Back From the Dark Side: Becoming a Gun Owner. Again.


In 1997, I purchased my first firearm: a compact 9mm Sigma made by Smith & Wesson. At the time, I thought I was taking a bold step in the direction of protecting myself. I’d never fired a weapon before, despite being raised in a family with uncles and grandparents that hunted deer for food. That said, I’ve never had an aversion to firearms. I believed that responsible owners should be allowed to have guns if they wanted them. It would take eleven years and seven guns before I’d realize that I was the worst type of gun owner: reluctant and resentful . . .

I bought my first gun because I was afraid, plain and simple. I’d had three stalkers in my life at that point. The first was an ex-boyfriend. The other two were random strangers who fixated on me for reasons I don’t understand to this day.

Fear is not the right motivation to purchase and carry a firearm. A commitment to doing what is necessary to protect yourself is the only proper motivation. As a fearful owner, I committed all of the cardinal sins of gun ownership:

  • I went to the range exactly once when I bought the Sigma. The gun jammed on the first magazine and I never went back. I replaced the Sigma with a Smith & Wesson Airweight and never thought about it again. In the eleven years I owned firearms, I went to the range maybe five times in total.
  • I didn’t practice routine gun safety. I never cleaned my weapons. I barely knew how to load and unload them. I took a basic handgun safety class strictly to acquire a concealed carry permit and that was it.
  • Despite carrying the weapon everywhere, I never carried it in a fashion that would actually allow me to draw it properly if needs be. It usually lay somewhere on the bottom of my purse where I couldn’t even reach it.

By being afraid rather than committed, I resented the presence of my gun. It was a reminder of the danger I faced every time I set foot outside my house. As a result, I did as little as possible in terms of care and maintenance of the gun and did everything I could to handle it as little as possible.

In short, I was a danger to myself and to those around me. If a situation had ever arisen where I might actually need the gun, I was more likely to either shoot myself or be disarmed. It is this type of behavior that allows people to blame handguns and try to pass gun control laws limiting our citizens’ rights. In truth, I was the danger. Not the weapon.

Outside circumstances forced me to sell every weapon I owned. Given my mindset and complete lack of responsibility, it was just as well. And once my guns were gone, I was relieved. I felt as if a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

What did not go away, though, was the fear.

I became much less likely to leave my house without my husband. I have two large dogs. They became constant companions and protectors. Even to the extent of taking my dog with me to take out the trash. If I had to go out alone, I stayed on the phone with my husband the entire time I was gone.

Despite this constant fear, I steadfastly refused to even consider replacing my guns. I had an excuse at every turn. Finally, my husband just dropped the subject all together.

This went on for two years, until something happened that forced me to take a hard look at what I was doing.

I was out walking one of my dogs when two transients entered the parking lot of my apartment complex. My dog was behind a large rock that stands in the center of the courtyard, so they couldn’t see him. When I spotted them, I moved him out where he could be seen. They turned around and left quickly at that point.

Were they actually after me? Maybe, maybe not. But it scared the hell out of me. I ran inside and told my husband what had happened and told him that I wanted him on the phone when I took the dogs out. He looked at me and asked some very simple questions. “Exactly what do you think I would have been able to do? You would have been lucky if I could have even gotten out there before they did something to you. How were you going to protect yourself in the meantime?”

This left me dumbfounded. I had never considered him being too far away to respond in time. What became clear to me was that I had come to rely on him to take care of me rather than being responsible for myself. Not only was that unfair to him, it was unfair to me.

I spent a lot of time thinking about my safety after that and I came to realize that I have to take steps to protect myself. I’m a very small woman, 5’3” if I really stretch and about 115 pounds. I am going to be at a significant disadvantage up against a larger opponent.

Martial arts training is not an option due to physical limitations. I’ve carried knives in the past, but knives require you to be up close and personal with your attacker. Given my stature, I want to avoid being close to my attacker as possible. That led me to one conclusion: a gun would be my best second line of defense (after avoidance).

This was a radically different decision than the one I made in 1997. This time I made a reasoned and thoughtful decision to take on the responsibility of gun ownership.

Since making this decision, I’ve been reading up on various guns online and shopping around in person in my town. I’ve tried several weapons and even made a startling discovery. My fingers are so small that there are guns whose trigger I can’t squeeze.

