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
Owain Shaw's picture

It was more scary after the fact, and I did feel uneasy walking some streets in Nottingham at night but I was there for two more years without further incident, even without carrying a gun.

However, now that you put it like that ... I mean, they were criminals threatening me and my family (by extension), right? I have to protect myself from people like that by arming myself with a dangerous weapon, the same as the dangerous weapon they might use to harm me ... or more dangerous. If my weapon is the same as theirs, I'm not adequately protected. Because logic.

But, I'm going to go with 'Still No Regrets' for $100, please Simon. Especially as me attempting to use my hypothetical gun in that situation would likely have just got me stabbed ... plus, you know, "guns for show, knives for a pro".

Simon Patterson's picture

Makes sense to me, Owain, I imagine I'd be exactly the same. Plus, I can't imagine killing someone just because they want to steal my wallet and phone, even if I could. You'd get the $100 if I was running the show! :-)

Owain Shaw's picture

I think this is what makes us cowards, Simon. Cowards who don't defend ourselves or our families, or our all worldly possessions, with deadly weapons.

Simon Patterson's picture

Oh dear Owain, now you put it like that, I'll go out tomorrow to find a nice hefty handgun and some hollow points to carry on me at all times!

Of course, I'll have to find somebody who'll sell me such a thing which won't be easy, and just my asking will probably find its way to the authorities because the kind of people I would need to ask are the kind of people who also provide information to the police, for a fee. And, even if I find someone who can sell me one and doesn't rat on me to the cops, it will probably cost me $10k - $15k anyway.

But that's because I live in Australia where it is very hard for anybody to obtain such a thing for the above reasons, even criminals. Hence why those kind of weapons are very uncommon, and I therefore don't actually need one. Funny about that, eh!

Owain Shaw's picture

Yeah, that is weird how legislating against gun ownership/possession makes it harder for people (including criminals) to get them, and therefore means people don't (feel the) need to carry guns for protection from ... guns.

Strange system you guys have in that backwards country of yours where oppressive gun laws have prevented anyone from dying free and in liberty in a mass shooting for nearly twenty years ...

Simon Patterson's picture

The thing is, there are actually plenty of guns in Australia. I live in a dairy farming area and every farm has guns - they are an essential tool, like a tractor or a chainsaw.
But we have very few of the kinds of guns designed to kill humans, especially the kinds designed to be carried around hidden all day or shoot lots of people in quick succession. Hence why it would be extremely difficult for me to get one of those kinds of guns.

Our famous 1996 gun laws were really just one step forward for a culture that already didn't accept people carrying guns around as normal practice. They have certainly worked here, no doubt about it.

Happy to be a so-called-coward in such a culture, who is free and quite safe to largely do as he pleases, but has somehow lost his liberty all at the same time. The joys of being in such a backwards country!

Owain Shaw's picture

There's guns in Britain, and Spain where I currently live, too ... in the centre of Madrid there are shops that sell hunting rifles and shotguns (in Madrid these would be mostly for collectors) but as you said, these are the kind of guns that are generally used for a functional purpose that isn't killing humans. They're also too large to conceal and incapable of firing multiple rounds in quick succession - and you need permits to own them and cases to store them in.

While the general culture may have been against widespread gun possession, when an event came up that called into question whether the existing laws were offering adequate protection to citizens and their rights to not die, the laws were changed and seem to have worked. Both things, not accepting gun violence culturally or legally, are to be praised.

Also happy to be able to wander around, ostensibly free as a bird, with a whole load of other people, none of whom are carrying guns ... probably because I've been brainwashed into thinking I can be free without a gun.

Simon Patterson's picture

+Owain, it sounds like the gun laws in Spain are very similar to those of Australia. Funnily enough, the annual firearm-related death rate per 100,000 population is quite low in Spain like it is in Australia. In fact, it is better than Australia's, although the total deaths are higher with Spain's greater population.

When faced with the news that yet another gun massacre has occurred in the US, the rest of the world is horrified and immediately thinks "something should be done to prevent that in future". This response seems to be natural, human empathy by the rest of us, especially when children are shot.

