The Cornered Cat
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A Better Holster, Part Three

For the past few days, we have been talking about what makes a “good” holster. To catch up, click here for the series introduction. Then go on to read Part One and Part Two.

As I have already said, the first thing that might make a good holster “better” is when it performs one of the three basic requirements in a more consistent, more reliable, or more durable form. We have already discussed ways to improve the first non-negotiable, protecting the trigger.

Now let’s take a look at the second non-negotiable:

“A good holster holds the gun securely.”

In daily life, we trust the holster to keep the gun’s trigger covered while we move around and do things. We expect it to hold the gun in the same orientation no matter how we move. We rely on it to keep the gun from falling out even if it gets inadvertently tipped upside down and shaken gently during a visit to the rest room (we can check that using the tip test). Because these basics are really yes/no — the holster either does them or it does not — we can’t expect any given holster to truly improve on these basic requirements.

Or can we?

Many users find it comforting when the holster includes a retention strap or some other user-operated way to keep the gun in place. A “better” holster may or may not include these features, but if it does, the added features will not create new problems for the user.

For example, I have seen some thumb break retention straps that can easily get into the trigger guard when the user goes to holster the gun. Can I just say, right here, that that’s a bad thing? We have enough to do keeping our clothing (and its buttons, toggles, and strings) clear of the holster. Adding one more item to clear before holstering seems to me like a step in the wrong direction. That doesn’t make the holster better, but worse.

In a similar way, some holsters designed to hold the gun more securely might also make it difficult to draw the gun in certain circumstances. Or they might make the holster bulkier or harder to conceal.

Worse, some “improvements” to a basic holster design actually make the holster less safe, because they disable safeties on the gun. If you’ve ever seen a retention strap that goes right across the grip safety and holds it down, you know what I’m talking about.

When looking for a better holster, always look to make sure that any added features do not create added problems for yourself. A holster that disables one of the safeties on the gun is a non-starter. That’s a failure of “holding the gun securely” at a pretty basic level.

But other issues might sometimes be acceptable, in some circumstances. So if you choose a holster that does seem to create added problems, be sure that those problems are ones you 1) are aware of, and 2) are willing to work around. 1 Denial does not make a good holster out of a bad one.

Also, take it seriously when you hear experienced instructors warning their students about problems they have seen with a specific holster design. Although it’s tempting to feel as though the instructors are just being “holster snobs” when you hear these warnings, that may not be the case. When several instructors have sounded the alarm about a specific design, it is often because they have each seen many different students working with that gear — and have observed first hand the problems that some students have run into. Because firearms trainers get a front row seat to watch many different people using holsters, they often spot issues that might not be obvious to those who have not had the opportunity to see many different people working with different types of gear.

One more point, and this is a big one: holding the gun securely with the trigger completely protected is a non-negotiable because otherwise the gun is a danger to others. We do not get to endanger others simply because we want to keep ourselves safe.

Tomorrow we will look at ways to improve upon the third non-negotiable: accessing the gun when you need it.

***

Can’t wait for tomorrow’s post? Want the bottom line right now? Sure, here it is:

  • A good holster protects the trigger, holds the gun securely, and allows the user to access the gun when they need it. (These are the non-negotiable, bare minimum things a holster must do. A holster or carry product that does not do these things is not a good holster, no matter how much it costs or who recommends it.)
  • A better holster does one or all of these things better than the bare minimum.

But the details matter, too. Tune in tomorrow!

 

Notes:

  1. I bolded the word “work” because many design features require extra training and practice on the part of the user. Passively accepting that there is an added challenge, without doing the work to soften the effects of that challenge, is not wise. Do the work!
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A Better Holster, Part Two

For the past few days, we have been talking about what makes a “good” holster. To catch up, click here for the series introduction, and then click here to read Part One.

As I said yesterday, the first thing that might make a good holster “better” is when it performs one of the three basic requirements in a more consistent, more reliable, or more durable form. Let’s take a look at the first non-negotiable:

“A good holster covers the trigger guard completely with something sturdy enough to keep it from moving.”

Where a good holster covers the trigger guard completely with something sturdy enough to keep the trigger from moving when something brushes against the outside of the holster, a better holster might be a little over-engineered in that area. This is one big advantage that almost any hard-sided, non-collapsing holster has over most soft products (such as belly bands).

