The purpose of the Post-Election Rebuilding Social Interest Group (SIG) is to find common ground between individuals with differing views. In this spirit, SIG members Jason Conn and Lisa Patrick share their opposing perspectives on the risks and benefits of carrying a concealed firearm in the United States. They also find their common ground.
I am an American who carries a firearm in my daily life. I am licensed to do so. I have trained specifically to have the right and skills to do so safely. When I am asked why I do so, the answer is complex but important.
We all know the right to bear arms in America based on our founding documents. The second amendment provides;
“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
In this piece, I will not chase down the lawyerly rabbit hole of jurisprudence seeking a meaning to argue. This has been done a million times. Therefore, I will simply state that, as a law-abiding American, you have the right to own a gun and that right is derived from something even more important to the founding fathers than food. That right is the right of self-defense from a tyrannical government (see revolutionary war), or from another person.
Tyrannical government is not the reason I carry a firearm, though it is not unimportant. I carry for both self-defense and the defense of other people around me. This has a side effect of discouraging crime as well, but we’ll get back to that later.
What is required to carry a firearm?
You must be a citizen who has not been convicted of a felony. You must capable of conducting the carrying of your firearm within the right state of mind.
That state of mind is, first and foremost, a deep respect for the dangers associated with a firearm. A firearm is a weapon, not a toy, and must never be accessible to anybody other than its owner. Therefore, you must be capable of vigilance, and you must be aware of your surroundings at all times when you are carrying. This vigilance can be trained into most people given the motivation to take the training.
You absolutely can and must leave your gun at home on days when you did not get enough sleep or are preoccupied with a big project at work, etc. But when you are carrying you must be “on”.
You must carry not to be a hero; you carry to prevent or reduce tragedy. This is not the wild west; this is real life. You must train regularly, carry regularly. You must know you can access your weapon safely, hit your intended target, and know what is behind and in front of your target before you discharge your weapon.
You must shoot to stop the danger as quickly as possible. You do not shoot to wound, but your goal is not to kill. A concealed carry license holder must understand these important points:
- When you fire your weapon, you shoot “center mass”, meaning you shoot to hit the abdomen of the threat. Being shot in the abdomen does have the foreseeable bad outcome of having the highest probability of death. Importantly, it also has the highest chance of hitting and incapacitating your target and therefore not striking something or someone behind your target.
- Doing so is most likely to end the threat with the least amount of used rounds and in the shortest duration in time. You are the reaction to the danger, not the danger itself.
Why do I carry?
I carry because humans throughout the history of man have had a small number among them that are prone to violence for myriad reasons. It matters not if it is by the fist, the club, or the gun that the threat is expressed.
A firearm is a tool of equality. A grandma with a firearm can prevent harm to a bodybuilder by a group of people if she is capable of effectively carrying and using her firearm. We don’t all need to become Bruce Lee in a society of people who have the right to carry firearms. It is not only the young conditioned men in our country that can be secure from threat and harm, it is also our daughters and mothers who in America deserve to be safe. Our country’s founding documents provide for this safety.
If I carry, and everybody around me carries, there will be knock-on effects. These effects include people who socialize together will train together and become more effective together.
If instead of going to the bar for a pint after work your friends or co-workers all met at the range for target practice two huge gains emerge. First, if you were ever confronted with a threat you would know through experience who is the most accurate and suited to meet the challenge, and second, you would all know who among your party is armed on any given day. Strategically that is huge.
Being around firearms and practicing regularly will also reduce the fear I might otherwise feel if I had to act to defend myself or others. It will also reduce the stigma associated with them. Both of these are valuable.
Also, were it not for “gun free” zones, and restrictive legislation, those among us who might be prone to hit others with fists, clubs, or threaten, or harm with a gun would not have a place to go where they know they are less likely to be confronted by a citizen who is able to make that difference in a moment that truly matters. In a “gun free” zone I can never make the difference I would otherwise be prepared to make and for which I invested heavily; I am a law-abiding citizen and I follow rules.
Why do I carry concealed?
I carry concealed so that “the bad guy” does not target me as an armed person and so that I have the advantage of the element of surprise if and when confronted with a grave situation. This all acts as a deterrent to the very few among us who would do harm to another. The vast majority of us just want to live our lives in peace and safety, and unless you are comfortable with living in a police state—which has proven throughout history to be very dangerous—safety is what it has always been: the responsibility of the masses.
