Why I Refuse to Travel With a Gun
One question that commonly arises in thru-hiking and vandwelling communities is: “should I bring a gun with me?”
The ensuing debate tends to split along conservative/liberal lines, as one might expect.
Some people would never leave home without a gun. It gives them peace of mind to know they always have the option to use a firearm in case some person, or animal, threatens their safety.
I can see the logic behind that. If that’s what helps you feel safe enough to travel, so be it. Maybe someday you’ll be really glad you had it. More power to you.
In my personal experience of nearly 7 years on the road and the trail, I’ve never remotely wished I had a gun. I do understand there is some white male privilege at play here: it’s easier for me to feel safe by default, especially when I’m hitchhiking or camping alone, because I’m less likely to be assaulted. However, I do know lots of women who live similar lifestyles without a gun.
Speaking only for myself and my own situation, I would never travel with a gun, and here are 4 reasons why.
1.I don’t carry a gun in the city, and the places I travel are generally safer than the city.
Some people think if you go into the woods, bears will try to eat you and crazed axe murderers will butcher you in your sleep.
The reality is nothing like that.
I spent 7 full months hiking the PCT and I saw maybe 4–6 bears. All of them sprinted in the opposite direction when they saw me. I believe I saw one cougar, at night, and if it wanted to eat me it would have done so — gun or not.
The people you meet in wild places are typically reasonable; they’re out there to enjoy the same things you are. Generally speaking, if some bloodthirsty maniac wants to kill people, they aren’t going to go through the trouble of driving hours out into a remote place, hiding out, and hoping someone eventually wanders into their trap. They’re just going to go to a populated place and kill someone who’s easy to find.
Of course, predators (animal and human) do exist in the wild. But attacks are rare. They make for dramatic news stories, so they strike fear in the public mind, but realistically you’re probably in greater danger in the city.
2.I will accept a slight risk of eventual danger if it improves the quality of my everyday life.
I prefer to live in a world where I can assume the people around me will not attack me. I’ve trusted many strangers and never regretted it. I think having a positive attitude about the people around me, instead of fearing them, is a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way.
Yes, I am aware that someday I might encounter a truly unhinged person, and I might be injured or killed, and the outcome may be different if I have a gun.
We make risk/benefit tradeoffs all the time in life, and this is a calculated risk I’m willing to take. I think it’s very unlikely I would ever be harmed in a way only a gun could prevent. The continual benefit of never dealing with the hassle or stress of gun ownership is enough to offset the risk of assault, in my estimation.
Another reason not to take a gun on a long backpacking trip is its weight. You might think a few extra pounds is worth it, but when you’re hiking 15–20 miles a day with thousands of feet of elevation gain, you quickly come to resent every ounce of unnecessary weight — and once you realize you’re safer in the wilderness than you were back home, you’ll see just how extraneous a gun is.
3.Using a gun is portrayed as a “tough guy” thing, but it’s the laziest, weakest, and most harmful way to solve most problems.
Pointing a gun is easy. You know what’s hard, but ultimately more effective? Developing the skills of empathy, situational awareness, and de-escalation.
I see some people making (hopefully) empty threats of using guns to solve problems. “Don’t let your dog onto my property or I’ll shoot it.” “Nothing in this house is worth your life.” “Shoot first, ask questions later.”
This strikes me as a primitive, reckless attitude. Do we really need to threaten people’s lives in order to maintain our affairs? That sounds like a sign of weakness, not strength.
If someone crosses your boundary, you’ll be in a situation where you have to choose between taking a life and being exposed as a phony. That’s a position I’d prefer not to find myself in.
Relying on the power to kill is a poor substitute for the skills of an experienced traveler or outdoorsperson, and it can lend a dangerous sense of false security. A wise traveler develops a keen intuition about sketchy situations and learns how to quietly extract themselves without drawing attention. They learn how to defuse people and maintain peace; they solve problems in creative, nuanced ways.
Overall, it’s safer to notice and avoid hairy situations in the first place than it is to carelessly enter them with the assurance of a gun. Most of what needs to be done to stay safe happens long before you would ever think to use a weapon.
4.I don’t want to live with blood on my hands, even if it’s in self-defense.
If someone was threatening me, and I shot and killed them, I don’t think I would ever stop wondering: was it truly necessary for them to die? What would the outcome have been if I didn’t use lethal force?
I know killing in self-defense is legally justified and I wouldn’t go to prison. My reluctance has more to do with the fact that the idea of killing a person is repulsive to me in general.
I believe most “bad” people are products of their environment; theft and violence are often acts of desperation. I pity any person who would want to attack me, because that’s got to be a miserable way to live. I don’t see anybody as a pure “enemy”. None of us asked to be born and we’re all struggling through life together.
No matter how evil someone seems, I would prefer if they find help and healing rather than die a violent death. I don’t want to be the person who decides it’s their time to die. No part of it would be redeeming or exciting for me.
This isn’t to say I would never try to defend myself, as I’m sure the survival instinct would kick in and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with fighting back. I’m just saying: lethal self-defense may be legal, but it doesn’t sit well with my personal value system. It’s not something I want to have the option to do easily.
If it comes down to it, and I die from a violent attack that could have been prevented with a gun: so be it. It’s a risk I’m willing to take. This is just one of a large number of things that can kill a person with no warning.
Sometimes it’s better to accept risks than to cling to some illusion of control that actually makes you more stressed out and fragile.
The things that end up killing most Americans are unsensational. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes. Instead of worrying about being attacked, I’d rather direct that energy into living a healthy lifestyle, which is something I can actually control and is much more likely to keep me happy and healthy into old age.
Click here to sign up for my mailing list and be notified right away when I publish future articles.