By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist for Cowboy State Daily
Twenty-some years ago when a wolf pack entered our sheep pen at night for the first time, the only firearms we owned were single-shot shotguns. It quickly became apparent that we needed better tools for the threat invading our front yard that night.
At that time, I was a newspaper reporter in western Wyoming, mostly writing articles about natural resource issues and government actions: brucellosis, grizzly bears, predator control, forest management, and public lands policies. Each controversial issue has deeply impassioned advocates, and sometimes those advocates crossed the lines of civility and became threatening.
As I would later learn, two of the three men who threatened me had mental health issues that were being treated by medication in which both men had stopped taking. All three men lived in my community, and one was a former co-worker. My brother-in-law was moving abroad and gave me a revolver, instructing me in its use. I practiced, and decided I liked the pistol, so I kept it in the pocket of my truck.
After the threats began, when I covered meetings in town at night, I would go upstairs into our empty office building located directly across the street from the county sheriff’s office and sit down at my desk to write an article, a pistol perched on the desk beside my tape recorder and reporter’s notepad. My former co-worker walked upstairs in the darkened building one night to find me working at my desk with my pistol accompaniment – but my husband stepped out of the shadows behind the man. There was no violence that night, but a clear message had been sent that I wasn’t going to be a victim.
In the second case, the man backed me into a corner of the public library at the conclusion of a meeting as he yelled, but other men present in the room stepped in to intercede. I then actively avoided the man, and he was institutionalized (for reasons unrelated to my encounter). Not long after he was released, I once again became a target for his attention.
A third man was simply an anonymous coward leaving a message on my home’s answering machine while my child was inside – but I wasn’t. I listened to the message and recognized the voice although I didn’t know the man. I’d heard the voice coming from a recent visitor to the newspaper office, and my co-workers told me his name. He was married to a federal agency employee and was unhappy with my reporting about that agency. When confronted by the sheriff’s department, he admitted to leaving the message and pledged to leave me alone.
All three men who threatened me were angry, and in two cases, local law enforcement became involved. In the third case, I adopted a different tactic.
I went through the process of obtaining a concealed weapons permit, including hunter safety class, being fingerprinted and undergoing a background check, working with a former military officer to decide what was the best gun and holster for me, and then practicing. A friend and photographer documented each step of the process, and we printed a two-page newspaper feature, with the final image showing my freshly issued concealed carry permit. I had very publicly notified the world that I should be expected to be carrying a gun.
Years later I still had local peace officers comment on that feature, asking if I still conceal carry, to which I affirm. I continue to renew my permit when it comes due, even though most of the time I openly carry a firearm– because I keep guns in my work truck as a rancher. I’m a woman who works alone outside on most days in a remote region that is home to numerous large carnivores, so yes, I am armed.
Firearms are valuable tools in my life, just as necessary as standard fencing pliers, rope, an assortment of gloves made from leather, cotton, and wool, and the ever-present shovel.
My firearm use is a result of my personal journey. As I became more proficient with each gun, and we have changes in our lives and on the ranch, my need for various types of firearms and calibers changes. Much as the case of our shovel collection.
Living on a ranch, we have numerous types and styles of shovels: plastic shovels to push snow off our steps; strong but lightweight shovels strapped onto snowmachines; short, narrow shovels to dig up weeds; wide, curved shovels for firefighting; manure shovels; and traditional wooden-handled shovels in every ranch truck. Each shovel is best-suited for specific tasks, as each firearm we wield.
I’m disappointed to listen to national news media talk about gun ownership in America as though it were an alien idea. Interviews with gun owners are rare, and tend to involve either members of the gun lobby, or people at a shooting range – both of which are members of our “gun culture,” but neither of which are representative of the varied users of guns in America.
When major media in our nation talk about guns, the discussion involves speakers in metropolitan areas, usually after a horrendous tragedy. They aren’t airing interviews of people who take their children out with gundogs to hunt birds; elk hunters preparing for mountain trips they’ve dreamed about for years; former military members who enjoy competitive shooting sports; women who train to never become victims; gun collectors dedicated to preserving history; or ranchers who use firearms as tools, to name a few.
Our stories may be alien to those who haven’t shared the same life journeys, but they are the stories of American gun ownership. In a way it’s no wonder we don’t hear our stories in national media. With the current gun debate so narrowly defined, what gun owner would be willing to be interviewed by a national network or news outlet? The risks are great: nuances will be missed; statements can be taken out of context for a soundbite; and the internet backlash/cyber bullying by cowards with keyboards is nearly guaranteed.
We’ve become the silent majority.
Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.