Saturday, January 3, 2009


Years ago, I bought a gun, a handgun, a revolver, a Smith & Wesson that fires .38 magnum ammunition, the ones called hollow-point bullets that are designed to explode upon impact, spin randomly and disperse their charge wildly inside the body of the person you have shot. It’s a particularly damaging kind of ammunition, deadly in more cases than not. I selected a .38 revolver over a .9 mm because it is easier to shoot accurately and simple to load. The ease with which people appear to be shot with a .9 mm pistol – in the movies – is a trick of the cinema, a device of entertainment. If you went to shooting range with a .9 mm and fired it (as I have), aiming with one hand, shooting round after round without stopping, and your target was only fifteen feet away, you would be lucky to hit that target at all, even once. A revolver is much easier to fire effectively. A revolver is also always ready to fire while a .9 mm has to have a bullet in the chamber or else you’ll pull the trigger and nothing will happen.

When you own a gun for self-defense for self-protection and to ensure the safety of your loved ones, you need to be able to use it immediately, as you grab it. Preparation is something you may have no time for. You must, however, be prepared. You must learn how to operate a gun and you must become proficient as a shooter. I do not hunt, and never have. I have no interest in target shooting, although I admit the experience at a shooting range can be quite exciting and invigorating. There is a bit of a high to be had from firing a gun. Some people even like the smell of gunpowder. I do.

Before I purchased my weapon, a friend of mine who owned multiple guns and was an expert marksman gave me a harsh lecture. A man with a biting sense of humor, all pretense of comedy was gone when he spoke about this. “Owning a gun is not fucking around,” he said. He turned popular, conventional wisdom on its head. “People don’t kill people,” he told me. “Guns do.” He went on to say that nothing you might yell at anyone, especially in a moment of intense anger, could kill them. What I remember most is when he gave this example: “I’ll kill you, you mutherfucker!” he shouted, and then added quickly, “That never hurt anybody.” But, he pointed out, a calm and silent person with a loaded gun could pull the trigger and whomever the gun was pointed at might end up dead. No anger, no yelling, but a well-placed bullet to the face or chest… and the result is death. “It ain’t like the movies,” he said. “It’s not clean and, for the most part, when you get shot, on purpose, by someone who knows what they’re doing, you don’t recover.”

“Don’t buy a gun,” my friend told me, “until you have come to terms with the idea that you will kill someone.” Then he told me, “That’s why you’re buying one, isn’t it – to kill someone?” Guns are not meant as a deterrent to violence. Waving a weapon will not stop an aggressor. And the idea of shooting somebody in the hand or foot or leg just to wound them and thereby end the encounter is the kind of nonsense seen only in movies or on TV. In real life, when you point a loaded weapon at a person, you must mean to kill them. “If you can’t do that,” my friend said, “don’t buy a gun.”

I live in the suburbs of major city, a city that has a long history of violent home invasions. Once, those home invasions were unheard of outside the city. That’s no longer true. The suburbs are not immune from this sort of crime. I wouldn’t call it a public safety problem, not where I live, but what was unthinkable thirty years ago, now actually happens even if it is still unusual. Buy a gun – me? I was thinking about protecting my family, my property and myself. I make no excuses for that. If somebody is forcibly entering your home, at four in the morning or four in the afternoon, there’s no time to call the local police and wait for them to respond. If the criminals are armed, you or members of your family may be killed. Even if they are not armed, you or your family may be badly hurt.

Having a loaded gun available if I needed it, made me feel safer, more comfortable, more secure. It still does.

In our legal system we have a fundamental principle regarding the use of deadly force. It’s quite simple. You may use deadly force only when faced with it. Yes, that’s right. In most states, even if somebody breaks into your home in the middle of the night and you confront them – and they are unarmed – you cannot use deadly force without facing legal charges yourself. I know, most people who are awakened and discover a stranger in their bedroom would like to grab a handy gun shoot the sonofabitch and think they would be justified, both morally and legally. But that just isn’t the case. If your life isn’t in danger, you can’t kill someone no matter what law the intruder might have broken first.

Where I live, most people would gladly put their faith in a jury of their peers. I would. Once my friend gave me the parameters for gun ownership, I was ready. Think about it, if you woke up one night and an intruder, a home invader was in your home – in your bedroom - wouldn’t you shot them if you had a handgun immediately available? If you’ve answered “No,” I think you’re not being honest.

For the individual, survival is not only morally justified, it is a prime directive of human behavior, even if it involves killing somebody who you reasonably believe is a threat to your life. Armed or not, a home invader, especially one who is confronted by the homeowner, can and may well kill you. If you, as the victim have a gun, are you really going to take the time to consider the weaponry of your invader before shooing him? I won’t, and I doubt you would either, no matter what you say now, in the light of day, when you face no threat. This sort of reflection is an intellectual luxury reserved only to the safe and secure.

I know the law in my state requires that I use deadly force only when threatened by deadly force. I, however, trust the reasonable thinking of the average person to arrive at the conclusion that anyone who is inside my house, having entered forcibly and uninvited, is indeed a threat to my life and to the lives of my family. I will shoot, and as you would be taught, if you took shooting lessons, I will aim for the center of the torso, the largest part of the body. Miss high, you’ll hit the chest or the head. Miss low and your bullet probably strikes the groin area or the legs. A hit, directly where you aim, in the abdomen, will result in the most painful of all wounds. The chances of disabling the invader are excellent, and as my friend warned me in the beginning, the more you know how to use your gun, the better the odds are you will kill whomever you are shooting. That’s what the gun is for, isn’t it?

Some people I know have guns that they keep locked up. They even sell things called gun-safes. Others have special trigger locks. Before you can use such a weapon, you need a key and the time to unlock the trigger. I know some people who make a point of keeping their ammunition in a different place than where they keep their gun, and some never keep their gun loaded. It’s impolite to ask them, but I always wonder – why have a gun at all?

I keep my revolver in a place where I’m certain small children cannot get to it. Yet, it is immediately accessible to me, especially in the middle of the night. And it is always loaded. Extra bullets are right there, next to it. It has no trigger lock and I purposely bought a gun that has no safety mechanism. I believe my gun is essential to my individual self-defense. I believe a gun is meant to kill people, not to be turned off, and mine is ready to do so if needed.

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