We may not know all that the Americans should do about it, as we are not in their culture or country, but we at least have empathy for their dead children and a strong desire for further deaths to be prevented. But we know that our own countries don't have those kinds of problems anywhere like the Americans, and we have a fair idea why. Yet the Americans never seem interested in learning from our successes, to possibly figure out how to apply some of what we know to their own context. Banging on over and over about second amendment rights hasn't helped them with their problem, yet that's all they seem to keep on doing.

Their only response to their massacres and other massive gun problems seems to be utterly callous, as if thousands of children shot dead is quite acceptable to Americans. Like it isn't a problem, not even a small problem. All we ever hear about is their personal rights and their so-called "liberty", as if the victims had no rights or liberty, and are simply acceptable human sacrifices on the altar of the almighty second amendment.

So it appears that the rest of the world cares for America's children, but Americans themselves don't. I find it bizarre.

Owain Shaw's picture

Absolutely. And right here we have numerous people arguing about their right to carry in order to protect their family ... the children in said family being at a far greater risk of being shot at when daddy isn't around to protect them with his gun (and amazing reflexes and shot accuracy) due to other people, all of the wide variety of people who are out there, being able to access and carry guns freely and easily.

I know it's their country and their laws, but I will never understand how more guns are the solution to gun related deaths - particularly when countries such as yours have demonstrated (were a demonstration actually necessary for something that common sense seems to indicate) that "less guns" seems to work fairly well, indeed considerably better than "more guns".

With regards to freedom, and being free to own a gun if you want to ... that argument doesn't really work because America still has other laws which prohibit other undesirable things and actions. There isn't total freedom to do exactly as you please, and other things are prohibited in order to protect the public ... if something proves itself to be a danger, and critically one to other people's freedom to not die (I consider this one of my more important rights) then surely its continued presence should be evaluated.

Simon Patterson's picture

Yep, all Americans don't even have a "right" to own a gun, only some people do, legally. They all agree on that. And not all guns are allowed either - look at the enormous list of guns that people are *not* allowed to own in California, for example. So their so-called "rights" for all citizens are not rights at all, they're privileges offered to a select group only.

Of course, it is like this for all their "rights" in the USA. As you point out, there isn't total freedom to do exactly as you please in America, all their "freedoms" have limits. Which reduces their so-called "rights" to mere privileges, allowable only under certain circumstances, most of them heavily policed.

But guys like Roman, Jordan and Pete here can't see tha. They're blinded from it. It's like they're brainwashed to repeating simple mantras to avoid any form of introspection.

Which is a great way to avoid admitting their huge problem with guns, and doing something about it. Sad really.

Owain Shaw's picture

But that totally legit looking guy in the video said it was fine to just ignore national laws and buy a gun ... and that Almighty God gave us our rights. It's pretty tough to argue against that ...

Simon Patterson's picture

God...guns...the second amendment. It's all the same thing after all really, isn't it? ;-)

Owain Shaw's picture

Maybe God is a gun ...

Simon Patterson's picture

Yeah, the gun is clearly many people's god.

Mario Van Essen's picture

I tried the Almighty God theory with our Tax Authority.

Simon Patterson's picture

Ha ha, you're writing these posts from jail then, are you Mario! :-)

Owain Shaw's picture

Yeah, how'd that work out for you?

Todd Davis's picture

The VERY key sentence in this article that hits it square on the head is:

"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."

Police carry guns and have to take many tests per year to make sure they are proficient at using them. Not only that, they go through countless high stress scenarios each year for training purposes that ensures they know how and WHEN... THIS IS THE KEY PHRASE!!!!!!!!!.. WHEN to use a gun for deadly force and when NOT to...

Countless hours practicing and countless hours training on when to use and when not to use deadly force... coupled with on the job skills and years of high stress reacting to stressful situations and making split second life and death decisions...

THAT is what makes someone able to carry a gun safely or not....

Not just taking a couple training courses on how to shoot a gun straight and how to shoot it safely.. That doesn't make you a highly trained and highly skilled, Tactically proficient gun owner.. Nor does even going to the gun range every single week.... and shooting that target dead in the middle.

