Concealed Handguns: To Carry or Not to Carry

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Two horrific school shootings this past year at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University have galvanized both “concealed carry” gun owners and firearms opponents, in verbal battles that are taking place across the country.

A recent Seattle P-I blog adds the University of Washington to the list of campuses debating the issue.

From what I can tell, there are two central viewpoints here:

1) Those who believe that “concealed carry” laws on campuses will allow responsible owners to bring an aura of safety should a shooter begin a rampage;

2) Those who think banning the weapons on campus outright (and limiting them elsewhere) will prevent said shooter’s access to get deadly weapons in the first place.

Washington’s concealed pistol law allows 235,795 people to carry (as of May 7), according to Department of Licensing spokeswoman Christine Anthony. In fact, the state even has an “open carry” law, in which gun owners can wear their weapons outside their clothing that may surprise you.


For more local recent history, think back to Nov. 20, 2005: the day a shooter opened fire on a crowd at the Tacoma Mall.

Police interviewed several people there that day who were card carrying concealed pistol holders. Many of them pulled their weapons; not one of them fired back at the 20-year-old who is now serving a 1,961 month sentence.

Brendan McKown, the man most injured by the 20-year-old’s bullets, had a concealed license himself. Here’s what the P-I wrote about his experience — and why he got a license.

“It’s a stupid statement, but I have a concealed weapons permit in case some idiot shoots up a mall,” McKown told the P-I.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this issue, so please, don’t be shy.

13 thoughts on “Concealed Handguns: To Carry or Not to Carry

  1. I am at a loss as to why these folks did not neutralize a shooter, especially since they would have been visibly armed at the time and more a target. I cannot second-guess them though as I was not there, and can only think it was an exercise in restraint where perhaps a clear shot was not possible.

    I am a concealed pistol license holder, and never venture out unarmed, ever. This is especially true at a place like the Tacoma Mall, a place I avoid when possible. I am happy to have never been put in the situation McKown and others found themselves in and hope to never be, but if I had the opportunity to take out an active shooter, I would do so, as I would consider it a moral imperative. That my inaction could result in more innocent victims is more than I’d be able to live with.

  2. I’m a reserve cop and also very rarely go out unarmed. When asked why I carry all the time, my answer is that “I have homeowners insurance even though I don’t expect my house to burn down. Why not have insurance to protect my life in case of criminal attack?”

  3. One clarification: Washington does not, in fact, have an “open carry” law. What we do have is the absence of any law banning open carry; thus (given our common-law heritage) open carry is legal by default.

  4. No-Gun zones are just designated “unarmed victim zones”. Law-abiding citizens become helpless fish in a barrel by these laws, and the signs just further advertise the fact. The criminals and nutjobs obviously aren’t afraid of breaking the laws against murder, assault, etc, the gun-free zone isn’t about to make them turn around in fear of prosecution. The central issue of any kind of gun control legislation will be that CRIMINALS BY DEFINITION DON’T OBEY THE LAW! The US Supreme Court has ruled that the police DO NOT have a duty to protect individuals from crime. I believe they still do their best to do so, but a common phrase used by those who legally carry weapons for self defense is “When seconds count, help is only minutes away”. As for guns on campus, under the law (administrative code actually) a citizen can be trusted/alllowed to carry a firearm in 99.99% of other public areas of town, but as soon as they cross onto a college campus as a student, suddenly they or their weapon become a threat to society. This makes no sense. If the argument is that ADULT college students don’t have the self-control or experience to safely handle a firearm on campus, we sure shouldn’t feel comfortable that these are the people who will be designing our bridges, buildings, medicines, etc.

  5. I have been licensed to carry a concealed pistol for eight years now, and I carry everywhere it is legal for me to carry my pistol. I am a law abiding citizen with no intentions on using my weapon unless I, or my family, a are in immediate danger of lost of life, or serious bodily injury. A license to conceal carry a firearm is not a license for anyone to kill, but it allows a person to protect their self, and their family.

    We hear all to often of people that have been attacked and killed, with the attack being unprovoked by the victim. In some cases if the victim would have being carrying a concealed pistol (legally), it could have possibility given him/her a chance of survival.

