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The Gun Debate
Is a rational discussion posible? Here's a try.
The Threatened Citizen: The Pros & Cons of Carrying a Concealed Weapon
(c) 1999 by Tom Holzel,
Rev 3/8/00 DRAFT FOR COMMENTARY: NOT FOR PUBLICATION

[WARNING NOTICE: This discussion is a draft strawman, written to highlight self-defense problems, to explore various potential stratagems, and to solicit rebuttals and uncover flaws. IT IS NOT INSTRUCTION, and should under no circumstances be relied upon as a suggested course of action.]


With many States liberalizing the issuance of "concealed carry" permits--permits to allow citizens to carry handguns (1)--many of us may be considering obtaining such a permit in order to be able to protect ourselves. The upside seems plain enough: No more Mr. Nice Guy when threatened by a street thug, and woe to anyone deciding that your television set is just what he needs to complete his room decor. The down side is --well what IS the downside anyway? This essay addresses that question--a question that has been far too often passed-over in unconscious fear that under the onslaught of anti-gun sentiment, mentioning anything negative about gun ownership is somehow tantamount to giving ammunition to the enemy. But to avoid the issue is merely taking "ammunition" (knowledge) away from those who most need it--the threatened citizen.

DISCLAIMER: Most articles on self-defense are opaque when describing when it may be permitted to shoot someone because the authors are (justifiably) terrified that shooters will claim "He told me to do it," and victims will see the author's deep pockets. Thus, you cannot get anyone to give a straight answer on whether or not to shoot in any particular situation. The following opinions expressed here are not those of this author, but merely theoretical examination by someone who is not a lawyer, not a self-defense expert, and not qualified to offer any advice on which you might stake your life or imprisonment. The author hopes that by raising these issues, the legal and practical difficulties surrounding them will become more clear. Therefore, do not base any self-defense actions on anything discussed in this essay without first discussing your impressions with a lawyer. (2)

First, let us revel for a moment about the usefulness of carrying a concealed weapon. The idea is essentially that of allowing you to appear as a mild-mannered Clark Kent who can, with the flick of his wrist, turn into Superman--able to magically turn a desperate situation--a physically aggressive panhandler, a purse-snatcher, a maniac driver who has forced you off the road--into a satisfying (and very sexy) victory of good over evil. Just pull out your concealed handgun.

One could day-dream over this delicious concept in endless variation. Pick up any of the many hand gun magazine and you will see that that is exactly what many men do. The problem is that none of the above Superman scenarios are true. While pulling out a concealed weapon in any of the above situations may turn some of them around momentarily, what is also just as likely to happen is that you will get yourself killed or thrown in jail.

In most States (and gun laws are primarily adjudicated by State law) you cannot use a gun to prevent someone from walking up to your yard, and taking a TV set you were about to load into your car, out of your arms, and walking off with it to his (or her) car. Pull a gun on that criminal, and she will charge you with using deadly force when there was no danger to your life or limb. And while she may not end up with your TV, you will, in this example, probably go to jail!! (3)

Nor can you even safely "flash" your gun (open your jacket to reveal it hanging in a shoulder holster) to an aggressive pan-handler who, say, threatens "to wring your scrawny neck" if you don't contribute to his cause. Because after you leave, if he calls the cops, you will be picked up, and your claim of his alleged verbal threat will have evaporated, while the concrete presence of your gun will go into the record. Depending on the jury, you may or may not spend 5 to 20 years in jail but, guilty or not, your little macho display will have set you back one hundred thousand dollars in legal costs.

It gets worse. Let's say the aggressive pan-handler is an ex-Special Forces veteran, or has been SWAT-trained (as a police officer or an MP), or has taken one of the many private self-defense courses, or, more likely, is an ex-con who has been equally well-trained in prison. In that case, this trained pan-handler can strip your handgun from you even as you point it directly at him. If he is nasty, he can then kill you with it and report to the police that you accosted him at gunpoint, the two of you engaged in a life-or-death struggle, which you, unfortunately, lost. Since the gun will be traced back to you, there will be little question in the minds of the authorities that it was you who must have drawn the gun. Your death will be successfully described by the pan-handler as "self-defense," and your killer will go free. (But at least in this case you won't have incurred any onerous legal expenses.)