So yes, I carry concealed. I am licensed, I practice regularly. I do so hoping that my efforts will never be necessary. I like to think that if I must, I would be able to make a difference when it counts, and I hope I never find out. All of this I do because I love my life and those in it. I bet you are more like me than different.
Owning a firearm is a necessary component of carrying one. Therefore, one cannot have a robust conversation on the relative merits of carrying concealed without discussing ownership overall. Before I get into my thoughts on gun ownership, I’d like to give you a sense of my personal experience with guns, as it does to some extent inform my opinion on the topic.
I do not own a gun. I do not trust myself to own a gun. I have poor impulse control and am frequently suicidal. Those facts coupled with a firearm potentially make for a bad outcome.
I have fired a gun on a few occasions at a variety of inanimate targets. It was not on a range and was without formal training. I have a friend who has a variety of guns and prior military training. He briefed me in the basics (always assume the gun is loaded, never point it at anything you don’t intend to shoot, etc.) and we shot at soda cans and the like. I’m largely ambivalent about the experience.
I’ve never been hunting and have no desire to do so. I can’t imagine killing an animal, nor do I want to. (Yes, I understand that’s where meat comes from. No, I’m not a vegan. I’m just perfectly happy allowing someone else to perform that onerous task in my stead.) I don’t object to hunting for the purpose of obtaining food, but do object in hunting solely for sport. Death should never be a sport as far as I’m concerned.
My best friend bought a gun for the purpose of target practice. No one else in his life seemed particularly alarmed by the fact that, despite a long history of mental illness and multiple suicide attempts, he bought a gun, allegedly for the calming effect target practice had on him. He shot himself in 2001 and died of his injuries. In his suicide note, he admitted he actually bought the gun with every intention of ending his life.
In summary, I don’t like guns but I’m not afraid of them, as some people seem to assume.
The Second Amendment
The right to bear arms is a fundamental right in America. In fact, it was so important to the founders of our country that they made it a priority second only to free speech.
Free speech has limitations, however. It protects your right to have an opinion (the original intention was one that conflicted with the government) and voice that opinion without reprisal. It does not give you the right, however, to threaten to kill someone or yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater. Those acts are dangerous, and not protected under the First Amendment.
Likewise, the Second Amendment was enacted specifically to allow citizens protection from a tyrannical government. It should and does have limitations. These include who can possess a gun, what kind of weapons can be owned, and how they can be carried.
Risk and Responsibility
Though tyranny is the primary reason our founders made gun ownership a right and is a very common point for those who seek to preserve or deregulate concealed carry and gun ownership, I suspect most people actually carry a firearm for their personal protection. As a woman with a physical handicap, I completely understand that motivation.
However, the more people who carry a gun, concealed or otherwise, it seems there is a higher likelihood of a “foreseeable bad outcome.” A gun is a weapon. A firearm, even one carried for protection, has no purpose other than to injure or kill—excluding target shooting, but one does not carry a concealed firearm on one’s person regularly for this purpose. If someone draws a firearm, whether that be in anger or in self-defense, there are a finite number of possible outcomes: He does not fire; he fires and injures or kills his intended target; he fires and injures or kills himself or an innocent bystander; or he misses a human target entirely.
I agree that carrying—concealed or open—has inherent responsibilities, leaving the gun at home when one is preoccupied, for example. The problem with that is two-fold. First, I can’t remember a single day in which I have not, at some time or another, been distracted by something. Distractions, preoccupations and the like happen daily and without warning. The thought that one leaves the gun at home when he is distracted ignores all the distractions that spontaneously occur in daily life. Therefore, if you are carrying a concealed weapon, you will be distracted at least some of the time. It’s unavoidable.
Secondly, I question how many people actually follow these guidelines and how regularly. I have friends, a married couple, who both have concealed carry permits. I lived with them for a time. I told them that I had some mental health issues and that I would much prefer to not know where their guns were kept and that I’d prefer not to have easy access to them. I can’t tell you how many times I’d come home and a gun was lying on the coffee table.
It’s simply human nature to become comfortable with something and let one’s guard down.
The same is true for training. I’m not sure what adequate training is or how often “regularly” is, but most gun owners likely don’t practice enough. They certainly don’t practice and train the way that police officers do, and even police officers shoot when they shouldn’t and hit unintended targets.
