Credit: Elvert Barnes/Flickr

I grew up in Central New Jersey. Mercer County is the home of the state capital as well as Princeton University. A large chunk of the Route One business corridor runs through it. It’s not bear country. In fact, in the eighteen years that I lived in Princeton, I never once heard of a bear sighting. I don’t think I knew that any bears lived in New Jersey. If you wanted to see one (and you probably didn’t), I figured you needed to head across the river to Pennsylvania or go up to the Catskills or Adirondacks. I was very wrong.

The recently concluded bear hunt in New Jersey netted 607 bears. To me, that seems like a ton of bears. But when I looked at the county by county breakdown, I wasn’t surprised to see that zero bears were killed in Mercer County. There were also zero bears killed in Somerset, the county immediately to the north.

I live in Chester County, Pennsylvania now. I actually live in a cabin in the woods. But this is still not bear country. I’ve never seen a bear here, and I’ve never heard that any of my neighbors have either. However, this year I received a notice from my son’s school that there was a lockdown at one the district’s elementary schools due to a bear sighting. And articles started cropping up in the local papers about bears roaming around in the area, including one that got caught on closed circuit television moseying around the parking lot of a nearby shopping center at three in the morning.

One gentleman who lives a couple of towns over encountered a bear in his yard when he went outside at 10pm to water his plants before leaving town on a business trip

So, I started thinking about bears a little more than in the past. I’d think about them when rolling my garbage cans down my wooded driveway to the street in the dark. What would I do if I encountered a bear?

If you live in genuine bear country, having a gun around seems like common sense to me. But that’s up to each individual. What doesn’t seem warranted is to make that decision for someone.

I felt the same way when I lived in high crime areas of Philadelphia. Home invasions were common, and the police were overwhelmed and slow to respond. I didn’t own a gun in the city, but I definitely felt that I should retain the right to own one.

I’ve never been a gun control hardliner. I’m appalled at the prevalence of gun crimes and accidents in this country, and I definitely wish we didn’t make military-style weapons readily available to people. I think gun ownership comes with responsibilities, and that we under-regulate in a seemingly suicidal manner.

I can think of many ways that we can assure that people can acquire guns for personal protection that also make it more difficult to quickly get a gun, to get a gun without proper training, or to use a gun without traceability and accountability.

But I also think it’s not quite as ludicrous as many people think it is to talk about the need to have guns to protect yourself from bears.

The more bears there are where you live, the less ludicrous it sounds.

Betsy DeVos is a ridiculous person and a foolish choice for Secretary of Education. And the schools in Wyoming seem to be doing just fine with their bear protection plans without the need to keep a small armory on their campuses.

So, this isn’t a defense of her testimony at her confirmation hearing. It’s just a reminder that there’s a cultural disconnect on issues like this. And bears are no joke.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at