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

I wouldn't want armed police at my wedding either!

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

Have you been in military? Have you trained with firearm?
I think most anti-gun people never had fire a shot.

I've shot clays a few times and a .243 on a cadet range when I was younger. I have no experience of handguns but I'd happily give one a go. Guns are fun, I get it. So's driving at 130mph, but I don't think that should be legal outside of a track either.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

My small WV will probably go 130 but I don't drive that fast. I can but I won't. Same goes for guns. If you legally own gun, and carry it with permit it doesn't turn you into criminal. Maybe you are not aware, but before new gun is sold, certified technician shoots, and collects two rounds. This way every bullet can be tracked down to serial number of firearm. If the gun will be used in crime or even discharged irresponsibly, the bullet can be used to track down the owner of firearm. If you drive 130mph you are getting ticket. If you will use firearm in any other way than protecting life, you are going to jail.
Guns are fun on shooting range. Out of the range they are responsibility. Guns are not for everybody, and nobody is forced to own one.

Well I don't think there's any point debating. It's become pretty clear to me from past experience that the American pro gun crowd will never be swayed by anything but personal experience, and I can't forsee any situation in which I would be either based on the amount of time I've spent on this issue in the past, so I think it's easier to just accept that some people have a different opinion that won't ever change, no matter how hard it is for the other party to understand.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

So true, and if there was no movement against gun ownership than there would be no conversation. Pro guns would own it, those against it wouldn't own it. Problem is that people that are against guns are in irrational fear and propose solutions that are not logical.
They try to get guns away from law abiding citizens and leave criminals with even bigger leverage.

This is your view and you're entitled to it. Australia is an interesting case study though. No other first world country has the same issue the US has with mass shootings, so clearly something is failing there. Australia used to have similar gun laws to the US and also similar mass shootings. They also had similar pro-gun groups with similar arguments. After one particularly bad mass shooting in 1996 however they did change the law, and they massively restricted the sale and ownership of guns. You know what? The number of gun deaths has since plummeted to fall inline with other first world countries. It is my opinion that there is a correlation between the high level of gun ownership in the US and the insane level of gun violence. Obviously many in the US don't feel that way and believe that arming more people (to protect themselves and others from other armed people) is the solution. For me this thinking is impossible to comprehend, so as I said, I'm not sure much can be achieved by me discussing it.

Paul Saxby's picture

18 years in the military. Served three tours in The Balkans, three tours in Iraq, Four in Afghanistan.... No I don't own a gun and I definitely wouldn't carry one as a civilian. Ive seen first hand what a weapon is capable of doing, many times. I don't care how much my camera gear cost, if someone pulled a firearm on me and demanded my camera kit I would simply hand my gear over....its insured FFS...

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

You assume that attacker will just take your gear. What if he will stab you and will try to stab you again? Will your insurance help you? I have nice scar above my eye because some crackhead hit me in the head before even demand anything. I fought back, but I was lucky he didn't knock me out, or had a knife etc. The guy run, and I stayed with exposed scull. Than I got 15 stitches that was messed up by ER and had to get it fixed by plastic surgeon. It costed me a lot of nerves, time and I still pay for ER. It was during the day, right off main streets in downtown Miami. So no, thieves probably don't care if you will bleed out on the street.
If someone pulls gun on you, it is common sense not to pull yours out. The objective is to do everything possible to survive. If you carry a gun, you don't need to behave like cowboy. You still have your brain to decide if you should or shouldn't rich for firearm.

Mario Van Essen's picture

Former NL special services, trained, used guns, injured people, killed people and imagine: YES I am against guns and pro gun control.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

And how would you control guns? I mean, will criminal give back their guns because it will be illegal to own them? Have you seen criminal with registered gun and CCW permit? Gun control will only limit people's ability to self defense.

Jordan GRAY's picture

You are subject to proportional force laws in your country, OF COURSE you wouldn't support guns; you might as well own a complicated paperweight. All that is left to do is bring company to your misery and add to the laws restricting them; "if I can't have it, then no one can!"

Mario Van Essen's picture

The sad thing is that you are missing the point at all.