Here is a great "trade" secret: The effectiveness of self-defense training to reduce the effectiveness of an untrained aggressor with a handgun is so high (and so poorly known), that a self-defense expert can be forced on his knees, with a gun pressed execution-style against the back of his head, and still disarm the aggressor and kill him. (4) Here is another secret: holding an expert at gunpoint inside a room will probably result in the expert disarming you. If the expert is of low moral character, he will then kill you in "self-defense." Not what you expected to hear? Let us compare some common gun fantasies to harsh realities.

Most untrained civilians have learned everything they know about the use and utility of guns from the cinema and TV. Ask yourself when these two fantasy merchants ever got anything important right. (Do you believe your kids can learn about true love from Hollywood?) Just as surely, you can't learn about the life-or-death realities of defensive gun use from the silver screen. Especially your life or death.

Here are two real-life examples: In a contest between you holding at gunpoint a quick-draw artist with a holstered pistol, who would win? The answer--the quick-draw artist, of course. Because in the case of any pointed gun, the winner is the person who moves first. And in this example, the time required for the quick-draw specialist to draw a gun from his holster and shoot you is less than your reaction time to pull the trigger. Your reaction time to pull the trigger is long--probably three-quarters of a second to recognize his move and to pull the trigger, and it is lengthened by indecision, and fear. He needs only 1/2 second to draw and shoot. By the time you see him make his move, it is already too late.

In a second example, say you have a pistol concealed in a fanny pack that you are wearing in front of you--one of those Velcro models designed to afford "instant access" to your handgun. A felonious type eyes the bulge in your wallet pocket with envy turning to determination. He is 20 feet away and holding a large knife in his hand. "Don't even think about it, buddy," you holler at him, stroking your fanny pack suggestively, and feeling superior and extremely macho. Relish that feeling, because it will be your last but one. The last feeling will be one of extreme shock as the felon has sprung at you, covered the 20-ft distance in less time (1.5 seconds) than it takes you to pull out your pistol, stabbed you mortally in the gut and relieved you of your weapon. If there was no witness, the felon will access your wallet, take your pistol (which, not having been involved in any reported crime, is "clean,") and leave you to die an extraordinarily painful death. Quite a horrendous price to pay to fuel your macho fantasies.

(For this reason--reaction time delay--it should be the law (but it is not) that anyone with a gun in his hand when approached by the police should be shot on the spot. This law would train the criminal population to quickly drop the gun in the their hands when approached by police--or maybe give up using guns (!) and many lives would be saved, and many wrongful-death lawsuits avoided.)

It should not even be worthy of mention, but the stand-off scenarios that seem to be proliferating in Hollywood, where two or more pistol-wielding persons point guns at each other at point-blank range, is a "stalemate" dictated only by plot weakness. There is no real-world stalemate in that situation; who ever wants to prevail, can do so simply by being the first to pull the trigger. The other person(s) will be dead before they know what hit them.

So if it is abundantly clear that for the average untrained civilian to "carry," (to wear a concealed handgun) in order to prevent theft or disorderly conduct can be hugely counterproductive, what self-defense circumstances are there in which civilians may usefully carry concealed weapons? There are only two (5).

The most urgent practical reason to carry a concealed gun is too prevent yourself from being attacked by a likely assailant in a genuine threat situation. The threat must be real, and it must be one in which grievous bodily injury or possible death may occur. Walking through a tough neighborhood does not usually count--people do that every day. Worrying about being "picked-on" in a bar (the "97-lbs weakling" defense) does not count. Worrying about having your home robbed doesn't count, because you do not generally need a permit to own a gun in your home (6), and we are talking here about carrying a gun outside the home. This is far more likely to be the needs of a threatened woman.

Thus, concealed carry as insurance for a low threat situation is generally not a useful act. It is not useful because the high actual liability of carrying (discussed below) outweighs the low potential reward. Ask yourself how often you really needed a gun in past situations that you obviously got out of alive to date. If you are a 45-50 year old white male (7), and your life-style is such that you have never been held-up or never been in a fear-for-your-life situation (in which a gun would have made a difference), a decision to carry now may be more a reflection of a decline of your (ahem!) physical prowess than of any increased threat.

