Packing Heat: Should Photographers Carry a Gun on the Job?

Packing Heat: Should Photographers Carry a Gun on the Job?

It's an unavoidable topic in American conversations. In the photography world, it seems to pop up on the forums and Facebook groups often enough to warrant further consideration: guns. Not necessarily in the heated, political debate sense, but to ask this question: In a world where carrying a concealed weapon has become more normalized and photographers spend more time in remote and urban locations, do firearms have a place in your business?

Kellie Saunders, a wedding photographer in Birmingham, Michigan, knows a thing or two about gun safety and operating on the streets. Before becoming a full-time photographer, Saunders spent six years as a police officer in Detroit.

Originally, I studied journalism and worked with commercial photographers and publishers prior to becoming a Detroit police officer," Saunders said. “When I decided to get married and start a family, I wanted a job that was flexible and offered stable hours. I couldn't find that in the private sector, so starting a business with my camera was a natural and easy transition.”

Saunders still does most of her work in Detroit as a photographer. But unlike her time spent in a squad car, she mostly leaves the gun at home these days.

“I am a firearms lover. Let's get that out of the way right now," she said. "I am all for private citizens having the right to carry firearms if they so desire. With that said, with a firearm comes great responsibility."

So, carrying a gun while she's out making portraits isn't in her plans.

“How can I photograph clients and be in a creative headspace while at the same time be legitimately prepared for a battle with a criminal?" Saunders asked. "If someone were to jump out of the bushes, let's say, their weapon is already out and ready. Time is of the essence, so think about it. By the time I can put my camera down and draw my weapon, either I or my clients could be hurt or killed.”

Saunders said that most Concealed Pistol License holders aren’t tactically trained, so drawing a weapon when out on an engagement session or other job might do more harm than good.

“Not everyone understands how a real life firefight could go down. I do, and that's why I choose to keep my weapon at home when I'm with clients," she said.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is a 12-year licensed concealed pistol carrier and active auxiliary police officer who is also an established wedding and event photographer in a major metropolitan area. He was granted anonymity for the sake of his business, as it might be affected by this article.

There are lunatics everywhere. Who says giving up your stuff will protect you? That may work sometimes but not always. Sometimes, lunatics are into random violence, not just robbery,” said the photographer, who disclosed that carrying is a personal choice for him and that he doesn’t disclose it to clients.

“Responsible gun owners don't tell people they are carrying. One, many people aren't comfortable with it, so there's no point. Two, it isn't something to brag about. It is for protection against bad people,” he added.

The photographer said he began carrying on the job out of general concern for his safety while hauling gear around jobs in the city.

“I think I've been carrying around 10-12 years, not sure precisely," he said. "I was worried about crime and thought it was a good idea."

When asked for comment, National Rifle Association Spokesperson Lars Dalseide said: “Whether at home, on the job, or in the field, the NRA supports every law-abiding gun owner’s choice to safely and responsibly exercise their Second Amendment rights." He elaborated: "The right to carry was only available in a handful of states in 1991 while violent crime was at an all-time high. By 2015, more than 40 states had adopted right-to-carry laws, and the violent crime rate had dropped 51 percent. Should all the credit go to the new right-to-carry laws? No, not all. But criminals are less likely to attack targets who might be armed."

New stories of photographers being robbed or mugged aren’t unheard of, so it's no surprise that many people consider a concealed weapon as a precaution. On the other hand, statistics tend to find that guns are used far more often for killing than self-defense. But if guns aren't for you - for whatever reason - Saunders says vigilance and some streets smarts are most likely enough to keep you safe.

“I photograph in Detroit almost every week, and I love my city. I've never had a problem,” she said. “My advice is to always be aware of your surroundings. Know the areas you are working in. Don't trespass. Don't take your clients to abandoned buildings. Work in well-lit, well-traveled areas. If you see someone down the street approaching you on an 85-degree day with his hands in his pockets, wearing a thick jacket, and looking around, get in your car and leave.”

It should be noted that in many states, concealed weapons are not permitted inside of churches or synagogues, nor are they allowed in places of gathering that exceed set capacities. If you're a wedding or lifestyle photographer who carries or is considering carrying a gun, make sure to check the regulations of the state you work in first.