Again: I am from The Netherlands, which is roughly twice the size of the state of New Jersey or 0,43% or so of the USA. In our country we have 5-10 gun related incidents in the whole country a year. In the USA only there were 13.000 deaths by gun related incidents and over 50.000 gun related incidents in 2015. If we take the size of our countries in the comparison, that is a factor of 5.000 to 20.000 more incidents in the USA than in The Netherlands.

So why do we not discuss photographers "pack heat" issues in our country, that is because we have no such issues.

In each gun related statistic per capita the USA leads: in mass shootings, in murders in school shootings, in homicides, in gun violence or whatever you can think off. In fact there are more people killed in the USA alone by gunfire than US deaths in every conflict from the War of Independence to Iraq. There are 400 times more gun related deaths in the USA than US citizens killed in terrorism related incidents in the last 15 years (including 9/11).

So people in other civilized Western countries look at these numbers and think: "Why do they not simply understand that they create the issues themselves".

So..... if the risk of getting into trouble is a factor of 5.000 to 20.000 higher in my country, I would reconsider my thoughts on gun ownership. But it is not, because we have gun controlling proportional force laws in place and we do not have all your issues and violence over here....

Why...... simply because we were once smart enough to abandon guns at all.

Jordan GRAY's picture

What's sad is being defenseless and ultimately reliant on your government for protection.

Your statistics are skewed, since 2/3 are suicides. Beyond that, you don't have the ethnic diversity and gang prevalence we do.

"Smart enough" there goes the european serf mentality and condescending attitude towards America . You can't help it, I know. When you've been neutered as a people and removed from the fundamental right to defend yourself, then you begin to accept it, lash out in envy towards others who have what you never will. They make you feel better and tell you you're "smarter".

You probably could have also used statistics from Sweden, but is it not the rape capital of the west? Is rape not violent? I guess you're like some other liberals who will accept rape over liberty. Yes, a small portion of people will die in exchange for liberty for the masses, just as cars kill people, but there must be a price. Nothing is perfect. You can ban them and call it humanitarian and "smart", but it's truly foolish.

Are you aware that our right is fundamental to the people maintaining control over our government? What can you do if your government turns tyrannical? Pitchforks and spears?

Jaran Gaarder Heggen's picture

There are legal to own guns in all European countries, the difference is that its controlled, I Norway, where I live, and in Sweden also I think, we need to be a member of a "skytterlag" (a Club for competition shooting, I do not know the american Word for it) or you must be a registered hunter and undergo yearly tests, to be allowed to own a gun.

Its not the right to own a gun thats the problem, its when there are no real control its a problem, the registrations of ballestics for all firearms does not help when someone choose to point that gun at their family and pull the trigger ...

And why is it thats more unlegal guns in USA than in any other western country if its not because of easy access?
And what about the schoolshootings or other mass shootings? how often is it that there are unlegal nonregistred weapon in use?

Jordan GRAY's picture

I can understand your position of being made uncomfortable; a healthy fear, as firearms ought to be respected.

It may be uniquely American to some amount, but there are plenty of Americans that are fearful of guns. Generally, in those instances the individual is simply ignorant of firearms; besides knowing they are deadly. I was ignorant as well before owning one and my healthy fear has grown to a healthy respect of my weapons themselves.

As far as an armed photographer freaking me out? I would actually feel safer in that environment. RULE #3 of gunfighting: Bring all your friends who have guns.

For me, my firearm is just another thing I grab before leaving the house; wallet, keys, knife, gun. Once you've acclimated and participate in carrying a weapon everyday you look at threats differently. For example, that well groomed photographer who has openly revealed his identity and is providing a service for you in exchange for money? Not a threat. However that creapy dude with grungy clothes hovering around after you've begun filling your car at the petrol station? My eyebrows are raised....annnnnnd my safety is disengaged; comes any nearer and my palm is resting on my holstered weapon.

I suppose that makes the difference, having a weapon of your own. I will point out that many situations have been neutralized by simple display of firepower, without shots fired and even without drawing out of the holster. Even when the criminal has a firearm too, your chances are astronomically better; a criminal wants an easy target; not a gunfight.

