Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog


Arma virumque cano

Dang, that's pretentious!

I sing of arms and the man, the opening line of Virgil's Aenied. I had to translate the blasted thing my junior year in high school.

Yeah, I took three years of Latin. But I recovered.

Today, we'll be discussing why I've decided to arm myself after 40 years of going unarmed.

When I announced my decision, and asked for help, I got lots of good comments and advice, and also some interesting questions.
  • Why do you suddenly feel the need to have a gun?
  • Have you ever needed one before?
  • When was the last time you needed a gun?
  • Are you playing follow the leader?
  • Is it for fun or self defense?

Well, first of all, I'm not following anyone's lead on this. I couldn't care less whether Glenn has a gun or not. If I were going to imitate something about him, I'd get a smart, beautiful wife, and buy a Mazda RX-8, not a gun. And maybe blend a few puppies.

But I digress.

Second, while I do expect to enjoy shooting (I enjoyed my rather limited experience with guns in summer camp, and I also enjoy using my bow) this is more a practical decision than recreational.

Third, I have indeed been in a situation where I wished I was armed and wasn't. I was a night clerk at a mini-mart and got robbed at gunpoint. The robber didn't wear a mask, and paused on his way out after taking the money. He was drunk, high, or both, and as he paused and stared at me, I was watching his gun hand. The gun was down at his side, but he started to bring it up, and I got ready to hit the floor behind the counter. You have no idea how helpless that feels, knowing somebody could end your life and you couldn't do a thing to stop him.

Obviously, I lived. He dropped his hand and went out the door, and I stood there for 5 minutes, just like he said, then called the police.

Two months earlier, I had been working at another store in the same chain, and the manager came in one night to talk to me. Her husband was on the police force, and he had just caught two guys who had beaten a 70 year old man to death while robbing him. One turned state's evidence o the other, and informed the police that the night of their capture, their plans were to rob and kill me, and the rob and kill the manager of the grocery store across the street.

These two events not only ended my retail sales career (no real loss) they started me on the path to gun ownership.

Here's the thing. Twice now, I've been in situations where I was completely unable to defend myself. In the first, I was at the mercy of a robber. In the second, it was only dumb luck that the police caught these guys when they did. In both cases, my survival was out of my control. I placed the primary responsibility for my safety into somebody else's (the police) hands.

That wasn't a good feeling then, and is even worse now. By their nature, in a crisis, police are reactive, not proactive. If I get shot, knowing that they will spring into action to try and trackdown the guy who killed me is a very cold comfort. As a matter of personal philosophy, as well as practicality, I've long considered buying a gun and learning to use it in self defense.

But I haven't acted on it until now. Why?

Because until now, I've had very young children in the house, and the risk/reward calculation said it was better to rely on the law of averages than on a gun. Crime is fairly low and I live in a safe area. The chances of something happening where I might need a gun were very low, so the value of having guns around the house was also very low. At the same time, because I had small children in the house, there was also an appreciable risk of a real tragedy. In my opinion, the reward (increased ability to defend myself and my family), was outweighed by the potential danger (a child getting ahold of a gun). Add to that reasoning the steps needed to make a gun at home safe from a child (unloaded, trigger-locked, and locked away) and the gun would be virtually useless in an emergency situation.

But now the children are older; all but one have been through a hunter safety class in school, and have handled and fired a shotgun. They know what to do around guns, and are old enough and disciplined enough to follow the rules. The chances of a tragedy are now low enough that, again in my opinion, the benefit now outweighs the risk.

But this is only part of the answer, because this has been true for a while now. Both of my oldest sons have shotguns, given to them by my father. They are kept safely in the house, and nobody messes with them. So why am I acting now?

Last week, I started a discussion on my personal philosophy. In the process, I started thinking about the implications of some of my basic assumptions, particularly the first one, about maximizing freedom. Freedom carries a price along with it; responsibility. If I want a small, unobtrusive government, then I have to shoulder much of the burden of my own existence. I'm responsible for earning a living, paying my taxes, paying for my medical care, and so on.

I also must shoulder at least some of the responsibility for my own protection.

Citizen safety can run the entire spectrum from full police state to complete self reliance, AKA anarchy. As the slider moves away from police state to total self reliance, the citizen takes on more responsibility for his own safety. Now that doesn't mean the citizen forms vigilante groups and lynch mobs, but that we should take the steps necessary to protect our selves, our families, and our property. It's very similar to taking a first aid course. You're not trying to replace the EMT or the doctor, but to augment them. Since I find the idea of a police state totally abhorrent, I believe that I must accept more of the responsibility for defending myself and my family.

There's another reason that contributes to my decision to arm myself, one inherent in the second amendment. Some see the first clause of the second amendment as a restriction on the right to bear arms. They claim that by mentioning the militia, the signatories to the Constitution only wanted a National Guard type organization to be armed. But I have a somewhat different take, one that accounts for both clauses of the amendment, unifying them into a coherent whole. Rather than the first restricting the second, it actually intensifies it.