    Just because a person carries a pistol does not make them a bad person, and a threat to society. That person that carries understands that a criminal may have a pistol to do harm, and does not want to be defenseless for in protecting his/her family. Why would anyone every try to take a means of protection from a man or woman because of their personal opinion on firearms? It is sad but it happens all over America

  6. We all know that self-defense is the most basic human right. There can come a time in our lives when we have the responsibility to make the ultimate choice of self-defense for our family, ourselves, and other innocent citizens. For that moment, I choose to always carry concealed.

  7. “Police interviewed several people there that day who were card carrying concealed pistol holders. Many of them pulled their weapons; not one of them fired back at the 20-year-old who is now serving a 1,961 month sentence.”

    In my opinion this dismisses the pervasive myth that Concealed Pistol License (CPL) holders are “looking for someone to shoot”. The image of the CPL holder as a “lone ranger wannabe” is pushed very often by those who want to prohibit concealed carry but this instance clearly shows that CPL holders are properly cautious with their weapons. One of the four basic rules of firearm safety is, “be sure of your target and what is beyond it”, in other words, be darn sure that what you’re aiming at is what should be hit and be aware of what you risk hitting if you miss your target. It sounds to me that the CPL holders in the mall that day obeyed this rule very well. They were ready to defend themselves if they were given the opportunity to make a shot without risk to bystanders but such an opportunity did not present itself.

  8. Simply having a concealed carry license isn’t any guarantee that one is carrying at a given moment.

    Example: Tacoma Mall posts a restriction on concealed carry (most local malls include this in their policies).

    Given that posted private restriction, as a CPL holder I can either take my business else where, leave my firearm in a car where it can be stolen as Seattle Police Chief Kerlikowske’s was, or risk a trespass violation and hope that my preferred form of concealed is up to the task.

    To continue with our example, let us assume I have violated the private restriction and successfully carried a pistol that has remained properly concealed and suddenly a very bad person pops up out of the mall decor and starts shooting the place up.

    I don’t have magical powers or a magic wand, so there is no guarantee I’ll even be at the same end of the mall. I’m not a superhero or a cop, so my first responsibility is to get me and mine out of a newly dangerous place with a minimum of fuss and bother – not to abandon them and rush off to play superman.

    But to push the example yet further, let us assume our “very bad person” is 25 feet in front of me and dressed in dayglo orange for easy target acquisition, and yet farther, that there is no reasonable means of escape that does not expose me or those around me to incoming fire.

    I still don’t have some kind of magic paper descending from the heavens telling me “do as you will, for your cause is just and noble, and your strength and accuracy are as ten for your heart is pure.”

    At this point (aka, “it’s all gone bad, very bad”) I still need to at least attempt to maintain cover (for I am not bulletproof), extract my pistol from wherever it might be tucked away, identify our dayglo-orange clad very bad person, verify that there are not innocent bystanders in my line of fire or beyond our very bad person (who might then soak up over-penetrating projectiles) and then finally, if all the elements align, try and stop the very bad person from doing very bad things without myself or others getting unnecessarily injured.

    Throw in that the pistol I might be carrying on a given day may be chosen more for discretion and deep concealment than long range accuracy and I may still decline participation unless I come under direct fire (see: “oh crud, nothing to lose”) or the very bad person is unusually cooperative.

    In other words, having a CPL doesn’t turn one into a cop or grant one permission to hold some kind of showdown. It doesn’t burden you with some kind of cursed responsibility to do those things either.

    Finally, let us assume that all the elements align – our very bad dayglo orange clad person has clearly identified themselves as very bad indeed, wounded or killed several, seems to be continuing their antisocial plan, and steps in front of the potted plant I’m hiding behind – and I neutralize him.

    What do I get to look forward to? A minimum of a night in jail , even if I have a writ from God himself saying “He did the right thing, leave him alone”, a chance to spend a big bunch of money on an attorney to deal with the immediate matter at hand. Then, assuming local prosecutor accepts this mythical writ from the divine, I get to deal with the very bad persons friends and family – all moaning and crying that VBP was just misunderstood and that it was evil and cruel to shoot him, and there must of been some kinder/gentler way.