I will agree with others who point out how inept many private citizens may be at actually USING their weapon; this is true, and I'm not claiming to be Jason Statham (that dude is a badass), however, I like having the option to choose; narrow chance or not. I still have the choice to run, do nothing, hide, or plea, but when I'm backed in a corner with no other choice...I can fight; advantage: me. I've also heard the arguement of being a coward, or un-manly, for not going fisticuffs. Umm sorry, but there's nothing fair about being targeted by a criminal, thus he doesn't deserve a fair fight; plus, my family seeing me come home every night trumps the need to prove my manhood.

Shlomi Amiga's picture

Why would a photographer carry a gun? Why would anybody carry a gun? To protect themselves? If so, why not just hand everybody guns?

Ok someone tried to rob you.... Do you just shoot them? I can't wrap my head around how that's even a thing.


Dude, have you ever talked to someone who actually trains to carry a fire arm? The vast majority of those who own a firearm pray every night that they will never, ever have to draw that weapon in self defense. Responsible firearm owners get proper training so that they don't have to use it. People in this country have to make a choice, they can carry a firearm for defense or they can choose not to. That is their God given right.

It just seems crazy to me that when I read arguments for and against each side. I see one side arguing facts, the other side arguing beliefs. One side takes the time to research, the other side parrots arguments without regard to the facts. But that is there right.

In any case everyone of us who believe in the right to keep and bear arms will defend their right to say what they believe, without regard to what side of the argument they are on.

Just remember this, there are four rules of gun safety, if you keep all of them in mind a gun is just a tool no more deadly than the car in which in drive. In fact based on stats that I've have seen over the years I believe the car is deadlier in the wrong hands than a handgun is.

Shlomi Amiga's picture

Interestingly enough, I was trained to carry firearms in one of the most elite army units in the world. 3 years military service in which I carried a flat-top, short barrel M16, an M16 with a grenade launcher, and a verity of hand guns including the Sig Sauer P226, which was my everyday (24/7) gun. So to answer your question, I have extensive firearms experience both theoretical and practical. In the shooting range and on urban missions in places you don't go to in your worst nightmares.

Regarding your other concern, I don't think it's fair to call people's opinions beliefs. I wonder if you think of me as a long haired, fantasy landscape shooter who walks around with a bible called "The Book of Hippies". Also, if we're talking statistics (facts), between 2001-2011 over 11,000 people lost their lives due to gun homicide in the US.

Cars, knives, liquid acid, chainsaws, and bare hands. All potential killing tools. However we are not talking about that right now. We are talking about guns.

We all have our opinions and rights as citizens of our countries. And we definitely do not have to agree on everything. This is what democracy is for! Although we disagree in the subject, I respect your opinion.

Jordan GRAY's picture

"[10 years] and 11,000 U.S. gun homicides" Annually did you mean? I assume yes, and thank you for not suicides (⅔ of gun deaths); if you're suicidal, then you're going to find one of many readily available vehicles to carry that out. That said, 11k/year is still a low number especially with our disproportionately massive amount of gangbactivity. If a bunch of gang bangers want to kill eachother, then we've they've spared valuable oxygen for the world; acts of a few irresponsible people should not impact the rights of the law abiding majority. We all know gun-control only controls the law abiding; gangs and bad people will still have them. Domestic violence is also a large contributor I've been told, and, contrary to gang related deaths, it does sadden me; however, again, I should not be punished because of the irresponsibility of another.

"so, why not just hand everybody guns?" I'm evangelical about gunrights and carry religiously, but don't believe EVERYONE should have one. I sense a bit of facetiousness there. My wife for example: she loves coming to the range with me, she's comfortable around them, and is a natural marksman; but the responsibility scares her more than firearms. You also have people who believe a Glock is EVERY handgun; completely void of weapons safety knowledge. The person that says they'd aim for an assailant's leg so as not to kill them. The person that openly proclaims they'd deal with a dispute by "grabbing a gun and shooting their ass!" I don't believe those people should be given guns; it's our right; not a national requirement.

