According to the NRA-ILA, there are currently seven states that do not allow concealed carry in establishments where alcohol can be consumed, i.e., bars, restaurants and stadiums. Some licensed concealed carry holders may simply choose not to frequent such establishments, but imagine working in one of those places and being rendered defenseless every day because the law prohibits you from carrying your firearm. Many individuals are fighting for those laws to be overturned, and some of those people at the front lines are courageous women with personal stories that fuel their passions for the advancement of Second Amendment rights.
One of those women is Nicole “Nikki” Goeser of Nashville, Tenn., who is the recipient of the 2012 NRA Sybil Luddington Women’s Freedom Award. In 2009, Nikki witnessed her husband Ben’s murder while in a bar/restaurant where they were both working. Nikki, a licensed concealed carry permit holder, was unarmed because state law in Tennessee prohibited her from bringing her firearm into the building. Since then, Nikki has been instrumental in helping to put pro-restaurant carry legislation into effect in both Tennessee and Ohio.
I had the honor of speaking with Nikki about the award and her story.
Britney: Congratulations on being awarded the NRA’s Sybil Luddington Women’s Freedom Award. Thank you for all of the hard work you have been doing; you are most deserving of the honor. What does receiving this award mean to you? Can you tell us about your background and what you want people to know about you?
Nikki: I feel extremely honored to receive this very prestigious award from the National Rifle Association. It means a great deal to be part of such a powerful organization that puts everything they have into trying to prevent innocent people from being helpless victims. I have a firsthand account of what that feels like. I have worked very hard to educate others about the importance of our right to keep and bear arms for our own self defense and it is nice to be recognized for that.
The award is named after Sybil Ludington, who traveled by horse on dangerous trails to deliver her message to the Patriots that the British were about to attack. I’m sure that girl was scared to death and I gotta tell ya’, I was scared to death flying in all those airplanes to go testify and speak at events around the nation. I have always been terrified of flying, but I just grabbed my seat white-knuckled and sweated it out. After a few years of flying terrified, I eventually got over it. I would always tell people, guns don’t scare me … airplanes scare me. It was just something that I felt compelled to do in honor of my late husband, Ben, and to perhaps let our pain be someone else’s gain. If our story can help others take the steps to arm and defend themselves when they need it the most, the horror we went through was not in vain.
I graduated from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville with a Bachelor’s in psychology. I would like to go to law school at some point in the near future. I am a conservative voter, but I try to listen to both sides of any argument.
Britney: You played a large part in the changing of restrictions on restaurant carry in both Tennessee and Ohio. What did that process entail, aside from the white-knuckle flights?
Nikki: I don’t know that I can claim a large part, but I did try my best to show the importance of the legislation in both Tennessee and Ohio. I had the ability to take a horrible situation and try to make it something meaningful for others. I had to develop thick skin quickly in order to speak about Ben’s murder and what I was forced to witness. Talking about it became a new kind of normal for me. To this day, when I share my story with people, the horrified looks and tears from those I am talking to are a reminder that there are still good, decent and loving people in this world despite the cruelty Ben’s killer brought on us.
Before Ben’s death, I was one of those people that sat back and thought, “Ya’ know, somebody should fix that.” After I lost Ben, I then realized – I am somebody. It was at that point when I started to focus on legislative change and became involved in politics. I have learned a great deal from both Democrats and Republicans on the hill. Most people don’t realize that many of these lawmakers are actually friends outside the chamber floor. They may get into an extremely heated debate with red faces and clenched fists, but you would be surprised to find them out having dinner together later that night. Then they will be back at it again the next day.
Britney: It takes a very brave person to do what you are doing and push forward for advancement of our Second Amendment rights. I know you have touched a lot of people with your story and activism. We have seen women tip the scales in the opposite direction and become involved with legislation and lobbying for gun control after similar tragic situations. For example, Carolyn McCarthy, who after the death of her husband during a shooting on a commuter train in Long Island became so involved in lobbying for gun control that she has been called “the fiercest gun control advocate in Congress.” Have you ever met McCarthy? If you could meet her or if you have met her, what do you say to another woman who has lost her husband as result of gun violence, but who takes such a fierce and opposing stand on the situation?
Nikki: I have to stop and think, “How would I want someone to approach me?” I would be very careful with that person’s feelings as her grief and loss is just as painful as mine, even though we may feel differently on the right to keep and bear arms. I really do not believe that there is much benefit in trying to sway someone about the gun rights’ issue when they take such a fierce stance (on either side). When someone is that firm in her convictions, there is really no convincing her otherwise. It would only create severe tension and stress; and Lord knows, after losing our loved one, we really do not need more of that. I’m all for a healthy and respectful debate where you talk through why you feel the way you do. Present facts and agree to disagree if you must. I do believe there is a way to do this in a respectful and constructive way.