Covering the trigger is one thing, but protecting it is something else. Protecting the trigger means the trigger cannot move even if something (or someone) brushes against the outside of the holster. This is non-negotiable because the user nearly always goes on to think about other things once they’ve holstered the gun. Since there’s no responsible adult paying close attention to protect the trigger from unintentional movement, we must trust the holster to do that job for us.

Of course, any soft product can be created from material stiff enough to protect the trigger by itself. But every soft product will eventually break down in a way that softens the material over time. Adding something stiff to the product, such as a piece of hard plastic that can be slipped into a pocket to protect the trigger area, can keep the trigger protected a little bit better.

An even more reliable choice for protecting the trigger would be building the gun-holder entirely from something stiff enough to keep the trigger from moving (such as Kydex). That change would also make the product  durable enough to last much longer, too. Improving the reliability and durability of the trigger protection makes the holster better.

Does this mean soft-sided products, like belly bands and corset holsters, are inherently “bad”? Nope. Not at all. As long as they protect the trigger well enough to prevent it from moving, they’re already doing the basic job of a good holster. Protecting the trigger more reliably, in a more durable form, just makes a good holster better.

Tomorrow: can features intended to improve holster security actually create safety problems?

***

Can’t wait for tomorrow’s post? Want the bottom line right now? Sure, here it is:

  • A good holster protects the trigger, holds the gun securely, and allows the user to access the gun when they need it. (These are the non-negotiable, bare minimum things a holster must do. A holster or carry product that does not do these things is not a good holster, no matter how much it costs or who recommends it.)
  • A better holster does one or all of these things better than the bare minimum.

But the details matter, too. Tune in tomorrow!

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A Better Holster, Part One

A few days ago, I blogged about what makes a “good” holster — and especially, about the dynamics that drive some of the bewildered (and sometimes angry) conversations between people within the firearms training community and their students.

Today, I’m thinking about the type of questions people ask when they are choosing between two carry options that both meet the three basic requirements for a good holster. Once the non-negotiable needs have been met, how do we choose between carry products? What makes one holster better than another?

It’s tempting to say that it all comes down to personal choice. And there’s no doubt that personal choice and personal priorities do play a big part when it comes to secondary concerns. But fair warning: although I’m a big fan of people making up their own minds about stuff, and setting their own priorities, I’m also a big fan of making choices based on solid evidence.

This means that I do think there are some holsters that are objectively “better” than others, especially in how well they meet these primary needs. This isn’t an insult or a personal attack against anyone’s taste in holsters or other carry gear. It’s simply a matter of making careful and well-informed choices in our personal defense equipment.

Of course, any one of us might sometimes choose the objectively less-good option for our own quirky reasons. And that’s okay. We tend to want to jump between saying either, “This is the best holster EVER and EVERYONE SHOULD USE IT, YAY!!” or, “This holster is the devil and will GET YOU KILLED ON THE STREETS IF YOU EVEN LOOK AT IT, YO.”

But real life isn’t always quite that black and white, and most holsters fall somewhere in between those extremes. And again — that’s okay. As long as the three non-negotiable basic needs have been met, it’s all gravy after that. 1

At the same time, I think it’s very, very important that we’re aware of what we’re gaining and what we’re giving up with each of the choices we make. That way, we’re more likely to notice (and change) when it’s time to do something different.

So, what makes one holster better than another? To my way of thinking, the first thing that might make a holster “better” is when it performs one of the three basic requirements in a more consistent, more reliable, or more durable form. This is not the only thing that might make a holster “better,” but it’s a good place to start.

More about that tomorrow.

***

Can’t wait for tomorrow’s post? Want the bottom line right now? Sure, here it is:

  • A good holster protects the trigger, holds the gun securely, and allows the user to access the gun when they need it. (These are the non-negotiable, bare minimum things a holster must do. A holster or carry product that does not do these things is not a good holster, no matter how much it costs or who recommends it.)
  • A better holster does one or all of these things better than the bare minimum.

But the details matter, too. Tune in tomorrow!

