Though I’ve had a license to carry a concealed weapon for a number of years, I still remember my first training class as clearly as if it happened yesterday. Our two instructors were retired policemen and after explaining the class curriculum, they told us something about themselves. One man said that in his quarter century as a policeman, he had been fortunate in never having to use his weapon, though there were close calls. The other man explained that during his almost 30 years in law enforcement he had been forced to use his weapon twice, with one incident resulting in the death of the individual that was shot. He went on to say that despite having nearly 20 years experience in law enforcement at the time and being completely justified in his use of deadly force, it was still the most difficult thing he had ever done.

After he had finished telling us some of the details of that fatal shooting, our instructor made this statement to the class; "Kill another human being, for whatever reason or however justified, and your life as you know it is over forever." There was complete silence for over a minute when he finished, after which he said if anyone was having second thoughts about getting a carry permit, they were free to leave before the class continued. While nobody left, the class was extremely quiet for the remainder of the evening.

When you make the decision to carry a gun for personal defense, you must also come to terms with this fact: Your firearm may someday end the life of another person. Since receiving my concealed carry permit, I have become acutely aware that I carry something capable of forever changing not only someone else’s life but my own, and there are times when it is a burden that is tougher to carry than the gun itself. Before you ever make that decision to carry a weapon for self-defense, you must first make the commitment to use that weapon — with potentially deadly consequences — if it ever becomes necessary. If you cannot make the conscious decision to shoot one human being in defense of another’s life, if you aren’t 100% sure you have the will to use it if the time comes, then you should not be carrying a weapon!

Most of us carry a weapon not because we realistically expect to ever use it, but to have it "just in case." With very few exceptions, the need to defend ourselves with deadly force is thrust upon us with almost no warning and with only moments to react. We are then required to make a life or death decision in less time than it took us to put on the socks we are wearing today. If I am ever forced to use my gun against another person it will be because (1), my life or the life of an innocent by-stander is in immediate danger and (2), another person has both the desire and the means to end my life, and I have no reasonable alternatives to prevent it other than the use of deadly force. This possibility, as remote as it may be, is the reason I own a firearm and have a concealed carry license. It’s why I practice regularly at my local gun range and train myself how to react in a variety of scenarios. It’s also why I read magazines like Concealed Carry Magazine and watch the many videos and television shows now available dealing with self-defense.

For what it’s worth, I spent over twenty years in the military defending our country. When combined with the required classes I attended (both in the classroom and at the range) prior to receiving my license, and the training I do on a continuing basis, I believe I have both the knowledge and determination to use deadly force should it ever become necessary. However, regardless of your age and experience, a license to carry a firearm is a serious responsibility and a responsibility never to be taken lightly. The truth is that when I first started to carry a gun, I not only felt the huge responsibility that went with it but was almost overwhelmed by it. I actually had my concealed carry license for almost two years before I felt comfortable enough in both my abilities and judgment to carry a gun in public regularly. Maybe the knowledge that I possessed the power to end someone’s life with a simple pull of my finger made me aware of my own mortality and how easily – and often needlessly – life can be lost.

In post 9/11 America, terrorism comes in many guises and has many faces. It can come in the form of a fanatic attempting to kill thousands by exploding a bomb in a crowded skyscraper. It may take the shape of a crazed killer walking through a shopping mall or college campus randomly shooting anyone he encounters. It could also assume the face of the burglar who breaks into your home in the pre-dawn hours and holds a knife to the throat of your son or daughter. Sadly, there are some very bad people in the world who won’t hesitate to take both your property and your life if it serves their purpose. There are also people who take pleasure in seeing others suffer as well as imposing their will on those around them… often violently.

With any luck at all, my wife and I will spend the rest of our lives shooting at nothing more dangerous than the bull’s-eye on a paper target. On the other hand, despite our best efforts there may come a time when we are forced to defend ourselves or a loved one with lethal force. It’s for those times that both my wife and I carry a gun. Like the Boy Scouts, we believe in being prepared. If the unthinkable does happen and we are someday placed in the position of using deadly force, I’m confident we have the training, equipment and where-with-all to do it.

These days, you just never know when you may be required to protect yourself or someone close to you. Long ago I decided I’d rather carry a weapon I’ll (hopefully) never use than someday need the weapon I decided not to carry. However, my advice to anyone who is considering the use of a firearm — or any potentially deadly weapon — is to be absolutely certain you’ve made the mental commitment to use that weapon if and when the time comes. If you’re not willing to use it, then you shouldn’t be carrying it.

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