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.


Log in or register to post comments


Previous comments
Mario Van Essen's picture

Intelligent people just ook at statistics and let the numbers speak.

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".

Jordan GRAY's picture

"it was only after he committed his crime."

How does a police officer, let alone anyone, shoot a man BEFORE the crime is committed? Telepathy? Plus your statistic is rigged if you think about it; a mass shooting is not counted as a mass shooting if not enough people die (there's an official body count). Plus there is no official reporting of crimes that never happened; police report crimes, CDC reports deaths, who reports 'near-crimes'? You're not going to hear about it on national media as it doesn't play into their liberal narrative. There are cases much more frequent than you'd have us believe.

"mental health"

I agree with you. Though I'm sure you and everyone would agree that mass murderers are certainly mentally deranged or disturbed, the reality is what you describe and many of those individuals were never diagnosed in the first place. There is a common denominator with these young men and it's a broken home; absence of a father figure. I have an easy solution, but I'm positive it will not happen in my lifetime: Mandatory military service.

Two years, perhaps even as short as 1.5 years; combat optional. The military would be in effect a societal filter. A deranged individual would be identified quickly, and anyone else that is a borderline and simply lacked a solid family upbringing would have values instilled that they'd never receive at home.

"Second Amendment was written by slaveholders before..the..weaponry [of] today."

First and foremost, the musket was the military grade weapon of its day, just as AR's and AK's are today. The founding fathers were some bright individuals and chose the wording of the constitution very carefully. If they specifically intended on muskets, then they would have said it; they didn't. Instead they said 'arms'; a very broad and unspecific term that has held the same meaning centuries prior. I know you only see them as slave owners, but they were very intelligent individuals; most being polymaths; a designation I am confident you are far from; along with many Americans to be fair. They spent much thought drafting that document, so with the fact that they made it #2 on the list and left the word count low, I would say they knew exactly what they were doing.

You mention slavery a few times and negatively portrayed our forefathers. I can't help but sense a hatred toward America in your words. Comparing the 2nd Amendment to slavery; letting go. (Again the obsession with slavery. Are you one who believes the civil war was solely fought over the issue of slavery?) You are quick to wash away a document that this country was founded on, because you deem it outdated. I suppose you're on the lifecycle of a fruitfly and are quick to dismiss threats simply because they haven't affected you during your lifetime. 240 years is many generations, however it's only 3 lifetimes. Can you guarantee there won't be a threat of tyranny ever again? No, you can't. Tyrants are usually the guys who have a habit of disarming the people for some STRANGE reason.

I suppose your next point will be of AR's and AK's being a futile weapon against a superpower; it's a very selfish and weak minded point, but we're all entitled to our opinions.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

When last time someone tried to rob me, I got blood allover my face before I realized what is going on. I defended myself and I'm still paying for ER. People are so ignorant, thinking that crackheads are polite and just ask for your money...

Richard Bell's picture

exactly! If you can afford guns ammo etc buy insurance instead:)

David Moore's picture

That's the beauty about rights, they are there for you to exercise whether you choose to or not. Ain't nobody's business but your own. Just remember with rights come responsibility to use sound judgement, follow the law and train as seriously as if your life may depend on it... cause it does.

Amen brother.

Not the right choice for everyone, but I usually carry when the circumstances permit. I'm a military veteran with plenty of experience in urban areas where carry is prohibited where violence happens and stood by unable to do anything but watch. Now, having a choice on how to respond (drawing is NOT the only answer in such circumstances) if the situation arises feels much more responsible than consigning myself to the ranks of the defenseless victims to watch in horror as innocent lives are taken. It's out of love for my fellow man that I do so, praying the day will never come that I ever even think about drawing a firearm.

jonas y's picture

Thank you for your service man.

Let's get one FACT straight... You CANNOT shoot someone for trying to rob you. Deadly force can only be justified when your life is in danger or when grave bodily harm will occur. Fifteen years ago, in the desert outside of Tucson, Az, I had to use my weapon to let three men know I was not a victim. Because I was "In the middle of nowhere" I was able to fire a round into a cactus, the three made the decision to move on...

Andrew Richardson's picture

Not actually fact. This is dependent on the state you live in and the relevant sections of the penal code for that state. Most of those sections tend to be vague and depend on some interpretation of the statement "fear for your life".

Rob Mynard's picture

Hi Pete Miller, I don't understand your comment here and it might just be that I live in a very different type of society... Isn't that what insurance is for? I'd like to think that if I got home from a shoot today and everything I owed was a smoking hole in the ground, I would have lost a few pieces of sentimental value but I wouldn't be ruined. Do you have an example that comes to mind?