Britney: Let’s talk about your upcoming pro-Second Amendment book. How has the process been for you? What topics will you talk about specifically? When will it be published?
Nikki: I started the book as a diary. When I would find myself frustrated or depressed, I would write. When I wasn’t writing, I was reading. I read “More Guns Less Crime,” “Lessons from Armed America” and “In The Gravest Extreme.” I went through a period where I did not want to see anyone and just wanted to be alone. The first few months, when I would get off of work, I would go straight home and write. My weekends were spent in my pajamas writing, or thinking about what I would write while mowing my large yard (not fun). There were a lot of tears and going out to the shed where my father hung a punching bag for me. I used it – a lot. I lost 30 pounds in a relatively short period of time and had not been that thin since high school.
In the book, I walk the reader through the night my husband was brutally murdered in front of me by a man who had been stalking me. I talk about the most horrible moments, my deepest thoughts, my reality of grief, trauma and loss, how I pulled myself back together. I talk about some of the discrimination I have gone through being a legally armed citizen, etc. I hope that the book will give the reader a sense of how important it is to protect yourself and your family. It was difficult to write, but I hope others can learn from what I have been through. With sentencing now over, I need to finish the last few chapters which will touch on the Criminal Justice System I have come to know very well. I hope to have it out by Christmas, but that may be wishful thinking on my part.
Britney: The state I live in (Michigan) does not allow carry in bars. Your story had definitely inspired me to do whatever I can to push for that to change and I’m sure your book will have that effect on others as well. It is extremely brave of you to share your story so candidly. Did you know that you were being stalked previous to the shooting?
Nikki: Not really, no. He was a karaoke customer that was odd and had sent me some messages over MySpace that were not appropriate, telling me I should leave my husband, etc. When you work in a bar, you meet all kinds of odd people so I didn’t think much of it. He kept coming to my karaoke shows after I deleted him from MySpace. Ben asked him to please leave me alone. Then he showed up at our karaoke show at Jonny’s Sports Bar (where he had never been before and way out of the way for him to drive to). That’s when I realized he was not just a dedicated karaoke customer, he didn’t just have a simple crush, and I knew at that moment he was stalking me. That’s when I got management and asked that he be removed. When they confronted him and asked him to leave is when he pulled the gun.
Britney: Were you always comfortable with firearms? How long have you been a permit holder?
Nikki: No. I was one of those people that feared guns. I had been around historic guns when I was a child. My father was into living history/reenactments of the French and Indian War. He had long rifles but I was never allowed to touch them. It was not until I was in my mid 20s that I learned about guns and gun safety. I met a Marine sniper back then and he taught me about gun safety and then how to shoot. After that, I no longer feared guns.
I got my handgun carry permit exactly one year to the day before Ben’s death. April 2, 2008.
Britney: What’s on the horizon for you? Other legislation you are becoming involved in or projects?
Nikki: I have submitted written testimony to the North Carolina Legislature in favor of restaurant carry. I hope to see it become law soon in that state. I hope our lawmakers here in Tennessee will make the Safe Commute Bill (Parking Lot Bill) a priority this next legislative session and get it to the floor for a fair vote. I would like to see the citizens of Tennessee able to protect themselves going to and from work just like our Lawmakers do coming to and from the Legislature.
Britney: What would be one piece of advice you could give to women who are maybe considering or “on the fence” about concealed carry in general?
Nikki: My advice would be to Google search the names of Channon Christian (Knoxville Tenn.), Suzanna Hupp (Luby’s Cafeteria Massacre) and Amanda Collins (University of Nevada at Reno). After you read these stories, think about your own life and who all would be hurt from the news of your death. Think of how you would feel if someone you loved was killed in your presence. My intention is not to scare women, but open their eyes. Evil can decide to pay you a visit at anytime and anywhere, no matter who you are. You would think that we all value human life, but you have to remember that there are plenty of people who do not. There are people in this world that would end your life or your loved ones life without blinking. You think the chances of that are pretty low right? Well, so did I.
If people tell you that you’re crazy or paranoid, ask them if they wear their seatbelts when they drive. Ask them if they have smoke detectors in their home. Do they have life insurance? Nobody would call them paranoid for doing any of these things we all do for that “just in case” moment. So why is carrying a handgun to protect yourself for that “just in case” moment any different? Nobody can take care of you like you can. Find a reputable firearms trainer in your area that offers permit training. Most of all, refuse to be a victim.