Notes:

  1. Do I really need to add here that the reason these basics are “non-negotiable” is because a holster that fails to protect the trigger, hold the gun securely, or allow the user to access the gun really can get a person killed? We can joke around with some of this stuff, but never forget that we really are talking about stuff that can seriously hurt or kill someone if we get it wrong.
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Holster Conversations

It seems to me that a lot of times we-in-the-training-community think we are helping people make a choice between a barely functional holster or an excellent one.

But from the other person’s perspective, they are actually making a choice between an affordable, readily-available holster or leaving the gun at home.

This mistaken understanding of the options on the table often leads to confusion and resentment on both sides of the conversation.

This confusion sometimes leads to a bit of resentful mockery: “Why won’t you foolish people use the gear we recommend??!” vs “Why do you people keep acting like snobs in your gear recommendations!?”

(I truly hope that I have never fallen into either one of those traps, but being human it’s very, very likely that I have.)

But this whole thing is one reason I spend so much time educating people about the very basic functions of a carry holster. Any product designed to carry a gun for defensive use in ordinary life must do these basic things:

  • Cover the trigger guard completely with something sturdy enough to keep the trigger from moving if something brushes up against the outside of the holster;
  • Hold the gun securely enough that we can trust that the trigger will stay covered at all times, that the gun will stay in the same orientation at all times, and that the user can visit the bathroom without having to take the gun out of its carry location (so that the gun will reliably not fall to the floor if the holster gets inadvertently tipped upside down and shaken gently); and
  • Allow the user to access the gun when they need it.

These are the non-reducible minimums for safe and responsible concealed carry. As long as a proposed holster does all these things, it is a “good” holster.

After those minimums are met, we can start talking about the benefits and trade offs of specific holsters and carry methods. We can discuss hard-sided versus soft-sided options (and yes, there are ways to protect the trigger when wearing a soft product). We can debate “How fast is fast enough?” when it comes to accessing the gun. We can measure the speed differences between carry designs worn in different places on the body.  We can talk about durability of design and materials. We can discuss minor differences in design that make a big difference in speed, comfort, or concealability.

But none of those things matter until the minimums are met.

And once the minimums are met? It’s all gravy.

***

This post is the introduction to a series of posts about choosing better holsters. So far, we have published Part One, and Part Two, and Part Three. More to follow!

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Confidence in Carrying

The question comes up surprisingly often, even from people who have had their carry permits for a long time: “How can I get confident enough to actually carry the gun in my daily life?”

It’s a tough question and I’m not going to make light of it. Sometimes, people are even reluctant to ask it, for fear that People Like Me will make fun of them or look down on them. Nothing could be further from the truth — at least as far as I’m concerned. I know that the journey into armed self-defense is a tough one, and a very personal one. It’s a big step and often a very big shift in mindset. It’s not an easy journey.

That’s all … normal. The individual struggle and specific concerns that might lead you to ask the question, that’s all your own. But it’s pretty common for someone to get their concealed carry permit one year, and then three years later still never have carried the gun in public.

So for me, over the years it’s become fairly common to hear questions from people who really want to carry, but who also worry about the practical issues surrounding concealed carry. That might be worries about firearm safety around children, concerns about the impact on work and social life if someone unexpected finds out, worries about finding a holster that holds the gun securely enough that they won’t have to think about it, or worries about the everyday safety of carrying with a round in the chamber… and the list goes on.

It ends up sounding pretty self-serving when I tell people the honest truth in response to such questions, but it’s true anyway. Here it is.

The best way to become confident with carrying is to take a really good class. Not just a “this is the end the bullet comes out” (aka Basic Pistol) class, and not just the type of class that certifies someone to get their carry permit. I’m talking about the type of class that comes after those foundational experiences and builds on them.

Unfortunately, such classes are not cheap, and they do take some commitment. Making the logistics work when you have a little one can be tough, and it can be even tougher when you have more than one little one. I’m not denying any of that. In fact, let me emphasize it, right here:

Getting yourself into a really good class takes commitment. I am not lying about this. Good classes cost money (around $200/day per student seems to be the industry standard). It takes money to buy the ammunition for such classes. It takes money to buy gear, including things like extra magazines for the gun. There’s also the cost of travel to get there, and the cost of hotel rooms and meals out. A lot of times, getting into a class means taking time off work. For people paid by the hour, that’s a significant barrier. Even to someone on a salary it can be a big loss, because vacation time matters.