It says, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a
free State..."

Necessary to the security of a free State.


The Second Amendment tells me that those who wrote and ratified the Constitution believed that a Militia, drawn from a population of citizen gun owners was necessary for the security of a free state. Not only is it my right to own a gun, but, according to this interpretation, I have a responsibility to do so, not only for the safety of my family, but for the safety and security of my nation.

Granted, this is not a typical interpretation of the Militia clause, but it makes sense, particularly so in today's world. Not only do we have a criminal threat to contend with, we now have to consider a terrorist threat as well. Homeland Security suffers from the same problems the police do, albeit to a lesser extent; they are reactive, rather than proactive. While this greatly hampers their effectiveness, the only other option is the one we've discussed before, of giving them enough power that we live in a police state.

We've gone too far down that road already.

So, since I am unwilling to give anybody the power they would need to provide for my personal security, I must shoulder that responsibility myself.
Posted by Rich
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Third, I have indeed been in a situation where I wished I was armed and wasn't. I was a night clerk at a mini-mart and got robbed at gunpoint. The robber didn't wear a mask, and paused on his way out after taking the money. He was drunk, high, or both, and as he paused and stared at me, I was watching his gun hand. The gun was down at his side, but he started to bring it up, and I got ready to hit the floor behind the counter. You have no idea how helpless that feels, knowing somebody could end your life and you couldn't do a thing to stop him

How would having been carrying a gun have changed that situation for the better? If his gun is already drawn, what chance do you have to do anything other than to provoke him to fire at you?
Posted by Chris Wage  on  01/12  at  03:28 PM

<i>If his gun is already drawn, what chance do you have to do anything other than to provoke him to fire at you?</i>

That's why you practice: <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>

Think you can get this guy in 0.252 seconds?
Posted by SayUncle  on  01/12  at  03:52 PM

OUTSTANDING post. This one gets linked and quoted. Thank you for understanding that the responsibility for your safety, that of your family, and that of your society lays PRIMARILY on YOU.

Oh, and Chris? Ask that question of <a href="" rel="nofollow">Stephan Eads</a>, or <a href="" rel="nofollow">the clerk that shot Paul McKenzie</a>, or <a href="" rel="nofollow">Uzair Kahn</a>, just for three examples.

A gun, especially a handgun, is not a death-ray. Just because a criminal has a gun in his hand does not mean that the one in your waistband is useless. But NOT having one means that your life is totally in the hands of the criminal. HAVING one means you have a CHANCE to save yourself if, in fact, the perpetrator intends to kill you, and it means you have a chance to stop a crime in progress that you didn't have before.
Posted by Kevin Baker  on  01/12  at  04:30 PM

That's fine, for that guy, who's likely devoted a significant portion of his life to attaining the skills necessary to pull a gun and pop a balloon in 0.252 seconds.

No offense to Rich, but I don't think he's exactly going to be Quickdraw Mcgraw anytime soon.

So, my question still stands. For the majority of the instances where someone has a gun drawn already, you are taking a substantial risk by drawing your weapon. Is it worth it? Well, that's for you to decide, I guess.

The unfortunate reality is that in this world there are situations where we are helpless. A man with a gun drawn and no qualms about shooting you is one of those situations. Having a gun strapped to your hip doesn't really change that.

In my opinion, you have two choices: accept the risk that someone might choose to shoot you for no reason, or accept the risk in forcing him to shoot you and hope you can shoot him first.

I'll take the first, thanks.

The reason I bring this up is because I am very much in line right now with why Rich says he's never wanted to own a gun before. I live in a relatively safe neighborhood, I'm not a particular target for robbery of any sort (being broke has its advantages!). Furthermore, there aren't many situations where I can imagine that having a gun would be particularly useful and this is one of them. This ain't the wild west, and I'm no billy the kid. If someone pulls a gun on me, hey, them's the breaks.

But, that's just me.
Posted by Chris Wage  on  01/12  at  04:46 PM

<i>Well, that's for you to decide</i>

Bingo! smile

Seriously, there's hundreds of things you can do to make yourself less of a target while drawing a gun (duck behind something, move around so you're difficult to hit, etc.). Training and practice make it more likely that you'll succeed and live.
Posted by SayUncle  on  01/12  at  04:59 PM

I'll respond as well: <i>"Well, that's for you to decide, I guess."</i>

Except in those places where it's NOT left to the citizen to decide. In those places the decision has been taken from them, and that is wrong. Especially given the fact that the State has no responsibility to protect any given individual.

