'Derringer and Jessi James,' an oil painting by T.Steifer | Credit: Tomasz Steifer, Gdansk / Wikimedia Commons

TRIGGER TRAUMA?  The thing about a derringer is it won’t make your ass look fat. That’s an important consideration in considering how to accessorize when packing heat. 

I confess I’ve always had a hankering for a derringer, either a one-shot or two. Anything beyond that is, well, just plain sloppy. I figured a little pearl-handled piece might provide all the subdued menace one man would need. And as a daily bicycle commuter, I wanted something small and light enough to fit in a fanny pack. But to be fair, if you’re wearing a fanny pack, no amount of menace can ever really suffice.

Somehow, I mustered the willpower to resist this temptation, mostly because I had other things on which to squander $500 — about what one of these babies costs. More’s the pity; I could have been ahead of the game. 

Sometime this June, members of the United States Supreme Court are expected to issue a ruling that will allow all of us to carry concealed weapons pretty much anywhere we want without enduring the imposition of asking Sheriff Bill Brown for permission to do so. This discretionary approval, the Supremes are expected to rule, violates our constitutional right to arm ourselves. 

Not to be pedantic, but it’s worth noting this specific right wasn’t invented until 2008; before that, the Second Amendment was solely about “serving in a well-regulated militia.” 

Derringers, by virtue of their size, come pre-concealed. Even if you strapped one onto your thigh with ostentatious masculine abandon — the way some supermarket customers do in open-carry states when shopping by the frozen turkey section — a derringer is a fashion statement at great risk of going unheard. In California, there are said to be 120,000 concealed-carry-permit holders. Nationwide, the number was reported as 14.5 million as of 2016. That’s an increase from 2.7 million in 1999.

We are an anxious people.

Of course, that’s nothing. In 2021, we sold about 20 million guns — for the record, that’s a new record — up from about 15.5 million in 2019. In that timespan, we saw about 7.5 million new first-time gun owners. In 2020, we saw our gun violence death rates hit a new 20-year high. In a survey of 129 law enforcement agencies conducted in 2021, 57 percent reported an increase in fatal shootings, and 70 percent reported an increase in non-fatal shootings. 

Correlation, I know, should not be confused with causation, but one doesn’t need a PhD to know not to pour gasoline on a fire.

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One year ago this week, a federal judge ruled that California’s Assault Weapons Ban — enacted by the state legislature in 2000 — was unconstitutional. In his ruling, the judge famously likened the AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife, noting — with an abundance of accidental irony — that more Californians are stabbed to death than are shot to death by rifles. He left unanswered how many of those stabbings were by Swiss Army knives. 

When I first read this ruling, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the state’s assault weapons ban — however imperfect — might have had some bearing on California’s relatively low number of rifle-inflicted deaths. But now I am more struck that in the short time since Uvalde, there have been no less than 17 more mass shootings. 

I asked the Sheriff’s Office how many concealed-weapons permits have been issued in Santa Barbara County, and how many were to judges, who, according to courthouse lore, pack heat for personal protection. It did not seem a question too difficult to answer.

I was told a Public Records Act request was necessary. To issue such a permit, Sheriff Brown must make the finding that a person is “of good moral character” and has demonstrated “good cause” that his or her life is in danger. It’s worth noting that concealed-carry permittees are required to take eight hours of training and undergo actual shooting time on a firing range before being issued a license to kill.

The judge in California’s Assault Weapons Ban case described AR-15s as “average guns used in average ways for average purposes.” In fact, he said they were more average than a Ford pickup truck. For every new Ford F-150 on the road, he opined, there were two AR-15s that we don’t see. 

But even this judge agreed that high-capacity magazines — the ammo clips that allow mass shooters to spray out 30 rounds of hot lead in less than a minute and then reload without missing a beat — pose a significant problem. Even this judge conceded that bloodshed could be limited by regulating the sale of these ammo clips. 

Which brings me back to the derringer. Back when the Second Amendment was being written, an exceptionally skilled rifleman might be able to squeeze off three rounds in a minute. Back then, aim mattered. Today, any unhinged 18-year-old can now obtain an AR-15 replica capable of spewing 45 rounds per minute from a company that sells directly to customers on a buy-now-pay-later plan. Aim is beside the point. Shooting a gun is like spraying a fire hose.

I don’t know how long it takes to reload a derringer. But the most you can get off is two shots. Americans, we know, have to have our guns. And some of us — it’s obvious — are hardwired to go on rampages. In this context — with Sheriff Bill Brown’s discretionary authority to deny anyone a concealed-carry permit about to be decreed unconstitutional — we need to consider all options. Maybe we should all be packing derringers.

As recent events have shown, there are worse things in the world than having a fat-looking ass. 

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