Where do you stand? Is having a concealed weapon with you on a shoot something you’d consider? Do you already carry? Should your clients know about it? Let us know in the comments.


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Previous comments
Pedro Pulido's picture

this comment is so rude and uneducated that it doesn't even deserve an answer.

Mario Van Essen's picture

My comment does not apply to you Pedro, that is what Peter said about you in his comment here above (which he now took away, as it was edited a while ago).

Pedro Pulido's picture

ah, sorry. i apologize, i got it wrong. anyway i gave up on Pete and you should as well. ;) Nothing interesting can come out in any kind of conversation with people like him. (Note : not americans, i have many interesting american friends. What i mean is obtuse people) ;)

Mario Van Essen's picture

No issue ;-) Have given up already on Peter. I assume he is a true right right wing republican and anti everything that I find quite normal. We are so far away in our believes that there is no way to bridge that gap and understand each other.
Not that he will even try ;-) as from post one I am set away by him already as a fascistic anti-American.

Jordan GRAY's picture

The hypothetical 'knife fight' was an unavoidable one; an unfair advantage in the victim's favor.

You mentioned the 'penis size' angle that people (not you) love to throw in, and often opponents argue that I ought to fight like a man; "stick up my dukes"; that's complete insanity; a criminal wants to trample over my basic human rights, and I need to meet him squarely? Fat chance.

Yes, I prefer to avoid ALL altercations, even verbal ones; I am forced by law to exercise restraint, avoid when possible, attempt to deescalate, and flee; "don't start none, won't be none."

I am truly trying to understand the outside perception. I say anything contrary to outside belief and am instantly 'Yosemite Sam'. While the truly touchy trigger finger lies with those outside of the U.S.; quick to judge. I mean we do in fact have laws here; the right to bear arms is not a right to kill. Many people here are comfortable with firearms, capable, and safe, but they are scared out of carrying one for the incredible responsibility on top of the intense scrutiny you will come under if you use it.

What baffles me is the dissent towards little ole' me, who lives by the law and is a careful cautious person; meanwhile there are criminals that act with complete disregard for life and the law.

Pedro Pulido's picture

none of my comments where personal to you or people from your nationality. the point here is "should photographers carry guns". My opinion - no.

I respect your opinion although i honestly don't like it (as if you care!) and i must say i'm very glad to read this from you "Yes, I prefer to avoid ALL altercations, even verbal ones; I am forced by law to exercise restraint, avoid when possible, attempt to deescalate, and flee; "don't start none, won't be none."

well said !

Jordan GRAY's picture

You haven't, and I thank you. I do care, but respectfully disagree.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Congratulations, Fstoppers: the bait has yielded clicks.

As a photo journalist in the late 1970's, I had a Ruger Security Six 357 stainless in my camera bag. At that point in my life, I was full of piss & vinegar, and thought I could take on anyone at any time. Over the years, I found my thoughts on this have mellowed. I sold off the last of my firearms back in 2009 to build another studio.
These days, I routinely have between $30k-$40k worth of gear on gigs, and feel no desire to pack heat. I have great insurance, do my best not to be put in a compromised situation, and seem to have very little issues whether here in the states or abroad.

Pedro Pulido's picture

that is an excellent point!

Jordan GRAY's picture

Was the collection that massive?

If you concealed carry you're a pathetically and irrationally frightened wuss.

Jordan GRAY's picture

Erik, please don't. You're only revealing your own shortcomings and ignorance.

This lie only brings tears of pity to my eyes. So pathetic that I have a powerful option of defense in a world ridden with evil. So irrational to be prepared for situations no one wants to imagine. Yet somehow I remain frightened.

Frightening is your negativity and lack of confidence in your own sexua identity.

My wife is pathetically and irrationally fearful of men thrice her size?

David Laymon's picture

I too carry concealed whenever I shoot (my camera). I pray I never need to use it.

Terry Hernlund's picture

I do when I can. But for me it often just comes with the territory. ;-)

Mr Hogwallop's picture

What is this "sweeps week" talk about click bait!! :)

In a nutshell both sides are motivated by the same thing, fear or concern.

