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It's Our Turn: The story of an imaginary gunslinger

The first time I held a pistol, my hands dropped beneath its unexpected weight.

"Dang. This feels deadly," I thought. It belonged to a roommate, who was showing us his collection of guns.

I was entranced and repelled. "Be careful," its cold weight said. "I can take a life."

Soon I signed up for gun training. They showed us a film about a woman retrieving her gun as someone breaks into her house. My male classmates could hardly stand it as the actor waited until the guy staggered at her with a knife before she blew him away. "What are you waiting for? Shoot him!" they urged as soon as he pushed open her bedroom door.

Idaho, my home at the time, granted me a license to carry a concealed weapon. I bought a 9 mm Llama semi-automatic pistol. Out in the desert, a friend and I shot at pop cans and glass bottles. When I went alone to interview the last solo gold miner in Idaho, in the dead center of Nowhere and Nothingville, I tucked the Llama into the back of my jeans under a long-tailed shirt. Wherever I went by myself, it came along.

That Llama moved with me to New Hampshire and Alabama and back to Minnesota. I learned how to take it apart and clean it. It could carry nine bullets plus another in its chamber. It had two safety devices. At the firing range, I'd aim at human silhouettes.

When you have a gun for self-defense, you have to be ready to use it. That's what they tell you. If you're not ready, it won't do you any good. So it was always on my mind. In restaurants, I would think about what to do if a gunman opened fire. On woodland hikes, it rode in a fanny pack, ready to defend my life. When I lived alone, it sometimes spent the night beneath my pillow. House noises would startle me awake and I'd reach for my Llama and lie there in the dark, listening. Was someone breaking in?

In short, I was living a life ready for battle.

When the battle came, I didn't have my Llama anyway.

In Bemidji, I interrupted a burglary while bringing the last load of stuff to my new house. The burglars fled through a window, maybe when my headlights turned into the driveway or maybe when I unlocked the front door. They had lined up some tools, a desktop computer and some other valuables ready to steal. They left those behind, but got the Llama, which I'd left in a case.

The police noted the theft. As far as I know, the gun has never been found.

And I've never replaced it.

I'm glad I didn't have to kill or wound someone that night. And even more thankful they didn't turn my gun on me.

I have no hunger to go back to those battle-ready days. I don't want to carry a deadly weight anymore. I don't want to survey restaurants and parking lots and hiking trails for potential risk. At the risk of sounding a little too Disney-fied, I would rather admire the ferns and wildflowers along the trail rather than dread the predator that might be lurking around the next bend.

Many Quakers don't own guns. Not just for the damage they could do to others, but for the damage they could inflict upon their own souls. I'm not a Quaker, but this belief makes sense to me.

This is not a screed against owning guns. I could see circumstances where I might carry one again. (In bear country. If I ever have a stalker. If I become a bounty hunter.)

It's definitely not an argument for gun control, either. It's a suggestion to think about what you allow into your life and what it might drive out. Maybe for you it's worth it to carry a weapon. Guns can save your life, given the right circumstances. It can end the suffering of a wounded animal. My husband's grandfather shot a raccoon that was drowning his dog.

But toting a gun changes things — attitude, outlook, a balance of power, a way of being.

And given a chance, it can steal your peace of mind.