By Ryan McBeth
I’m a liberal and I own a handgun. There, I said it. I didn’t burst into flame. I don’t have a sudden urge to repress a homosexual, pay women less for the same amount of work, or cut a school lunch program.
More importantly, I don’t have the sudden urge to go out and shoot someone. Hell, I didn’t even have the urge to shoot anybody in Iraq, and I used to ride down roads that the insurgents really wanted to keep for themselves.
I came late to gun ownership. I grew up in Princeton, New Jersey – the kind of elitist town where all of my neighbors were college professors. I had the kind of friends whose fathers drove ancient, rusting Volvos and had elbow patches on their corduroy jackets. These were the kind of fathers who practiced looking bemused in a mirror while they smoked a pipe because it made them look scholarly. Princeton in the 80’s and 90’s wasn’t exactly a bastion of firearms ownership.
My only exposure to guns before the National Guard was a few trips up to a lake with my father, a .22 rifle and a few Pepsi cans. My father was far different from his academic peers. He was an engineer. He was practical. His work extended from the theoretical into the real world where it became physical knobs, lights and switches. He taught me how to use a rifle because he viewed riflery as a life skill – something even a Jewish kid from a liberal town should know because you never knew what life might throw at you.
Damnit, he was right. Life threw something at me about 15 years later when I stood at the top of the stairs in my Mt. Laurel condo and screamed at an intruder to get out of my house. I was a software engineer at the time, but I had joined the National Guard as an infantryman after high school in order to pay for college. I had about eight years of infantry experience that night and the most effective weapon in the house to defend my infant child and my beautiful wife was a large Mag Lite.
That one encounter in the stairwell of my Mount Laurel home left me terrified. Not only was I unable to defend my family, I realized that somebody had broken a pretty big social contract: you don’t go into somebody’s house without permission. If someone would break that social contract, what other social contracts would he break? Would he murder me? Would he rape my wife? Would he kill my infant child?
I was the kind of guy who used to scoff and smirk at the paranoia and subtle racism displayed by people who thought that a gun was a magical talisman that would keep the Hun outside the gates. I was wrong. Nothing clears the mind like a dump of adrenaline when glass breaks at 2AM.
Go to your kitchen and set the microwave timer for ten minutes, which is about the time it took for police to arrive that night. Think about what a criminal could do to you and your family in ten minutes if you had nothing to stop them. It’s a long ten minutes.
I went to buy a gun the very next day and I smacked directly into New Jersey gun laws. Like many liberals, I thought I could walk into a gun store and walk out with a machine gun. I was wrong. I wasn’t even allowed to walk out of a New Jersey gun store with a BB Gun unless I submitted to multiple background checks, character reference checks, a note from my employer and written permission from my wife.
The permitting process took a month, but I had a .40 caliber GLOCK in my hands the very same day my permits were ready at the police station.
The GLOCK is a fascinating weapon. It isn’t flashy. It’s made of dull black plastic. It will never win a beauty contest. This gun means business. One look at a .40 caliber GLOCK and you know that its only purpose is to make little lead rocks go fast enough to punch holes in meat.
I put the gun in a little bedside safe and resumed my life.
My wife and I practiced with the GLOCK about once every six months. She wasn’t a big fan of guns, but she was smart enough to know that if it was in the house, she needed to know how to use it. Shooting the GLOCK wasn’t that hard anyway – there is no external safety or complicated controls. You point it at the bad guy and keep pulling the trigger until he stops breaking the social contract.
We had some friends who looked at my wife like she was crazy. Even though all of our friends subscribed to the belief that women were the equals of men, there was some kind of sexist clause when it came to guns. There was this belief that women were far too submissive to ever use a gun in self-defense and the gun would just be taken from the woman and used against her.
My wife was the epitome of an entitled Jewish American Princess, but she always grimaced at that remark. I knew what she was thinking: “They might use the gun against me, but they’ll have to beat me to death with it because it’s gonna be empty and they’re gonna be bleeding.”
I spent the next few years only thinking about that gun every six months or so when it came time to practice. I wasn’t a “gun guy,” I was just a guy who owned a gun. Then something happened that turned one gun into many guns – I came back from a deployment to Iraq.
Four military deployments had taken a hefty toll on my marriage. Each deployment was like another slice into the rope that held my marriage together. My wife and I became like the electrons in an atom of helium – always in orbit, but always staying as far from each other as possible. She delved into the DVR, I got into guns.
I sold my GLOCK and bought a Beretta CX4 Storm. I bought a little single-shot .22 Boy Scout rifle to teach my son to shoot like my dad had taught me many years before. I bought a Beretta pistol – the same kind of pistol I carried around the FOB in Iraq. I read gun forums and gun blogs. I watched videos. I joined the NRA and NJ2AS. I went to the range every Tuesday night and every weekend. Looking back, I was going to the range as an excuse to get out of the house and away from my wife. I got into guns just to have a passion to distract myself from my fraying marriage.
