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Used to be that southern men like me had a reputation for fierce independence. Insult our mother and count on a beer bottle to the head. Make fun of our hunting dogs and hope we don’t have a shotgun handy. Touchy. Ready on the instant to defend our honor.

It’s just an image, of course, a mental shortcut — and it’s not true. A quick temper is no more psychologically fundamental in the South than it is in Boston or Boise. It’s strictly an individual thing, a matter of temperament or early childhood training and impressions.

I suspect that a quick draw temper based on some real or perceived threat is basic to the male ego because of the enduring difference between men’s and women’s domestic spheres. Stalked by a pride of lions, the men of the tribe grab their spears and rush to form a defensive perimeter around the women, who have quickly gathered infants and children to their side. This has been the historical pattern and, although it may be changing in 21st Century America, where we now have 48 options simply to designate our sex, it is nevertheless historically accurate.

There may be a survival bonus to a quick temper: The first one to grab a weapon and rush to defend the clan — the sudden appearance of rivals, possibly — or some environmental alteration — ground tremors suggesting a bison stampede — may be best equipped to respond to a threat… or may only be the first to die, needlessly.

My concealed carry instructor, Dale Perkins, told about a colleague who was driving his sedan with the windows down through Albuquerque. A fine day: No passengers… and apparently daydreaming. (You understand that absence of thought; being attuned to some sensation other than being physically and mentally present. We’ve all experienced such an unconscious moment.) He then discovered that four young men seated in the automobile beside him were staring at him. And it wasn’t a friendly stare.

“What you looking at?” the driver of the vehicle said over the burble of engine noise. “You got a problem?”

Our southwestern city has more than its share of gangs and our hero’s first impression of the four men inside the car was, “Gang bangers!” Latino. Sitting low in the car seats. Facial tattoos. Scowling faces.

The instructor’s first thought was to reach toward the glove box and pull out his pistol, keep it low and out of sight. He had a carry permit; he was well-trained; he could probably have taken care of himself in a gunfight with four knuckleheads. But his response to the challenge was thoughtful.

If he simply raised the window and turned in a different direction when the traffic signal changed, the gang bangers might have chased him, angry at being ignored, being disrespected. Like a pack of dogs, they would chase whatever ran from them.

Instead of fighting or fleeing, the instructor glanced at the tricked-out automobile and said something like, “Engine sounds good. You customize it?”

Immediately the challenging driver smiled (or smirked) and shouted, “Yeah. Me and my homies spent all weekend on it.”

The other young men shouted also, quick to earn respect for the pimp-juice sweat equity they put into the car’s engine, metallic paint job and chrome wheels.

The traffic light changed and, just that fast, the situation dissolved. The instructor could have taken the challenge as a threat to his manhood, allowed his temper to push him toward violence and then anything might have happened. Instead he chose to de-escalate.

Accepting a knock to our ego, especially from someone we do not know, do not care about and will probably never see again — and the ego is not, after all, a material object, something you can touch, count, feel — is better than rising to an unnecessary fight.

One day you may have to fight, but effective response is not a matter of anger or emotion. It’s about tools, training and temperament. You’re willing to use your weapon if needed, but the best choice, if possible, is to step away and de-escalate a situation. If you are thoughtlessly quick to anger, perhaps concealed carry is not right for you.


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