"Do you just shoot [a robber]? I can't wrap my head around [that.]"

Short answer: maybe.

I can't wrap my head around entitling basic human rights to a person who is envading another's. Additionally, how can one predict what an unpredictable person will do after submitting to their first demand? When will you know?
Canada seems to have better criminal rehabilitation than America (as I've briefly researched), so perhaps there are many success stories of criminals making a change for the better; before or after they've slain and raped your daughter or sister? If that's the angle you're thinking of (criminal rehab), then I say shoot first and ask questions later; he can think about what he did wrong while he recovers from gunshot wounds; hopefully he lives and I genuinely mean that.

Are looking at the robber in a humanitarian sense of no one would have died had you not intervened? We already have laws to prevent this. It's only 'Life & Limb'; meaning I cannot shoot a carjacker from my bedroom window, because he was stealing my car. Nor can I walk out and confront him and "create" a life-threatening situation; justifying my escalation of force. The judge will look at me and ask why I didn't stay in my house and call 911. It would be a different story had I been in my car to begin with and I was being robbed. There are castle-docturines and stand-your-ground laws which vary state to state; there are exceptions to those, but for the most part you are burdened with proving your life was in danger; otherwise you are obligated to flea if possible.

I hope that answers your question. Though ironic, I am not stunned that you don't wish to carry after all of your experience. I've heard of many polce officers that choose not to carry when they're off duty. I believe there is some element of emotional association with firearms (otherwise PTSD) that drives them away; perhaps you can comment. You may have had to kill someone, or lost friends in battle....that is something that gives me goosebumps and tears thinking about right now; I can't imagine living with that and hope not to. However I can't imagine my family living with that either; my life lost to a criminal.

Like guns, seatbelts don't guarantee saving your life, but you still buckle up don't you?

jonas y's picture

A Canadian claimed he served in elite unit carrying a " a flat-top, short barrel M16"...There is no SBR M16, there is M4 in US service now. Canadians have their own C8 line. And I found it hard to believe there are two SF "liberial"s show up at the same time. Fishy at best.

Mario Van Essen's picture

;-) are you suggesting that there are no liberal SF's? Why then and why not? Not seen the Canadian pop-up here, but I am not that focussed as you.

SBR M16 models for special ops have been out there as special models since day one. The Canadian C series are basically also a Colt licensed M16A1E1 version, so what is in the name. Both Colt, former Diamato, FN and H&K all made licensed special SBR versions of which a few are have never become government classified models.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

What do you do when someone tries to rob you? Seriously. What would you do?

Simon Patterson's picture

Seriously, they can have my stuff. It sucks, but to me it's better than concealed guns being carried throughout the community like in America. I understand that the horse has bolted on that one in the USA, so I'm glad I don't live there.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

Everyone assume that attacker just politely with British accent asks for your money.
{copy/paste from my other comment reply}:
What if he will stab you and will try to stab you again? Will your insurance help you? I have nice scar above my eye because some crackhead hit me in the head before even demand anything. I fought back, but I was lucky he didn't knock me out, or had a knife etc. The guy run, and I stayed with exposed scull. Than I got 15 stitches that was messed up by ER and had to get it fixed by plastic surgeon. It costed me a lot of nerves, time and I still pay for ER. It was during the day, right off main streets in downtown Miami. So no, thieves probably don't care if you will bleed out on the street.

Simon Patterson's picture

That's terrible. I hope you come to full recovery soon.

You make a good point - it is excellent this guy didn't have a gun or it could have been a lot worse for you and possibly others nearby. You make a strong argument for severely limiting the availability of guns so guys like this don't carry them. Thankfully, it is still like this in Australia; it seems you were extremely fortunate he wasn't carrying one that day in the US, with the prevalence of concealed carrying of guns there.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

He wouldn't be able to carry gun legally, as he clearly would not be able to get thru background check. If he could afford to buy a gun, he would buy it illegally and no law will stop criminal of braking it...
But what if I was someone that is weak and can't fight back? Attacker would strike again and again until I would lose contious. However that phisicaly defenseless person could reach for small .380 or even .22 and defend him/herself.

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