To Carry or Not to Carry a Firearm on the AT
Last night I was laying in bed watching a movie on the hard drive when I heard, well more like felt, the first THUD. Hmmm, I thought to myself, that didn’t sound like an IED. Then the second THUD. This one was louder and felt a lot closer. Okay, those are not IED’s, those are incoming rockets. THUD again, louder and closer yet. Yep, definitely incoming rockets of some sort. Now the dilemma, to get out of bed or stay in bed, wait a couple minutes… no more THUDS, staying in bed.
I live in a residential neighborhood in Kabul, Afghanistan where I work doing capacity development with the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum. I am still not real sure how I ended up here but thank goodness my time is almost up and I will soon be out of here and on the Appalachian Trail.
Living in a residential neighborhood in Kabul, Afghanistan, instead of on a military base, is really, ummm…. different. Our compound is small, four buildings. Our security staff are Afghan guards and when we travel around the city we travel in regular vehicles so we ‘blend’ in as much as possible and boy do we see the craziest things.
For example, I took a puppy that one of our local Afghan workers had brought to the compound to the vet’s office, yep, there is actually a vet here. Anyway, on the way, while riding in an SUV with a Afghan driver and an Afghan shooter we passed an Afghan soldier walking down the street carrying an RPG, we made a left turn and saw a donkey with rider trotting down the street in amongst the UN vehicles, military trucks and white Toyota Corollas, a favorite of suicide bombers. I always cringe when I see one, even at home.
Once at the vet clinic we saw a half dead dog that had been poisoned laying on the floor with an IV drip, the puppy visit cost only $15.00, including the shots, then on the way home we saw a full grown Marco Polo sheep, with horns and everything, riding in the backseat of a crossover being driven by a young guy talking on his cell phone while cruising past a sun glasses kiosk on the sidewalk. You can’t make this Sh*! Up.
Anyway, rockets are a newer thing, it is usually the Taliban using IED’s of some sort to blow something or another up. Living in this sort of environment is a bit stressful. We don’t live in a perpetual state of fear but it is always in the back of our minds that at any second things could go very wrong. So, personal security is sort of a big deal.
Fears and Personal Security
Speaking of personal security, people keep asking me if I am scared to hike the AT by myself. My first response is always, “Nope, f*&# that! I ain’t scared of sh*!”, followed very quickly with, “actually, that is a straight up lie! I’m scared of a lot of things, but I’m going to do it anyway!” One of my favorite all time quotes about fear and just doing things anyway is by Georgia O’Keeffe. She said, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life-and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
There is nothing wrong with fear, in fact fear is a good thing. It motivates us to do what we need to do to be or get safe. Fear is only a negative if it keeps us from doing things we want to do in life.
I was a police officer with the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department for nine and a half years with the last three and half being spent on the Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team. I have also spent the last couple years working in Afghanistan. The first time with the Department of Defense, working with the Green Berets and the second working with the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum here in Kabul.
So, I shouldn’t be afraid of anything right? Wrong! The opposite is true! Now I know exactly what there is to be afraid of and that there are scary things that do go bump in the night and having a bit of security in one form or another is a good thing!
For example, I am afraid of the dark, not being the highest organism on the food chain and freaks who want to kill me. Thank goodness, from what I have been reading, the At is a pretty safe place to be though there have been some violent things happen to hikers/backpackers while on the trail.
Violence on the AT
According to Nina Zietman at https://mpora.com/articles/the-gruesome-truth-behind-those-murders-on-americas-famous-appalachian-hiking-trail#yYMoYgj53GSBDM4t.97 there have been 11 people killed on the AT since 1974 and two attempted murders. While per capita, considering how many people are on the trail each year, that is a pretty low statistic, I would rather not be the 12th. That being the case, personal safety will continue to be a thing.
To Carry or not to Carry…
Some folks have asked me if I am going to carry a gun during my 2016 NOBO AT thru hike. The answer is, I don’t know. I am tired of being in environments where carrying a weapon is either mandatory or just a really good idea. I wish the world were a bed of roses and filled with unicorns and rainbows. The reality is, of course that it is not and wishing something to be one way won’t make it that way, you know, wish in one hand and shit in the other and guess which one will fill up faster. So, I don’t know if I am going to carry a firearm in addition to my legal size knife and bear spray or not.