In eleven years of gun ownership, I held the vast majority of my guns incorrectly. Returning to a Walther P22—a gun I carried at one point—I found that can’t squeeze that trigger when holding the gun in a proper grip; my fingertip doesn’t reach. The same limitation applies the Ruger SR9c and the LC9, the Bersa .380 and several others that I’ve tested in the shop.

The search continues. As part of my decision to return to the light of gun ownership, I’ve been reading gun reviews to get a better understanding of all the moving parts. I’ve identified a suitable concealed carry handbag and I’m looking at various holsters.

Fifteen years after I bought my first gun, I’m ready to be a gun owner again. I’m doing the necessary research. I’ve committed to regular range practice that will include working on drawing from the handbag and from the holster, not just picking it up off the counter at the range.

I’m no longer fearful and reluctant about guns. Now, instead, I’m confident that I am taking responsibility not just for my own safety, but for the safety of my family and those around me. As every gun owner should do.


  1. avatar bob says:

    What is a Bursa?

    1. avatar Robert Farago says:

      Text amended.

    2. avatar JRP says:

      She probably meant Bersa.

    3. avatar pair-o-dee says:

      It’s why your shoulder aches when it’s cold and wet.

  2. avatar Accur81 says:

    My wife carries a Taser. Since it isn’t lethal force (usually), she
    wouldn’t hesitate to use it. She has practiced with it, and can shoot
    it pretty accurately. The search for a firearm that’s a good match for
    her continues…

    Firearms are a massive liability without the mindset and proficiency
    to use it.

    I sincerely hope you can develop your mindset and proficiency. As
    for me, I’m off to the shooting range.

    1. avatar Marlie Patton says:

      Thank you. And, I agree, they are a liability when you don’t commit to owning one the right way.

      I’m curious is there a particular stumbling block with finding a weapon for your wife or is she just waiting for the “ah-ha” moment of “this is the one?

      1. avatar Accur81 says:

        I don’t think that she has the confidence and mindset with it yet. That’s the single most important component. She’s 5′ 1″, and has small hands and stature. A Ruger .380 LCP may be the ticket, but we’ve got a lot of other things to buy first. She actually really likes my modified Ruger SR-556 in .556, but it’s pretty heavy for her. (I don’t much mind heavy guns with heavy barrels – she didn’t enjoy the recoil of the 6.8 SPC, so the .50 Beowulf is definitely out, as well as either shotguns).

        We’ll probably get an additional AR-15 of lighter weight, with a light, and it’ll be the ticket for her if she can develop competence with it. A .38 Special might also work for concealment purposes.

        I’m not absolutely fixated on firearms (gasp) because I’ve used and trained with pepper spray, tasers, knives, and some “hands on.”

        It seems like you are on the right path, and I wish you well.

  3. avatar Jason says:

    SIG P238. Maybe a Kahr MK9, but given a P22 doesn’t work, double actions are most likely out.

    1. avatar Marlie Patton says:

      Thanks, I’ll have to look into those.

  4. avatar Tyler Kee says:

    Wow! What a refreshing read this morning. Congratulations on your decision to get back to it. I look forward to reading more articles in the future.

    1. avatar Marlie Patton says:

      Thank you!

  5. avatar vic says:

    All the good reasons, good luck on the training and overcoming your fear. The taser suggestion avobe sounds pretty reasonable as a break in , however it has its own constraints. Anyways, great reading! keep us in the loop!

    1. avatar Marlie Patton says:

      Thank you.

  6. avatar TTACer says:

    This is an important reminder to all us men-we tend to regard all situations as a problem that we can find a solution for. e.g. problem: stalker; solution; get a gun, if he makes a move, shoot him. Problem solved. Rightly or wrongly (probably rightly) women don’t see it as being that simple. We would do well to keep that in mind when we try to help our wives/sisters/nieces deal with these kind of “problems”.

    1. avatar Marlie Patton says:

      As a woman, there are definitely more considerations to take into account. One I didn’t even touch on is clothing. Women’s clothing isn’t designed to conceal firearms as a general rule.

  7. avatar Chris says:

    Fingers don’t reach the trigger on an LC9? Yikes O.O

    Been a while since I held one, but the 238 (as Jason pointed out) may be a good possibility, especially since they’re about to release a 9mm version (a caliber the author seems inclined towards). Beyond armchair speculation, I don’t know though.

