Why I Carry a Gun

What Critics Don’t Understand About Gun Culture… I carry a weapon—and it’s tied me closer to my community.

DAVID FRENCH
Roanoke Firearms owner John Markell holds a Glock 9 mm pistol in Roanoke, Va., Tuesday, April 17, 2007. The gun is similar to the one sold in his gun shop 36 days ago to the Virginia Tech shooting suspect Cho Seung-Hui, for $571 (euro421) which included at box of 50 rounds of ammunition. (AP Photo/Don Petersen)

My wife knew something was amiss when the car blocked our driveway. She was outside our house, playing with our kids on our trampoline, when a car drove slowly down our rural Tennessee street. As it reached our house, it pulled partially in the driveway, and stopped.

A man got out and walked up to my wife and kids. Strangely enough, at his hip was an empty gun holster. She’d never seen him before. She had no idea who he was. He demanded to see me.

I wasn’t there. I was at my office, a 50-minute drive from my house. My wife didn’t have her phone with her. She didn’t have one of our guns with her outside. She was alone with our three children. Even if she had her phone, the police were minutes away. My wife cleverly defused the confrontation before it escalated, but we later learned that this same person had been seen, hours before, slowly driving through the parking lot of our kids’ school.

That wasn’t the first disturbing incident in our lives, nor would it be the last. My wife is a sex-abuse survivor and was almost choked to death in college by a furious boyfriend. In just the last five years, we’ve faced multiple threats—so much so that neighbors have expressed concern for our safety, and theirs. They didn’t want an angry person to show up at their house by mistake. We’ve learned the same lesson that so many others have learned. There are evil men in this world, and sometimes they wish you harm.

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Miles’s law states, “Where you stand is based on where you sit.” In other words, your political opinions are shaped by your environment and your experience. We’re products of our place, our time, and our people. Each of these things is far more important to shaping hearts and minds than any think piece, any study, or certainly any tweet. And it strikes me that many millions of Americans don’t truly understand how “gun culture” is built, how the process of first becoming a gun owner, then a concealed-carrier, changes your life.

It starts with the consciousness of a threat. Perhaps not the kind of threat my family has experienced. Some people experience more. Some less. And some people don’t experience a threat at all—but they’re aware of those who do. With the consciousness of a threat comes the awareness of a vulnerability. The police can only protect the people you love in the most limited of circumstances (with those limits growing ever-more-severe the farther you live from a city center.) You want to stand in that gap.

So you take a big step. You walk into a gun store. Unless you’re the kind of person who grew up shooting, this is where you begin your encounter with American gun culture. The first thing you’ll notice—and I’ve seen this without fail—is that the person behind that counter is ready to listen. They want to hear your experience. They’ll share their own. They’ll point you immediately to a potential solution. Often the person behind the counter is a veteran. Often they’re a retired cop. Always they’re well-informed. Always they’re ready to teach.

Your first brush with this new world is positive, but it’s just a start. The next place the responsible adult goes is to the gun range, a place that’s often located in the store. Sometimes you buy the gun and walk straight to the range. You put on eye protection. You put on ear protection. And if you’re honest with yourself, you’re nervous.

But, again, there’s a person beside you. They show you how to load the gun. They teach you the basics of marksmanship. They teach you gun safety. Always treat the gun as if it’s loaded, even if you think you know it’s not. Keep your finger off the trigger unless you intend to fire the weapon. Only point it at objects you intend to shoot.

You do it. You fire. It’s loud, but if the salesman has done his job, then he’s matched you with a gun you can handle. In an instant, the gun is demystified. You buy a box of ammunition and shoot it all. Then you buy another box. For most people there’s an undeniable thrill when they realize that they can actually master so potent a tool.

But something else happens to you, something that’s deeper than the fun of shooting a paper target. Your thought-process starts to change. Yes, if someone tried to break into your house, you know that you’d call 911 and pray for the police to come quickly, but you also start to think of exactly what else you’d do. If you heard that “bump” in the night, how would you protect yourself until the police arrived?  You’re surprised at how much safer you feel with the gun in the house.

Next, you realize that you want that sense of safety to travel with you. So you sign up for a concealed-carry permit class. You gather one night with friends and neighbors and spend the next eight hours combining a self-defense class with a dash of world-view training. And when you carry your weapon, you don’t feel intimidated, you feel empowered. In a way that’s tough to explain, the fact that you’re so much less dependent on the state for your personal security and safety makes you feel more “free” than you’ve ever felt before.  

