Awhile back, I got to thinking about this question of paranoia. It’s a common question, I guess, often leveled at new gun owners and concealed carry people. Well-meaning friends ask it, and so do scornful online strangers: "Don’t you think you’re becoming a little … paranoid?" The tone might be concern, or worry, or disdain. It might be accusatory or simply inquisitive. And like so many other questions and accusations related to self-defense, this one strikes right through the heart of some very personal territory.
An accusation of paranoia can certainly cause you to stop, to take a step back, to doubt yourself. In those terms, it’s right up there alongside the taunting, haunting question, "Could you really…?" These questions haunt us not because they are bad questions, but because they’re really good questions, the ones we ask ourselves in the middle of the night when self-doubt seems its strongest. Are we doing the right things? Making the right choices? Or are we making a foolish mistake? Ultimately, they are questions that every woman has to answer for herself, in the hall of judgment inside her own soul.
The Statistical Outlook
Sometimes, when people look for the answers to such a question, they haul out the statistics. Surely, if the danger is high enough, they reason, personal preparedness cannot possibly become paranoia. And certainly the statistics appear to bear this out. For instance, in 2007, throughout the United States, there was
- a violent crime every 22.4 seconds
- a murder every 31 minutes
- a forcible rape every 5.8 minutes
- a robbery every 1.2 minutes
- an aggravated assault every 36.8 seconds
- a property crime every 3.2 seconds
- a burglary every 14.5 seconds.
Wow. That’s pretty grim, isn’t it? Surely that’s bad enough that arming yourself against these possibilities is just the sensible thing to do.
On the other hand, as bad as these statistics might sound at a glance, they actually reflect a falling crime rate, not a rising one. The chances are that your own neighborhood is much, much safer than these general numbers might lead you to believe. Although the numbers are certainly grim enough, the truth is that as long as you generally avoid hanging out with criminals, generally avoid high-crime neighborhoods, and generally obey the law yourself, you’re going to be pretty safe throughout your life no matter what tools you choose to carry or not to carry for self-defense. So the grim statistics may not be that grim after all, and may not carry as much weight as one might think.
What Did They Expect?
But there’s another truth that goes right alongside this encouraging news, and it’s simply this: every single victim of violent crime who has ever been attacked, was attacked when the victim was NOT expecting it. If they were expecting it, they would not have been where they were, doing what they were doing. They would have been somewhere else, doing something else. They would not have been there if they were expecting something bad to happen.
Human beings are notoriously poor at seeing the future. That’s simply a fact, just as the generally low—but definitely present—risk of a deadly physical assault is a fact. Reconciling these two facts is the territory where paranoia meets preparedness.
Gambling on Insurance
Do you know how insurance companies make their profits? Here’s how it works: the company gambles that the individual consumer won’t fall victim to a fire, a flood, or other catastrophic event that would cause the company to pay out a large settlement. Insurance employees read statistical tables to understand that only a very few people will fall victim to a payable event in the coming year, and the company sets its premium rates accordingly. The company knows that the risk of having to make a payout to any one individual is very, very low. So the rates for each individual are set low enough to encourage consumers to take the other end of the bet.
On the other side of the table, the consumer gambles that she will fall victim to a catastrophic, expensive event. Consumers understand that the overall risk of any one of these horrible possibilities happening to them is very low. But each individual consumer also finds that paying a small cost to insure against an unlikely but high-cost event is an acceptable use of resources. If that individual is the rare but unlucky one, the money spent on insurance will have been well spent. The money spent paying the premium is wasted if nothing bad happens. But a fire, a flood, or other catastrophic event would cost far more than the insurance did—perhaps more than the individual could afford to pay. Most consumers rightly believe that a small premium up front is a worthwhile expenditure when the cost of not paying that premium would be so much greater.
When someone decides to make a firearm part of their personal defense plans, they are making a similar gamble. They have decided that the nuisance of keeping a firearm around is an acceptable price to pay, in view of the potentially catastrophic expense of not having a firearm available if they really needed one. Some rare individuals might carry firearms because they have an unrealistic and unhealthily-exaggerated fear of crime—paranoia—but most people who carry a gun understand that they are arming themselves against a very unlikely event. They choose to arm themselves despite the low risk because they believe the cost of carrying a gun is very low, but the cost of not having a gun when you need one is unacceptably high. In this way, choosing to live the concealed carry lifestyle is just like purchasing a special type of life insurance.
So that is one way to look at the question of paranoia: carrying a concealed firearm is really a specialized type of life insurance. Like people who buy insurance, people who arm themselves are not confused about the odds. They are concerned about the stakes.
Another way to look at it is a bit more personal.
