By Marlie Patton
In 1997, I purchased my first firearm: a 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 who hunted deer for food.
That said, I’ve never had an aversion to firearms. I believed that responsible owners should be allowed to have firearms 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 at 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 citizens’ rights. In truth, I was the danger. Not the firearm.
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, and 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 the dog 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 an attacker if 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 I 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 LC9s, the Bersa Thunder and several others that I’ve tried in my local gun store.
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.