More than the financial cost, though, there’s the practical cost. I’m talking about time away from your family. The hassle of arranging child care, including annoying “details” like who’s going to cheer the kid on during the big soccer or basketball game that you’re going to miss. This practical cost goes up significantly if your significant other doesn’t fully support what you’re doing. And let’s not even talk about the cost to people who don’t have a significant other, but do have young children. The cost of child care goes way up, and the ease of arranging it goes way down. Add in a hefty splash of mom-guilt or dad-guilt, and it may seem easier just to stay home.

The commitment matters. If taking a class is such an expensive, high-commitment hassle, is it really worth it? I believe it is.

The advantage of doing things this way — remember, we’re still talking about developing enough confidence to actually carry the gun — is that in a lot of ways, it’s like  planting a flag on territory you’ve battled to take: THIS is what I’m going to do now. I WILL protect myself and my family, and I WILL do what it takes to make that happen. The internal and external commitment of a specific time and place to start making that happen can go a long way toward building the confidence to make it happen.

On the practical and logistic side, a good class will teach you how to handle the gun with confidence so you not only know how to make it work when you need it, but you also know that you know how to make it work when you need it. A good class can help bring some questions to the front of your mind that you haven’t yet realized you should be asking (if I could tell you what those are right now, I would — but everyone sparks on different things). It can help you get a better understanding of how the legal system deals with cases of self defense, and it can give you much better skills with whatever holster(s) you decide to use.

All of that knowledge helps you learn to trust yourself and the decisions you make — both in the long term about choosing holsters and other gear, and in the immediate moment of needing to make decisions under stress when you face danger.

And there’s one more thing.

Physical confidence comes from physical activities. Just getting to the range to practice on your own can help (and I highly recommend doing that on a regular basis). But solo practice helps build confidence a whole lot more when we know what to practice, and why, and how. That’s where a good class comes in: it shows us what to practice, and why, and how.

A good class moves you through the physical motions of carrying the gun. All weekend long, you handle the firearm while doing a wide variety of things: standing, moving around, peering around a wall, kneeling, using just one hand or using both hands. You gain physical practice at manipulating the gun so that your hands know how to make it work just as well as your brain does. You wear the gun in its holster all weekend, including everyday-ish things like eating lunch or using the bathroom. And you do all these things with easy, immediate access to someone who can help you figure out how to do them in the safest possible way. You gain the type of physical confidence that comes only from physical activity.

There’s really no substitute for it.

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What’s the point of this activity?

Teaching students how to shoot well and how to manipulate the gun is only the beginning of defensive handgun training. But many people treat it is though it were the entire goal of training – the end point which, once reached, means the student has nothing more to learn. Maybe a bit of regular practice, but that’s about it.

Of course, you and I know that’s not true. We know that teaching students to shoot and handle the gun only paves the way for them to learn the essential skills of self defense, in the same way that learning to walk prepares a child to play hide’n seek, or jump rope, or walk into the kitchen and take out the trash. The kid learns to walk so they can do all the other things they want or need to do in the world. Walking isn’t the goal in itself, just the first (and truly needed) step in the right direction.

How would it be if, when we taught a child to walk, we never encouraged or allowed them to move on to those other applications?

What if we never showed a child what their ability to walk could be used for? Never showed them how to run, or kick, or jump, or climb a tree? Would it help a child’s ultimate independence and ability to do those other things if instead of doing those things with them, we kept the kid in a perpetual state of improving their skill at walking? If we measured and categorized every step they took, telling them all the different ways they could improve their walking performance? “Kiddo, look, your step-to-step times can be improved if we just eliminate a little wasted motion right at the top of that left leg swing…” We might even put together little contests for them with their other friends, where we tightly scripted and carefully measured their walking skills, with stages that emphasized foot flexion, leg extension, stride length, being able to balance on one leg or the other, and so on.

In many ways, that’s what a lot of trainers do with their students. Instead of helping their students see the vast world of application that naturally follows from learning to shoot well and handle the gun safely, they and their students get stuck chasing incremental improvements in the base skill set. Split times and reload speeds fill their world. Meeting and exceeding the standards designed to measure technical performance becomes more important than learning how to solve the problems the skill set enables them to now solve. Learning to walk has become an end in itself.