I have no problem with <i>your personal choice</i>. I <i>do</i> have a problem with a system that <i>prevents</i> a citizen from <i>having</i> that choice. Which is why I will never live in a place like Chicago, NYC, New Jersey, et. al.
Posted by Kevin Baker  on  01/12  at  05:20 PM

Good for you, Rich. Add my name to the hundreds of people willing to help out in any way we can with advice, referrals to instructors, ideas for a home defense plan, etc.

Shoot safe.
Posted by Spoons  on  01/12  at  05:29 PM

Chris, there are a number of ways I cold have improved my chances if I'd been armed, particularly in the first case.

There were several opportune moments when he was distracted, most notably when he was taking the money out of the register drawer. With training and practice, that moment of distraction would have provided ample oppotunity for me to draw and fire.

You do have a good point, in that, without that training and practice, the gun would be useless to me, which is why I intend to go beyond the minimum training requirements and actually learn how to use the gun for maximum effect.

To kevin and Spoons, thanks for the support. I'm sure I'll have lots of questions over the next few months.
Posted by rich  on  01/13  at  12:07 AM

Actually Chris, having a drawn gun is much less of an advantage than you think. While it may take less time, physically, for him to shoot you, mentally you're way ahead of him. Once you decide to draw and shoot, you're limited only by how long it takes to bring your gun up to fire. The bad guy on the other hand has to recognize what you're doing, realize you have a gun, decide to shoot, then wait for the command to reach his trigger finger. All of that takes a very long time. If you'd like, get a couple of toy dart guns and a friend and try it out. I think you'll be surprise how much of an advantage the person who decides to act first will have, regardless of physical position. Of course, none of this even addresses the fact that it's not that hard to draw a gun covertly, so the bad guy doesn't even know you're armed until you shoot him.
Posted by Kevin  on  01/13  at  06:51 AM

Congratulations, and welcome to the ranks of the armed citizenry! By taking responsibility for yourself, you become part of the solution.

Couple of nits: Your interpretation of the militia clause IS the correct and standard interpretation. The interpretation which converts "the militia" into "the national guard", (i.e, the State) is the abberant, revisionist interpretation.

Furthermore, while it is ultimately your judgement, the danger represented by kids + firearms is consistently overstated in propaganda, and largely mitigated by responsible storage. A fast access pistol safe eliminates 99.9% of the danger, while keeping your defense gun in a handy, useable state. (I keep my autoloader in such a safe with a mag in, but no round chambered...recently, a midnight door pounding caused me to arm myself. I was able to obtain a loaded, ready to go gun in my hand in 5 seconds)
Posted by geekWithA.45  on  01/13  at  10:06 AM

"The unfortunate reality is that in this world there are situations where we are helpless. A man with a gun drawn and no qualms about shooting you is one of those situations. Having a gun strapped to your hip doesn't really change that."

A big part of responsible training is learning the importance of being aware of what's going on around you. A watchful, non-oblivious person wouldn't still have his gun strapped to his hip in a dangerous situation. The second-best place to carry a gun is in a holster. The best place is in your hand.
Posted by Clyde  on  01/13  at  10:49 AM

<blockquote><i>Chris wrote:
How would having been carrying a gun have changed that situation for the better? If his gun is already drawn, what chance do you have to do anything other than to provoke him to fire at you?</i></blockquote>

As another commentor touched upon, handgun wounds frequently aren't as deadly as it sounds like you think they are.

The reality is that if the enemy has a knife, you are likely to get cut before its over. If the enemy has a gun, you may well get shot. The difference is that if you are armed and mentally prepared to defend yourself you can survive the encounter. Most people shot with handguns live, especially if they are only shot once.

In the above example, you ask what good would carrying a gun have been? My answer: Rich would have had a choice. He could have done exactly what he did, but knowing that if he needed to (if the robber had paused at the door and prepared to shoot) he could have drawn his weapon and had a chance. The very act of retrieving a gun would un-nerve the would-be shooter. It isn't as easy to aim when the target is shooting back at you! Additionally, most criminals have secretive relationships with weapons. Criminals frequently don't practice with their weapons, and don't take classes that actually put them under stress and require them to make the right decisions. That is why so many defensive firearm usages in the country are as successful as they are.

I think many criminals base their shooting technique and knowledge upon what they see in their environment. (Movies, TV, etc). That tends to give them poor marksmanship and fieldcraft. Real combat shooting techniques don't lend themselves to media capture.

While there are indeed situations where you can find yourself helpless, being in a gunfight isn't one of them. History suggests the most successful gunfighters were never the fastest. The successful survivors <b>were the most accurate</b>.

All that said, it really is a personal decision that you <b>should</b> be free to make for yourself.

Posted by Kent Herndon  on  01/13  at  12:27 PM

This comment is directed at Chris, who's wondering why being armed would be diserable since the first hint of danger might well be when you stare down the barrel of a gun.

This is a question I get asked alot, and it's a fair one. The thing that's important to remember is that there's <i>no chance at all</i> if you're not armed. If the perp wants you dead then you die and that's it.

