November 25, 2008

Six Months Under The Gun

"Be nice. Be Polite. Have a plan to kill everyone you see."

Been there. Done that. Carrying a weapon now, come to think of it.

Update: And while I didn't read this in advance of my experiment, every word holds true:

There is nothing like having your finger on the trigger of a gun to reveal who you really are. Life or death in one twitch ultimate decision, with the ultimate price for carelessness or bad choices.

It is a kind of acid test, an initiation, to know that there is lethal force in your hand and all the complexities and ambiguities of moral choice have fined down to a single action: fire or not?

In truth, we are called upon to make life-or-death choices more often than we generally realize. Every political choice ultimately reduces to a choice about when and how to use lethal force, because the threat of lethal force is what makes politics and law more than a game out of which anyone could opt at any time.

But most of our life-and-death choices are abstract; their costs are diffused and distant. We are insulated from those costs by layers of institutions we have created to specialize in controlled violence (police, prisons, armies) and to direct that violence (legislatures, courts). As such, the lessons those choices teach seldom become personal to most of us.

Nothing most of us will ever do combines the moral weight of life-or-death choice with the concrete immediacy of the moment as thoroughly as the conscious handling of instruments deliberately designed to kill. As such, there are lessons both merciless and priceless to be learned from bearing arms lessons which are not merely instructive to the intellect but transformative of one's whole emotional, reflexive, and moral character.

The first and most important of these lessons is this: it all comes down to you.

No one's finger is on the trigger but your own. All the talk-talk in your head, all the emotions in your heart, all the experiences of your past these things may inform your choice, but they can't move your finger. All the socialization and rationalization and justification in the world, all the approval or disapproval of your neighbors none of these things can pull the trigger either. They can change how you feel about the choice, but only you can actually make the choice. Only you. Only here. Only now. Fire, or not?

A second is this: never count on being able to undo your choices.

If you shoot someone through the heart, dead is dead. You can't take it back. There are no do-overs. Real choice is like that; you make it, you live with it or die with it.

A third lesson is this: the universe doesn't care about motives.

If your gun has an accidental discharge while pointed an unsafe direction, the bullet will kill just as dead as if you had been aiming the shot. I didn't mean to may persuade others that you are less likely to repeat a behavior, but it won't bring a corpse back to life.

These are hard lessons, but necessary ones. Stated, in print, they may seem trivial or obvious. But ethical maturity consists, in significant part, of knowing these things not merely at the level of intellect but at the level of emotion, experience and reflex. And nothing teaches these things like repeated confrontation with life-or-death choices in grave knowledge of the consequences of failure.

There's a certain kind of freedom that comes with the responsibility of carrying arms that is hard to properly express to those who don't. People who have done so have tried to tell me that before, but it isn't something that translates easily to print. Yes, guns can take lives.

But far more often, experience truly bearing arms help hone and reveal character.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at November 25, 2008 07:14 AM

You've hit it on the head. Citizens who carry are not right-wing nutjobs, but rather they're among our country's most responsible citizens who are fully aware they are shouldering great responsibility. I'm biased, of course, as I've concealed carry for over 5 years now, but one cannot argue the truth of your words.

(PS - For the summer months and light clothing, I greatly enjoyed carrying -- and recommend -- the Ruger LCP).

Posted by: W-K-B at November 25, 2008 08:40 AM

Sounds a lot like the speech from the movie Starship Troopers given by Michael Ironside. I don't remember if there was such a speech in the book. Violence or the threat thereof is truly the root of all authority, whether we like to admit it or not.

Guns are, as you said, a huge responsibility, and my Father always taught me that you cannot call the bullet back once it is fired. He also said never point a gun at something or someone unless your intent is to completely destroy it or them because that is a very real consequence of the weapon discharging voluntarily or involuntarily. Even if your intent is to merely wound you may hit an artery or miss and hit something else vital and that person is surely as dead as if you meant for them to die.

I plan on having my wife go through NRA pistol training which I will also go through with her as part of her owning her own handgun.

Posted by: Scott at November 25, 2008 10:36 AM

Interesting, the 6-month experiment. I've often wondered what it would be like to be able to carry a gun for self-defense. Living in NJ, it won't happen, but maybe some day I'll get out of here.

But it comforts me to know that somewhere in the nation, another responsible, law-abiding citizen is proving what we already know. Citizens carry and use weapons responsibly, in defense of themselves and others.

Posted by: Mike Gray at November 25, 2008 11:27 AM

[...] Seat belts, helmets and guns [...]
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Posted by: Ride Fast at November 25, 2008 12:01 PM

When I had a collateral duty in firearms training, I told people that if they did not hold a heightened sense of awareness when carrying, then they ought not carry.

Non and anti-gunners do not realize that CCW holders make it safer for all of us - in jurisdictions which allow it. They make it harder for two legged predators to select victims.

Posted by: Steve Skubinna at November 25, 2008 12:47 PM

I found the transition from not carrying to daily carry rather easy. Two reasons:

1. Long before I even considered a gun for personal protection, I made sure I was always aware of my surroundings and what was going on around me. Even though I had never heard of Jeff Cooper back then, I was already living most of my time in "Code Yellow", so adding a gun just meant I had another option to me if I needed it.

2. My office doesn't have a policy against firearms on the premises (I read and re-read the employee handbook just to be sure), so I carry a Kel-Tec P3AT and an extra mag in the front of my khakis all day long. It's lightweight and unnoticeable, but I have 14 rounds of .380ACP with me if anything goes south.

Posted by: Exurbankevin at November 25, 2008 04:22 PM

Never pull a weapon unless you fully intend to use it. If you take the safety off/cock it then you shoot right then, No second thoughts, they will get you killed. A lesson from my father over 50 years ago.

Posted by: Scrapiron at November 25, 2008 06:02 PM

Good stuff, Bob.

What range do you go to?

Posted by: Russ at November 26, 2008 03:37 AM

W-K-B, I see the LCP has a recall active. Check the Ruger website. It does look like a nice CC weapon.

Great post.

Posted by: douglas at November 26, 2008 06:09 AM


I got to the Wake County Firearms Education &Training Center, hidden down a backroad in Holly Springs, NC. It features modern indoor ranges and classrooms primarily built for law enforcement, but with several weekday nights and weekend afternoons open to the public. If you like specific targets however (I like the 24 x 45" Silhouettes used by the North Carolina Justice Academy), you may want to bring your own, as their selection is limited.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at November 26, 2008 08:56 AM

Thanks Douglas...yes, Ruger recalled the LCP after receiving a few reports of the weapon firing when it was dropped; they're apparently retooling the weapon with new parts to prevent such incidents. I signed up for the recall shortly after they announced it.

I still like the LCP, though. It's hard to beat for concealability and far better and more solid than the flimsy Kel-Tec models that inspired it.

Posted by: W-K-B at November 26, 2008 10:50 AM

Bob, I live just a couple miles from there, and have been there often (though not so much, recently), mostly for the 100-yard rifle bay.

Posted by: Russ at November 26, 2008 01:02 PM