Why I Carry

What it's like to carry, No. 2, 29 October, 2000

by Paul Hager © 2000

IC Title 35, Article 47, Chapter 2. Regulation of Handguns

Article I, Section 32, Indiana Constitution

[I have included in the heading of this article -- and will include in all future articles -- links to those portions of both the Indiana Code and the Indiana Constitution relevant to self-defense and the right to carry.]

Once a person chooses to exercise their right of self-defense, and has done all of the preparatory work (finding the right carry gun, the right holsters, obtaining the license, and so on), there comes the day when one ventures forth armed. When I began carrying in 1993, I discovered right off the bat that what it's like to carry involves a mixture of both physical and psychological elements.

Physically, there's the feel of the gun itself -- depending upon where/how one is carrying it. I have two different carry modes -- a shoulder holster that I wear with business suits and a couple of inside-the-waistband (IWB) holsters for casual/business wear. Moving, walking, sitting -- all affect how the gun/holster "rides" and whether or not it is comfortable to wear. In feel, it's probably similar to carrying a cell phone on one's belt except virtually any handgun is going to be larger -- and significantly heavier. The size and weight coupled with what appears to be the universal problem of finding the right holster configuration makes attaining a comfortable way to carry an ongoing challenge.

There's also the matter of concealability (I'll be discussing the benefits of concealed carry more in number 4 of this series) and how it impacts both comfort and utility. Ultimate concealability could be obtained by disassembling the gun and secreting the pieces about one's body, but this would be accompanied by a utility factor of 0 since the gun would be utterly useless for defensive purposes. Conversely, ultimate defensive utility means making the gun available with no impediments, which almost certainly entails no concealment. The interplay of these two factors affects comfort insofar as they govern where on the body the gun is located, which is not necessarily the most comfortable location. Finding the right balance is going to be an individual matter.

Along with all of the other considerations, choice of wardrobe comes into play. I've found that concealed carry goes well with a business suit, especially double-breasted styles. Because I lift weights, I'm fairly broad-shouldered and large through the chest for my size. Though this makes it a little harder to find a good cut, the benefit is that the way the jacket hangs makes concealing a gun rather easy. Eliciting the help of a salesperson when putting together one's ensemble is also a good idea. I once purchased a couple of suits intended to facilitate carry. On my shopping expedition, I brought the holster and belt I intended to wear so that when trying on suits, I could get a true feel and look. I ultimately found what I wanted at a now defunct men's store in the College Mall in Bloomington. As I was making selections to try on, I informed the guy waiting on me that I wanted to see how things looked and felt wearing a holster, and I wanted his opinion. He was familiar with guns and understood the problem inherent in finding the right combination of suit and holster. As we talked, it transpired that he was finishing up a criminal justice degree at I.U. and had originally planned on making the Secret Service his career. I noticed that he spoke of a Secret Service career in the past tense so I said, "What changed your mind -- was it that one day you might have to take a bullet for Clinton?" He laughed, rather more than I expected. In fact, he admitted, that was part of the reason. Bingo!

The psychological elements attending carry are subtle and varied. When I was reviewing the sociological/psychological research regarding how the presence of guns effects behavior, I discovered that guns tend to be aggression inhibitors. The popular myth, fostered by generations of Westerns on TV and in cinema, is exactly the opposite. According to the myth, the slightest disagreement between two armed people will quickly escalate to a shootout. The gun prohibitionists in Florida fought long and hard against that state enacting citizen carry and invoked the myth when they predicted "blood in the streets" after passage of the law. When the law came into effect in 1987, the U.S. was in the midst of a upsurge of violent crime due to the black market crack trade. In Florida, the rise in the rate of violent crime leveled off and Florida bucked the national trend. So much for "blood in the streets".

It turns out, in fact, that the "Wild West" was not so wild after all. An actual examination of deaths from all causes in Tombstone, Arizona and Dodge City, Kansas when those towns were notorious for gunfighting revealed that the homicide rate was around one-third the rate for modern New York City or Washington, D.C. Moreover, virtually all of the violence involved shootouts between drunken cowboys. What is significant about this is that crime didn't involve assaults on innocent persons -- peaceable citizens weren't effected. To the extent there was a social problem, it involved young single men and alcohol. It is worth noting that in our modern society, in which the black market drug trade drives so much of the violence, the pattern of young single men and alcohol still prevails. Before going after one's intended victim, it helps to drink a little booze to get loose. Typically the victim is just like the perpetrator -- a violent young male. Of course, unlike Dodge City, if a young perp decides to go after an innocent citizen in New York, he can be assured that citizen will be unarmed and unable to resist.

