Scoundrel Time

Girl Versus Gun: What I Learned from Dating a Responsible Gun Owner

He slept with a teddy bear until he got a gun. Then he slept with his gun. That is not what Machiavelli meant when he wrote, “There can be no proper relation between one who is armed and one who is not.”

We met online and dated for years. Farmer John (FJ) lived in the country. With no neighbors in sight, he counted on himself for protection.  A whole tractor disappeared when he  was out of town. FJ was rigorous about obeying the law and circumspect about what he hunted. Inside his house, books from two generations filled every room. His mother had been a teacher. He was not an ignorant man.

When he came to town, he watched for potential threats, ever present.  There was never an occasion to draw; the violence FJ feared was what he carried in his mind.  The gun – and the belief system it grounded – defined his identity.  It consolidated his participation in a collective identity of shared beliefs. The motto inscribed in the hobbits’ ring could be changed to apply to them:  One gun to rule them all, one gun to find them, one gun to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

In the girl versus gun conflict, the gun won. The gun always wins. FJ, who loved to travel in the wilderness, who once kept bees, and who canoed in the rivers he fished, supported the legislation to shoot wildlife in the den, to lift safeguards on clean water and air, and to plunder national parks for oil and gas interests.

When I asked, near the end of us, “Just this once, can we go to a theater without a gun?” his voice choked up, anguish apparently genuine. He might have thought of something besides “I can’t.”   “Fine. I’ll take someone else.”  And I did.

Here’s what I learned through my travels in gun-world.

  1. Virginia law limits you to one hand gun every thirty days. If you need more than one, you can apply for a waiver — or start a “gun of the month” club. Certainly you don’t want your rights impeded even if you only have two hands.  I dated a man with more guns than a dog has ticks, and he coordinated his carry with his outfit. That’s the problem with concealed carry: no one will know how well that revolver goes with your boots.
  2. How are you going to store those guns?  If you only get one a month, you would be limited to 120 in a decade.  In Virginia, gun safes under $1500 are exempt from retail sales tax. If you need a bigger gun safe, buy two, and save yourself the taxes. A glass-faced box does not count as a gun safe.
  3. Since you want to have your gun with you at all times, you need to keep up with the ammo. No matter how you transport it, call the ammo bag by a friendly name, like “diaper bag.” As in “Sweetheart, I forgot to lock the car, and you left the diaper bag in the back seat.”  Make it pink.
  4. Never assume you are safe. Assume everyone else is like you and carries one in a holster under the arm, or inside the waist band, or both. Or a tiny one carried in a deep pocket with a tactical flashlight and Taser.  Who knows where else they are hiding their gun? In a bra, in an ankle holster, in a coat sleeve, in a small-of-the-back holster?
  5. Concealed carry permits do not rule out multiple guns. With two, you can toss one to your date. However, it is not advised to do an across-the-chest draw; it is simply too slow unless your target is a tree.
  6. No, you cannot pack a loaded gun in your carryon at the airport, even if you have a concealed carry permit.
  7. That man sweating in the corner while other people dance doesn’t want to take off his coat. People might panic at the sight of a gun grip sticking out of his armpit. . He also avoids standing in line, being called up for audience participation at a show, or any other way he could bumped. Every minute of every day he must be ready to defend…something.
  8. Do not let your holster slip in the restroom if you are suddenly afflicted with the call of nature.
  9. If you are packing, check your profile in the mirror before you go out. See how you look. That way, you can tell who else is packing.
  10. Don’t gift anyone with a specially designed purse from the gun show. Anyone else who was there can recognize it on the street. There goes the advantage of surprise.
  11. Only a place thought to be safe, or “prohibited,” can be more dangerous than one known to be violent. Be especially vigilant in churches, nursing homes, schools, and government buildings.  Under Virginia law, it’s currently a misdemeanor to bring a gun into church without “sufficient reason”; remember, shooting the devil is not sufficient reason, even if someone you know is possessed.
  12. Watch what people are wearing to the movies. Big coats in summer are a tell.  Also anyone with diaper bag and no baby. If you sit in the middle of a row, you can always escape out either side provided no one is blocking you.
  13. Drive defensively– this refers only to driving. Even if you have a concealed carry permit, remember the words of a responsible gun owner: Just because a gun is loaded doesn’t mean you have to shoot.
  14. Automatic weapons: remember when your mother asked you in high school, “If everyone jumped off a cliff, would you?”  You said you wouldn’t follow the crowd. But now all your friends have them. What are you to do?
  15. One grasshopper sees another, and they become a plague. Where do you think the NRA came from?
  16. There are guns that stop and guns that kill. Pick the right gun.
  17. Don’t worry the legislators will take away your guns; they’re packing too.
  18. Beer removes “responsible” from “gun-owner.” So do liquor, chemical drugs, and biologic drugs like testosterone.
  19. You don’t have to own a gun to participate in gun culture. Fear is always loaded.


Marilyn Moriarty is the author of two books Writing Science through Critical Thinking, a scientific writing textbook, and Moses Unchained, which won the Associated Writing Programs Creative Nonfiction Award. Her essays and short stories have been published in The Antioch Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Creative Nonfiction, The Kenyon Review, Nimrod, Raritan, River Teeth, and others. Three essays were named “Notable” by the editors of  The Best American Essays series in 2016, 2019, and 2020.  She won the 2014 Faulkner-Wisdom Gold Medal for the essay. Her memoir What a House Remembers, What a War Forgets is due out in 2024. She teaches at Hollins University.


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