With the recent tragic church shooting in Texas, the discussion about guns and the apparent ease with which guns can be bought (in the opinion of some) has resurfaced.

To be honest, with the unfortunate frequency of shootings, there is rarely a pause in the conversation.

I am not about to voice an opinion on this issue. I will say, however, that I do not own guns. Although my dad and brother hunted, I never developed an interest.

There have been guns in my home. As a teenager, my older son was introduced to hunting and shooting by some of his friends. When he wanted a gun for Christmas one year, I consulted my then-living experts: my father and my brother.

The two of them advised me on what to get, and that year my son got a shotgun under the tree.

I remember having to go through some type of background check when I bought it. He later acquired a rifle of some sort, but as I recall, he was of age by that time and made the purchase himself. As far as I know, he owns those guns today and he might even own more. Now that he no longer lives with us, however, we are gun-free at our house, unless my wife is hiding one somewhere.

I have many gun-owner friends who enjoy hunting or simply shooting for sport. I also know for a fact I have friends who “carry,” meaning they have the appropriate permits for carrying a handgun. In the opinion of some, that levels the playing field a bit in the event of coming head-on with a person who
might not have the best of intentions.

Until about 25 years ago, I had no idea there were ordinary, everyday people who carried handguns. I remember the day well. It was during my previous life as a lawyer in Arkansas.

There was a young lady who worked at our law firm who did title and lien searches. As I recall, her name was Emily and she was very petite, about five feet tall.

I was in my office one morning when my phone rang.

“Mr. McKinney,” the male voice on the other end said in a serious tone, “this is the U.S. Marshal’s office.”

He then proceeded to tell me he had Emily there in their holding unit. She had set off the alarm as she went through security at the Federal courthouse. Upon inspection, a handgun had been found in her purse.

That’s right, this little wisp of a girl was packing iron. After being taken into custody, she told them to call me.

You need to understand the call to me was almost laughable. The only experience I had ever had with criminal law was (a) the course in it I had taken my first year of law school, and (b) entering a plea for a client of one of my colleagues, something that took all of about ten minutes.

I knew nothing of how to get someone out of jail, or custody.

As I recall, I asked the guy in the Marshal’s office what I should do and he rather sarcastically said he didn’t know, but Emily wasn’t going anywhere until someone showed up to do whatever it was that needed to be done to get her sprung (I paraphrase, of course).

I asked if I might be able to speak to her, remembering from watching crime shows that new arrestees get one phone call and figuring this could count for hers.

After she said a way-too- cheerful “hello” for the circumstances, I said, “Uh … Emily, the guy there tells me you had a handgun in your purse – like a loaded handgun,” just knowing there had to be some mistake.

“That’s right,” Emily said in a very matter-of- fact way.

I knew I was taking a risk asking the next question, but I was flying by the seat of my pants, to say the least.

“OK Emily, can you tell me why you would be taking a handgun into the courthouse?”

”Oh, yeah” she said. “I’m going out of town later today.”

“Not sure you understood me, Emily,” I said. “What I asked was, why you took that gun into the courthouse.”

Emily repeated she was going out of town later that day. She said she forgot she had to go by the courthouse when she stuck the gun in her purse. When she made the courthouse stop, she forgot the gun was with her.

Exasperated, I told Emily to hold tight and let me see what I could do. She put the officer back on the line, who again told me Emily would be sitting right there and would eventually be booked if someone didn’t soon appear on her behalf.

What he did not tell me was what in the world I was supposed to do once I got there. I didn’t think my showing up and saying, “Emily really didn’t mean anything by it” would go very far.

I hung up the phone and went looking for my colleague, Jack, the only guy in our small firm who practiced criminal law, the one I had gone to court for a year or so earlier.

His secretary told me he was in a hearing and, as it turned out, he happened to be in the same courthouse where Emily was being held. This was way before the ubiquity of cell phones, so I walked to the courthouse, somehow found him and told him what was going on. When he was done with his hearing, he and I went to the Marshal’s office.

When we arrived, there sat Emily, flipping through a magazine as if she might have been sitting in a doctor’s waiting room. She smiled and waved at me, seeming not the least bit unnerved by recent events (unlike me).

From that point, Jack started talking to the officers and I left them there. Emily came back to work the next day and I don’t recall hearing anything more about it, so obviously Jack convinced someone she had no ill intentions.

Although Emily made a serious mistake by taking that gun with her to the courthouse that day, she was obviously one of those who believed in protecting herself by leveling that playing field I mentioned.

I suppose I would not choose to argue with anyone about that.

Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father,  father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at

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