There are a lot of things to consider when making the decision to carry a firearm anywhere. I am used to carrying one and I have had a lot of training on their use. Even with a lot of training though a person needs to give carrying one a lot of thought. Carrying a firearm is a huge responsibility. In addition to being extra weight, there are a lot of laws about carrying firearms in general and even more while thru hiking the AT.
Keeping’ It Legal
In order to carry a firearm on the AT you have to follow both State and Federal laws in National parks. Also, to carry concealed, you may have to have a concealed carry permit for each of the 14 states you are thru hiking thru, depending on your home State.
In addition to the physical and legal aspects of carrying a firearm, you have to consider that if you carry a firearm, you may actually, heaven forbid, end up using it.
Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should
My sister, who lives alone, once told me she was considering getting a gun and asked if I thought she should. I am not a gun expert by any means but I guess since I was a cop and was in the Army she thought I was as good person as any to ask. So, we talked about why she wanted a gun, what sort of gun she was considering and some other aspects of gun ownership.
Finally, I asked her, “Are you pretty darn sure that in your heart of hearts you could kill another human being?” She replied honestly, “N0!” I said, “Then don’t get a gun.”
No normal person wants to kill another human being but if you can’t say, with every confidence, that you could point your gun at another human being, pull the trigger and potentially end that person life, don’t get a gun.
Because if you are not sure and you don’t have the training to better equip yourself to be sure, you may very likely hesitate when the time comes, when you have to use it. Bad people will not hesitate, and if you do they will take advantage of your hesitation, take your weapon from you, and use it against you.
Bad people do not have a problem killing other humans. Normal people do and when normal people, police and military included, are in a situation where they have to, it stays with and haunts them, in one way or another, for the rest of their life.
Gun ownership and use is not for everyone and that is okay! There are other ways to protect yourself, seek them out and use them! On the trail like everywhere else in life a little situational awareness goes a long way.
In the End…
If you do decide to carry, it is best to do it legally, take a gun safety course or two, and practice, practice, and practice some more! Practice for every scenario in which you think you may actually have to use it and just hope you don’t.
Remember guns don’t kill people, people kill people and sometimes they use guns to do it.
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Although your basic advise is valid some of the states the trail passes through have reciprocal agreements with other states on carry permits .Please research all the gun laws before starting.Whether to carry or not is a personal choice.Personal choices do not need to be validated by ones peer group or public.
If you are nobo during the surge, you won’t need gun or bear spray. Ive.done over 60% of AT. It is safer than most anywhere else. I’m nobo in 2016, going without.
What a great post in which I think it pertains more to the daily argument of guns rather than guns on the trail. I love your conversation with your sister and you raise a very valid point. Are you prepared to take a human life? If not, you will hesitate and bad people don’t hesitate. Bad people don’t have a problem taking a human life. If you (the public) own a gun, please make sure you’re very well trained and prepared.
If you are scared of the dark – consider that it is not uncommon for a hiker to arrive at a shelter at 10:00 or later, long after dark. As he blunders around in the dark and hiker dogs are all barking. True that this is very bad form and disturbs the other hikers. I would hate to see someone get hurt because there is a gun. I’d rather carry extra food.
Hey Jennifer, As a GA Ridge runner this year, let me say good luck on your up-comming adventure. I’ve never felt the need for a gun while on the AT. I look fiward to seeing you in Ga. Besides, they weigh way too much.
I hadn’t considered the potential ramifications of showing up at—or passing by—a shelter after dark that might be occupied by some gun-totting nervous Nelly. Thanks for that. This article actually makes me way more nervous now about who might be carrying than the usual fear-inducing suspects of bears, aliens or god-forbid, statistically-insignificant “bad people.”
I have been considering doing a thruhike for a couple of years now and am hoping for an April 1st start date. Some of my friends and family said that they would not go without a gun. That’s nothing! They won’t go with one either! I do not plan to carry a gun, although I do carry when I hike alone here in West Virginia on some of my hiking trips. Sometimes when I am hiking and don’t have my gun I wish I did, however, I have never needed it whether I had it or not. If you do carry, I think it would be prudent to keep the knowledge private once out on the trail. No use to make everyone you encounter nervous. The best of luck in your endeavors. Good preparation is better than luck.
What a world we live in!
Don’t shoot me!
But definately pull it out as quickly as possible to save me if I need saving.
Can’t wait to hike with you all!