Many of the Anti Gun folks have a visceral fear of guns and their use and misuse. Maybe its misguided, I know a few people really are terrified of guns as if they would spring to life and shoot people. Some even say the police should be unarmed.
Many of the Pro Gun folks have a concern about theft, robbery, rape, being shot themselves, the government and other threats. Are the threats realistic? Maybe, statistically speaking probably not, but you never know.

I probably know a couple hundred people (rich, poor, country, city, various ethnics) and so far none have had to kill anyone with a gun, except in war...and a police Lt shot a guy in an elevator...
Maybe I / we have been lucky.

No one is going to change their mind because of a photo forum discussion.

Jordan GRAY's picture

Well said.

The first 'well said' that I can award on this thread. I just don't agree with your last line.

I'm as vigilant verbally as I am with my carry practices, and over my days of interacting with many I have learned a few things about anti's:
★First, they generally lack familiarity with firearms; never touched, shot, and carried; undisputedly.
★Second, they have a misconception (foreign and domestic) of American laws and sometimes reality in general.
★Last, there are 3 people at the end of a discussion: The one who continues by engaging in character attacks, one who respectfully acknowledges the mutual differences and bids adieu, and one who changes their mind upon learning facts previously ignorant of.

The final one is as uncommon as people who can swallow their pride; by that I mean they often go undetected as few are willing to come out and say, "you're right!" They're the ones that drop out of a debate at an odd time; everyone wants the last word when they are standing for what they strongly believe; they suddenly go silent as if they spontaneously combusted out of frustration. Those ones. Send a private message; no response. Hunt down their username and the bastard is busy tearing into liberals like one of Michael Vick's agitated and starved Pitbulls sent after a pack of frantic teacup Poodles with dripping cuts of raw beef cruelly dangling from their necks; God save them. Yes, at that moment you casually back out of the room in awe of what you just witnessed; a tear of joy rolls down your cheek. Even if they're just 1 out of every 100, then they'll still lead on to influence another 1 out of 100 and so on, and so on; start to factor in those who aren't commenting, and my head begins to hurt; for that I trudge on.

Dave Bradley's picture

I enjoy shooting firearms. At the range, or in the woods. Or in a sandpit. Bring a gun on assignment? No. Definitely no. Been at this for over 30 years and have never had a problem.

Jordan GRAY's picture

I don't see the disconnect.

The officer in the story chooses not to for artistic reasons, which I can understand; she's concious of it to the point of being mentally disruptive for her. You didn't mention carrying, thus I'd assume it was not habitual so would easily not top your packing list. Conversely I'm guaranteed to have a gun if I am wearing so little as gym shorts; in other words near constantly, unless restricted by law.

That said, when I go out for a project it's just there as always; there's no extra thought involved. The ONLY time it comes to mind is if I'm getting into position for a shot and need to lay on my side or down on my belly. In that case I ignore the slight discomfort by some adaption.

Never had an issue either, but I still carry. Kind of like never being in a car crash, but I still wear my seatbelt. I believe a car crash is more likely.

Norm Roberts's picture

Liberty and ignorance cannot coexist.

The U.S. should always remain a Republic, because I value individual freedom. Republican under Common Law, and democratic under statutory law.

David Collins's picture

Shooter of Cameras and firearms. I carry every day and It's among my every day carry. Personally speaking I am responsible for my own safety and my friends and family (and clients) when they are with me - that's how I look at it.

I'm 40 years old and have only once "presented" my firearm to a rather agitated man after asking me for some money. I told him " sorry no, I don't carry cash." He asked again to "just look in your wallet and see" two more times. each time he stepped closer. I took a step back, and said "No i will not." He starts walking aggressively towards me and now he's yelling, . . . "JUST GET YOUR WALLET AND LOOK!!" I pull my firearm and tell him "Sir, if you do not leave I'm going to shoot you!!" THEN he backs up and said "WOAH I'm not looking for trouble!!" I yell at him one more time to leave. He does. Thank God I had my everyday carry-gun. I also had my bag with my 2 VERY expensive cameras.

