It’s flattering being recruited into an ethos of responsibility. It makes you want to walk the line. It also reminds you how arbitrary some lines are. Cross the wrong state border with your gun or wake up one morning to new legislation or a new presidential executive order, and suddenly you’re the bad guy, not the good guy. No wonder some gun owners seem so touchy; they feel, at some level, like criminals in waiting. This feeling helps promote a bond. “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns,” says the cussed old right-wing bumper sticker. Perhaps there should be another one that says: “If guns are outlawed, there will be a lot more outlaws.”

A few months after taking the concealed-carry class, my friend and I attended a benefit for a small-town charity that attracted several people of means. Barbecued ribs were served on the host’s porch and somehow the talk turned to crime and self-defense. The former CEO of a huge company described being kidnapped for ransom many years ago. The man had escaped his captor and cheated death, he felt; he’d carried a weapon ever since, loaded with man-stopping, lethal ammunition of the sort that starts flying off the shelves when “Meet the Press” hosts wave ammo clips around on Sunday morning. Soon, other rib-eaters got to talking guns, and it emerged that a group of them, all women, liked to get together, don fancy clothes, and practice their marksmanship. They invited my friend to join them for their next outing, drawing her further into a new “us” that, only recently, had been a “them” to her.