And as your worldview changes, you expand your knowledge. You learn that people defend themselves with guns all the time, usually without pulling the trigger. You share the stories and your own experience with your friends, and soon they walk into gun stores. They start their own journey into America’s “gun culture.”

At the end of this process, your life has changed for the better. Your community has expanded to include people you truly like, who’ve perhaps helped you through a tough time in your life, and you treasure these relationships. You feel a sense of burning conviction that you, your family, and your community are safer and freer because you own and carry a gun.

It’s a myth that gun owners despise regulation. Instead, they tend to believe that government regulation should have two purposes—deny guns to the dangerous while protecting rights of access for the law-abiding. The formula is simple: Criminals and the dangerously mentally ill make our nation more violent. Law-abiding gun owners save and protect lives.

Thus the overwhelming support for background checks, the insistence from gun-rights supporters that the government enforce existing laws and lock up violent offenders, and the openness to solutions—like so-called “gun violence restraining orders” that specifically target troubled individuals for intervention.

Progressive policy prescriptions, like assault-weapons bans and bans on large-capacity magazines, are opposed because they’re perceived to have exactly the wrong effect. They’ll present only the most minor of hurdles for the lawless, while the law-abiding experience the law’s full effect. It’s a form of collective punishment for the innocent, a mere annoyance—at best—for the lawless.

Many gun-rights supporters were appalled to learn after the Sutherland Springs shooting that the military was systematically underreporting disqualifying convictions to the federal background check database. Under pressure, the military has added more than 4,000 new names in just three months. Similarly, law-enforcement failures or background-check failures that preceded, for example, the Virginia Tech, Charleston, Orlando, Sutherland Springs, and Parkland shootings are spurring serious new consideration of the gun violence restraining order, a move that would allow family members and others close to a potential shooter to get in front of a judge to request that the court direct law enforcement to temporarily seize a dangerous person’s weapons. It gives ordinary citizens a chance to “do something” after they “see something” and “say something.”

It’s against this backdrop of experience and sincere belief that gun-owners experience the extraordinarily toxic rhetoric of the public gun debate. People who want to stop murders are compared to terrorists. People who want to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands are compared to mass shooters. People are told they have “blood on their hands,” when they aspire to have all the courage that Broward County School Resource Officer Scot Peterson so clearly lacked.

And make no mistake, when it comes to rhetoric, the gun-owning community can give as good as it gets. A movement that’s kind and generous to its friends and allies turns instantly on its enemies, eager to believe the absolute worst about political opponents who are genuinely stricken by the carnage in places like Parkland and Sandy Hook.

Because of the threats against my family—and because I don’t want to be dependent on a sometimes shockingly incompetent government for my family’s security—I carry a weapon. My wife does as well. We’re not scared. We’re prepared, and that sense of preparation is contagious. Confidence is contagious. People want to be empowered. That’s how gun culture is built. Not by the NRA and not by Congress, but by gun owners, one free citizen at a time.

DAVID FRENCH is a senior writer at National Review and a veteran of the Iraq War.

Eddie Eagle & Firearm Safety for Children

“STOP! DON’T TOUCH. RUN AWAY. TELL A GROWN-UP.”

The Eddie Eagle GunSafe® program is a gun accident prevention program that for over 30 years has helped keep kids safe. The program was developed by a task force made up of educators, school administrators, curriculum specialists, urban housing safety officials, clinical psychologists, law enforcement officials and National Rifle Association firearm safety experts. It began in 1988 with one mission: teach children four simple, easy to remember steps so they know what to do if they ever come across a gun. In 2015 the NRA introduced a fresh, new Eddie and added some friends—his Wing Team. Though Eddie has evolved, his mission has not. Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, Eddie and his friends are still focused on telling children that if they see a gun, they need to Stop! Don’t touch. Run away. Tell a grown-up.

You talk about stranger danger, Internet safety, fire drills and more with children…so why not include gun safety? The program makes no value judgments about firearms, no firearms are ever used, and it covers an important topic that needs to be addressed with kids. Like swimming pools, electrical outlets and matchbooks, firearms are simply treated as a part of everyday life. With firearms found in about half of all American households, it’s a stance that makes sense.


A special kid-friendly webpage, called The Eddie Eagle Tree House is also available. This experience allows children to discover Eddie’s video and lesson individually, or it provides an interactive element for groups and families to talk through together. Visit www.eddieeagle.com to learn more.