Patrick Karbownik's picture

Yes, so you get a license, a gun, everything else you need (ammo and accessories) and pay a lawyer for legal representation because you shot someone who tried to take your camera bag instead of paying Bucks a year for insurance?

Patrick Karbownik's picture

"Personally, I think the use of >>>lethal force<<< should also apply to property. Many people lives are ruined through theft and destruction of their property."

Now don't tell me you wouldn't if you were allowed to

Never called gun owners irresponsible (most of them really are responsible) but your comment I just quoted speaks for itself

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

Insurance will not protect your life. You should have both.

Rob Mynard's picture

surely the cost of membership to your local gun club to keep your skill level high enough to even use a lethal weapon for self defence would be higher than your insurance payments and I wasn't talking about replacing everything I own, I was talking about keeping me on my feet and my life not being "ruined". i would worry that if i shot another person dead (even in self defence) psychologically I may find myself ruined. But as I mentioned above, I have been raised in a different society with different values.

Jordan GRAY's picture

You say different values, but I think actually it is different perception. We all value our safety as we can agree. What you perceive to be damaging psychologically is actually true also for me. Ask anyone who has killed someone in justified defense; they see that person's face every night they go to bed. None of us (American gun owners) hope to kill someone and look forward to getting high-fives for it, and it is actually the last thing we want; however we carry because it is better to live with that image than not to live at all. Do you think your family would prefer you to be with them, or in a grave at a criminal's hand. It's you or them.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

Obviously you are not going to look for thief with a gun, but what if you are coming back home to meet with the burglar? Should you just let him leave with your stuff? And why should you be required to own insurance? Why not to shoot the thief? Because his life is more valuable than your things you worked for? If burglars were frequently shoot by homeowners, number of burglaries would significantly dropped.
Why do you think that burglary would not impact your life? Above all the stress of dealing with police and insurance company that will do everything not to pay for your loses, how are you going to feel. Will you feel safe at home?

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

At least in Florida, if someone brakes into your home or car while you're inside, you can assume that person is going to harm you and you can use deadly force. However if you pull the gun if that aggressor will make run for his life, you cannot shoot him anymore.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

It may be but it is regulated by each state so I speak only about what I know.

Pete, I could not disagree with you more. A possession is never worth a human life.

Invading my home is a horse of a different color...

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

If your life is endangered, you can. If robber will ask politely to give him your stuff than you cannot use deadly force.

Owain Shaw's picture

I thought about this* before my last shoot ... then I remembered that I live somewhere where this is not something I ever need to think about.

* = I didn't really.

Simon Patterson's picture

My thoughts exactly. I thought this was a very good article but feel relief that I don't live in the USA or other third world countries which are so dangerous that people need to carry guns everywhere.

Owain Shaw's picture

It's actually something I take for granted - and I was once mugged at knife-point*. There are places with very dangerous people who are armed. (I was left pretty shocked by some things a lady from South Africa told me once - I knew South Africa could be a dangerous place but stories she told were quite disturbing.)

I don't think that more people having guns is the best solution to this problem but, while the problem still exists and is not otherwise addressed, carrying a weapon for protection does have its own logic - but as the article and many commenters have stated, it comes with its own risks and responsibilities.

Once again, it's something I'm very glad I don't have to consider too much.

* = I wasn't photographing at the time; I was on my way back from the corner shop with a pint of milk.

Simon Patterson's picture

Yeah, most people I know who've spent a decent amount of time in Johannesburg, South Africa, have been mugged at gun point at least once. None of them were armed and they all lived to tell the tale.

I usually take it for granted that I know nobody who's been mugged at gun point in my own country, Australia, until I hear about countries like South Africa and USA. I'd hate for concealed carrying of weapons to become normal here like they are in those obviously very dangerous countries.

Owain Shaw's picture

I once got mugged at knife-point in the UK (in Nottingham), and am also here to tell the tale. I've no regrets about giving them my phone and my wallet and letting them walk away. Cancelled my debit card and my phone (which was up for renewal anyway) and I was mostly inconvenienced rather than out of pocket.

Bad things happen and criminals operate in our countries, but it seems that the rates (at least of violent crime) are far lower - and they're less dangerous because next to nobody is carrying a gun.

Also, nobody in Spain steals things in person anymore, you just defraud the state ... an area where our politicians lead by example.

Simon Patterson's picture

Owain, that would have been terrifying! Glad you got away unscathed, physically at least.

Do you regret the fact you didn't have a gun, and so you didn't kill the thief to keep your wallet and phone?

More comments