Safety & Security: Guns and RVs

From the Lily Pad
RV Lifestyle
My Prime Years
Our Journey

by Derek Gore, RV Roadie

My thanks go out to Derek for allowing me to publish this article on my website. I feel it is an important topic for all RVing folks, be they part-time, full-time or just occasional campers as well as for all RV rigs (motorhomes, trailers, fifth wheels, toy haulers, pop-ups and even tents). Derek discusses alternatives to guns (such as pepper spray, tasers, stun guns) as well as how to keep yourself in a safer situation. Prevention is key.

Many folks ask about having a gun in the RV. Whether they are needed, legal, and how to choose one if they decide to own one in their travels.

I am going to just tell my experiences in that arena, then offer some tips to possible first time gun owners, and non-gun owners.

We travel with a handgun (.40Cal), a combo 20 ga. shotgun/22 over/under, and now, a North American Arms Black widow .22 Magnum five shot with .22lr spare cylinder. After a career in weapons training, I am not in the least interested in hunting or having a large collection of weapons on board. They are primarily for defense against dangerous animals in the Northern tier, and in the unlikely event we ever find ourselves in a deadly situation.

We travel in a truck and fiver and never carry any of the guns in the truck on the road. Never. They are kept secure in the fiver. We do have a large dog in the cab with us but that is not out of fear or for protection, but I guess he is a pretty good deterrent.

We leave the handguns when traveling through Canada with family before we leave, and declare the shotgun/rifle at the border, which now costs for the license. We do not try to conceal or carry handguns into Canada, as the repercussions can be extreme, including loss of the rig and jail time. On our next trip to Alaska I will ship the .40 cal. ahead to be able to go in the woods with it on my hip, as the shotgun gets in the way when fishing remote streams or cutting diamond willow. On our last trip we just declared the shotgun/rifle at the border (the license wasn't necessary then) and since all my papers were ready and handed to the border guard, he just waved us through, didn't even want to see it!

We haven't traveled Mexico yet, but when we do we will leave all guns home and do a thorough check of the rig for any loose rounds. In Mexico, just having one .22 round on board can and does result in jail.

In the lower 48 states we have all three on board, in the trailer when on the road. I have not encountered any searches for guns in any state West of the Mississippi, and North. Nor been asked, and don't volunteer the information ever while traveling. Neither of us ever carry concealed either. We would avoid places like Morton Grove etc. but would not hesitate to drive past as we are law-abiding citizens, and our rig is in top condition and repair. There has to be a reason to search even today in post - 911 America. Having been on both sides of searches, I can tell you that most RVrs are not in the profile for probable cause.

After five years of full-timing I would caution against anybody becoming afraid because of this article. We have not encountered one situation yet that invoked fear for our lives or possessions except from dangerous animals way up north. And that only because we like to hike way out in the woods. Even then, we never needed it.

The news media with its "if it bleeds it leads" criteria had me fooled too. I was very apprehensive on starting out on our first year of travel. What we found instead were a lot of great people all over. The per capita crime rate has dropped dramatically all over, including places like NY City! For those of you who choose not to carry any firearms, you are most likely never going to feel the lack of it. If traveling in wilderness areas, just make sure you are around others where you park, and most likely one of us will be there too.

As one who spent his career in the military teaching weapons, gunsmithing them, and branched out into weapons safety and training classes for civilians and civilian police (as well as having a wife who was a civilian police officer, then Deputy City Marshal), I'd like to weigh in here a bit.

  1. First off, my civilian weapons training classes were one week long, including 250 rounds of range firing. Nothing scares me more than the gun owner with no training, or a three-hour safety course, which essentially teaches them how to keep from blowing their foot off and little else. What usually happens is that they go places they wouldn't have dared to go before getting the gun, usually with a pocket pistol illegally concealed. That's asking for trouble, why risk it?
  2. A deadly weapon is a weapon of last resort. The worst scenario is finding out you shot a 15-year-old that was unarmed, and then meet the grieving family in court. Not something I would like to do. Some folks with little or no training find this out and realize what they have done far too late. The fact that they were stealing your new lawn chairs is little comfort.
  3. I consider no property or material object to be worth another's life no matter what. In a house, if one is stealing my TV, they can have it, more later.

