12/20/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Safety Through Guns: Are You Crazy... Or Am I?

One out of 100 adults in my Rocky Mountain town has a permit to carry a concealed gun. This news has me scared senseless. But my friends' reactions scares me even more. My new West friends are super-smart, extremely savvy Western activists, environmentalists and scholars - all of whom have an astounding Cumbaya attitude toward guns.

"You have to take a three day course to carry concealed here," my friend, Anne, an environmentalist, told me when I confessed how freaked out I was to learn that the same seemingly Cumbaya folks around town who named their kids Bikram and Quinoa also might be embracing Colt and Winchester.

"You didn't grow up with guns at home, did you?" she asked. She was right.

The idea of guns as safety-enhancement tools makes no sense to me at all. And my understanding of this issue was formed at home. I grew up in the suburbs of Philly, a place where guns were carried by G.I. Joe dolls, police and bad guys, if at all.

As a girl whose first accessory was a POW bracelet, my firsthand experience of G.I. Joe dolls was extremely limited. Police didn't patrol our streets. But if a bad guy had wandered hrough the street, pillowcase over shoulder at high noon, a host of adults would have called the local precinct for action. This was, clearly, what a concerned citizen should do. Taking the law into your own hands made as much sense as performing your own tonsillectomy.

My first personal experience with a gun came in college. It was a glue gun. But I was a costume designer. As I fitted my actors, I learned a rule of stage drama called, "Chekhov's gun," that shed light on the issues of guns themselves. If there's a gun on the mantelpiece of the set when the curtain rises, Chekhov dictates, it must go off before the curtain comes down. The lack of a bang would be an affront to human nature; a tease with no release.

This, in classic essence, summed up by visceral opposition to firearms. On December 7, 1993, I was living in New York, working for a cable TV network. That night, a man named Colin Furgeson shot six commuters on a rush-hour train headed to the suburbs from New York City's Grand Central Station. One of the dead was a female colleague. Also among the dead was the husband of Carolyn McCarthy, who turned the hole in her soul in a quest for gun control, and a seat in the US House of Representatives.

"You see?" I told my gun-OK friends here in the West. Guns = death.
"But if everyone on the train had a gun --" my friends countered.
"An eye for an eye makes everyone blind."
"But in the right hands."
We were speaking in English but speaking different tongues entirely.

My friend Mary, a native Texan, and I explored this impasse recently. Mary's father, a doctor, used to carry concealed in case he had to "break up a robbery or shoot a rattlesnake...or a can," she told me.

"Why do you need a concealed gun to shoot a can?" I asked. "It's much more polite than wearing your gun out in the open," she said. A responsible, armed adult embodies the appealingly Western trait of self-reliance, my friend Anne added, during our discussion. Back East, where she came from originally, help may come when called. But here, in the land of open space, the professional law guys can take quite a while to arrive.

DIY trumps E Pluribus Unum, this line of argument goes. But I'm not convinced.

The East Coast native in me insists that safety through guns is a deadly oxymoron. The optimist in me believes there is a way to allay gun-owners' concerns while questioning the run on permits and guns in towns nationwide.

Back in New York, I knew one person who carried concealed - an ex-lingerie saleswoman turned bounty hunter from Trenton named Stephanie Plum. Stephanie was a reluctant gun-holder and an iffier shot. She was also a fictional character - the creation of author Janet Evanovich, whose mysteries were marked with compassion as well as crime.

In one of my favorite scenes, Stephanie races through Trenton on her way to work, dressed in a tight spandex outfit and a searing fit of rage. "It was an excellent outfit except it gave me no place to stick my .38," she says. "Which meant I was going to have to borrow a gun to shoot my cousin Vinnie."

In the end, Stephanie Plum doesn't borrow a gun, or shoot a thing. That non-shot, to me, is the mark of a heroine.