New Jersey views gun owners only slightly better than sex offenders. Remember, this is a state where you need to get permission from your spouse when you want to buy a handgun. Can you think of any constitutional right that can be nullified by the whim of a spouse? Could your spouse legally prevent you from reading a book, voting, or getting an abortion? But in New Jersey, firearms have an almost mythical status. Guns are objects of scorn, not tools to keep food on the table or protect your family from harm. And in New Jersey the one facet of gun ownership most tightly controlled is carry.
And I wanted to carry.
I didn’t want to carry a gun out of fear for my life. I didn’t want to carry a gun because I carried a lot of cash or because I carried diamonds like my protagonist in Threesome. According to The Journal of Urology, my penis size is solidly on the apex of the bell curve, so there was nothing lacking in my manhood. I just wanted to carry a gun because it was the pinnacle of exercising a right in a free society. The First Amendment allows me to read any book I choose from Mein Kampf to The Gettysburg Address. What is the point of keeping arms if you can’t bear them?
New Jersey only has about 1,600 licensed concealed handgun permit holders out of a population of 8.7 million. Most of those permit holders are security guards. The rest are people who are connected – essentially the wealthy who know the right people or who can contribute to the right campaigns. Needless to say, I wasn’t going to carry a gun in New Jersey any time soon.
Enter Florida. I could get a Florida non-resident carry permit that was valid in 33 states and at the time one of those states was Pennsylvania. I put together my paperwork for a background check and six weeks later a carry permit arrived in the mail. I bought a Kel Tec PF-9 to celebrate.
From then on I carried whenever I went into Philadelphia. Yes, I would have to travel with the gun locked up while I was in New Jersey and I would have to disarm before I drove home, but I was exercising my right and that was good enough for me.
I finally divorced a few years later. My wife sold her jewelry to start her new life. I sold almost all of my guns. I got a new job. I bought a new house that needed remodeling. I started going to the gym again and dating professional Jewish women who considered anybody who even had remote knowledge of firearms to be mentally ill.
I still had my PF-9 and I still went to the range on occasion, but now range trips turned into a calculus of value. Did I want to go shooting for $50 or take a date out for drinks? I often erred on the side of sex. One day the Pennsylvania Attorney General banned non-resident Florida permit holders from carrying in the state and I haven’t carried a gun since.
I honestly don’t miss it. Carrying a gun is a pain in the ass. Even small guns are uncomfortable. You have to dress in a way that covers the gun. You have to think about how you reach for an item on a store shelf so your gun doesn’t show. If you ever use that gun, you are responsible for every bullet that is fired. You constantly walk around in “condition yellow” – a heightened state of alertness that can be exhausting. Now there is nothing wrong with being alert to your surroundings. Anybody who has seen people lumber around like zombies during the the Pokemon Go phenomenon can attest to this, but there is an element of bliss in my chosen ignorance.
The idea for this essay came to me a few days ago when I decided to take my first vacation in sixteen years. I decided I would drive from New Jersey to Florida with my girlfriend before taking a plane to Alaska where I would propose to her once we hit the airspace of the only state she has yet to visit.
I remembered that I still had my Florida permit. I checked the permit and it was still valid. Alaska requires no permit at all to carry a gun. So I was good in both states plus most of the states I planned to drive through anyway.
I was excited for a few minutes and then I realized something – I hadn’t carried a gun in years or practiced with it in months. I can’t remember the last time I practiced “the sweep” of lifting my shirt, drawing my gun and punching out to the target.
Would it be responsible of me to carry a gun if I hadn’t done this in years?
The answer was no.
Any kind of defensive gun use in Florida or Alaska wouldn’t be a simple case of shooting down the hallway of my home. It would mean using a gun at a gas station or convenience store when there are other people around and multiple variables in the equation.
If you are anti-gun, you probably have a smug look on your face right now because I made a point about the dangers of concealed carry that you’ve always wanted to make. If you are pro-gun, you probably are clicking your tongue and calling me a sheep. Either way, you need to stop. This is my choice. It’s a calculated, educated choice that I made after considering the risk profile of the trip and a personal assessment of my current skillset.
I’m still a liberal and I still want New Jersey to have the same right as 49 other states when it comes to concealed carry. But even if New Jersey reformed its carry laws tomorrow I still don’t think I would carry until I reached proficiency again.
In the end, all I want is the choice. But on this trip I’m leaving the gun and taking a cannoli for a snack on the way down.
This article originally appeared at ryanmcbeth.com and is reprinted here with permission.