A black-and-white photo of a gun.

Why I Don’t Own a Handgun


A version of this story ran in the May 2016 issue.

The arms race is escalating again. Despite historically low crime rates and an improving national economy, more and more Texans are arming themselves. Applications for gun licenses have surged in the last few months, bringing the total number of Texans with handgun permits to just under 1 million. In 1996, just 1 in 168 Texans had a concealed handgun license, according to the Dallas Morning News. In 2015, about 1 in 30 did. And not just any piece will do any more. We want more firepower; we want it to be “tactical”; and we want to ash it. (Thanks to the open carry law that went into effect on January 1, you can now wear your gun, as the Townes Van Zandt lyric goes, outside your pants for all the honest world to feel.)

Former land commissioner and author of Texas’ concealed carry law Jerry Patterson captured the current mood nicely: “I used to carry a .380. Now I carry a 9 millimeter,” he said. “I’m just like every other idiot. I don’t think my .380 is big enough.” Big enough for what? Did I somehow miss the impending ISIS invasion or the stampeding of angry water buffalo down I-35?

At some level, I understand the impulse to take up arms. One Halloween night, some years ago, a man came into the bedroom where my girlfriend and I were sleeping. He fled as soon as she began screaming. We never got a good look at him, though the police were able to pull fingerprints and arrest the intruder, a homeless man with a criminal record. It was a terrifying experience — the kind that makes you think long and hard about how to protect yourself.

I was told by the men in my life to buy a gun — that was the responsible thing to do. But after a lot of thought, I decided there was one principal reason I wouldn’t buy a handgun: I don’t want to live in fear. I know that sounds strange — a gun is supposed to bring peace of mind. But to keep a piece at your side is to look at the world through gunsights. It’s a profoundly anti-social posture. To me, carrying a handgun is an acknowledgement of weakness, not strength. It’s an admission that you’re out of ideas for how to deal with people, even those — especially those — who mean you harm. It’s a failure of imagination, a failure of wits and, in the case of open carry, a threat of violence to every passing person.

What are the chances you’ll ever need your gun? Statistically, slim to none. Such heroic gunslinger moments are the stuff of Hollywood and NRA propaganda. More likely, your gun will end up the instrument of pointless death. I’ll end this where Molly Ivins did in a 1993 column about gun control: “You want protection? Get a dog.”

[Featured image: Thomas Hawk/flickr/creative commons]