Do not permit yourself to indulge in Hollywood fantasies that, because you now carry, you will somehow be able to "prevent crime" or "defend the underdogs" of the world a la Bernard Goertz (8). That is as likely to happen as Pamela Anderson falling desperately in love with you, and insisting on moving in. Not totally impossible, perhaps, but don't kick the wife out yet.

However, if genuine death threats or threats of serious bodily harm have been made to you by a person able to carry them out--say an ex-spouse or boyfriend, a bitter business partner, a cuckolded husband or wife, etc., or by organizations able to carry them out--anti-abortionists (9), "animal rights" fanatics, religious fundamentalists, the Russian Mafia, short-changed drug dealers, or any bitter ideological enemies, then by all means, arm yourself. These threats have to come from someone with a known history of violence. A cut-off motorists screaming he's "gonna' kill you" the next time he sees you, does not count. Nor do neighborhood toughs muttering idle threats on general principles.

And if you have been mugged before and cannot move out of the neighborhood, if your ex has seriously beat you (or others) up and now threatens you, if you aid or perform abortions or perform medical experiments on animals--in these and similar cases, if you have received a serious threat, then you must consider arming yourself.

There are two reasons you should try to protect yourself with a gun from physical violence or from armed robbery:

1. The mere showing of a weapon ("presenting" it) in such situations results in the criminal act being aborted about 650,000 times each year. (10) This statistic is so overwhelming, it has reduced the anti-gun fanatics to choked apoplexy.
2. The police are not legally obligated to protect you from a death threat. They may protect you, but only you can guarantee protecting yourself.

The other realistic reason for buying a gun for concealed carry is to protect, legally, very valuable property that you must transport. If you carry with you valuables as part of your job, you have the right (in most States) to carry for protection. NOT to kill a thief who is merely robbing you, but to kill a thief who has expressed no compunction about killing you to get at your valuables. Again, the threat must be on your life and limb because of the valuables. This is a fine line, but the laws that jump into play when you shoot someone are drawn very fine indeed.

But buying as gun is not nearly enough. If you learn but one thing from this essay, learn that a gun is not what you think it is; it is not magic. After all, what could seem more magic than pointing at a bad guy at a distance and eliminating him as a threat? The problem is, that is how a gun shooting blanks works in Hollywood, not how a real gun shooting bullet works in a real life. In real life, a gun has many severe limitations: in a real-life altercation, with its attendant huge jolt of adrenaline into the bloodstream, even trained marksmen miss their targets at close range, attackers who are hit in the heart don't stop attacking, guns misfire and jam, they snag fatally on clothing when being drawn, they aren't where you put them when you need them--the list of what can and does go wrong is nearly endless. Skilled bullies, on the other hand, are often able use their always-ready fists or trouble-free knives with much greater effectiveness than you, an untrained shooter, can use a complicated, concealed gun. (11)

There is a startling "real police" video of a trained State Trooper firing in the correct combat stance four or five shots at an assailant at a distance of about 15 feet (the assailant is returning fire), with both shooters missing every shot. You can believe that shooting someone, even at close range, even when trained, can still be a very iffy thing. (This typical experience also pretty much lays to rest the "shoot to wound" piety that is in the minds of nearly every reasonable juror, who has seen movie heroes do it all the time.)

Let me give another example of the expert shooter mentality: I am no more than a decent pistol shot, who once produced a 3.5-inch group at 25 yards with a .45-caliber automatic, when holding it in a two-handed combat ("Weaver") stance. (However, on some days I can also have trouble in placing five shots into a 12-inch circle.) And I have varmint-hunted for years. So it was an very unnerving surprise to experience the following: Standing about 15 feet from an 8-1/2 X 11 sheet of paper (the kill-zone size of a human) taped onto the backstop at chest height, I lifted my .45 from my side with one hand, pointed it at the target with both eyes open (but without sighting) and fired two shots. I lowered the gun and raised it again and fired two more shots. Then two more, etc., for a total of eight shots. Pretty lethal, right? I mean a .45 is supposed to lift a guy right off his feet. Well not really. I hit the target once in eight shots, in the very lower left-hand corner, and this under zero pressure.