If you have the means and training to defend yourself then you've just increased your chances of survival a great deal. Every reputable study ever conducted proves this. Not only that but you're equipped to defend others if it comes to that, meaning that you've just increased the chances of those around you as well.

Anyone can think of hundreds of situations that you'd have no chance, even if you were armed. To that I can only say that it's not a perfect world, the odds of getting into a situation where you're simply shot without warning are very remote, and that we live in an imperfect world so looking for a perfect solution is doomed to failure.

Posted by James R. Rummel  on  01/13  at  06:03 PM

Great post, and a great comments-discussion, too! I think everyone has some really good points, and the discussion is well thought-out. I agree with the general opinion that having more options, even if some of those options are not particularly terrific, is better than having no options at all.

Also, this was one specific instance of a situation. A bunch of different things could have happened. If there had been different people in the building, for example: having the capability to defend other people is, in my opinion, infinitely preferable to being without that means.

The other thing I want to agree with is the importance of practice. Handguns are difficult beasts to master. It took me five years to get halfway competent, and that's just with firing a handgun with two hands under extremely calm, safe, and stress-free situations (i.e., the range, with my buds). I /suspect/ (though cannot assume) that the majority of criminals do not have this kind of training. So I think that, if Rich had had both the weapon and the training, he would have had a much better chance against the criminal -- not just because the criminal would have to make all of those decisions and reactions, but because he would have had to do them /under stress/.

Now, mind you, this is totally hypocritical of me. I don't go to the range as much as I should, and I really ought to go down to the ship's armory (I'm on the USS McFaul), pull a "redgun" (hard plastic fake gun model) and practice. Truth is, I'm lazy. But once in a while the ship <a href="" rel="nofollow">sends us someplace really good</a> to get some serious training in and I gobble it up like the Heaven-sent praline goodness that it is.

On practice: I think that it is vital that the person who decides to carry also commits to practice (and that's why I don't, not yet). And not just at the range, but through such means as <a href="" rel="nofollow">the International Defensive Pistol Association</a>, because the latter puts you through semi-realistic scenarios which train you how to operate under stress. Ask <a href="" rel="nofollow">James</a> about the LA Police and their buckets: you end up reacting to stress in the way that you trained, so it's important to train as realistically as possible. Not just because you want to survive, but because you better know what you're doing if innocents are around.
Posted by Kat  on  01/13  at  07:14 PM

Two cents worth. Everyone here has been concentrating on the victim. If said victim had a pistol the perp. might be uncertain enough to decide to bag the robbery. He doesn't really want a bullet coming his way.
Posted by Mike H.  on  01/13  at  10:34 PM

Outstanding post Rich.
Posted by Justin  on  01/13  at  10:59 PM

Great post -e ven in the UK, where successive governments have tried to disarm the population, the gun owning fraternity is alive & kicking Welcome
Posted by Mr Free Market  on  01/14  at  11:42 AM

After a lot of soul searching, I recently bought a Winchester 1300 Defender 12 gauge. Last week there was a home invasion robbery and shooting two blocks from my house, in broad daylight. I feel better about my purchase now.
Posted by Darrell  on  01/14  at  11:23 PM

I am very happy to see you joining us.

I have read the comments with appreciation, but would like to offer a comment on the issue of your concern about your children getting their hands on your gun.

I have a small (approx. 10 X 18 X 6) steel gun safe that I have mounted to the bed rail so that it is under the bed and off the floor. It is invisible when the spread and sheet are on the bed. It is battery powered and the lock mechanism is an outline of the human hand. To open it, you place your hand in the pattern and tap out a code with your fingers (a code you select). The door opens immediately, and quietly, and the pistol is readily available. The weapon is kept loaded and ready but there is essentially no chance that a child can access it. The unit cost less than $200.00, if I remember correctly. I think it is the perfect answer to concerns about unauthorized access to the firearm.
Posted by DCP  on  01/15  at  09:18 AM

I worked night shift in a convenience store. I had planned out exactly what I would do if robbed at gun point. Pull the cash register tray and hand it to the robber. While he was distracted, looking at the money or holding the tray, I would draw my own handgun, which was right next to the cash register, I could draw it with my right hand without it being noticed by the robber from most angles. Whether I went on to fire or not depended on the robber.

Now obviously my scenario would fail if the robber didn't act as I expected him to. If he simply came in, shot me first and then took the money by himself, there would have been absolutely nothing I could do to defend myself. But most robbers don't work that way. I played the odds in my mind, and figured which scenarios I might win and which not. It was serious business, not a joke. A clerk was robbed at gunpoint in my store, and other stores in town were robbed. Convenience store clerking is a dangerous job, more so than policing as a matter of fact.
Posted by Tom Bridgeland  on  01/16  at  02:01 AM

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