Neither Eddie nor any members of his Wing Team are ever shown touching a firearm, and there is no promotion of firearm ownership or use. The NRA does not make any sort of profit off the program, nor does it intend to. The goal of the Eddie Eagle GunSafe® program is to help prevent accidents and keep children safe.

Meet Dr. Lisa Monroe

Eddie Eagle GunSafe® program instructor guides were created by early childhood curriculum specialist Dr. Lisa Monroe of the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Monroe’s accolades and accomplishments span for more than two decades, including multiple published works, presentations and grant projects. After a thorough review, she stands behind the Eddie Eagle GunSafe® program as something that should be taught in schools. Dr. Monroe shares her thoughts on Eddie Eagle and the accompanying instructor guides she created in three testimonial videos: 

About the Curriculum

Dr. Lisa Monroe created the Eddie Eagle curriculum guides with discussion questions and activities that allow teachers to cater the program to their students’ needs while still emphasizing the main safety message. Both parent and educator guides are available for age groups ranging from pre-kindergarten through fourth grade.

Creating a Message that Resonates

With five different characters and personalities represented, our hope is that all children will be able to see themselves represented in the Wing Team. Other relatable themes such as friends, sports, problem solving, peer pressure and doing the right thing make the Eddie Eagle video a teaching tool that children will latch onto and remember.

Advice for Non-Gun Owners

Even though you don’t own a gun, you may know someone who might. And it’s imperative that you prepare your children so they know what to do if they ever find a gun.

Talking to Other Parents

There are lots of questions when meeting new parents: Do you have a swimming pool? Will you be home? Any food allergies? But often it’s not the norm to discuss if there are firearms in the home. The moms share some advice on how to address this delicate topic.

The Eddie Eagle Video

Eddie Eagle and the Wing Team encounter a gun in a place that they didn’t expect. Eddie helps his friends decide what to do to stay safe by reminding them of his favorite song. The Wing Team makes the right choice, but they still have some questions about gun safety. So they look to adults they trust for answers. Pre-k through fourth grade children will find this video engaging with its catchy songs, dance moves and entertaining dialogue-but most importantly, they’ll know what to do if they ever come across a gun.

So before taking off today, let me introduce you to Eddie Eagle and his gun safety tips.

Firearm Safety

1. ALWAYS KEEP THE MUZZLE POINTED IN A SAFE DIRECTION

June is National Safety Month and Glock‘s annual “Follow the Four” safety pledge campaign is now fully underway. The campaign encourages each firearm user to follow the four basic rules of gun ownership.

This is the most basic safety rule. If everyone handled a firearm so carefully that the muzzle never pointed at something they didn’t intend to shoot, there would be virtually no firearms accidents. It’s as simple as that, and it’s up to you.

Never point your gun at anything you do not intend to shoot. This is particularly important when loading or unloading a firearm. In the event of an accidental discharge, no injury can occur as long as the muzzle is pointing in a safe direction.

A safe direction means a direction in which a bullet cannot possibly strike anyone, taking into account possible ricochets and the fact that bullets can penetrate walls and ceilings. The safe direction may be “up” on some occasions or “down” on others, but never at anyone or anything not intended as a target. Even when “dry firing” with an unloaded gun, you should never point the gun at an unsafe target.

Make it a habit to know exactly where the muzzle of your gun is pointing at all times, and be sure that you are in control of the direction in which the muzzle is pointing, even if you fall or stumble. This is your responsibility, and only you can control it.

2. FIREARMS SHOULD BE UNLOADED WHEN NOT ACTUALLY IN USE

Firearms should be loaded only when you are in the field or on the target range or shooting area, ready to shoot. When not in use, firearms and ammunition should be secured in a safe place, separate from each other. It is your responsibility to prevent children and unauthorized adults from gaining access to firearms or ammunition.

Unload your gun as soon as you are finished. A loaded gun has no place in or near a car, truck or building. Unload your gun immediately when you have finished shooting, well before you bring it into a car, camp or home.

Whenever you handle a firearm or hand it to someone, always open the action immediately, and visually check the chamber, receiver and magazine to be certain they do not contain any ammunition. Always keep actions open when not in use. Never assume a gun is unloaded — check for yourself! This is considered a mark of an experienced gun handler!

