Firearms and Personal Safety

A possible key aspect of RV Safety is Firearms and Personal Safety. You must be aware of your surroundings. Are you comfortable with those around you? When you check into an RV park, ask where the storm shelter is located. You should know how to get to the nearest emergency room. A question that always comes up is “should I have a gun?” I’m sure you’ve been waiting for us to talk about guns. Well, here it is. We are reprinting with permission from Nick Russell an essay he wrote on just that question.

The Armed RVer

used by permission of Nick Russell

Gypsy Journal RV Travel Newspaper

A frequent question posed by Gypsy Journal readers is whether or not they should carry a firearm in their motorhome or trailer for personal protection, and if so, what kind. It is a question that does not have one answer that fits every situation. There are too many variables. 

As a long time gun owner, shooter, and advocate of personal protection, I have always said that every American who can legally own a firearm should have the right to do so. But I always qualify that statement with the addendum that just because we should all have that right, it does not mean that all of us should exercise it. A firearm is a dangerous weapon, and in the wrong or untrained hands, it can cause far more harm than it ever can good.

Gun ownership carries with it a terrible responsibility. Only you can decide if you are willing and able to accept that responsibility. Before you make the decision to carry a gun in your RV, you must understand the legal ramifications that come with gun ownership and use. Understand that the possibility of ever having to use a firearm for self-defense is very remote, and that if you ever do, you will probably find yourself facing criminal prosecution to prove you were justified in your actions, as well as civil litigation from whoever you used the weapon against, or their heirs. You can be completely in the right and still face a prison sentence and years of legal battles and mountainous legal fees. Be aware also that the emotional impact of using deadly force will stay with you the rest of your life. Are you willing to shoulder that responsibility? Only if you are completely aware of the consequences using, or even possessing a firearm can bring, and are completely willing to deal with those consequences, should you have a gun in your RV.

Nobody should own a firearm unless they are well trained in its safe handling, as well as the circumstances where it can be legally used for defense. The laws vary from state to state, and you must comply with the rules where you happen to be at the time.

In some states, firearms laws are fairly easy to understand, and many states will issue concealed carry permits to residents who meet the legal criteria, pass a background check and training class. In other states, the mere possession of any firearm, even unloaded and cased in your vehicle, can lead to stiff penalties. Know before you go.

In several years on the road, and many nights spent boondocking in out of the way places, truck stops, roadside rest areas, and shopping center parking lots, we have never felt threatened enough to feel the need to put a gun in our hands. That said, we also have a firearm or two within reach, and that has probably added to our sense of security. But long before I would ever consider using a gun against a threat, I would drive away from the situation if at all possible.

Having a firearm presents problems whenever you have children or grandchildren visiting your RV. Make sure that it is unloaded and locked away out of sight. Likewise, whenever strangers, such as service technicians or mechanics have access to your rig. 

The first rule of firearms ownership is safety, while the second is discretion. Nobody has to know you have a gun, and the fewer who do, the better. Never display your weapon except when you feel a real threat to your life or safety. The fellow who brandishes a gun to “scare away” suspicious characters is looking for trouble and will more than likely find it. That person you find suspicious may well be a fellow RVer or truck driver out for an evening stroll to work the road kinks out of his back, or possibly even a police officer checking on the welfare of people parked in a roadside rest area. Even if someone is busily engaged in taking the tires off your tow car, they are not a threat to your life. Drive away, call the police on your cell phone, honk your horn and flash your headlights, cry for help on the CB. But whatever you do, do not get into an armed confrontation. There is not a material thing in this world worth a human life. The only time I would consider using deadly force is when somebody is actually entering my motorhome or directly threatening the lives of myself or someone else.

The type of firearms best suited for RV use are varied. A short barreled shotgun, loaded with bird shot is very effective at close range, and the lighter load will not penetrate a neighboring vehicle like buckshot will. Often the mere sound of a round being chambered in a pump shotgun will ward off trouble.

Handguns, while easiest to maneuver in the close confines of an RV, carry the most severe penalties if discovered in states with strict gun laws. While you may be able to convince a policeman or judge that you have a shotgun for sport hunting, it’s hard to explain that you go after squirrels or ducks with a short barreled .38 caliber revolver.

The type of handgun also varies with the user. What works for me may well not work for you. For a relatively inexperienced gun owner, my first recommendation would be a .38 revolver with a two to four-inch barrel. It makes a combination that is easy to point and accurate at close range. The four-inch model would be the one I would suggest, since the shorter barrel revolvers lose some accuracy and bullet velocity.

I feel that any handgun less than .38 caliber is too small for defense, while most heavier caliber handguns are either too hard to control in inexperienced hands, or have the risk of over penetration that can harm innocent people nearby. Magnum calibers run too much risk of over penetration to be considered in RV situations.

Semi-automatic handguns are the favorite of the military and most modern police agencies, and the high capacity models are the current rage in all of the shoot-em-up Hollywood movies. That may be fine on the big screen, but in real life if you can’t get the job done in two or three shots, you’re probably dead anyway.  Semi-autos are harder to master and their safety features can confuse inexperienced shooters. Those who may have become familiar with semi-automatics in the military would probably feel more comfortable with their use than first-time gun owners.

I recommend the use of Glaser Safety Slugs in handguns. They are designed to provide maximum stopping power while not penetrating walls to endanger people in neighboring homes or vehicles. If Glasers are not available, my next recommendation would be hollow point or round nose bullets. Some people have told me they carry snake shot in their handguns for defense. Their feeling is that the small BB sized shot will ward off an intruder while not being lethal. To me, this is foolish thinking. If things get so bad that I have to use a firearm, I want it to stop the threat, not make somebody mad enough to do me even more harm. 

Whatever you decide, if you do feel the need for a weapon, do your homework first. Go to a good gun shop and look over the selection. If possible, find a shooting range where you can try and compare several different firearms before you make your purchase. Then enroll not just yourself, but anyone you travel with, in a firearms safety course to become comfortable with your weapon. 

And if worst comes to absolute worst, and you find yourself reaching for your firearm, first ask yourself if there is any way to avoid its use. If there is, choose the alternative.

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