    Keep up the search, and welcome back!

    1. avatar HSR47 says:

      Owning both a P238, and a Diamondback DB9, I can say with certainty that the DB9 is smaller — the grips are thinner, and the other dimensions are comparable. Given the weight difference though, it’s a bit harder to control.

    2. avatar Marlie Patton says:

      Thanks, I’m definitely going to check that out.

  8. avatar Ralph says:

    This account is also an allegory for our times. Marlie’s dependency on her husband for her safety is no different from society’s dependency on police for safety. The difference is that her husband was honest. He told Marlie that he couldn’t protect her, and reminded Marlie that her safety was literally in her own hands.

    Her epiphany leading her to learn, train and carry is no different than society’s epiphany that each person bears responsibility for their own safety.

    Marlie isn’t just Marlie. Marlie is everyone.

    1. avatar Ropingdown says:

      Yep. Anxiety joined to ambivalence is widespread, and the end of denial is often both stressful and liberating. I need a “vote this comment up” button. Simpler. Would save my fingers.

    2. avatar Marlie Patton says:

      Very true. That is a conversation my husband and I have had as well.

  9. avatar Mike OFWG says:

    Can’t pull the trigger on a Walther P22? Hmmmm. Other than some of these technical issues, she has what appears to be a serious psychological problem, and not with guns. The lady is paralyzed by fear, what seems to me to be an inordinate fear. Not being able to leave the house without an escort or phone contact is evidence of a deeper problem, one that probably requires professional help. I am not so sure she should be out and about with a firearm under these circumstances. I hope I’m wrong and all works out for her, but I have reservations.

    1. avatar Marlie Patton says:

      Thank you for your concern. I wouldn’t call myself paralyzed, it was more that I wasn’t taking responsibility for protecting myself. I was relying on others. I’d like to think I’ve gotten over that hump.

  10. avatar "Dr." Dave says:

    Another vote for the SIG 238. A Smith and Wesson 637 might be a good choice, as well. With the hammer cocked, the trigger is almost flush against the back of the trigger guard and the single action pull is quite light.

    But welcome to the fold, Marlie.

    1. avatar Marlie Patton says:

      Happy to be here! I’ll add that to the list as well.

  11. avatar "Dr." Dave says:

    Another vote for the Sig P238. A Smith and Wesson 637 may be a great choice. With the hammer c___ked back, the trigger is almost flush aginst the rear part of the trigger guard, and the single action pull is very light.

    But welcome to the fold, Marlie. Stay safe.

    1. avatar Marlie Patton says:

      Thank you. I’ll do my best!

  12. avatar BC; MT says:

    Great read.

    1. avatar Marlie Patton says:

      Thank you very much!

  13. avatar IdahoPete says:

    “Now, instead, I’m confident that I am taking responsibility not just for my own safety, but for the safety of my family and those around me.”

    Welcome to the community, Marlie. If you need more reinforcement for your decision, read “A Nation of Cowards” by Jeff Snyder. Protecting yourself also protects the community, by having one less easy victim for the criminals to prey on. Another good read is “Trail Safe” by Michael Bane.

    Smaller hands make the “trigger reach” on a handgun vital. This is the distance between the first distal crease on you trigger finger and the V-notch at the base of your thumb. If you can’t get the first crease of your finger over the trigger, you will lack the leverage to smoothly and effectively control the trigger.

    You might want to take a look at the J-frame Smith&Wesson or Taurus revolvers (anything from .22Mag to .38), and replace the grips with Pachmyer Compac Professional grips. Those grips leave the back strap of the grip uncovered, which helps with the trigger reach, but they give a secure grip on the gun, and fill in a bit in front of the trigger guard. My sister ended up with a set of those Pachmyer Compac Professional grips on an airweight S&W J-frame in .32 H&R Magnum, because she has small hands and was unable to use a .38 effectively. S&W also has a lightweight 7-shot .22Mag revolver (the Model 351PD) if you have a problem with recoil. Loaded with Hornady Critical Defense loads, it will give you effectiveness similar to a .380 semi-auto.

    Again, welcome to the community of responsible citizens. “The 2nd Amendment is a serious right for serious people.”

    1. avatar Marlie Patton says:

      Thanks for the info. I’ll add those books to my shopping list as well as those weapons.