And by targets, I mean people.
Training in Groups
This is a good idea, but I wonder how many people participate or would do so. I can’t imagine my co-workers and I going to the range after work. Even if I could imagine that, the average person leads a pretty busy life. I’m not convinced this would be a priority for many.
A Concealed Deterrent?
Given that concealed carry means that the firearm is hidden, how much of a deterrent can it be? This very question has experts divided but it seems that the divide primarily over whether it is a deterrent or has no effect. However, keep in mind that, just because two things are statistically associated with one another does not mean one CAUSED the other. I think it’s fair to say the jury is still out on the topic of deterrence. Clearly, the data does show that concealed carry laws have not produced a significant increase in violent crime as many feared they would.
I agree that gun owners should not be stigmatized. I also agree that in the event that someone carrying a concealed weapon feels he needs to defend himself, I would prefer he or she be acting in a calm, rational manner.
“Gun-free zones” are mandated by two Federal laws, the Gun-Free School Zones Act and the Gun-Free Schools Act. The Gun Free School Zones Act allows for “authorized individuals” to carry firearms in schools. This includes police officers and people outside of law enforcement “in accordance with a contract” with the school. I have lived in three states in the last 10 years. Every one of them had an armed police officer on campus.
The Gun-Free Schools Act is specifically aimed at the behavior of students. Under this law, schools must enact a zero-tolerance policy regarding weapons with a one-year expulsion minimum in order to receive Federal funds. This law was revised as part of the No Child Left Behind Act. Revisions included specifying firearm (as opposed to the more general weapon in the prior law) and expanding the policy protections mandated to include school-sponsored events regardless of where they might occur.
A large number of school shootings are school-related, that is perpetrated by or against a student/former student or a coworker/employee/former employee because of some perceived wrong committed against them. I could find no incidences that a school was targeted simply because it was a gun-free zone; though some of the incidents where there were no direct ties between the shooter and victims/school may qualify. Even most of these were perpetrated by mentally ill individuals who may or may not be capable of rational thought and planning. Therefore, it’s unlikely the gun-free designation was a consideration.
Because of these facts, it’s unlikely that abolishing gun-free school laws would have much of an effect in prevention of school shootings. It’s similarly unlikely that having gun-free school zone legislation is protective. It seems most likely that these laws provide a false sense of security, similar to living in a gated community. Perhaps the fence deters someone, but if a criminal is determined to come in, he will find a way.
Mass Shootings and Other Gun Violence
Where is might be beneficial is during an active mass shooting. I say might because it is inherently difficult to objectively assess something that doesn’t happen. The Crime Prevention Research Center compiles cases it contends are mass shootings thwarted by licensed gun owners. While a shooter is injured or killed in these cases, there is no way to know if the event would have resulted in a mass shooting.
What we do know is that 52% of female homicide victims were killed using a firearm and 94% are killed by a man they knew. A gun in the home also increases the probability of homicide by a factor of 3, suicide by a factor of 5, and accidental death by a factor of 4. These are significant increases.
In fact, relationships play a large role in mass shooting. An analysis FBI data on mass shootings over 7 years, 76 out of 133 incidents (57%) were domestic violence. In 67% of all cases, the shooter was not prohibited from owning a gun. (In 13% of cases, legal ability to possess a firearm could not be determined by the available data.) 70% of shooting took place in private residences; only 13% were in gun-free zones where concealed carry was prohibited. Not every case where a gunman could legally own a firearm did he also have a concealed carry permit but it’s reasonable to assume some of them did.
Given that the majority of homicides are perpetrated by individuals known to one or more of the victims and occur in on private property not in gun-free zones, concealed carry is unlikely to have the desired effect of preventing mass shootings, though it does level the playing field with regards to personal protection from a random threat. Sadly, random threats are considerably less common and the risks to society as a whole outweigh the benefits to any given individual.
As you have read, we—Jason and Lisa—don’t agree on everything. However, we do agree on these several points:
- Gun ownership is a fundamental right protected by The United States Constitution.
- Owning and carrying a firearm is accompanied by weighty responsibilities that should be taken seriously.
- One must respect the dangers of owning and carrying a gun.
- Training should be required before carrying a concealed weapon routinely.
- Routine training should be a requirement after becoming licensed to carry concealed.
- One must not carry on days where one knows he cannot be alert and vigilant.
Photo credit: Pixabay