Others make the opposite mistake, and fail to teach their people how to walk before encouraging them to run, play hopscotch, or jump on a trampoline. If the kid hasn’t even learned to walk yet, it’s really hard to get them engaged in a good game of tag. In the same way, a student who hasn’t learned to handle the gun safely on a static range is unlikely to handle it with safe efficiency during a violent encounter. A person who cannot reliably hit a eight-inch circle on unmoving cardboard at five yards isn’t likely to do any better when the target moves, talks, and violently assaults the innocent. Learning the basic skill set forms a critical foundation to doing those other things.

And doing those other things is the point.

Both are needed, of course. Help the kid learn to walk, then teach them how to apply that skill to the other things they want to do. Get the students shooting effectively and handling their guns safely, then show them how to apply those skills to a much wider world.

Learning to shoot well and handle the gun safely opens up the world so you can learn how to defend yourself. It’s not the goal in itself.

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Always

Tragic and avoidable situation in the news: during a CCW class, a student fired a gun through a classroom wall, killing the gun shop owner on the other side of the wall.

From the 911 transcript: “We were doing malfunction misfires and we have plastic bullets and we just, I just, we just double-checked the bullets and there was a live round in one of the guns and it went through the wall and shot the owner in the neck.”

This week, the instructors in that class were indicted — one of them for Reckless Homicide, and the other for Negligent Homicide.

So here we go again with a huge chorus of instructor voices online, yelling “NO AMMO IN THE CLASSROOM!” as though that would have prevented this tragedy. It would not. Relying on a single point of failure would not, did not, and could not stop this sort of tragedy from happening.

The No-Ammo rule is supposed to be an extra, additional, utterly redundant layer of safety, not a replacement for any one of the core safety rules.

This man could not have died if the core safety rules were being followed. Since these were NRA-certified trainers, here is the first of the safety rules that should have been taught and respected inside that classroom.

NRA rule: “ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.”

Not sometimes. Not if it’s not too hard, too inconvenient, too much of a hassle. Always.

Safe gunhandling within the core safety rules includes using a safe direction that definitely will stop a bullet from the most powerful cartridge the firearm is able to launch.

When the No-Ammo rule is treated as a replacement for safe gunhandling procedures, it actually *reduces* overall safety. That’s because it flattens the multi-layered core safety rules down to a single point of potential failure: “Oh, it’s okay, the gun’s not loaded.”

As if no human being has ever made a mistake when they checked the loaded or unloaded status of the gun. Of course people have! That’s been a known, common, utterly predictable point of failure on the safety front for years upon untold years — and it’s exactly why the safety rules overlap, are redundant, and sometimes seem a bit ridiculous. “Why are you being so careful? The gun’s not loaded!”

More people have been killed unintentially and tragically with “unloaded” guns than have ever been unintentionally killed by guns known to be loaded. That’s because all too many people have two different sets of gunhandling procedures in their heads: a careful, rules-following one for “loaded” guns, and a very lazy and laid back one for “unloaded” ones.

Don’t treat “No ammo in the classroom” as a magic incantation that can replace the core safety rules. Don’t use it instead of the core safety rules. Follow the rules even when they seem redundant. Follow them *BECAUSE* they are redundant. That redundancy is our backup for when we turn out to be human after all.

Creating a safe gunhandling environment before anyone touches a gun — inside the classroom or out — is one of the primary responsibilities of the instructor.

Any “instructor” who thinks it’s “too much work” to find or create a truly safe direction for gunhandling in their classes is not doing the job of an instructor, and should be fired.

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Carry where?

Some years ago, before modern concealed carry laws passed in Texas, a young chiropractor named Suzanna Gratia was just finishing up her morning paperwork when her parents stopped by her office. It was a beautiful, sunny day and her mom and dad had been to the golf range together. They were getting ready to run errands down in Killeen, and wondered if she’d be willing to join them for lunch. After some persuading, she agreed — after all, one of her good friends managed the restaurant they suggested, and she hadn’t seen him in a while. So she and her mom got in her car and they followed her dad’s pickup truck to the Luby’s Cafeteria that had long been one of her favorite places to eat.

