Should You Carry a Gun While Training?

James Whelan (AKA "The Armed Cyclist") is making the rounds for packing heat on two wheels. But is carrying a gun for safety on a bike ride or run really such a good idea?

Photo: Getty Images, Triathlete

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After recently capturing the internet’s attention with his controversial YouTube channel, James Whelan, also known as the “Armed Cyclist,” continues to traverse the continental United States via bike while also carrying a gun.

Gaps in firearm laws surrounding transportation nationwide permit cyclists like Whelan to legally do so, and some cyclists say they feel it’s needed for protection—whether from errant drivers on the road or wildlife on singletrack. Some runners, too, may wonder if they’d be safer carrying a gun for protection.

There’s no denying that guns are entwined with American politics and society. The Second Amendment grants U.S. citizens the right to bear arms. Roughly one-third of U.S. adults reported owning a gun, with personal safety and protection being the primary reason.

So yes, you can carry a gun while riding your bike or running. But the bigger question: should you?

The right tool for the job?

For Dr. Erin Kelly, the answer isn’t a simple yes or no. Kelly, who is the director of research and evaluation of the Firearm Injury Prevention Initiative at the Colorado School of Public Health, reminds us that you don’t just hop on a bike and pull out a gun when you need to use it. A gun is a tool, and in addition to choosing the right tool for the job, using it correctly is something you have to practice.

“There’s so much individual level experience and skill that goes with guns, too. So, you may own one, but like, in a lot of places, there’s no requirements around being trained to shoot one […] if you’re someone who’s just a beginner, or hasn’t been trained specifically, or doesn’t go practice at a range, I’d be really cautious,” Dr. Kelly advised.

Hitting (or missing) the mark

Let’s say you’re a highly skilled shooter, and you spend multiple days a week training at a gun range. In that case, you may still find shooting a gun while moving—i.e., riding a bike or running—extremely difficult.

According to a study on human biological limits and police in combat, “accurate handgun shooting places substantial demands on the human nervous, muscular, and skeletal system because it requires so much steadiness and hand-eye coordination.”

Accuracy in shooting, even in highly-trained individuals, can be deceptively hard: One study of police officers found that more than six out of 10 rounds fired were misses. “Unfortunately,” the study authors said, “the data do not provide a clear picture of what happened with these [errant] rounds, but, at worst, they struck other officers or innocent bystanders.”

Not only is firing a gun while in motion difficult, but experts also suggest it increases the risk of harming yourself or others.

“There are no tactical benefits in engaging in a firefight while on a moving bicycle, and there is the added risk of crashing,” said the International Police Mountain Bike Association (IPMBA), an organization that offers certification courses and training for public safety agencies.

“Serious safety risks are involved with shooting from a moving bicycle; therefore, it is recommended that, whenever possible, the officer [or person] dismounts, preferably to a position of cover, prior to engaging the suspect,” said the IPMBA.

Heart rate and target

Now take movement out of the picture. If you’ve been riding (or running) for a long period of time, other key factors come into play. During exercise, your heart rate is elevated, largely impacting both your ability to think clearly and perform accurately. If you’ve ever tried reaching for a gel on race day and found it to be difficult, then you’re familiar with this concept.

Now apply that same difficulty to a firearm. Using a Garmin Forerunner 310XT and a treadmill, a 2015  study found that “maximum heart rate has a statistically significant effect on precision of target shooting.” In other words, physical exertion and shooting accuracy don’t always go handgun-in-hand.

“I think about all the hours I’ve been out there and my own running experience, and you’re focusing on so many other things too,” said Dr. Kelly, who is also an ultrarunner. “But when you’re stressed and you’re emotionally distraught, it’s really hard to think logically about what comes next.” This may be heightened exponentially in interactions between cyclists and motorists, which are often fraught with emotion.

Gun laws vary across the U.S.

Legally carrying a loaded gun, whether with an open-carry (in plain view) or concealed-carry (hidden from view) permit, takes a lot of prep work and research, and that’s because not all U.S. states have the same gun laws, which makes crossing state lines (and sometimes jurisdictions) tricky.

Interactive Map: Firearm and Gun Laws by State

Likewise, if you happen to be cycling or running in a national park, where the use of firearms is prohibited without authorization, you might come face-to-face with legal issues.

Is it safe to carry a gun while cycling or running?

As IPMBA reminds us, guns aren’t built to go off accidentally. However, you should always treat it like it could.

“Gun manufacturers have invested heavily in research and development to ensure firearms do not discharge accidentally. Firearms manufacturers have developed various safety precautions specific to the individual makes and models that enable them to only fire when the trigger is utilized,” IPMBA explained.

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), best practices when handling a gun include:

  • Treat it as if it were loaded.
  • Always point the gun in a safe location.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger unless you plan to fire the weapon.
  • Wear appropriate gear, including a holster that will properly secure the gun when in motion.
  • Use safety locks, and store in a safe location, especially when children are around.
  • Familiarize yourself with local and federal gun laws (see map above).

Alternatives to carrying a gun on rides and runs

When it comes to safety and protection, especially of women, who are more likely than men to be harassed while on a run, Dr. Kelly suggests the following alternatives to handguns:

  • You’re less likely to get attacked while running in a group, so find a local running club or run with friends.
  • Compact tools such as pepper spray, an alarm, or a whistle, can also be effective to avoid being attacked on a ride or run.
  • You might also consider carrying a switchblade knife, which is lighter and less visible than a handgun, though they're not legal in all states or municipalities.
  • Run in the daytime if possible, and if not, consider running on a treadmill either at home or at the gym.
  • If a bear is your primary concern, then bear spray can come in handy. When threatened by other wildlife, such as moose, make as much noise as possible while waving your hands in the air to appear larger.
  • Lastly, iPhones are now equipped with emergency functions, such as SOS, which has saved 11 North American lives in 2023 so far.

“You're more likely to be hit by lightning than some of these things happening […] So, yeah, in my head, it's kind of like prioritize what you really think the big safety issues are and align [your] gear to that. There's just nothing from a safety perspective that I think would warrant my personal decision to carry a gun [while exercising],” Dr. Kelly said.

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