Never cross a fence, climb a tree or perform any awkward action with a loaded gun. While in the field, there will be times when common sense and the basic rules of firearms safety will require you to unload your gun for maximum safety. Never pull or push a loaded firearm toward yourself or another person. There is never any excuse to carry a loaded gun in a scabbard, a holster not being worn or a gun case. When in doubt, unload your gun!

3. DON’T RELY ON YOUR GUN’S “SAFETY”

Treat every gun as though it can fire at any time. The “safety” on any gun is a mechanical device which, like any such device, can become inoperable at the worst possible time. Besides, by mistake, the safety may be “off” when you think it is “on.” The safety serves as a supplement to proper gun handling but cannot possibly serve as a substitute for common sense. You should never handle a gun carelessly and assume that the gun won’t fire just because the “safety is on.”

Never touch the trigger on a firearm until you actually intend to shoot. Keep your fingers away from the trigger while loading or unloading. Never pull the trigger on any firearm with the safety on the “safe” position or anywhere in between “safe” and “fire.” It is possible that the gun can fire at any time, or even later when you release the safety, without you ever touching the trigger again.

Never place the safety in between positions, since half-safe is unsafe. Keep the safety “on” until you are absolutely ready to fire.

Regardless of the position of the safety, any blow or jar strong enough to actuate the firing mechanism of a gun can cause it to fire. This can happen even if the trigger is not touched, such as when a gun is dropped. Never rest a loaded gun against any object because there is always the possibility that it will be jarred or slide from its position and fall with sufficient force to discharge. The only time you can be absolutely certain that a gun cannot fire is when the action is open and it is completely empty. Again, never rely on your gun’s safety. You and the safe gun handling procedures you have learned are your gun’s primary safeties.

4. BE SURE OF YOUR TARGET AND WHAT’S BEYOND IT

No one can call a shot back. Once a gun fires, you have given up all control over where the shot will go or what it will strike. Don’t shoot unless you know exactly what your shot is going to strike. Be sure that your bullet will not injure anyone or anything beyond your target. Firing at a movement or a noise without being absolutely certain of what you are shooting at constitutes disregard for the safety of others. No target is so important that you cannot take the time before you pull the trigger to be absolutely certain of your target and where your shot will stop.

Be aware that even a 22 short bullet can travel over 1 1/4 miles and a high velocity cartridge, such as a 30-06, can send its bullet more than 3 miles. Shotgun pellets can travel 500 yards, and shotgun slugs have a range of over half a mile.

You should keep in mind how far a bullet will travel if it misses your intended target or ricochets in another direction.

5. USE CORRECT AMMUNITION

You must assume the serious responsibility of using only the correct ammunition for your firearm. Read and heed all warnings, including those that appear in the gun’s instruction manual and on the ammunition boxes.

Using improper or incorrect ammunition can destroy a gun and cause serious personal injury. It only takes one cartridge of improper caliber or gauge to wreck your gun, and only a second to check each one as you load it. Be absolutely certain that the ammunition you are using matches the specifications that are contained within the gun’s instruction manual and the manufacturer’s markings on the firearm.

Firearms are designed, manufactured and proof tested to standards based upon those of factory loaded ammunition. Handloaded or reloaded ammunition deviating from pressures generated by factory loads or from component recommendations specified in reputable handloading manuals can be dangerous, and can cause severe damage to guns and serious injury to the shooter. Do not use improper reloads or ammunition made of unknown components.

Ammunition that has become very wet or has been submerged in water should be discarded in a safe manner. Do not spray oil or solvents on ammunition or place ammunition in excessively lubricated firearms. Poor ignition, unsatisfactory performance or damage to your firearm and harm to yourself or others could result from using such ammunition.

Form the habit of examining every cartridge you put into your gun. Never use damaged or substandard ammunition — the money you save is not worth the risk of possible injury or a ruined gun.

6. IF YOUR GUN FAILS TO FIRE WHEN THE TRIGGER IS PULLED, HANDLE WITH CARE!

Occasionally, a cartridge may not fire when the trigger is pulled. If this occurs, keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Keep your face away from the breech. Then, carefully open the action, unload the firearm and dispose of the cartridge in a safe way.

Any time there is a cartridge in the chamber, your gun is loaded and ready to fire even if you’ve tried to shoot and it did not go off. It could go off at any time, so you must always remember Rule #1 and watch that muzzle!

