It’s safe to say it’s not very safe to be a bike commuter in America. Compared with Europe, where some cities see almost 40 percent of their residents travel by bike, cycling in the States often resembles something out of the movie Mad Max. Drivers squeeze cyclists off the road for fun, bike lanes are seen as parking spots, and screaming out windows is a sport in some parts. Thanks to the ubiquity of cameras on phones and helmet-mounted GoPros, more of these driver confrontations — some physical, some verbal — have been made public (as some indication of this, there are more than 45,000 results for “Road Rage Against Cyclists” on YouTube). But the dangers are still very real. In 2014, the most recent year for which we have data, 726 people lost their lives in bicycle/motor vehicle crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In the last 15 years hospital admissions for bike injuries has doubled, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
So what’s a cyclist to do? Some record everything, others only ride in groups, and many wear bright reflective gear. James England, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and a contributing editor to Concealed Nation carries a loaded (and legal) weapon. It’s impossible to know how many riders are packing heat, but increasing discussions online point to a growing trend. There’s even a company making holsters specific for cyclists. Here’s what lead England, an avid cyclists who commutes to work most days, to arm himself.
What do you carry, and where do you carry it?
I carry a Bersa Thunder 380. It’s a smaller pistol, much like James Bond’s gun. The weight is low, which is nice for bike riding. I carry it in a holster in the back pouch of my bike jersey. It took me awhile to figure out a gun that worked, and that I could access easily if needed.
When did you start carrying?
I started about two and a half years ago.
I had been riding my bike for years with no issues, but I started to notice drivers were more aggressive. Where once I had issues only with a few people, it was changing. People were buzzing me more, cars were cutting into my lane, and drivers would yell at me. That got me wanting to protect myself. I wanted to take responsibility for my own safety. Being on a bike, it’s easy for motorists to knock you over, and pull a weapon.
How does it feel knowing you have a weapon?
Well I am no stranger to guns. I served in the Marines Corps, and grew up handling them. That being said, it still can feel strange sometimes. Where other cyclists have snacks and stuff on them, I have a loaded gun.
Have you had any issues since you have been carrying?
Spokane is a pretty friendly bike city. There are numerous bike lanes and other infrastructure, but I have had drivers have issues with me. A few months ago a car swerved into my lane, slammed on the brakes, and a guy got out screaming at me. I am not a violent guy, so I just let him get it off his chest. Then he got back in his automobile and sped away. He made no threatening moves toward me, so I did not feel the need to tell him I was carrying.
Ever had to pull your gun?
No, thankfully. From my training in the military, and the numerous civilian training courses I have taken, I know how to not escalate a situation. I try to talk things through with people. Only .001 percent of gun owners ever need to pull their gun, but if you do need it, it’s nice to know it’s there. The only reason to ever pull it would be if someone is threatening my life.
What would need to change for you to stop carrying?
If the world starts getting better, I would leave it behind. Unfortunately that does not seem to be happening. It seems the opposite is happening. People are getting more stressed and tense. Many of my friends feel the same way, people are on edge. I don’t want to die just because someone is having a bad day.