If moderately experienced shooters such as me have difficulty hitting their target, how well is an untrained, less-strong woman going to do so? When I described the above incident to a well-know personal defense expert (who, of course, advocates the use of large caliber concealed guns for everyone), he responded: "Well, I know a woman who is an expert shot with the .45. Her husband is a cop and a shooting coach." A great solace to all the impoverished women to know that even if they can't hit, with their expert-recommended .45, the man who is battering them, there is at least one woman who could! And a typical example of the "expert" self-defense mentality, as it applies to the novice..

The point of this example is that when you are thrust into the extremely terrifying situation of having to decide whether to shoot at an attacker, unless you have rehearsed your shooting skills, you may not hit your target at all. But you will surely piss him off. So you must practice the likely scenarios in which you expect to be attacked, and your response to them. And you must practice shooting. You cannot just think about your response, anymore than you can think about how you'd be able to ski down an expert slope if you had to.

Just remember that SWAT guys, Special Ops soldiers and self-defense experts are good shots not because they own guns, but because they have religiously rehearsed their responses to many different shooting scenarios, and often under deliberately stressful conditions. They have learned to control their gun and their fear, and their accuracy improves enormously.

The above straight talk is to set the record straight--not to deter anyone who might need to use a gun to defend him or herself. Because most defense situations do not require you to shoot anybody at all!

Just pulling out a pistol often works wonders in changing a criminal's mind. As mentioned above, as many as six hundred and fifty thousand times a year, an intended victim "presents" a gun to the total surprise of the aggressor--who therefore changes his mind and retreats--without a shot being fired. Just be sure that when you decide to draw your gun, you have done so because 1) you believe your life is in imminent danger and, 2) you have also decided to shoot to kill if he does not retreat immediately. If you are not sure of either one, don't pull out the gun. Don't even let him know you have a gun. But once decided, pull it our aggressively and be fully prepared to shoot the instant he makes a move toward you. And then, if he does not retreat, no lengthy decision-making process is required of you. His failure to submit means only one thing--he does not believe you will actually pull the trigger, and he is figuring out how to disarm you in order to get on with his business. So show him how oh-so-wrong he is.

There is one other major issue to consider--your own psychology. If you are the type who, in an emergency, becomes a coolly rational person for whom the action slows down so that you seem to have more time to react--you would probably be a better candidate for owning a concealed gun. But if you become dazed and confused in a sudden emergency, if you become inexplicably clumsy, perhaps you should think twice. The mildly hysterical or panicky personality is at greater risk in becoming flustered and shooting himself or being disarmed. At the very least, such a person will require a great deal of training, and will be able to respond better to threats in controlled situations where he has some warning of the approaching danger, and prepared himself with much realistic practice.

Once you decide you have realistic reasons to buy a gun for concealed carry, you should think through completely all that the decision entails. There is much more to it than what most self-defense books teach. Too many self-defense authors are so in love with their guns, they don' t even pay lip service to the essential elements a beginner needs to know, while lavishing ink over the hair-splitting arcana of exactly which gun to buy, or what perfect holster to use, and which bullet--as if using the right gun in the right caliber solves all the other un-enumerated problems. All-too-often, they focus effusively on which type and model handgun is best for self-defense; which caliber is most disabling, which type of ammo is most effective in stopping an intruder, which of the different shooting stances works best, etc., etc. Little or nothing is mentioned about the realistic day-to-day practical aspects confronting a beginning shooter who is facing an imminent threat. Aspects such as how to get a gun quickly, how to apply for a carry permit; how to clean a gun, and how to develop a defensive strategy that reduces the need to use a gun at all. None of them speak to what it means to have a gun on you when you go about your Formerly Normal Life.

"Formerly Normal Life"? You bet. Once your have that great secret weapon pressed against your belly or on your hip, life will no longer be the same. You can't allow your jacket to flap open if you're wearing a shoulder holster. Accidentally pressing into another man in a crowded elevator while wearing a belly-band holster will earn you a dirty look or a knuckle sandwich. Clothes must be chosen with care to not "print" (outline) the shape of a gun against your body. Women carrying their revolver in their handbag can no longer root around in it--wide-open--in the supermarket line, searching for a purse, wallet, compact, lipstick, comb, scrunchy, barrette, bus fare, discount card, coupons, checkbook, cell phone, etc., while the entire line of customers looks idly on. Nor is there is anything as off-turning as having a pistol drop loudly onto the floor as you bend over to pick up a dropped canape at the parish social.

