Very interesting posts and thread! After reading through, I've noticed that there does seem to be a gender gap in the perception of threat. I had wondered about it, but now I believe it to be true (not implying error on either side, just pointing out something). Women, especially of smaller stature who hike solo including me, may feel the need to arm themselves more than men - even men of the same stature. The perceived threat is from humans, not so much from bears.
Is this a good thing? It depends on the woman (or yes, the man) who carries. A firearm is a tool just like any other piece of equipment that goes in your pack. If you don't know how to use it properly, don't know the pros and cons of using it, and don't feel comfortable with the complicated decision tree associated with using it while under stress, LEAVE it at HOME!!!
I appreciate your posts, Sarah, and understand your decisions. I agree with you fellows that a gun isn't likely to make a difference that other noises or that pepper spray wouldn't make in most instances. And I agree that most people I've met on the trail were some of the best people I've ever met anywhere. And I agree that a gun is in no way a substitute for awareness, prudence, or good-sense and stealth hiking practices. But I am also aware that as a female of smaller stature, hiking solo I APPEAR to be more of a target for anyone who IS out there looking for a victim. A gun is ALWAYS my last resort for protection, but I am also ALWAYS armed. My gun will be concealed, so I don't provoke unnecessary trouble, I won't be waving it around in the hopes that the sight of it will scare others off, and I won't be looking for trouble, but it will be in easy reach at all times.
I am very capable of avoiding and/or difusing situations, and so far I have never had to use my firearm even in everyday situations in the "civilized" world. If, however, an aggressor (human) gives me no other option but to choose between them or me, I will choose my survival over theirs every time. That is the ONLY situation for which I carry a firearm. (So don't worry Mike, it doesn't sound like you'll be in my line of fire :) Want to steal my pack? Fine, take it. Think it's funny to intimidate the woman alone in the wilderness? Ha, ha, you win, now go away.
I may never be hurt and need a locator beacon either, but if I'm travelling alone in an unfrequented area it might not be a silly precaution, right? To me, carrying a firearm is a similar precaution. I must reiterate, though, ONLY because I have taken the time to gain experience with and temperance regarding the use of my firearm long before I decided to add it to my kit.