I would not travel one mile without a weapon in my rig. Not because I think I will need it, I use common sense in where I park, and where I go, but as a last ditch defense when the police cannot respond.

Having said that let me bring up some points.

If you carry a weapon, of any kind (pistol, shotgun, etc.) there is an inherent responsibility to know how to use it. Get training, and practice regularly, or forego it entirely.

Safe zones of fire:
Have you thought about where a missed shot ends up? Todayís rounds, including the lowly .22, can go through just about any RV wall (if it misses the two byís), or the neighborís walls, and injure or kill an innocent bystander. If you carry a gun, plan your safe zone of fire when you stop, not in a paranoid way, but just like you instinctively know what is next to you and behind you when driving your RV on the highway. Make a mental note. Have a position of last resort that will allow you to cover the door, have some cover, and not shoot a neighbor. Not being aware before insures you wonít know where to be in an emergency. You need to know where to make a stand.

Loaded guns:
If you fear for your life every time you park, it is probably a good idea NOT to have a loaded gun in reach. Let me explain, we tend to dream about what we thought of last before falling asleep. If that is fear, there is a good chance that something may trigger you to get up, and grab for the gun, before you are awake enough to know if there is a real threat or not. There are documented incidents of husbands and wives who shot their spouse returning from the bathroom from the above.

Additionally, if someone gets in without waking you up, they may have become armed because of a loaded gun in the nightstand. Having to get up, and retrieve a hidden gun, gives you time to wake up. If an intruder gets to you armed, and is standing over you when you wake up, no way you can beat them anyway from a deep sleep. The instantly alert on waking and shooting hero is a figment of the imagination of Hollywood, unless of course you are commando trained, current, and have the "thousand yard stare."

Nighttime confrontations:
Hear a noise? First thing you do is to flip on the lights, to let the outsider know you are awake and paying attention right? Wrong! You just lost your night vision, they still have theirs. This is where the horrific statistics of homeowners losing, when they confront intruders, comes from. They flip on the lights then go down a dark hallway, and not only canít see the intruder, but generally leave the bedroom lights on, outlining them to the intruder! Fortunately most intruders are unarmed, but why not make it in your favor, with time to think. Besides, if they can't see you, as far as they know, you are 6 feet 6 inches tall and 275 pounds of muscle!

Warning shots and verbal warnings:
Never shout, ďI have a gun!Ē to scare off an intruder! They may be armed and not have drawn their gun yet. Never threaten, or try to scare them away verbally. The element of surprise wins. Never let anyone know you are armed, or even aware of his or her presence, until you have called for back up if possible, and taken your position, then and only then flip on the outside lights only, and/or any emergency sirens, horns etc.

But do not turn on your inside lights or betray your position, readiness, or lack thereof. You want to maintain your position, safe inside a locked rig, and be sure that the intruders mean you bodily harm, both for your own sanity, and legal requirements. More on that in a minute. Now the intruder is outside, outlined by the RVs outside lights, and doesn't know where you are. Your silence is the greatest pressure you can bring to bear at that point. Their fear of the unknown kicks in and in most cases they will run.

For Peteís sake never say you have a gun if you donít-never! That can and will get you killed. Never pull a gun unless you intend to use it, and never use it unless you are "willing" to kill. Killing is not the object although a likely result of shooting for the center of mass. Survival by stopping the attack is the only objective. The first time a deadly intruder discovers you have a gun, should be when they see the orange ball of flame coming their way. But when to use it? See the next section.