  14. avatar Chuck says:

    “I purchased my first firearm in 1997, a compact 9mm made by Sigma”

    I purchased my first firearm in 1997, a compact 9mm Sigma made by Smith & Wesson.

    There, I fixed it for you. I know that doing so makes me come off as a bit of a prick, but I really like this blog. Now that it is numeral uno, it should aspire to the highest standard.

    1. avatar Robert Farago says:

      True dat. Text amended.

    2. avatar HSR47 says:

      You think that’s an error? I seem to recall some ATF deathwatch posts that were incorrectly numbered…. 😛

  15. avatar Jay Dunn says:

    Although I appreciate Marlie’s excellent post she is a very special case physically. Every woman my wife has allowed to examine or use her LC9 has just loved it. Ruger hit a home run with this one.

    1. avatar Marlie Patton says:

      I wouldn’t call myself a special case per se. The average woman in 5’4″ tall. I have smallish hands, but the point of that was less about the size of my hands and more about the fact that I’d owned weapons for over a decade before I found information out. Clearly showing I wasn’t committed in my ownership.

      P.S. I loved the LC9 and was very disappointed it was off the table for me.

  16. avatar Darren says:

    Firearms with single-action triggers would seem to be the trick here, and single-stack magazines if you were to go with a semiautomatic.

    I have the opposite problem, I wear XXL gloves and can’t pull the trigger well on a Kel-Tec P11 because the trigger travel is so long I lose mechanical advantage (there is also the fact that the trigger on the P11 sucks). I pick up a Glock 21 and think, “Finally, someone made a pistol about the right size.”

    If you can find it, a trade-in H&K P7 PSP is a really nifty and relatively slim 9mm. It’s a unique firearm and you’d need to practice with the “squeeze-cocker” system because it works differently than many other pistols but it’s accurate, reliable and has a great single-action trigger.

  17. avatar Darren says:

    Marlie, if you can find a H&K P7 PSP it might work for you. It’s a single-stack 9mm with a single-action trigger, pretty flat in profile but regarded as accurate and reliable. It does have one unique trick, you have to compress the front of the handguard to be able to fire it, it take 14 lbs of pressure to cock the mechanism but only 2-3lbs to hold it there. Let off the front strap and the pistol is back “on safe” and won’t fire. It’s a unique system but beats a lot of other ones for purse carry because you can snag the trigger on whatever you want and it’s not going to fire.

    The trigger pull (once cocked & ready to fire) is light and trigger travel is short. Something to consider, in any event.

  18. avatar Tom says:

    The resurrected Colt Mustang might be something for you to look at. Similar to a Sig P238. Might want to look at the Beretta Tomcat series? You may want to go to a larger gunstore and just take an entire morning handling pistols and revolvers. One gun that comes to mind for smaller hands is a Ruger Bearcat, but it is not exactly a true self defense gun.

    1. avatar Marlie Patton says:

      Thank you. I actually owned a Tomcat at one point. I’m looking for a higher caliber this time.

      1. avatar TTACer says:

        My wife (significantly smaller than you) has a Tomcat. Also a S&W 638 that I highly recommend. Have you looked at the single-stack Kahrs?

  19. avatar JJ Swiontek says:

    Welcome to the community. My S.O.P. for my students is to take them to a gun show and have them try dozens of pistols for grip fit. It’s like shoe shoping. You try different pistols to see what feels comfortable. Keep notes. Then see if you can try one at the range to see if you like the way it shoots.

    Just today I did that with a student. Tanner Gun Show, Denver, CO. Now she has a short list of pistols that she wants to try shooting. From that list she will pick her conceal carry.

    1. avatar Marlie Patton says:

      Excellent advice. I’ve been on the hunt for a gun show in my area.

  20. avatar Jason says:

    I don’t know if someone has suggested it yet, but my wife really likes the Ruger LCR. It’s small, light, has good grips and, most importantly, a double action trigger that’s incredibly smooth. So much so that it feels a lot lighter than it really is. If you haven’t found something you want to carry… check one out at a shop… I think you’ll be surprised.

  21. avatar mikeb302000 says:

    Marlie, I enjoyed reading your story very much too, but unlike all the others, I had a little doubt. Isn’t it possible that there is no danger, at least not the kind that requires a gun? You yourself said maybe those guys had bad intentions and maybe they didn’t.