On the subject of violence inhibition, I must mention that a piece of research on juvenile violence out of the Department of Justice produced an interesting datum relating to young men and guns. Buried in the paper is an observed relationship between gun ownership and violence. If young men legally own their guns (as, for example I did when I was 15), they have the lowest rate of violence of any group of young males. In other words, even controlling for socioeconomic status, young men who don't legally own guns tend to be more violent than those who do. The fact that almost no one has heard of this is not surprising -- government bureaucracies don't publicize information that threatens their agenda. You can be assured that had this datum shown the opposite, there would have been press releases and calls for more federal action.

Of course, when I first carried, I knew all of this going in. My expectation was that carrying or not carrying would feel the same for me. I wasn't motivated by fear of crime, or concern that I couldn't take care of myself. I was familiar with guns and viewed them largely as I would any other tool. And yet, when I actually wore the gun for the first time and went out around town, I was acutely aware of everything going on around me. Along with this was the strong sense that I had just shouldered a considerable responsibility.

A gun confers a great deal of power upon a person. Even I, with my detached, social sciences perspective on nearly everything, could not escape the realization of how much latent power I possessed in the gun on my hip. What I found was that, in very subtle ways, I'm slightly less confrontational when I carry. This is not to say that I'm a confrontational person -- the last fight I got in was in 5th grade. However, when I carry I feel on the most visceral level that the absolute last thing I want to have to do is draw my gun.

Understand, I'm not claiming that a gun is some sort of magic talisman than makes all people less aggressive. There is science that suggests a degree of inhibition overall, though there are clearly exceptions. Testosterone, a broken family, membership in a criminal gang, and a snoot full produces lots and lots of violence of the most brutal kind. Clearly, those young men shouldn't have a gun until they've been properly socialized. In an earlier time many of them would have been made to go into the military, which is another gang composed of mostly young men. However, the military is a gang with a rigid set of rules controlled by mature men. This makes all the difference.

As I stated earlier, being "acutely aware" of what is going on around me when I first carried came from the necessity to evaluate tactical situations. I'd liken it to the first time I drove a car on the highway solo, when I was 15 (in Texas at that time, I was able to get a learner's permit at 14 and a full license at 15). I had to keep tabs on what all of the other drivers were doing and how I had to adjust. As an experienced driver today, I can do much of that evaluation "automatically" and in a more relaxed way so that I only become "alert" when necessary. In much the same way, when I first carried I assessed "threat" in a very conscious way in virtually all situations. Eventually -- and I'm not sure how long this process actually took -- threat evaluation became automatic.

When one takes a course on defensive carry -- and I strongly recommend that anyone who decides to carry take such a course from a recognized instructor -- along with the tactical training will come threat evaluation. Although I consider threat evaluation mostly a matter of common sense, it's very useful to get the drill down and to make it a matter of habit. A course of training will help to develop that habit.

One of my defensive habits relates to where I sit whenever I go into a restaurant. I never sit with my back to a door. I like to joke that I don't want to end up like Wild Bill Hickock. As a practical matter, if trouble enters, it's likely to come in through the door and I want to see anything that develops. I always know where all the exits are located. Leaving the premises in the event of a "situation" is the most prudent course and if my family is with me, the plan is for my wife to take control of the kids and get them out while I provide any necessary rear guard. Let me emphasize that a violent confrontation is very unlikely in Bloomington, but as we know with Benjamin Smith, it can happen here with murderous consequences. Since I'm politically active, and take controversial positions -- including escorting for Planned Parenthood -- there is probably a very slight increment to my risk and the risk of anyone who is with me. I see tactical preparation as exercising normal prudence.

