This may be the most difficult article to write in this series, dancing as it must between the sharpened, multitudinous horns of multiple dilemmas. So let me say this right at the outset: I am not the keeper of your conscience. You are. My intention in writing this piece is to give you some ideas to consider as you make your own choices. And that is my entire goal. If you disagree with some of the ideas below, that’s only to be expected. It’s a contentious topic.
The Legal Dilemma
Depending on your jurisdiction, it may be outright illegal to carry into someone else’s home without their informed and specific permission. 1 In other places, the law for private dwellings may be similar to the law for private businesses, and it is legal to carry there unless the owner specifically announces you may not. Nearly everywhere, if the owner asks you to leave for any reason, you must leave immediately or you will be guilty of trespass.
You must find out what the law is in your own state. You, and you alone, are responsible for your own choices about when and where to carry, and only you are responsible if you ignorantly or deliberately break the law. While I would never advise anyone to do that, it is worth pointing out here that breaking the law on purpose, while being fully aware of the consequences and prepared to cope with the risk, is much less personally risky than it is to stupidly run afoul of a law you didn’t even know existed. If you intend to be a law-abiding citizen, it is well worth your while to go look those laws up and figure out how they apply to you. Especially in the internet age, ignorance of the law really is no excuse.
The Ethical and Social Dilemmas
So you’ve passed the legal hurdle, and you’ve found out that in your state, you may legally carry concealed nearly anywhere you go with very few exceptions. Your friend’s home is legally clear.
Should you carry there? If you don’t, where will you leave your firearm while you are visiting her? If you do, should you tell your friend that you are armed? If your friend is married, do you need to tell her husband, too? Or is it enough to tell just one of them? If you do inform someone of your carry status, how and when should you do so?
Do the answers change if you are staying overnight instead of just visiting for the evening? Or if they have children? Or if you know they don’t like firearms? Or if they are relatives, not really friends? Or if one half of a married couple hates firearms but you know the other one won’t mind? Or if … or if … or if…?
These are questions it is not easy to answer, especially because the answers may vary greatly depending upon the circumstances and upon your relationship with your friend. Here are some things that I’ve thought about over the years. These aren’t answers that will work for everyone — it’s only my take on things.
First, I’m very close-lipped about carrying. My immediate family knows, of course. Since I began writing, a jillion people in the mythical world called the ‘net know about it. But if you knew me face to face, unless you brought the subject up, I wouldn’t mention it. Even among my closest friends who know I carry regularly, I don’t often discuss my carry status unless someone has a specific need to know. It’s kind of like talking about my underwear: I do wear them everywhere, but there’s no need to talk about them in polite company.
Ethical Meets Practical
If you are not ethically or emotionally comfortable carrying in a friend’s home, it’s a bad idea to do it anyway. Your own nervousness, shown in your body language, will very likely cue your friend that something is wrong.
Because concealed carry is my default status, I don’t look for specific reasons to carry somewhere. I look for specific reasons not to. And those reasons, for me, are very few and far between: if it’s illegal to carry, or literally impossible to conceal in the situation, I’ll take my gun off. Otherwise, I’m wearing it.
All of the above means that I do carry into friends’ homes, and most of them never know it.
There are practical reasons for this. For one thing, because I am nearly always literally surrounded by my children, it’s very hard for me to discreetly remove the firearm in the car. Picture me pulling up in front of someone’s house and then doing the watusi in the front seat, trying to get the gun off my waist and into a lockbox without anyone seeing it, while the kids ask helpful questions like, “Mom, why does your face turn funny colors when you scrunch over to reach under the seat?”
Then there’s the question of security. I cannot bring myself to leave a gun in the car, even a locked car, without adding a little extra security with a lockbox. But secure as the lockbox is, a thief could always just drive away with the whole car, lockbox and all. On my waist, the gun is safe. Out of my sight, who knows? So I prefer to keep it on my waist if I can.
I’ve never had anyone catch me carrying in their home without permission. Perhaps I’d feel differently about this if anything like that had ever happened. Instead, the single most uncomfortable moment I’ve ever had while carrying came before I adopted the tight-lips policy, when I tried to be a good (relative) and inform my (relative) that I was carrying in her home. She didn’t quite kick me out of the house, but it was a near thing. I think the only thing that saved me was her knowledge that if she’d tried, her husband and mine would probably both have pitched a fit on my behalf. I felt guilty about that for years (still do, in fact) because there really was no need to make her so uncomfortable. She didn’t need to know I was carrying in the first place! My gun was going to stay out of sight and under my control at all times. There was nothing she would have had to do differently simply because I had a gun with me. It was only my own selfish need for approval that made me tell her.
After that, I gradually got more and more close-mouthed. But I kept carrying. And it works that way for me. But things might be different for you. Maybe your conscience wouldn’t allow you to smuggle a gun onto your friend’s property. Or maybe you simply doubt your ability to get away with it, and would rather have permission in advance. Or maybe … well, there are as many possible “or maybes” as there are people in the world. In any case, I would not urge you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable or uneasy. You are the one who has to live with yourself, after all. 2
If you decide to come clean, I think it’s best to do so well in advance, not after you have already unpacked your bags for a long visit. You’ll want to give your hostess enough time to think about it, and perhaps discuss it with her family before you arrive. Probably the biggest practical benefit of telling your friend right up-front is that if she consents at all, you will have an ally to help you figure out how to keep the gun secure. That’s excellent — but remember, keeping the gun away from children, the criminal and the clueless is still your primary responsibility.
