Article — From the August 2010 issue
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Article — From the August 2010 issue
Beyond mere politics, gun carriers are evangelizing a social philosophy. Belief in rising crime, when statistics show the opposite, amounts to faith in a natural order of predators and prey. The turtle doesn’t apologize for his shell nor the tiger for his claws; humans shouldn’t be bashful about equipping to defend themselves. Men and women who carry guns fill a noble niche between sheep and wolf. “Sheepdogs” is the way they often describe themselves—alert, vigilant, not aggressive but prepared to do battle.
In both classes, and in every book about concealed carry that I read, much was made of “conditions of readiness,” which are color-coded from white to red. Condition White is total oblivion to one’s surroundings—sleeping, being drunk or stoned, losing oneself in conversation while walking on city streets, texting while listening to an iPod. Condition Yellow is being aware of, and taking an interest in, one’s surroundings—essentially, the mental state we are encouraged to achieve when we are driving: keeping our eyes moving, checking the mirrors, being careful not to let the radio drown out the sounds around us. Condition Orange is being aware of a possible threat. Condition Red is responding to danger.
Contempt for Condition White unifies the gun-carrying community almost as much as does fealty to the Second Amendment. “When you’re in Condition White you’re a sheep,” one of my Boulder instructors told us. “You’re a victim.” The American Tactical Shooting Association says the only time to be in Condition White is “when in your own home, with the doors locked, the alarm system on, and your dog at your feet. .?.?. The instant you leave your home, you escalate one level, to Condition Yellow.” A citizen in Condition White is as useless as an unarmed citizen, not only a political cipher but a moral dud. “I feel I have a responsibility, and I believe that in my afterlife I will be judged,” one of the Boulder gun instructors said. “Part of the judgment will be: Did this guy look after himself? It’s a minimum responsibility.”
Just as the Red Cross would like everybody to be qualified in CPR, gun carriers want everybody prepared to confront violence—not only by being armed but by maintaining Condition Yellow. Hang around with people committed to carrying guns and it’s easy to feel guilty about lapsing into Condition White, to begin seeing yourself as deadweight on society, a parasite, a mediocre citizen. “You should constantly practice being in Condition Yellow all the time,” writes Tony Walker in his book How to Win a Gunfight. Of course, it’s not for everyone; the armed life in Condition Yellow requires being mentally prepared to kill. As John Wayne puts it in his last movie, The Shootist. “It’s not always being fast or even accurate that counts. It’s being willing.”
Whoa: wrong example. The policeman helping with the Boulder class was adamant. “Hollywood,” he intoned, “will get you killed.” Real gunfights are nothing like the ones on-screen. They happen instantaneously and at arm’s length, with no time for clever repartee, diving for cover, or even aiming. “There is nothing sexy about a gunfight.”
Alas, the very word “gunfight” is sexy. The first American narrative movie, The Great Train Robbery, made in 1903, is all gunfight and ends with a villain shooting straight at the camera. All we know about carrying and using a gun—at least at first—is what we learn from the movies and television. How else did I pick up that insouciant way of swinging open my revolver’s cylinder to check its loads, that casual manner of jamming it up into my shoulder holster or down the small of my back? The gun I chose to wear concealed, a second-generation Colt Detective Special .38, is one I grew up watching just about every fictional dick and gunsel use, from Edward G. Robinson in Key Largo to Detective McGarrett on Hawaii Five-O. (I’m old; younger guys prefer their own generation’s TV guns: the Glocks of CSI; or the SIG Sauer P228 Jack Bauer carries on 24.) I know it’s foolish to conflate Hollywood with reality, and when I’m armed I try to discipline my mind back to my training. But anyone who tells you he has no fantasy life constructed around his gun either has been packing it for as long as he’s been watching television or is flat-out lying.
Dan Baum is the author, most recently, of Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death and Life in New Orleans (Spiegel & Grau).
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Perspective — May 17, 2013, 9:00 am