Guns in the RV, Tactics, and Alternatives
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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 fulltiming 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 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.

4.        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.

5.        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.

6.        Safe zones of fire:
Have you thought about where a missed shot ends up? Today’s rounds, including the lowly .22, can go through just about any RV wall (if it misses the two by’s), or the neighbor’s 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 won’t 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 can’t 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, “I have a gun!” 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 therof. 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 Pete’s sake never say you have a gun if you don’t-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 don’t 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 door’s 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 don’t 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 won’t 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. It’s 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 “common sense,” 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, don’t 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 city’s 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 fulltiming)

 

We don’t overnight at rest stops, instead going to Flying J’s 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.

 

Alternatives?  You bet!

 

A good medium sized dog can be an even bigger deterrent than a gun, and while touring protects your rig while you are both gone.  I am not talking about a trained attack dog or a biter.  Those are more of a liability than they are worth.  Or a barker, that would drive me nuts, not to mention the neighbors.  Just a good dog that will alert on someone knocking on the door or at night.  We have traveled with a 69-pound Shar-pei who we have had since he was a pup and is now 9 years old.  He is not a biter, barker, nor a vicious dog.  I am the defense in our "Pack" he is our furkid only.  But he sure looks and sounds intimidating.  Sure, a determined intruder can shoot a dog, but a determined intruder is so rare as to be not worth considering in my experience.  There are far too many rigs without dogs for a burglar to consider the extra risk of trying to deal with one.  Burglars just go elsewhere where the pickings are easier.  Carjackers would have little chance with him in the cab of our truck.  He's always on a leash outside and never staked out.

 

Pepper spray is not a very good alternative because it simply doesn't stop a determined attacker at all.  This has been proven again and again.  Worse, many in a defensive posture don't have the presence of mind to notice the wind direction and spray themselves as well!  This is true of any spray.

 

Baseball bats, knives, hammers etc. are probably not a good idea because they are considered deadly force too, when used against a person.  Pulling them out and chasing the intruder away only proves that they were not armed.  If they are armed, they would be justified in pulling any weapon they have in self-defense, from their perspective.  Or if big enough, and you aren't, will simply take it away.  Using close-in weapons also takes more training, more physical strength, and requires you to get in reach of an assailant.

 

Horns installed outside and good scare lights are a very good bet.  I have even heard of folks wiring in switches that flash all their rig's clearance lights and starts the horn beeping, now that is a good deterrent!  I would use two switches so that the flashing clearance lights could be used alone to guide visiting friends, who are new to the park, right to your rig when the site numbers are hard to see or at night.  Handy either way.

 

I read about thieves breaking into a MH parked behind a crackerbarrel restaurant while the owners were eating by breaking the door glass and reaching in to unlock the door.  Deadbolts were mentioned but I would like to add here that having the breakable glass in the door replaced with security glass, that has wire embedded in it, makes your rig much harder to break into whether you are in it or not.  Then I would replace any outside window frame screws with anti tamper star screws (can't be unscrewed without the exact tool.)  Very easy and relatively cheap modification that any glass company can do.

 

But let me reiterate again that the above are just steps to avoid any confrontation with intruders.  Following those steps with or without a gun should get everybody through unless that front door comes under attack.  Think of the steps as trip wires, and until that door breaks in, which from my experience is highly unlikely, most if not all intruders will depart for easier pickings.  And you stay safe from harm.  They can have the lawn chairs and the grill, I can have my wife and pup in one piece.  Either way there will be paperwork.  I prefer the insurance form and police theft report to the police homicide statement.

 

So there are things we all can do, gun owners or not, to avoid and prevent any situation from escalating into personal harm. 

 

I often hear that the reason for our criminal problems is the many guns in the hands of the citizens.  What if everybody had a gun?  Would we have more murders?

 

Switzerland has just that, but not in those numbers of course.  Every male in that country is issued a rifle, pistol, or both, and is considered a part of the militia for life.  Every household is armed.  And every male citizen serves two years active duty.  They have very little violent crime per capita.  I am not proposing that, merely pointing out that the concept is not necessarily one to have nightmares over.  (Although after 27 years with the military, I would certainly think it would do the country a lot of good from ALL of the training, not just weapons, if all were to have to serve a minimum time.)

 

Where do we go from here?  There are already millions of gun owners in this country.   My post was clear in that we do not feel the need to carry a gun in our truck, or concealed on our person, although both my SH and I could certainly qualify for a concealed carry license with our law enforcement and Military backgrounds.  

