Most everyone has a favorite story teller or someone about whom the stories are always worth listening. In my circle of friends there is one man about whom more stories have been told than any other. My friend is a retired Special Forces soldier and the story in question took place while his "A" team was in West Africa training the local indigenous forces.
Gris-Gris and Good Luck Charms
After being trained and before their first real combat patrol, the indigenous West African forces told my friend they were going to see the local medicine man to get a "gris-gris" (gree-gree) for each soldier. The local troops explained that the gris-gris was a pouch filled with mystical elements that they hung around their necks.
The gris-gris would ward off the bullets from the rebels' guns and protect them from danger, so they said. Not surprisingly, my friend and his SF troops dismissed the gris-gris as superstition and told the indigenous soldiers that they needed to rely on the training they were given, not some voodoo talisman.
Every culture has had some kind of good luck charm or talisman throughout history. We have four-leaf clovers, horse shoes, rabbits' feet, lucky coins, etc. In our modern society we often look at these lucky charms as quaint reminders of our past. Most folks don't hold to the kind of superstitions that their ancestors once did. While modern men might scoff at the idea of carrying around good luck charms or that somehow a gris-gris will ward off evil there is one talisman that is still very popular.
Handguns: the Modern Man's Gris-Gris
The more I thought about the gris-gris story the more convinced I was that there was a correlation between ancient good luck charms and the habits of modern man. You see, the West African soldiers understood that there were bad men and evil in the world and they were seeking some kind of supernatural insurance to protect themselves.
Which one is a good luck charm? Or are they both?
Many American citizens fall into that same category today. They realize that there are indeed evil men on the planet that might do them harm. The concerned men and women don't go to see the witch doctor or the medicine man; they go to the gun shop. In the gun store they search for a talisman to ward off evildoers.
For as long as I can remember I've heard gun owners repeat phrases like, "I'm not paranoid. I only carry when I think I might need it." "No, I've never had training, but I'm pretty good I think." "I keep the chamber empty, it's safer that way." I even had someone tell me, "I don't need to take self-defense course, I own a gun."
"I own a gun". That statement really says it all. Many men and women deceive themselves into thinking that owning a gun somehow makes them safe or merely carrying a gun somehow makes them safe. I have bad news for you folks, if you have no training or proficiency with a firearm, dropping one in your pocket is not going to ward off the evil spirits.
Pocket pistols seem to be the favored talisman for modern men and women. Compact revolvers and pistols by their very nature and design are the most difficult to employ effectively. With their short sight radius, light-weight, and small grip surface, pocket .38's .380's and .32's are easy to carry but tough hit anything with. Pocket guns are also the least fun to shoot and so their owners rarely take them to the practice range.
The pocket gun becomes the cross to Dracula. When evil is near the owner imagines pulling it out and showing it to the 'vampire'. Maybe the villain will flee and then again maybe they won't.
It's not just pocket-sized handguns, larger and more costly guns can become gris-gris. If you are carrying a gun that is half-loaded, is loaded with the cheapest ammo you could find and hasn't been fired or cleaned in over six months that's not a genuine defensive tool, it's a good luck charm. If you drop a compact pistol naked into your pocket but have no plan for less-than-lethal force, don't carry a flashlight or a pocket knife and have no spare ammunition for said gun, it's a talisman not a fighting tool.
Talisman with Bling
Not all gris-gris are inexpensive. Just as our ancestors paid extra for charms made of gold and encrusted with jewels, many good citizens will spend thousands of dollars for a handgun with the most expensive custom features available. These folks spend more money therefore expecting greater mystical power. They stand amongst their peers boldly announcing "I have a Kimber loaded with Hydra-Shoks". The statement is put forth as if casting a spell of protection.
There's nothing wrong with buying a Kimber pistol or shooting Hydra-Shok ammunition. But you need to actually train with said gun and practice often if you expect to save your life with it one day. Owning and carrying a two-thousand dollar gun ensure your safety any more than owning Porsche makes you a racecar driver.
The Choices We Make
If you like to buy guns but not shoot them the Firearms Manufacturers of America thank you, the ammunition makers not so much. Carrying a firearm is both your right as an American Citizen and a tremendous responsibility. Not everyone can be or should be a gun carrier, and that's just fine. That's why God gave us big dogs.
Having come to the end of this piece if you are embarrassed or offended I apologize. You can see the lady at the front desk for a refund. However, if you are serious about defending your life and that of your loved ones you need to ask yourself a hard question. "Am I capable of using this gun in a life or death crisis or is it just a good luck charm?" Reach into your pocket. If the gun has rust on it and more lint than your dryer vent you might just be kidding yourself. Either way, the choice is yours to make.
-- Paul Markel
Markel is a former U.S. Marine and law enforcement veteran. Today, he is a full-time Small Arms and Tactics Instructor. During the late unpleasantness, Mr. Markel has trained thousands of U.S. Military troops prior to their deployment to combat zones. Markel is also host of the TV show Student of the Gun and Managing Editor/Partner of www.MyFirstGun.net, www.paulmarkel.com or www.studentofthegun.com