Now some might say that I "over-reacted."
I'm not a mind reader and I didn't know if he had robbery, assault or even murder on his mind. However, the situation was automatically defused when he had no advantage.

A soldier once told me "if you're in a fair fight, your tactics suck!!"

Sometimes I like to travel to the middle of nowhere, or off road in my Jeep. I am FAR removed from help or emergency services so my safety is essential, it's why I also carry a medic bag when I go on my little adventures. I WILL say it is vital to obey all local, state and federal laws to which i do. Everyone can live by their own rules with regards to their own safety.

Am I invincible? No
Am I Rambo? No of course not. I don't own an M-60. ^_^ But I want one.

It all comes down to legalities and personal preference. AND being self aware of your surroundings - and avoiding trouble is the best policy.

Frederic Hore's picture

This article invites political commentary on the stupidy of American gun laws. In Canada, we have tough gun laws, and NO ONE carries a gun here. In fact, you would be arrested if you were caught carrying or concealing one. While I know American gun lovers like to scream about their constitutional rights to own guns, the sad truth is more people in the US die from these armaments than from car crashes, terrorists or any other type of fatality.

Honestly, I would be more worried about travelling in some major US cities (and I've been in a few) than in any of the more than 50 countries I've travelled in, and I've been in quite a few desperate places.

If you own one, leave it at home. The only shooting you should do, is with the camera in your hand.

Frederic in Montréal.

I'm in the very pro-CCW camp. As a disclaimer, I'm a part-time photographer and a full-time career LEO. I find that carrying a gun comes as naturally as throwing a cellphone in my pocket, and I'm sure not going to go out for a shoot in a less-than-safe neighborhood (while toting thousands of dollars of equipment) without also bringing my pistol. But, that's just me.

Carrying a gun does carry with it a certain amount of responsibility. But, honestly, firearms competency isn't as hard to learn as some people would suggest. Like any other technical skill, it takes some time and practice, and a steady hand helps (hmmm... that sounds like a task that most photographers could quickly master).

For those who would suggest that gun owners are filled with an irrational fear of being harmed, I would merely point out that I've met a LOT of victims of violent crime over the years, and many weren't emotionally or physically prepared for a confrontation prior to the crime being committed against them. Most people are good, some people aren't. Like it or not, that's the world we live in.

Paul Gibbons's picture

Photographer with conceal carry possibly saves his own life.

Anonymous's picture

Erhm no. Dear America, please whatever it is. Stop it. Regards, Australia.

Although protection against snakes, crocodiles and wild boar may be required in some northern parts of Australia. A boomerang may suffice.

Ahmad qureshi's picture

Good write ups on some decent guns. I’ve carried the Glock 19 and 23 but went a bit smaller and liked the feel. I’ve carried many different guns over the years. Right now my go to carry guns are either my Taurus Millennium G2 or the Taurus 709 Slim. I honestly have not had a single problem with either. The G2 has around 1500 rounds through it and the Slim is at 1000. Not many rounds for some people but I own a lot of handguns and it’s not a cheap hobby. I carried my Ruger SR40c for a while too. Very nice pistol, I own two of the SR series. If the gun you carry works well and you shoot it well, more power to you on what ever it is. I carried my Taurus PT-145 PRO and PT-111 for a long time and let me tell you, telling folks you trust a Taurus pistol will get you some weird looks ESPECIALLY if you own Glock. This was before the G2 Millennium came out. But I know for a fact my PT-145 has NEVER malfunctioned. I’m serious, it just runs and runs. 10+1 capacity too. I had a few jams with my PT-111 when it was brand new but since then, 100% reliable and I’ve had it for many years. Most of my handguns are full size but of the 7 smaller ones I can carry, like I said, it’s 2 Taurus pistols. Now and then I will take the SR40c. I removed the magazine disconnect from both my Ruger pistols. Haven’t carried my Glocks in years but would if need be. They are about the same size as the SR40c. Once I went to a smaller slimmer gun, I loved it. The Slim 709 in summer time is fantastic. In heavier clothing the Millennium G2 is an awesome handgun with great ergonomics, reliability, 12+1 capacity, and I’m very accurate with it. The Slim too actually. Scary accurate with the Slim for a smaller single stack.