 

I did outline a middle of the road approach that outlined some security and safety pre-planning for all RVrs, gun owners or not.  We don't feel the need to carry, and stated, that neither do most RVrs.  For those that choose to have one, I outlined some safety items that through the thousands of handgun classes I have taught, found most non-professionals never consider, such as safe zones of fire.   There are lots of more important issues for RVrs to worry about.  Like the RVr with a severely overloaded rig, that really could cause us harm on the road.   I did not cover types of ammo or guns since that would not have been on topic. 

 

Choosing to own a gun is no more an indicator of aggressive tendencies, than owning spare tires for our rigs is an indication that we want to have a flat.

 

To those who do not want a gun do not take my posts as arguing that you should have one.

 

No one is going to even try to prove you wrong!  <grin> I am with you!  Just because I have a last resort option doesn't mean I even think about it, let alone worry about it ever happening.  Life is too short to live it in fear.  Let me say it again, the odds are with you from what I have seen on the road. 

 

I don't even believe I have ever seen two RVrs not married to each other even have a heated argument!  And the married ones only when backing the rig! LOL!  I don't mean to come across as a "Pollyanna," and lead one to believe that the world is full of only wonderful people.  We all know better than that. 

 

But by definition, an RVr has to choose parking places that are larger than what a passenger car or truck can use.  So with few exceptions we are around other RVs and truckers most of the time.  Those who choose to get away from everybody including other RVrs are in the minority. 

 

I am talking the half time and full time RVrs I have met on the road in the next few sentences when I say RVrs.  That is not saying that all RVrs are half or full timers, or excluding part timers from being RVrs.  Just for the purpose of relating what I have found with the group I hang out with on the road, only because they have the same interests as I do-being on the road most of the time. 

 

Most RVrs are successful enough in life to have a rig.  Most RVrs have been married longer than the average.  Most RVrs are over 50.  Most are on the road because they genuinely like people and meeting new friends.  Most are adventurous in wanting to see new horizons and places that they didn't have time for in their working lives.  Most are responsible, mature, and easygoing.  Most will go out of their way to help each other.  Most have activities that keep them busy in between touring whether a hobby, the rig upkeep, a workamp job, writing, or running an on the road business.  Most RVrs are no longer concerned with comparing material items or feeling superior or inferior to another RVr.

 

Now let's be realistic about the fact that few non-RVrs cruise RV parks.  Few non-RVrs will "case" an RV in a group of two or more RVs boondocking in a public area.  Few folks with bad intent will drive 20 miles out of the way to cause mischief.  Few tourist areas have no police presence.  It is difficult to commit a crime against someone traveling at 50 MPH or more going down the road.  At no time except in dangerous animal areas have I ever seen a gun while Rving, and never in the hands of an RVr.  (Most Alaskans in the bush do carry one)  I have never witnessed or been in a park or boondock area where any assault or violent crime has occurred.  (I am sure that has happened somewhere, but never saw one or even heard of one where I have been.)  Most RV parks have an office and some restrictions on entry and exit.  Most RVrs leave grills and chairs out around their rig and never have ever had any theft.

 

We, both by distance and attitudes, are living in a different world, reality, and culture, than the rest of the population.  We re-enter that other world at will, or stay away from it at will.  Even when touring we are usually surrounded by non-RVrs and vacationers with only fun and seeing the sights in mind. 

 

My post was first and foremost to reassure those that are about to embark on this wonderful lifestyle, that there is virtually no violent crime that I have seen on the RV circuit.  Which is not to say it couldn't happen.  Just that in traveling for sixr years I have found that the nightly news paints an entirely different picture than you will find out here in the real world.  Oh there are bad folks in the world, I think we can all agree on that.  But I said repeatedly that the only use we felt might provide a need for our firearms is protection against dangerous animals way up north.  And we did not need them there either!

 

So let me say it again.  People are by and large wonderful.  You don't need to fear for your lives or possessions on the road as fulltimers, assuming you take reasonable care in where you stop or park.  (Reasonable care, not paranoia)  

 

I love being able to stroll at night with my significant harassment, visiting friends in the parks and boondock sites we have been to, in perfect safety.  We never travel at night, but not out of fear, simply because to assure there is a space left, we try to arrive by 2 PM wherever we are going to spend a night or 30. 

