Under the gun
Like thousands of other Floridians, I carry a state-issued permit allowing me to carry a weapon concealed on my person. My training in design led me to appreciate the beautiful construction of hand-held weapons. Inevitable bruises from decades in a changing society influenced me to consider a handgun as a protective measure. So it came that I bought a composite-bodied 9-millimeter automatic which I learned to load, shoot and maintain. Then another of the same design for a different location. Then a third, long-barreled revolver with the unusual ability to chamber shotgun shells, a broad shot pattern and dramatically reduced range. Accuracy under pressure less critical, no chance of accidentally firing into your neighbor’s residence.
This last weapon was not a target gun. It was a machine designed for aggressive, short range self defense. The implication of becoming familiar with the various loads available for such a weapon, and practice to use it in an instinctive and conscious fashion, is that you are prepared to inflict injury or death on another human in the name of preventing the same from occurring to you.
There’s a serious gap between theory and practice. Rather than instilling a feeling of safety and comfort, really embracing the responsibility of a defense gun (and ownership of its potential consequences) can leave you with a sense of committed dread. A well-trained civilian shooter’s least desire is to fire at an attacker, yet the execution of that action must be swift and sure to have any purpose at all.
Despite the bit about taxes, only death is certain in life. The assumption that you are facing either side of that issue can come swiftly, unexpectedly and totally out of context.
My context was a quarter till midnight, cozily tucked into bed and deep in a complex historical novel. An open window at my feet, the first occasion for fresh air sleeping of the season. Being surrounded on three sides by water at the end of a cul-desac, trespass after dark is unlikely on my property. Yet angry, cursing voices came clearly through that window.
I doused the light and peered around a curtain, knowing that sound carried in odd ways over water. Dark figures on a construction barge moored 200 feet from my window were wrestling with something. Probably pilfering tools and materials left unsecured on a dock project across the creek. I called 9-1-1 from a wireless headset to report the prowlers and pulled on some shorts. A much louder voice came from a different direction. My system flushed at the sight of a man climbing my seawall, 50 feet from my bedroom window. Still on the line with 9-1-1, I robotically retrieved the shotgun pistol, checked that the first chamber was empty (a precaution against accidental discharge) and the action not jammed.
I informed the
9-1-1 operator of the intrusion and my armed state, prompting a shift in urgency and a concise direction to stay in the house. A running commentary of the progress of responding deputies began. The figure clumsily continued along the seawall toward my bedroom, uttering obscenities and knocking over broken roof tile I'd stored to build a path. Completely defying logic, common sense, and any previous experience of human behavior. Crackhead? Tweeker? I moved to the large windows in the living room for a different perspective. Now I could scan the entire waterfront, but the figure was nowhere in sight. Had the intruder entered the house? “The deputies are there. Put your weapon away and stay inside,” crackled the headset. I didn't see any deputies, and while moving shapes were still on the barge, the one from the yard was out of sight. Probably only a minute or two passed, but until two uniforms with flashlights appeared in the yard I was on a spring with my trigger finger along the guard.
Context. Inextricably related to perspective. The deputy’s beam revealed some grinning, goofy guys with rods and reels on the cross-creek barge, one of them dripping wet. “Hey, y'all see a blue DOA lure up there?” a voice boomed, “brand new, and I hung it up in that yard.” The deputies informed the goofballs that they were trespassing on a construction site, and had been in the sights of a loaded gun when stumbling around cussing under my bedroom window at midnight. Arrogant and deeply stupid, but not worthy of capital punishment. Absolutely not worth the legal, moral and emotional morass a shooting would have plunged me into. DOA lure, indeed.
The old saying holds that if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. My homework is to keep all my tools in mind, all the time. I'm as committed to responsible self-defense as I was before, but the dread level has been clicked up a notch. ¦