    With reasonable precautions your chances of needing a gun to save the day are much lower than the chances that your gun is misused someday. Gun misuse can take many forms, some of them as devastating as the imaginary scenario that you frightened of.

    1. avatar Rokurota says:

      You give Ms. Patton too little credit. Between having it and not needing it and needing it and not having it, you would have her choose the latter? What’s the harm in owning and carrying a gun (or a cell phone or a flashlight or gum or feminine products), even if you don’t have stalkers following you (which Ms. Patton clearly stated she had at one point)? Now you have gone beyond advocating for “sensible gun control” and are trying to convince someone she should not consider a lawful non-scary-assault-rifle-likely-less-than-10-round purchase — someone who clearly intends to train and familiarize herself with the gun. This is not sensible gun control. This is zero-sum anti-gun sentimentality. Of course gun misuse takes many forms. And you assume Ms. Patton will perpetrate one or more of them? To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, that is so uncool.

  22. avatar Tim McNabb says:

    Take a look at the Beretta Bobcat 22 if a 22 is your thing.

    My wife packs a .38 642, but it does have a heavyish trigger. Ruger LCP is a shorter weapon and fires a .380 which punches harder than a .22 but is not as energetic as a 9mm.

    Felt recoil is going to matter, the tiny-niney guns are going to slap your hand like an angry nun. Heigh thee to a gun range that rents guns and actually shoot the guns you are considering.

  23. avatar Tom says:

    I think Marlie may want to look at buying a .22 pistol or revolver and go to a range and burn through a few bricks of ammo to get comfortable handling and carrying a handgun. Preferably the .22 would be sort of similar to the carry gun she may select.

  24. avatar Don says:

    Taurus makes a lightweight .22 magnum snub-nosed revolver which holds 8 rounds in the cylinder (it is the model 941). I got one for my tiny mother and she can sling it like a pro. I believe it to be adequate. Modern .22 magnum ammo made for short pistol barrels with heavier ballistic tipped projectiles should not be underestimated.

    This is the revolver:

    And this is the ammo:

  25. avatar Don says:

    I had another thought. If a DA trigger pull is problematic the sig p238 might actually make sense for you. This one is carried “cocked and locked” where the hammer is already back and a round is chambered. It has a manual safety (which is the “locked” part). Some people are nervous about this configuration, but it is really as safe as anything else if you carry it properly. (people who like the 1911 style pistols carry “cocked and locked” all the time. Some people will carry the unloaded gun around the house for a few weeks to help them to believe how safe this actually is). The benefit of something like this for you is that it is a relatively low recoil round (.380 acp) and it has a substantially lighter single action trigger pull, which sets it apart from other subcompact .380acp semi-automatics.

    Something like this you could also carry in a belly-band holster which would likely be better than a concealed carry handbag because then the gun is attached to your body at all times and you can not be easily separated from it.

  26. avatar Don says:

    hrm… i just posted a follow up again but it did not appear.

    I just had another thought. If a double action trigger pull is problematic, maybe consider the sig p238. This is a subcompact .380 acp semi automatic pistol with a single action trigger and a manual thumb safety. This style of pistol you carry with the hammer is back and a round in the chamber ready to go and the thumb safety ON. When you draw the gun you click off the thumb safety and then you have only a light SA trigger pull to contend with. Some people call this “condition 1” carry. While the sight of the hammer back may be intimidating, this style mechanism is as safe as a DA provided you carry the pistol in an appropriate holster and know how to operate it.

    Also maybe consider a belly band holster for this type of pistol. It is an option which allows you to keep the gun attached to your body at all times, which is better than having it in a separate bag which cold be grabbed or stolen.


  27. avatar Don says:

    Sorry for the multiple post. I think the phrase “cocked-and-locked” must have tripped some kind of comment approval thing because it has the word “cock” in it. That would be a good word to strike from a gun blog comment filter…


  28. avatar chantal says:

    Can someone tell where to find the green purse? Thank you for this video as soon as I get a purse I will practice. I practice at the range but this is very good advice!

  29. avatar SelousX says:

    I know it’s been a while since this was posted, but I hope you see it, Marlie.
    The Walther PPS may be worthy of consideration. It’s got a short trigger pull, and it comes in two flavors: 9mm Parabellum and 40 S&W. I’m quite fond of mine as my hands tend to run small for a man.
    Regardless, good luck and be well.

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