You could be the sharpest shooter in the world... but unless you are trained on a regular basis on how to respond to stressful situations involving life or death... you WILL freeze, and you WILL make the situation worse...

You just pulled your gun out on someone at a photoshoot and all you've ever done was shoot at a little white target in a controlled, stress free, environment... what are you going to do now?

I agree. And even after countless hours of training the pros don't get it right a lot of times. A firing situation is the most stressful event possible, no wonder there are so many bad outcomes from even the best intentions.

Todd Davis's picture

Absolutely... even the most well trained people in the world can crack under pressure... now imagine someone with NO training and experience under pressure...

Just like shooting your camera... with practice you get less nervous and more proficient at shooting more complex and dynamic situations and events... you end up getting better shots with more experience and not buckling under the stress...

Now turn that into life and death situations... with about 100x the pressure...

that's what these gun owners that say "more guns in the hands of everyone will be better"... no... it... won't...

Todd Davis's picture

Just like Shooting portraits in a controlled environment in a studio with friends won't adequately prepare you for solo shooting a wedding for a paying client... shooting a gun in a shooting range wont prepare you for a dynamic life and death situation...

Sure you may know how to get it right in ideal conditions... but that doesn't mean you will under pressure in unknown situations

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

That's right. Then better get killed, than try to defend yourself?

Actually he is correct in noting that even trained pros, working under extremely stressful situations don't get things right.
Positing "the well trained reasonable person" in your argument that history shows does not really exist is the canard floated by the gun apologists to argue for more guns. By your own admission many police officers don't fit this description so how do the paranoid, over confident gunslingers improve on this model?

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

You are pulling the gun when your's or someone's life is endangered. You are not a cop, and you don't have a gun for anything else other than defense. If someone want to kill you, is it better to have a gun or just let him kill you? How about rape?
The thing is that if you carry a gun, you do so at all times. If you photograph weddings, you are going to the wedding and from the wedding. What if there will be jealous, psycho ex-boyfriend who will decide to shoot everyone? One armed person who don't drink alcohol (photographer), can stop tragedy.

"You are not a cop" therefore just another dork with a gun and a misplaced belief in how you will respond in an actual gun situation.
Maybe you guys need to talk to some vets who were in real gun battles with real bad guys and who have had far more firearms training and experience than cops who can tell you about how hard it is to stay focused in a gunfight.
Maybe you won't talk so brashly about how "a good guy with a gun" will kick ass.
You might note that this last week alone 5 police officers were shot with 3 dying despite their guns, training and vests.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

I don't understand your argument... So what should you do if someone want to seriously hurt you? Make sure you have good insurance? Pray?
I said that you are not a cop. You are not enforcing law or braking up fights, but if someone pulls knife or gun, you can react. Without gun you can close your eyes and pray.

The actual fact is that the chance of being in a situation needing a gun is vanishingly small. The vast numbers of guns out there mean it is more likely that you will get shot by an idiot who thinks he is Clint Eastwood. I have been working in Los Angeles since the 70's and not once did I ever feel that I needed a gun. Nor do I pray. I just use my head and stay away from places that might be unsafe.
The real fact is that the fear that people have is stoked by gun manufacturers to bump sales. The fear is manufactured and is always anecdotal.
The deaths we see every day on the news are almost always some guy shooting his whole family or the family next door. Accidents and murder by family member are the main drivers, not some random psycho walking down the street.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

Calling something fact doesn't make it fact!
What you "feel" doesn't change facts either.
Friend of mine has small store in LA. He doesn't keep money at home but armed rubber didn't know about it. If guns were banned only the criminal would be armed and my friend most likely would be dead. Fortunately he was armed as well and was able to protect himself and his family.
What if there was no guns at all (assuming that there would be no black market and all guns would magically disappear)? The criminal could attack my friend with knife or other weapon and easily overpower older man.
If murders by family member are the main drivers, let's address that issue because even without guns those people will be killing each other...

Actually, it statistics that makes the fact a fact.
Anecdote is the province of apologists.

More comments