Some may be led to ask at this point, suppose Benjamin Smith had decided that Sunday morning to conduct his shooting spree in the Uptown Cafe instead on the I.U. campus? I've thought about that one quite a bit. Here's what I think would have happened. Since we were in the back room, we would have heard gun shots from the front. My wife would have drawn her gun and taken the kids out through the kitchen. I would probably have stood and told everyone to exit as quickly as possible, without panicking, and that I was armed and would cover them. If someone had entered the back room holding a gun and preparing to fire it at someone, I would have dropped him. Otherwise, when everyone in the back had cleared out, I would have left and called the police. Would I have tried to help those up front? No. Given the layout of the Uptown, trying to get to the front without exposure would be fairly high risk. That's a job for the police. If I had been up front with my family on that day (I wasn't) then I would have had to have taken direct action since Smith would have been covering the probable exit route.

In the above scenario, there may have been other people carrying in the Uptown on that day. Something like 8% of Hoosiers have a license so by a rough rule of thumb, in any group of 20 adults, one probably has a license, and may actually be carrying. If someone was in the front of the Uptown and also armed, (s)he would have been in a position to take action and terminate the rampage.

Because I've run for political office three times, I've had to do quite a bit of traveling. Most of that has been in the 13 counties of the 8th Congressional District. My first campaign, in 1996, was something of a shoestring operation. I was unaccompanied for most of my campaign appearances, which consisted of showing up at a "meet the candidates" event, speaking for a few minutes, and then meeting with and talking to the voters. Naturally, since I was on the road, I was carrying. When I talked to gun groups, at some appropriate moment I'd let them know I was carrying, though I didn't volunteer the information otherwise. On the return leg of my first campaign trip to Evansville, I was taking a route along U.S. 41. At Vincennes I made a wrong turn and found myself crossing the Wabash. Upon entering Illinois, I realized that I had just become a felon. Illinois is a benighted state with all sorts of draconian anti-gun laws and my Indiana carry permit was worthless there. It was one of those moments that brought home to me why I was running for federal office -- it is appalling that states can violate a person's fundamental rights with impunity.

Of course, even though Indiana is much more enlightened than Illinois, it has its own bizarre exceptions to carry. You can't legally carry on public school property. By what sort of twisted reasoning is it assumed that a parent, who carries for self-defense as a regular matter and whose kid lives with said parent and said parent's gun, suddenly becomes a safety risk at the moment (s)he comes on school property? The city of Gary has an ordinance against carry which has been grandfathered into state law. Naturally, Gary is the riskiest place for a Hoosier to be, and yet the place where you will be subject to a fine if you are discovered carrying. So far, no one has challenged this ordinance in the Indiana courts. (In my view the Indiana Supreme Court is almost certain to strike this law down based upon existing Indiana case law.) Although not strictly an Indiana state exception, federal law prohibits carrying in post offices. This law is blatantly unconstitutional, but challenging it is not something I recommend at this time.

My 1998 campaign was a real political campaign, with dedicated campaign workers in several counties. I also had a great campaign manager who accompanied me on most of my appearances (I typically introduced him as "my handler"). Again, at virtually every appearance I was armed, though it was a fact I only volunteered to 2nd amendment advocates. As to whether or not my campaign manager carried then or carries now, I'm not going to say one way or the other. One thing this series is not is a vehicle for "outing" people who carry. Anyone whose name is mentioned here will have given explicit permission for me to use it.

At this point, a question may arise as to whether I was carrying during any of my candidate debates or appearances with other candidates. This answer is, yes, though I'm not going to indicate in which debates or appearances I was carrying and which I wasn't.

One of the few campaign appearances I've done where an interviewer knew I was armed was when I went on the Stan Solomon show in my current Senate campaign. Stan is an interesting fellow who walks around the studio carrying his Glock in a visible holster. When I sat down at my mike and was preparing to for the show to start I took off my jacket, which made my holster and gun visible, and said to Stan, "I assume that you don't mind the fact that I'm carrying." His answer was something like, "Fine with me as long as you don't draw it," and then we were on the air.

Of course, most of my life I'm not a political candidate, but it's fair to say that if you live in Bloomington and have seen me around town, I will probably have been armed at least some of the time.

Now that I've carried for seven years, I've probably been just about everywhere in the state armed. I've never come close to a situation where I actually needed to have the gun with me, but that's to be expected. Southern Indiana is extremely low crime. Even Indianapolis, where I work, though having a much higher violent crime rate than Bloomington, is still very low for a big city -- the homicide rate is something like 0.001% relative to the population. Still, I've found that I like the "insurance" that being armed offers me. Overall, it's the cheapest insurance that money can buy.