Haefele: Hanging out with a concealed weapon (column)

The pistol arrives at my house in a padded tote, the size you’d pack a picnic lunch in. It’s a 9mm Glock 26, a “sub-compact” concealable semi-automatic. Diminutive, hammerless and made of polymer, to my eye, it’s a true exotic. It’s accompanied by two clips and a box of 115 grain ammo, missing one round. I think, How about that? I zip the tote back up, squirrel it away in my desk.

This Glock belongs to a friend. After suffering a major depressive “episode,” as he called it, he’s made me the weapon’s custodian in perpetuity. Beyond keeping it out of his hands, I’m not sure of my responsibilities: Is there registration protocol to observe? What happens if he abruptly changes his mind? Is it OK for me to shoot this gun?

For all its Western bravado, or maybe because of it, Montana’s suicide rate is twice the national average: 24 per 100,000, compared to 12 per 100,000 nationwide. Meanwhile, Missoula County, where I live, has the highest suicide rate in the state, up an incredible 70 percent from last year. Two-thirds of these deaths were “gun assisted.” Few gun owners want to hear these stats, but the 2012 FBI Supplemental Homicide Report states that the ratio nationwide of gun deaths by suicide compared to self-defense gun deaths is almost 40 to one.

As a hunter, I own two rifles and a shotgun. I’ve not kept a handgun for 20 years. It was just coincidence that I had one at all: A tradesman friend had offered me a pistol in exchange for felling a large tree for him. The gun was a Ruger “Security Six.” I agreed to the trade on a whim: With my 12 gauge, aught-six and 30-30, a big-bore revolver made a classic Western ensemble.

The Ruger came in handy just once, when my wife and I attended the Miles City bucking horse sale. We stayed at an especially nasty motel. As we unlocked our door, our shirtless neighbor popped out, chugging an IceHouse beer.

“Lucky you!” he giggled. You get the room next to me!” I walked to my pickup, brought the Ruger inside and slept peacefully. Maybe our neighbor was harmless, maybe not. I certainly felt safer; let’s leave it at that.

But a few years later, after a troubled night of my own, I understood clearly that the Ruger had to go. So the next day, I traded it for an antelope rifle. It wasn’t a big deal. There was no “episode.” I just thought I’d feel safer with the Ruger gone, and I was right.

The presidential election, for some reason, renewed my interest in self-defense, and I grew curious about my friend’s concealable. The 9mm Glock is the world’s most popular handgun, and I wondered what all the fuss was all about. I headed out to the gun range to find out.

With its ultra-light weight, shortened barrel and bobbed grip, the Glock felt both flighty and hyper. In fact, the pistol felt downright goosey and emphatically void of any character at all, Western or otherwise. In the right hands, it’s probably a terrific gun, but the pistol flat-out gave me the yips. While I’ve fired more powerful guns with considerable accuracy, with the Glock I barely hit the paper.

A week later, I told my friend, Scott, about my experience shooting the Glock.

“Get rid of it,” he said without hesitation.

“Really? Why’s that?”

“It’s a bad horse and you two got crossways. Don’t screw around.”

“I shouldn’t just learn to shoot it?”

“Get rid of it,” he repeated.

It was sound enough advice, but of course it’s not my pistol. For the sake of confidentiality, I didn’t tell Scott the gun’s history. I certainly haven’t told him about the rifles I garage-stashed for another friend, three years ago. Scott might get the idea that most of the people I know are disturbed.

I’m starting to think that might be right. While it’s flattering that my friends have this much faith in me, it presumes I have discretionary sense that I simply don’t possess. For example: How do I decide that it’s OK for the owner to take back his guns? More pressing, by what standard do I tell him he’s not OK? And what if I ever have an “episode” myself and need to get rid of my own guns? What kind of guy takes custodianship of what’s clearly an arsenal of despair?

Fred Haefele is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News ( The author of “Rebuilding the Indian and Extremophilia,” he lives in Montana.

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