I hate guns but I realized I needed one.

Last December, I became a licensed gun owner and carrier, joining a growing number of Black Marylanders that I know who legally own guns. I am proud of this accomplishment, but the decision came with intense emotions and unhealed wounds surrounding guns in my life.

My first step toward gun ownership was enrolling in a two-day mandatory wear and carry class. During this course, I learned everything from National Rifle Association rules and state gun laws to pistol marksmanship and cartridge loading.

Through it all, I did my best to learn as much as I could. But this information overload session also prompted me to reflect on all the death and gun violence I witnessed living in Baltimore.

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Wallace Lane poses for a portrait in Park Heights, where he grew up, on Friday, March 29, 2024.
Wallace Lane poses for a portrait in Park Heights, where he grew up, on Friday, March 29, 2024. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

I was never a gangsta, but guns surrounded my youth in Zone 15 (a nickname for ZIP code 21215.) We learned to revere guns early and at the age of 5, my big cousin showed me a gun in a shoebox. His piece tucked in his waistband embodied the vicious gun cycle in the hood. It also symbolized what so many men I knew and loved used for protection and dominance.

Tragically, a gun took my cousin’s life and many other family members and friends across the city. And from witnessing this cycle firsthand, I learned that with guns there are no gray in-betweens. Their sole purpose is to inflict lethal harm. Ironically enough, I found myself working to obtain what I was conditioned to both love and hate .

“Now that sumbitch is running toward you with a machete, what do you do now?” Ted the firearm instructor asked our class. The group erupted in laughter.

The students sitting in the wood-paneled classroom came from different walks of life. There were two retired police officers, a widowed older woman, an ex-Marine who had been a sniper in Afghanistan, two security guards who happened to be gun enthusiasts ... and then there was me. A 30-something Black man torn between exercising my Second Amendment right and my male ego to protect those I love at any cost.

I pray to God for protection, but I never want to get caught off guard.I know I should not think this way, but I want to be ready to go to war in the event of a break-in or violent situation. I play out every scenario and I want to be equipped and professionally trained.

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“Say Wallace, you’re from Park Heights, right?” an over-thrilled Ted said to the class. “You accidentally cut a thug off in traffic on Cold Spring. He gets out charging you with a bat, but you have your legal pistol on you. What happens next?”

Ted is a Black man. He stands a little under 6 feet and looks like a cross between George Jefferson and Stephen A. Smith. With his law enforcement rhetoric and firearm expertise, he seems like a veteran police officer. But Ted is no cop, not even a security guard. He drives for Uber.

“Well, for one,” I said boldly. “No one in that area is carrying a bat as a weapon, and two, this ain’t the movies, so I would drive more cautious.”

An awkward pause fell over the class. This had been normal throughout the course. Ted lectured for about 20 minutes and then presented each student with life-threatening scenarios. Sometimes it seemed like there was no right answer, but he always guided students to the correct answer according to state laws.

“Dude, tell him you’ll verbally warn the attacker first,” Ryan the ex-Marine whispered to me.

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I used Ryan’s self-defense answer, even though I knew that in the neighborhood where I’m from, warnings don’t sound how Ryan was imagining. Warnings are brief and direct and followed with gunshots. “I got something for you” or “OK, I’ll be right back” is the most you will hear.

This was my internal conflict: My secondhand experience with guns versus my duty as a father and community leader to protect those I love. Feeling sure and powerless all at once.

Nonetheless, I felt the empowerment and adrenaline of a gun during the second day of training. I’ve shot guns at ranges before, but the obligation to safety and ownership felt different. I practiced loading dummy ammunition in an empty field adjacent to the classrooms. Under Ted’s watchful eye, I perfected gun withdrawal from my hip holster. I passed all shooting tests, and it turned out that I was a natural marksman, according to Ted.

Wallace Lane poses for a portrait at Belvedere and Park Heights avenues on Friday, March 29, 2024. Lane grew up off Belvedere Avenue.
Wallace Lane poses for a portrait at Belvedere and Park Heights avenues on Friday, March 29, 2024. Lane grew up off Belvedere Avenue. (Kylie Cooper/The Baltimore Banner)

But as the adrenaline subsided, the loud booms and ricocheting echoes reminded me of the way gunshots rang out growing up — an angry sound that still persists in my old neighborhood today. I reflected on childhood friends and even children I’ve taught and mentored who died by gun violence. All of them taken to the grave too early.

Nate Green, a childhood friend and hardworking, earnest citizen, was making his way home when he was hit by crossfire near his house in Edmondson Village two years ago. Nate didn’t deserve those bullets. Sadly, I know stories like Nate’s intimately. More than what could ever be described on @murder_ink_bmore’s Instagram — an account I hate that is known for memorializing homicide victims.

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Still, I stay committed to owning a gun . I’ve wanted this for a long time.

“Good luck, Mr. Park Heights,” Ted said as he signedoff on my legal forms when I completed the course.

Later, a hurricane of emotions and questions suddenly hit me . Why don’t I connect to guns or have a passion for them like my classmates? Why pursue a permit to carry, when law enforcement has shown countless times that it does not matter if you are a street guy or 9-to-5 guy, if you are a Black man, and some police won’t hesitate to kill you?

Paradoxically, Kendrick Lamar’s “Momma” shuffled through my car’s speakers. .

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I know everything

I know everything, know myself

I know morality, spirituality, good and bad health

I know fatality might haunt you

I know everything, I know Compton

I know street shit, I know shit that’s conscious

These lyrics resonated with me because like Lamar, I had to come to peace with the fact that I’m aware of the good, bad and ugly in my upbringing.

I arrived at my double-edged sword: We live in a world where guns add more violence than they prevent but, still, I’m arming myself.

I never want to use my gun, but want one in my possession. Mass shootings and gruesome acts of violence have become too common an atrocity . It is better to be safe than sorry . That’s why so many Black citizens get their gun licenses.

It is better to have a gun, with some ounce of dignity, than to be a target.

A few months after I took the class, my handgun license and permit to carry arrived in the mail. I felt pure excitement. Yes, the wounds surrounding how I connect with guns remain, but being a responsible and confident gun owner is worth it.

Wallace Lane is part of The Baltimore Banner's Creatives in Residence program, which amplifies the work of artists and writers from the Baltimore region.

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