The Practical Dilemmas
Carrying into other people’s homes presents several practical dilemmas. Starting with the obvious safety issue: If you carry off-body in a purse, or if you temporarily put the gun into a suitcase or pack, you must keep the purse or pack within your personal control at all times unless the gun is securely locked up. This is non-negotiable. There is no “just this once.” If you cannot commit to keeping positive control over your firearm every single second of every single minute no matter where you are, you should not take the firearm with you.
This is especially important if your friend has children. But even if your friend does not have children, security and unauthorized access remain important issues. Remember, children are only one of the Three C’s from which firearms must be kept: the Criminal and the Clueless are still out there. Unless your friend and every other person who may enter her home while you are there are all competent with firearms safety, without a single exception, you don’t get a free pass to set your gun purse down and forget it, even in the guest bedroom where you have unpacked your other belongings.
This isn’t such a big deal if you are only visiting for an afternoon, especially if you carry on-body. Whatever carry method you’ve chosen, you’ve probably worked security out for yourself during daylight hours. But what about overnight visits?
Assuming your friend is a gun owner and has a gun safe, you may want to simply tell her you’re carrying, and ask her to lock it up for you at bedtime. Ohhhh, if it were always that easy!
If the guest-room door has a lock on it, you could lock the door when you go to bed, then put your firearm somewhere analogous to where you would leave it in your own home at bedtime. Remember that when you wake up in a strange place, you’re likely to be slightly disoriented, so you may prefer to leave the gun across the room rather than near the bed where you might grab it before you are fully awake. If you go with this plan, you will probably want to get dressed, including putting on the firearm, before you open the bedroom door in the morning. In no case will you leave the firearm in the room with the door unlocked when you are not in the room.
If there’s no lock on the door, or if the sleeping arrangements have you sharing the living room couch with the family’s St. Bernard, you are going to have to be a little more creative about bedtime. Leaving the gun lying around someone else’s home, accessible to anyone who walks in while you are sleeping, is simply not an option.
Some Bedtime Options
Of course, if you lock your gun up at bedtime, it won’t be accessible in the middle of the night. Maybe that doesn’t appeal to you much. It doesn’t appeal much to me, either. But if the bedroom door doesn’t lock, there really aren’t a lot of other really safe choices. You’re going to be sound asleep, after all. When you do awake, you’ll probably wake up slightly disoriented because it’s not your own bed. Since the door doesn’t lock, people might wander in, and anyone who wanders in may easily spot your firearm and pick it up.
Sleeping on the living-room couch has one more drawback besides all the obvious ones: if you intend to put the firearm into your suitcase when the family goes to bed, you might find it pretty hard to get it off your belt, unloaded and locked, and then get it into your suitcase without being spotted. 3
If your suitcase is small, maybe you can take the whole suitcase into the bathroom with you when you make your bedtime ablutions. More likely, though, you’re going to have to figure out some subterfuge: carry an opaque shower bag or makeup bag with you into the bathroom, and temporarily place the cable-locked (or unloaded and reholstered) gun into the bag after you remove it from your belt. Or hide the gun within a pile of clothing about which you’re understandably embarrassed because your dainties are in it. Or fold or roll it into a towel to carry casually out of the bathroom with you. The goal is to get the gun off your body in privacy, unload and secure it, then move the gun to your suitcase without arousing suspicion. That means that whatever you choose to transport it has to be something you would normally carry with you into and back out of the bathroom near bedtime.
Be aware that unloading a semi-automatic makes an easily-identified noise, unless you work very hard at keeping it quiet. Although this should go without saying, be very aware of the gun’s muzzle direction whenever you absolutely must load or unload it — it would not do to accidentally shoot the family dog while you were trying to secure the gun where the toddler couldn’t get it.
Practical Issues and Group Dynamics
It’s important you try to anticipate times when you will need to secure the gun, and plan accordingly. For instance, if everyone begins talking about going swimming in your hostess’ swimming pool, you’ll know that it will soon be necessary to get the gun off your body and locked up securely before someone throws you in. How are you going to do that? If the group is making plans to visit some facility into which it is illegal to carry, you can anticipate in advance that you’ll need privacy to lock your gun away when you get there, so figure out how you’re going to get that privacy before you climb into the car. Or figure out how to get the gun off your belt and locked into your suitcase before you leave the house. Try to stay a step ahead of the group!
Before you arrive at your friend’s house, visualize everything that is planned, and any possible variations that might happen, and figure out how you’ll cope with each one. It is best to think these things out carefully beforehand, rather than being caught by surprise when they happen.
Once you’ve got a good basic plan, take a moment to think of ways the plan could change if needed. For instance, you plan some specific excuse which will allow you to slip back to the car to lock your gun up before the group enters some forbidden location. What will you say if someone wants to accompany you back to the car? Anticipate it, visualize it, then forget it unless it’s needed. It probably won’t come up, but if it does, you’ll be ready.
- If you live in Alaska, for example, it is against the law to carry into a private dwelling unless you tell the homeowner you are armed and get their permission to carry there. This may be true in other states as well. See www.handgunlaw.us for specific information about the laws in your own state. ↩
- And on a practical level, if you are uncomfortable or nervous or worried, other people are likely to pick up on your feelings and wonder what’s going on. For best concealment, unless you’re a really, really good actress, you have to be emotionally and ethically comfortable with the choices you’ve made. ↩
- A really nonchalant attitude helps with this. If you look sneaky and nervous, your body language may give you away. But if you are casual and easygoing about it, you’re more likely to carry it off if someone does walk back into the room. ↩