Discharging firearms in poorly ventilated areas, cleaning firearms or handling ammunition may result in exposure to lead and other substances known to cause birth defects, reproductive harm and other serious physical injury. Have adequate ventilation at all times. Wash hands thoroughly after exposure.

7. ALWAYS WEAR EYE AND EAR PROTECTION WHEN SHOOTING

All shooters should wear protective shooting glasses and some form of hearing protectors while shooting. Exposure to shooting noise can damage hearing, and adequate vision protection is essential. Shooting glasses guard against twigs, falling shot, clay target chips and the rare ruptured case or firearm malfunction. Wearing eye protection when disassembling and cleaning any gun will also help prevent the possibility of springs, spring tension parts, solvents or other agents from contacting your eyes. There is a wide variety of eye and ear protectors available. No target shooter, plinker or hunter should ever be without them.

Most rules of shooting safety are intended to protect you and others around you, but this rule is for your protection alone. Furthermore, having your hearing and eyes protected will make your shooting easier and will help improve your enjoyment of the shooting sports.

8. BE SURE THE BARREL IS CLEAR OF OBSTRUCTIONS BEFORE SHOOTING

Before you load your firearm, open the action and be certain that no ammunition is in the chamber or magazine. Be sure the barrel is clear of any obstruction. Even a small bit of mud, snow, excess lubricating oil or grease in the bore can cause dangerously increased pressures, causing the barrel to bulge or even burst on firing, which can cause injury to the shooter and bystanders. Make it a habit to clean the bore and check for obstructions with a cleaning rod immediately before you shoot it. If the noise or recoil on firing seems weak or doesn’t seem quite “right,” cease firing immediately and be sure to check that no obstruction or projectile has become lodged in the barrel.

Placing a smaller gauge or caliber cartridge into a gun (such as a 20-gauge shell in a 12-gauge shotgun) can result in the smaller cartridge falling into the barrel and acting as a bore obstruction when a cartridge of proper size is fired. This can cause a burst barrel or worse. This is really a case where “haste makes waste.” You can easily avoid this type of accident by paying close attention to each cartridge you insert into your firearm.

9. DON’T ALTER OR MODIFY YOUR GUN, AND HAVE GUNS SERVICED REGULARLY

Firearms are complicated mechanisms that are designed by experts to function properly in their original condition. Any alteration or change made to a firearm after manufacture can make the gun dangerous and will usually void any factory warranties. Do not jeopardize your safety or the safety of others by altering the trigger, safety or other mechanism of any firearm or allowing unqualified persons to repair or modify a gun. You’ll usually ruin an expensive gun. Don’t do it!

Your gun is a mechanical device that will not last forever and is subject to wear. As such, it requires periodic inspection, adjustment and service. Check with the manufacturer of your firearm for recommended servicing.

10. LEARN THE MECHANICAL AND HANDLING CHARACTERISTICS OF THE FIREARM YOU ARE USING

Not all firearms are the same. The method of carrying and handling firearms varies in accordance with the mechanical characteristics of each gun. Since guns can be so different, never handle any firearm without first having thoroughly familiarized yourself with the particular type of firearm you are using, the safe gun handling rules for loading, unloading, carrying and handling that firearm, and the rules of safe gun handling in general.

For example, many handgun manufacturers recommend that their handguns always be carried with the hammer down on an empty chamber. This is particularly true for older single-action revolvers, but applies equally to some double-action revolvers or semiautomatic pistols. You should always read and refer to the instruction manual you received with your gun, or if you have misplaced the manual, simply contact the manufacturer for a free copy.

Having a gun in your possession is a full-time job. You cannot guess; you cannot forget. You must know how to use, handle and store your firearm safely. Do not use any firearm without having a complete understanding of its particular characteristics and safe use. There is no such thing as a foolproof gun.


Hunting and target shooting are among the safest of all sports. This list is intended to help you make them even safer by emphasizing the basics of safe gun handling and storage and by reminding you that you are the key to firearms safety.

You can help meet this responsibility by enrolling in hunter safety or shooting safety courses. You must constantly stress safety when handling firearms, especially to children and non-shooters. Beginners, in particular, must be closely supervised when handling firearms with which they may not be acquainted.

Don’t be timid when it comes to gun safety. If you observe anyone violating any safety precautions, you have an obligation to insist on safer handling practices, such as those on this site.

Follow the safety procedures outlined here, develop safe shooting habits, and remember, firearms safety is up to you.

MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT!