely be the target if some near-do-well needs a gun, which gives me plenty of time to get away.
- In the past year I’ve noticed a few blockheads who are causing problems for themselves and others. While we can open carry in Minnesota it is not always the best practice. Also, hording ammunition takes fun away from all of us. I am especially irritated by those who capture my time at the gun range with the unsought after advice and total disregard for basic safety rules. Again, I can’t seem to get away from them fast enough.
- In the past year I’ve become more keenly aware when there are children or mentally ill people around. Securing all my firearms and having protection available results in a constant state of tension and that is how it should be. I don’t want to ever be comfortable or complacent when the safety of others is at stake.
- I have engaged in much more training than I expected. That training includes learning how to defend myself and others when I cannot carry, how to identify cover and, perhaps most importantly, how to get into better shape so I can run away from a fight. The best advice I’ve read so far in many books and from talking to trainers is to avoid confrontation if at all possible. There are times when I’m heavily dependent upon law enforcement or hospital staff for my safety. When I lock away even my car keys I feel vulnerable and I want to know where the staff are so I can run and hide behind them! What started out as learning and thinking about home defense has changed my perception of the world. Some would argue that my perception is wrong, that I see danger where none exists. My experience tells me the exact opposite, that before I was simply walking around oblivious to possible dangers.
- I find myself learning, or trying to learn, about the technical specifications of weapons, personal safety and the moral and ethical consequences of my decisions. Usually I follow trails of learning like: how does the safety work, what speed and weight bullet works best in a certain condition, how do I overcome my aging eyes to aim correctly? I admit that I used to read mainly, what I call, “gun porn” which is really nothing more than product reviews designed to entice me into yet another purchase. But now I’m much more likely to read about the ethics of harming or killing someone, contemplating where my actions would fall if I did defend myself in terms of my own personal morals and understanding the legal consequences of defending my family.
The year has gone by quickly. I’ve become more confident in my decisions about when to and when not to carry a weapon. I’ve learned I will be buying more holsters. I’ve learned that thoughtless carry puts myself and others in a legal bind. And finally, I’ve learned that others expect more of me when I’m carrying and I’m training to continue to build that trust.