 

As RVrs we are pretty far removed from the inner cities where most crime occurs.  We don't deal drugs or fence stolen goods.  We don't pick up hitchhikers, or pull into bars for a "liquid lunch." 

 

By and large our rigs are harder to break into because of the height of our windows above the ground.  And as stated, most of us don't really have a lot of "stuff" but electronics that a thief could sell for money.  And today, the price of TVs and VCRs, even computers, is so low as to not make them the high value items they were a few years ago. 

 

RVrs generally dress in denim and sneaks, and rarely parade any family jewels around.  We use credit and debit cards and rarely carry large amounts of cash. 

 

We are simply not on the "radar screen" of most thieves! 

 

I think that all of us have some trepidation about security when we first start out.  Some much more so than others.  But after a few months on the road find that we are moving in a different world than the rest of society where all the "statistics" come from.  And love it!  With few exceptions we have chosen to get rid of most of the material things and don't give a hoot about keeping up with the "Jones's."  Most RVrs have cell phones, and are surrounded by folks who would help in any situation that comes up, from medical to RV problems. 

 

So relax and enjoy the lifestyle.  I feel safer in my RV traveling than I did living in town.  Not that I was overly concerned there either.  None of that is due to having any arms.  In fact, as far as personal security is concerned I don't feel any real pressing need to have them around.  That was my message.  Still is.  These discussions can tweak newbies into ungrounded fears for their personal safety. 

 

I was certainly not advocating the use or possession of guns for everybody, nor that anybody "should" or "shouldn't" own one.  My post applied to non-gun owners as well as owners.  I merely pointed out that there are several things that can be done if you have a thief or worse make you the one in a million statistic, making the chance of contact with a burglar or thief less likely. 

 

My post did not deal with the issue of pro or anti gun ownership.  In fact I repeatedly said that they are superfluous in our experience, while Rving, from a "need for personal defense" perspective. 

 

Put another way.  There are those that also think they will win the lottery and buy that ticket daily.  (I personally think it is a tax for the math impaired! LOL!)  After a few months most rational folks stop thinking they will win every night and some stop buying them, others continue, and many only buy them when everybody else is because the stakes just went through the roof.  (Along with the odds!)  Why?  Because there is always a winner!  It is announced, and that alone insures that many will continue.  In psychology that is called intermittent reinforcement.  Same thing at work in a casino.  And the same thing at work in those that are fearful all of the time because of the nightly news.   It doesn't have to happen to them for it to be a belief that it can/will.  And it most certainly can, just like winning the lottery.  Likely?  Hardly.

 

I did deal with several issues.

Prevention issues like:

The easy and cheap replacement of the easily breakable glass in the front door with security glass.

The ease of installing switches to turn on and flash your clearance lights as well as your scare lights.

The ease of installing a horn switched to be able to manually turn it on.

The fact that burglars are more likely to go to a rig without a dog than one that has one.

 

And in the highly unlikely event that you do encounter a thief issues like:

To call for help first, so if possible, it is on the way. 

To switch on the outside lights and any flashers or horns you might have.

The practice of not betraying your position or turning on inside lights and losing your vision at night.

To wait, with no indication of your readiness or not, by verbal warning, for that help until the last possible second.

 

So can we avoid letting this subject degenerate into stereotypes, or irrational fears of crime, or gun owners, that simply don't stand up to actual experience?  

 

Do not get a gun from this article.  Do not get rid of your gun from this article. 

 

I would be horrified if anyone did either based on my writing.  These are individual choices, and I am not responsible for the outcome if you choose not to, or choose to, have a gun onboard the rig.  Make your choices rationally, and with good information.  Be responsible whether you own a gun or not. 

 

Many of the hammers, saws and axes mentioned are considered lethal weapons when used in a confrontation.  Be aware of that and act responsibly and in your best interests.  We always taught those that must go in harm's way, both military and police, that you can always escalate a situation if you go in cool and it becomes hot.  But if you go in hot, you cannot cool it down.  Thus my article. 

 

If you are fearful all the time, get help; non-specific anxiety can be treated. 

 

Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the management of fear rationally.  How?  By not stopping at the fearful thought, but thinking it all the way through, and coming to your decision and resolution.  There lies peace. 

Peace to you all.

All content ęDerek Gore/RV Roadie 1997-2005 All Rights Reserved.  Three rights is left.