    At which point my life gets really interesting, as the opportunity arises (depending on inclination) for VBP’s family to sue for wrongful death (the attorneys bills are nearly as ruinous for the innocent as the guilty), and/or VBP’s best buddies feeling he was dreadfully misunderstood – decide that it’s time to correct my viewpoint by rather direct means.

    In short, a prudent CPL holder does not go “woohoo! Chance to play hero!” when faced with a violent nutcase of one sort or another and a lack of other options – the initial response is more likely “aw, #$^%^, no other way out of this, is there?”

    I made my decisions some time ago – aside from a brief stint in CA, I’ve held a CPL for about 20 years now, view resorting to force as a last desperate effort (not unlike fighting a house fire with a fire extinguisher – better than nothing, but a bad situation no matter what), and will be quite happy should I go to my grave not having perforated anything more controversial than innocent pieces of paper.

  9. The only time I am going to use my pistol is to protect those I love, otherwise it’s “nike defense” haul ass out of there. All you peace loving folks who hate guns can fend for yourself. Who wants to tied up in the legal system and deal with political motivated DA and destroy your own life and cause heartache to your family? Not me.

  10. Although a bit of a straw man, I think the problem with the assumption of
    argument number 2 above is obvious: no matter how many laws are on the books
    and no matter what their proscribed penalty, criminals will violate the law
    by their very definition. This is a good argument for concealed carry in
    general, but is especially applicable for arguing against “gun free zones”
    or, perhaps more appropriately, “victim rich zones.” This is because the
    only people who care enough to obey the law are the ones who would not
    commit crimes and take the time to go through the Concealed Pistol License
    (CPL) application process. Often, victim rich zones are established by
    simple rules, not even laws, that do not carry any legal penalty. The
    person can only be asked to leave the business, college campus, etc. This
    lends even more weight to the argument that “if guns are outlawed, only
    outlaws will have guns” because there is not even a legal penalty, meaning a
    fine or jail time, unless the person refuses to leave the premises, as they
    would then be trespassing.

    The argument for concealed carry is also logical when examined from an
    objective viewpoint of reason. This means emotion must be factored out of
    the equation. It is necessary to acknowledge that people are killed with
    guns and will continue to be as long as guns exist, just as people will be
    killed in car accidents as long as cars exist. However, it would be futile
    to attempt to ban and destroy all cars and the same holds true for firearms.
    Despite some firearms accidents, which are grossly over reported and
    exaggerated, John Lott shows in his research many more instances of lawful
    self-defense uses of firearms every year than there are accidents.
    Furthermore, CPL holders are statistically extremely unlikely to commit
    crimes, even less so than police officers in many cases and are often more
    accurate in identifying and neutralizing the correct target in self defense
    incidents than police officers (see these FBI statistics at
    http://www.concealedcampus.org).

    Given that guns are a reality for us in the United States, we must find a
    way to deal with the issue of firearms and self-defense. The answer, I
    argue, is not to disarm those law-abiding citizens who feel the need to
    protect themselves while doing nothing (for the reasons above) to keep guns
    out of the hands of criminals. I believe the answer is to let those law
    abiding citizens who would be armed, be armed! Armed citizens are not only
    able (and responsible and trained) to protect themselves and those around
    them, but also provide a deterrent effect against crime. Studies of
    criminals have shown that they choose the easy target, and are most likely
    to avoid potential victims whom they think are armed (also available on
    http://www.concealedcampus.org). According to statistics from crime studies
    (available at http://www.gunowners.org), the states with the least
    oppressive carry laws, namely Vermont and Alaska, also have some of the
    lowest crime and gun violence rates. Several states even allow those at
    least 18 years of age to obtain a CPL (most states have a 21 years of age
    requirement); even these states do not have excessively high rates of crime
    and firearm violence.

