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First Person

This is why I carry a gun

How a shocking murder led to a choice — and a secret community

Pamela is founder of the Facebook group Massachusetts Women Gun Owners.

Based on my job, education, and appearance — I’m a social worker, living in the Massachusetts suburbs — people often assume I’m anti-gun. They feel free to talk disparagingly about gun owners in front of me.

I tell them that most people would be surprised to learn how many of their friends and neighbors quietly own firearms. Including me.

I grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts. There were no guns in my house. I had uncles who hunted, but I never saw their guns. And I didn’t think about firing a gun myself until I joined the Air Force in 2002. 

I was just out of high school, had a strong desire to serve my country, and wanted to travel and figure out what to do with my life. I deployed in 2006 and 2007 to Iraq and Afghanistan, working in Security Forces — also known as Military Police — and was trained on a number of firearms. When I was on active duty, I carried a gun at all times.

When I returned to civilian life, I got a license to carry, but I wasn’t interested in carrying every day. Then someone who lives near me was murdered in the middle of day, while out for a run — sexually assaulted, her body burned. She was minding her own business, not doing anything wrong or dangerous. It made me realize that I’m responsible for my own safety. I can’t rely on anyone else. And even when I think I’m in a safe place, doing routine things, I might not be safe. 

I started the Facebook group Massachusetts Women Gun Owners eight days after the murder. Now, it’s a networking group with 803 members, composed of women of all ages, from younger women who are hoping to get their license to carry in the near future to grandmothers. We have women from all different career fields; librarians, real estate agents, teachers, law enforcement officers, hairdressers. We welcome people of any political affiliation. We do not talk politics, at all. But we try to keep our membership anonymous, to protect our families. We don’t want anyone with bad intent to know that we might have expensive guns in our home.

Anti-gun people don’t understand us. We want to be safe, like everybody else. We want our children to be safe. We carry firearms to do that.

The women in our group exchange recommendations, advice, and information about educational events. We talk about safe and effective options for women to carry daily: There are corsets, belly bands, and other holsters made for different locations on your body. Some attach to your bra; some go on your belt.

Now I hold a Massachusetts concealed carry permit and carry a small or mid-sized pistol for self-protection. I know the chances of ever needing to use it are incredibly low, almost non-existent. Carrying it is like having liability insurance. Except that insurance protects your assets. I’m doing this to protect my life.

It’s also to protect my son, who is now one year old. Of course, I’m concerned about his safety with a gun nearby. We keep our firearms locked and stored appropriately. When my gun is out of the safe, I keep it on my person in a holster. If I use a safe holster that covers the trigger, the chance of an accident is essentially zero: A properly functioning firearm can never fire without the trigger being pulled.

If I were wearing my gun and my son went to reach for it, I’d say, ‘No, don’t touch it, it’s not safe,’ and redirect him. As he grows, I’ll continue to talk with him about safety — not just around firearms but also knives, cleaning products, pets, anything potentially dangerous. This, to me, is the key to gun safety: taking precautions, following rules, and talking about the risks.

Of course, I’m disturbed by school shootings and urban violence. Something needs to be done. But what? A ban on guns — even certain types of guns — won’t solve the underlying problems. It’s a kneejerk reaction that prevents us from having meaningful conversations about the real issues, such as lack of parental involvement, teaching of morals, and causal influences that we aren’t aware of. And it would only take guns away from law-abiding people who use them to protect themselves.

I’m open to conversations about reasonable gun laws — though I also know that many of the laws we already have in place aren’t being enforced. I know that people convicted of gun crimes often receive lenient punishments. And I know that people who commit illegal acts often don’t care about laws, background checks, or restrictions. The Gun Owners Action League chronicles this on its Facebook page with the hash tag #MACourtFail.

The problem isn’t the weapons; it’s the people. Knives are the most common method of attack outside the United States. The outcomes are horrible. Huge numbers of people are still injured and killed in single incidents. Someone with intent to harm others will find a way.

This is what I tell my neighbors who assume I’m anti-gun. I try to change their perceptions, give them factual information, and counter any misinformation they may have heard or read. I find that if you don’t push your beliefs on them, it’s helpful. I keep emotions out of it. You can’t overwhelm someone with too much information. They won’t hear it at all and will likely become defensive, in my opinion, if you try to throw too much at them.

And yet gun owners are often demonized. Anti-gun people don’t understand us. We want to be safe, like everybody else. We want our children to be safe. We carry firearms to do that.

Most of us train regularly. We practice. We follow gun laws. We don’t put ourselves in harm’s way or think we’re somehow safer with a firearm. We avoid dangerous situations more often because we don’t want to fire our weapons.

I’d never want to take someone’s life to protect my own. I do everything I can to avoid confrontation. But if I thought my life was in danger, I would do whatever I needed to do to become safe. Including using my firearm.

As told to Kara Baskin.

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Illustration by Lehel Kovacs

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