How to determine if the situation warrants deadly force:
Always lock your front door, and always know your safe zones of fire (so you donít shoot the neighbors). Follow the above, but as soon as you are aware of the intruder call for back up! (The police) on your cell phone if you have one. That is before you assume your safe zone of fire. That is first! Have help on the way. If you have no cell phone, and the doorís locked, then you are on your own.

Anyone who breaks down your door has proven intent to do deadly harm since they know you are inside and awake from your turning on the lights outside! The noise of breaking the door window, or trying to kick it in alone insures a response. If you are in position, and have not turned on the lights, or done any warnings, then it can be assumed that you are defending yourself in a life or death situation.

This protects you legally, and psychologically. And gives you that extra split second of time to look once-what if it is a fireman breaking in to save you because your trailer/ truck is on fire? Never go outside to protect your property, or be a macho man. If you follow the advice of having horns outside you can turn them on then, if you haven't already. But save your own night vision inside. And donít speak, or betray your position or readiness in any way. Let them have the truck, your basement possessions, lawn chairs, whatever! But if they leave without a deadly confrontation, you won. Let the insurance company deal with your losses. And you wonít have to live with a killing for the rest of your life. A gun is the last resort.

Things are not worth people, no matter how bad they are. The goal in a survival situation is to do just that, survive. Itís strange, but people who are trained rarely need to use the gun itself. Of course they always run, avoid bad places, and never shoot if avoidable. It is the person who watched too many movies, or is fearful at all times, and carries a gun, with no training but ďcommon sense,Ē that gets into trouble, from a false sense of security.

Those that say carrying a gun insures trouble are wrong in my book. It is the lack of training and practice and tactical non-confrontational home defense training that insures that. And if you are not willing to go there, and do the work, donít pick one up, the life you save may be your own, if not mine (If I am parked next to you.)

The tactics of sane home and self-defense are quite different from the tactics employed by the military or police. The legal and psychological consequences even more so.

But there are nuts out there, and if you are trained, and the above is reasonably adhered to, an individual would be rational to have a last ditch, personal defense, especially in the boonies, against those nuts. In the cityís now, it could take up to an hour to get help. How about in the Yukon? The training takes over in a crisis, been there, done that, and never had to pull the trigger.

Your chances of being intruded on are about one in 20,000 last time I checked (1991). Chance of deadly confrontation, one out of one hundred of those. Pretty slim odds. But when you are the statistic, might as well be 100%. The chances have gone down since then and it is even more unlikely today!

Want to hear the funny part? Living in a house, and in town, (in a nice middle class neighborhood) I had to apprehend and draw my gun three times in 25 years at my home.

On duty, only twice unsnapped my holster in 27 years of active duty. In an RV? Never. (Four years of full-timing)

We donít overnight at rest stops, instead going to Flying Jís or equivalents, or an RV park. We boondock, but not in cities or bad areas. I have found the only use for my guns so far has been as protection against bears in Alaska while looking in the wilderness for some good diamond willow, or hiking the back trails. It turned out i did not need them even then.

In other words, common sense in where you park and go, and training for deadly weapons.

One other note: having a gun doesn't change the choice of whether to use it or not. You always have that choice.

I prefer to not find myself helpless in that one in a million confrontation and not have that choice. Having carried a gun for 20 years of my career daily, a gun is simply a tool. No different than having a hammer in the rig. I rarely need the hammer, but when I do, it's nice to have one around.

Marksmanship is not enough. War experience is not enough. The rules of engagement are different, and more specific, in self-defense, and the repercussions can be surprising. I can tell you, many folks have parked next to me, because they felt safe. No, I don't talk about having guns, but have had several single ladies traveling alone, or with a disabled partner, mention fear to us. We just tell them we are retired military and law enforcement and will look out for them. No mention or even implication of having guns.

People are more important than things. Self-defense is reasonable and responsible, if the gun owner is responsible. Fear of guns out of ignorance, is as bad as owning one in ignorance.

>> Part Two

©Derek Gore/RV Roadie 2006 All Rights Reserved. Three rights is left.

































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