The Weight of Worry
For me personally, something remarkable happened once I made the decision to carry a concealed weapon and learn how to use it. I found that making the decision actually freed me from that low-level, constant, back-of-the-mind worry many women experience as they go through daily life. You know the routine:
If I work late tonight, will I have to walk out through the empty parking garage after everyone else has gone home? Should I go find the security guard to walk me to my car? Should I go home on time and come in early instead? How dangerous is it to stay? What are the crime rates like in the neighborhood around our new office building? Where is that security guard anyway? What a hassle! I’ll just walk out… or should I call him?
If we’re going to meet for dinner, will it be the lackluster place in the good neighborhood, or the excellent place in a not-so-good neighborhood? Should I say something? Or just let the other person choose? Does it matter enough to speak up?
Do I have time to hit the grocery store and get home before dark? Or would it be safer to shop on Saturday during the day? Will my groceries last that long?
… and on, and on, and on. Little worries, not major ones, not stuff you dwell on. But they add up after awhile, and they’re always there for many of us. One day, not long after I began carrying a handgun, I was surprised to realize that being prepared to cope if things don’t go according to plan had erased nearly all of those worries for me. It is such a huge freedom. Being able to cope with trouble removed a heavy weight that I didn’t realize I was weary of carrying until it was gone.
Of course, I still stay out of bad neighborhoods to the best of my ability, and like most women, I still try to time my solo trips for maximum safety. I still make decisions based on staying out of trouble and away from anticipated dangers. But since I became committed to being prepared to cope, I no longer worry about these questions. I still plan for safety, but I don’t have to fret if something unexpected puts me someplace I’d rather not be or delays my expected time of arrival. I’m prepared to deal with it. I have a spare tire in case the car gets a flat and an AAA card in case I don’t feel it’s safe to change the tire myself. I have a first aid kit to help me deal with minor injuries and a cell phone to call for help if there are major ones. And I have a firearm that I know how to use if it comes to that.
Wear Your Seat Belt
Many women who carry a firearm every day have discovered a little secret: putting on the firearm along with your clothes is kind of like pulling on your seat belt whenever you climb into the car. Sometimes it’s a pain in the butt, sometimes not so much, but it’s not exactly a big deal. Wearing the seat belt may protect your life if you’re involved in a horrible flaming rollover car crash, but you don’t think about horrible flaming rollover car crashes and maimed bodies every time you pull on your seat belt. You just … put the seat belt on.
In the same way, once wearing a firearm becomes part of your daily routine, you don’t have to think about it too much anymore. The initial decision to purchase a gun or to carry it might take months or even years to make; you might struggle with it, agonize over it, obsess about it. But once the decision has been made, it becomes part of your routine, and your mind becomes free to think about other things.
When I pull on my seat belt as I climb into the car, I don’t waste even a moment thinking about highway fatality statistics, the gruesome accident I heard about on the news last night, or the kid that died in a rollover crash last spring. Putting the seat belt on is a simple, physical habit. It doesn’t lead me to obsess about that stuff. Sure, I originally chose to wear the belt because I knew a car accident could happen to me. But rather than reminding me to worry about car accidents, wearing the seat belt has freed from me from worrying about car accidents. I have insurance, I have a seat belt, I have air bags, and I have the skills it takes to drive safely. Because I have a physical habit that prepares me to cope if something awful happens, I don’t have to think about awful things.
Similarly, when I put the firearm on as I get dressed, I could be dwelling on crime statistics, bad neighborhoods, terrifying news stories. Or I could simply be getting dressed. The choice of how I think about it is up to me. But the simple physical habit helps me keep my mind clear. For me, wearing a firearm only occasionally could easily start me down a very negative road of thinking every time I got dressed. As I wondered whether to take the gun with me, I’d have to plan and picture where I would be every second of every minute throughout the entire day. I’d wonder about the neighborhoods I’d visit. I’d worry about what I would do if someone wanted me to change my plans. I’d debate with myself about whether going for a stroll through downtown was "too dangerous" if I was unarmed.
In fact, I’d probably find myself wondering if I was becoming paranoid whenever I even considered going armed for any reason. I’d probably figure: well, if you needed it, you weren’t paranoid. But if you didn’t need it, you were. So would I need it or wouldn’t I? It wouldn’t be long before I drove myself nuts trying to see the future.
Set Your Mind Free
By its nature, the future is un-knowable. Yes, there are safer places and less-safe places, statistically speaking. But I am not a statistic. I am a human being, just one, and any individual human being can fall outside the statistics at any time. I don’t dwell on that. It’s certainly not worth my time or my angst! Instead, I simply acknowledge it, do what I can to minimize the risk from it, and drive on.
So for me as for many other women, wearing a firearm every day is life-affirming: I choose life. I am doing what I can to stay in the game. I choose to be prepared to cope if things don’t go according to plan, so that I can set my mind free to think about better stuff. This choice is life-affirming for me, but it’s also just a simple habit. I get dressed, I put on the gun, I grab my wallet and my Chapstick and my keys and I’m out the door. No paranoia, just a single, one-time decision to be prepared as I go through life, and then following through on that decision with simple everyday habits to make that decision a reality.