During their drive to the restaurant, Suzanna and her mother talked about plans for her parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Certainly, there would be a party. But Suzanna had a secret: she and her brother were saving up money to send their parents on a trip to Hawaii to celebrate the milestone. What a wonderful surprise that would be for her parents, who were still deeply in love after all their years together.

The restaurant was packed, and the group found a table near the right side of the cafeteria. Suzanna took a seat across from her parents, facing the front windows. Her manager friend, Mark, joined them for lunch and sat next to her on her left.

Without warning, a pickup truck crashed through one of the front windows. It came completely into the building and when Suzanna looked up, she saw many injured people sprawled on the floor. As a trained medical professional, her first instinct was to go help — but as she rose from her seat, she heard the sound of a gunshot. She and her father dropped to the floor, turning the table on its side in front of them and helping her mother get down on the floor between them.

At this point, Suzanna was still trying to wrap her head around what was happening. At first, she thought the truck had crashed through the window by accident. Then, she thought it was a robbery and expected to hear someone demand that everyone put their wallets on the tables.

Now, as the man who came out of the truck began walking from one person to the next, taking aim, and pulling the trigger, she realized that it was something more sinister. In her own words, “In total, it took me about forty-five seconds to figure out this guy was just going to walk around and execute people. Forty-five seconds is an eternity.” At that time, perhaps eight people had already died. There would be more.

Suzanna expected a police officer to stop the killer. After all, law enforcement officers ate at this popular restaurant all the time. But the assailant seemed to have no opposition at all as he moved from one person to another, executing people as he went.

Here’s what happened next, in her own words:

 


At that point, the gunman was rounding the front of his vehicle, his right shoulder toward me, when it dawned on me, ‘I’ve got him!’ I reached for my purse that lay on the floor next to the chicken tetrazzini. I had a perfect place to prop my hand to help stabilize my little revolver on the upturned table in front of us. Everyone else in the restaurant was down, he was up, perhaps fifteen feet from me, and I have hit much smaller targets at much greater distances.

Then it occurred to me with sudden and utter clarity that, just a few months earlier, I had made the stupidest decision of my life: my gun was not in my purse any longer! I had done what many people do: I had rationalized that the chance of my needing it was slim, and the chance of getting caught with it somewhat higher. I had figured, ‘Oh, what are the odds I’ll need this thing in a  crowded place in the middle of the day? If I ever need it, it’s going to be if my car breaks down on one of these dark Texas roads, out in the middle of nowhere.’ I did not want to risk getting caught with it somewhere and potentially losing my license to practice chiropractic. After all, that was my livelihood we were talking about. 1


 

The killer calmly continued executing people inside the restaurant as the patrons looked for ways to escape. In all, twenty-three people died on the floor of the cafeteria, and twenty-seven more were injured.

Suzanna eventually escaped from the killing field. Her parents did not.

Shot in the chest, Suzanna’s father fell in the aisle of the restaurant. Her mother crawled out of her hiding place to be with her husband of nearly fifty years during his last moments. She died kneeling in the open,  cradling her husband’s head in her lap.

There may be many lessons we could learn from this personal story. Suzanna Gratia (later Suzanna Gratia Hupp) told her story to the national media, testified before Congress and several state legislatures, and served more than ten years in the Texas Legislature. She chose to focus on changing the laws to allow more good people to have the opportunity to fight back against violent attackers. That’s one lesson we could learn here and it’s one she’s given a big part of her life to teaching.

But there’s another lesson here, one that’s not about the law. It’s about the choices we make.

How many times have we — people who already have the legal right to carry — rationalized leaving the gun behind and not carrying it? It’s too heavy, it’s too awkward, it’s too much trouble, it’s going to make me look fat and unfashionable, and nothing bad ever happens around here anyway. I’m only going to eat lunch and run a few errands, maybe get my hair cut or my nails done. Not going anywhere high risk.

Among the lessons Suzanna Gratia Hupp would want us to learn from her experience, this one would be near the top of the list:

Carry your gun. It’s a lighter burden than regret.

Notes:

  1. Quote taken from the book, From Luby’s to the Legislature: One Woman’s Fight Against Gun Control, by Suzanna Gratia Hupp.
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