    The fact is, there is no evidence showing the CPL holders are a danger to
    the public, even in states like Oregon where permit holders can carry in
    K-12 schools, and therefore no reason to keep them from being armed where
    they will. In all likelihood, every person passes at least one, if not
    more, armed people every day by just walking to work or shopping in the
    grocery store. As noted above, those who choose to carry guns in their
    everyday lives are proven to be a deterrent to crime, are able to respond to
    crime when it occurs, and are no danger to the public, unlike criminals who
    would be the only ones armed under many anti-gun lobby proposals.

  11. I’ve been pretty liberal most of my life but the facts can’t be denied. Gun control doesn’t work. It doesn’t increase safety or deter crime. I now carry a sidearm but realize that with it comes responsibility.

    As for the Mall incident, even police officers freeze from time to time. Also, I’m betting in the back of their minds they were wondering if they’d be justified in shooting the man. The laws are very murky. Do they say, “Drop the gun?” Do they just shoot the man even in the back? Would you be willing to save someones life if you were going to jail for the next 5-10 years?
    While I still hold many liberal ideals even I have to admit that my side of the isle is not in touch with reality when it comes to gun laws.

  12. in response to Mr. Meyer’s comment, Washington has an RCW that covers legal action against a victim who has defended him/her self or others.

    RCW 9A.16.110
    Defending against violent crime — Reimbursement.

    (1) No person in the state shall be placed in legal jeopardy of any kind whatsoever for protecting by any reasonable means necessary, himself or herself, his or her family, or his or her real or personal property, or for coming to the aid of another who is in imminent danger of or the victim of assault, robbery, kidnapping, arson, burglary, rape, murder, or any other violent crime as defined in RCW 9.94A.030.

    (2) When a person charged with a crime listed in subsection (1) of this section is found not guilty by reason of self-defense, the state of Washington shall reimburse the defendant for all reasonable costs, including loss of time, legal fees incurred, and other expenses involved in his or her defense. This reimbursement is not an independent cause of action. To award these reasonable costs the trier of fact must find that the defendant’s claim of self-defense was sustained by a preponderance of the evidence. If the trier of fact makes a determination of self-defense, the judge shall determine the amount of the award.

    (3) Notwithstanding a finding that a defendant’s actions were justified by self-defense, if the trier of fact also determines that the defendant was engaged in criminal conduct substantially related to the events giving rise to the charges filed against the defendant the judge may deny or reduce the amount of the award. In determining the amount of the award, the judge shall also consider the seriousness of the initial criminal conduct.

    Nothing in this section precludes the legislature from using the sundry claims process to grant an award where none was granted under this section or to grant a higher award than one granted under this section.

    (4) Whenever the issue of self-defense under this section is decided by a judge, the judge shall consider the same questions as must be answered in the special verdict under subsection (4) [(5)] of this section.

    (5) Whenever the issue of self-defense under this section has been submitted to a jury, and the jury has found the defendant not guilty, the court shall instruct the jury to return a special verdict in substantially the following form:

    answer yes or no
    1. Was the finding of not guilty based upon self-defense? . . . . .
    2. If your answer to question 1 is no, do not answer the remaining question.
    3. If your answer to question 1 is yes, was the defendant:
    a. Protecting himself or herself? . . . . .
    b. Protecting his or her family? . . . . .
    c. Protecting his or her property? . . . . .
    d. Coming to the aid of another who was in imminent danger of a heinous crime? . . . . .
    e. Coming to the aid of another who was the victim of a heinous crime? . . . . .
    f. Engaged in criminal conduct substantially related to the events giving rise to the crime with which the defendant is charged?

  13. I think carrying a means of defense is a good idea.

    People proficient in martial arts don’t usually need anything else. It seems surprising that most of the populace hasn’t taken one form or another. It is a great sport and teaches self control and responsibility…

    A friend once carried her weapon -and a permit- everywhere she went.
    Once, pre 9-11 she was late getting to SeaTac in order to meet family coming in on an international flight.

    By the time she was through the people scan and reaching for her fanny pack a stranger appeared and politely asked her to step aside and talk with him. Soon several non uniformed men seemed to fill the area around her and the scanner conveyor belt.

    The fanny pack and her forgotten gun was held behind the counter…until she could leave the airport.

    She never forgot it again..
    Sharon O’Hara

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