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Riding Armed

A frequent question posed by motorcycle travelers is whether or not they should carry a firearm on their road trip for personal protection, and if so, what kind. It is a question that does not have one answer that fits every situation. There are too many variables.

As a long time gun owner, shooter, and advocate of personal protection, I have always said that every American who can legally own a firearm should have the right to do so. But I always qualify that statement with the addendum that just because we should all have that right, it does not mean that all of us should exercise it. A firearm is a dangerous weapon, and in the wrong or untrained hands, it can cause far more harm than it ever can good.

Gun ownership carries with it a terrible responsibility. Only you can decide if you are willing and able to accept that responsibility. Before you make the decision to carry a gun, you must understand the legal ramifications that come with gun ownership and use. Understand that the possibility of ever having to use a firearm for self-defense is very remote, and that if you ever do, you will probably find yourself facing criminal prosecution to prove you were justified in your actions, as well as civil litigation from whoever you used the weapon against, or their heirs. You can be completely in the right and still face a prison sentence and years of legal battles and mountainous legal fees.  

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Be aware also that the emotional impact of using deadly force will stay with you the rest of your life. Are you willing to shoulder that responsibility? Only if you are completely aware of the consequences using, or even possessing a firearm can bring, and are completely willing to deal with those consequences, should you carry a gun in your travels.

Nobody should own a firearm unless they are well trained in its safe handling, as well as the circumstances where it can be legally used for defense. The laws vary from state to state, and you must comply with the rules where you happen to be at the time. Some states, including Arizona , will issue a concealed carry permit to non-residents who take the necessary training course, and the Arizona permit is valid in at least 24 states. The excellent www.usacarry.com website has a lot of information on the legalities of carrying a firearm in every state in the nation.

In some states, firearms laws are fairly easy to understand, and many states will issue concealed carry permits to residents who meet the legal criteria, pass a background check and training class. In other states, the mere possession of any firearm, even unloaded and carried in a case in your saddlebags, can lead to stiff penalties. Know before you go.

In over eight years on the road, and many nights spent camping in out of the way places, we have never felt threatened enough to feel the need to put a gun in our hands. That said, we also have a firearm or two within reach, and that has probably added to our sense of security. But long before I would ever consider using a gun against a threat, I would ride away from the situation if at all possible.

Having a firearm carries serious responsibilities. Make sure that it is unloaded and locked away out of sight when not carried on your person. If you stop at a shop for service, do not leave the gun in your backpack or saddlebags, where it is accessible to mechanics or service technicians.  

The first rule of firearms ownership is safety, while the second is discretion. Nobody has to know you have a gun, and the fewer who do, the better. Never display your weapon except when you feel a real threat to your life or safety. The rider who brandishes a gun to “scare away” suspicious characters is looking for trouble and will more than likely find it. That person you find suspicious may well be a fellow biker or local citizen out for an evening stroll to work the day’s kinks out of his back, or possibly even a police officer checking on the welfare of people parked in a roadside rest area. 

Even if someone is busily engaged in taking the luggage off your motorcycle, they are not a threat to your life. Move away, call the police on your cell phone, yell for help, do whatever you need to get assistance. Or, if you are outnumbered, fade into the background. Being a hero looks good on the movie screen, but getting stomped, or worse, is no fun in real life. Whatever you do, do not get into an armed confrontation. There is not a material thing in this world worth a human life. The only time I would consider using deadly force is when somebody is actually attacking me or directly threatening the lives of myself or someone else.

The type of firearms best suited for motorcycle travel are varied. Unlike in a house or apartment, where you can keep a shot barreled shotgun handy, your choices while traveling on a motorcycle are pretty much limited to handguns. Unfortunately, handguns carry the most severe penalties if discovered in states with strict gun laws. While you may be able to convince a policeman or judge that you have a shotgun for sport hunting in a motorhome, it’s hard to explain that you go after squirrels or ducks with a short barreled .38 revolver.

The type of handgun also varies with the user. What works for me may well not work for you. For a relatively inexperienced gun owner, my first recommendation would be a .38 revolver with a two to four inch barrel. It makes a combination that is relatively easy to carry concealed, easy to point, and accurate at close range. The four inch model would be the one I would suggest, since the shorter barrel revolvers lose some accuracy and bullet velocity.

I feel that any handgun less than .38 caliber is too small for defense, while most heavier caliber handguns are either too hard to control in inexperienced hands, or have the risk of over penetration that can harm innocent people nearby. Magnum calibers run too much risk of over-penetration to be considered in most situations.

Semi-automatic handguns are the favorite of the military and most modern police agencies, and the high capacity models are the current rage in all of the shoot-em-up Hollywood movies. That may be fine on the big screen, but in real life, if you can’t get the job done in two or three shots, you’re probably dead anyway. Semi-autos are harder to master and their safety features can confuse inexperienced shooters. Those who may have become familiar with semi-automatics in the military would probably feel more comfortable with their use than first-time gun owners. While the 9mm is popular in a semi-automatic handgun, a .40 or .45 delivers much more punch.

I recommend the use of Glaser Safety Slugs in handguns. They are designed to provide maximum stopping power while not penetrating bodies or walls to endanger people in neighboring motel rooms or vehicles. If Glasers are not available, my next recommendation would be hollow point or round nose bullets. Some people have told me they carry snake shot in their handguns for defense. Their feeling is that the small BB sized shot will ward off an intruder while not being lethal. To me, this is foolish thinking. If things get so bad that I have to use a firearm, I want it to stop the threat, not make somebody mad enough to do me even more harm.

Whatever you decide, if you do feel the need for a weapon, do your homework first. Go to a good gun shop and look over the selection. If possible, find a shooting range where you can try and compare several different firearms before you make your purchase. Then enroll not just yourself, but anyone you travel with, in a firearms safety course to become comfortable with your weapon.

And if worst comes to absolute worst, and you find yourself reaching for your firearm, first ask yourself if there is any way to avoid its use. If there is, choose the alternative.  

 

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