Then there are the places you can't legally go carrying a gun: All airports, police stations, schools, hospitals, all federal buildings (the post office), military bases (the PX), and so on. (In Florida you can't enter a bar.) And what about your employer? Some have rules--perhaps unwritten--against armed employees.

Finally, there is the inevitable psychological effect on yourself of not being able to be completely open with your fellow man. They are socializing with you under the flag of open and honest relations; you cannot be open and honest because you are secretly armed and dangerous. Keeping that secret while conducting your normal, everyday life is a form of social fraud, and must at least dent your own psyche. Obviously, if your life is in danger, you have no choice. Just recognize up-front that there are hidden costs in being secretly armed. And carrying changes your outlook. It tends to make some people excessively aggressive. It is not a decision to be undertaken frivolously.

On the other hand, if you do arm yourself and thereby successfully fend off an attack--especially a deadly attack, you will have gone a long, long way in restoring your inner peace with the enormously empowering realization that you need not be a helpless victim, and that no one can threaten you with bodily harm and get away with it. Remember, the police are not legally obliged to protect you from someone who issues death threats against you. In the final analysis, only you can protect yourself.

Since it is such a burning issue with the self-defense experts, let us quickly clear up the question of which gun is the "most effective" for a novice shooter to carry concealed. Firstly, effectiveness means many things: What it does not mean is only which gun is the best at stopping an assailant. That is like arguing which camera "takes the best pictures." (The answer is simple--an 8 X 10 bellowed monster the size of a one-gallon jug. It will make fabulous pictures--IF you know how to use it, and IF you remember to bring it, IF you brought a light meter and a tripod. And IF you have 30 minutes to set it up for each picture.)

Concealed gun effectiveness for a beginner means at least selecting a handgun that:

1. is safe to own
2. is safe to use
3. which will reasonably stop an assailant at 3 to 20 feet
A. Based on ballistic capability of the gun
B. Based on user's capabilities
4. That the user always takes with him

Without getting into any of the myriad of technical details, the answers for a first-time user really are simple--no matter what the self-defense experts say:

1. Chose a gun of .38-caliber.
2. Chose a revolver with a 2-inch barrel. These are often called "snub-nosed" revolvers. Check around to find one that is not too heavy--say 18 oz or less.
3. Buy a used gun in reasonably good condition at a gun fair/swap (check sports sections of Sunday newspapers, especially smaller papers (12)), gun store or pawn shop (Yellow Pages). If there is any chance a kid may find your gun--your own kid or a visiting neighbor--buy, and use a trigger lock when you store the gun at home. (If you get caught in Massachusetts with a pistol stored without a trigger lock, you could face a ,000 fine and a year in jail. A bigger punishment than getting caught using heroin.) Realize that it is genetically impossible for any young boy to obey instructions not to touch a gun while you are gone.
4. Find a shooting range that offers instruction (look in the Yellow Pages or on the web) and pay for (or charm) at least one hour of shooting instruction that includes how to load and unload your gun, how to shoot it, and how to clean it. (Cleaning an automatic pistol means disassembling it which is complicated.) Some shooting ranges sell guns, so they may offer you one-stop shopping for a purchase and instruction.
5. You really need much more instruction than one hour. The second-best choice would be to get a half-dozen half-hour lessons or practice shootings. The first-best--to join a shooting club and practice regularly.

There, that's all the beginning gun owner needs to know about choosing the "right" gun for concealed carry. Why .38-caliber? It's true that 9mm has lately been the preferred combat round; and it's true that .40-caliber is today's FBI man-stopper of choice; and it's true that a .45-caliber slug may be best at knocking an assailant off his or her feet. It's even also true that a .357 magnum round will cut down anybody any time. But these are all slugs for the experts, and all require an expert ability to shoot. When a first-time shooter fires a .45, the gun practically leaps from her hand, and pretty much eliminates the probability of her getting off a second shot--if she hasn't dropped the gun in fright. Worse, guns of large caliber are heavier than smaller-caliber guns, so they will be left at home rather than taken along. ("I'm only going to the drug store across the street").

Compared to an "automatic" pistol(13), a revolver is a simple gun, where the user can see instantly whether or not it is loaded (by snapping open the cylinder). In case of misfire, the user merely pulls the trigger again to position another cartridge--something a frightened inexperienced shooter would do automatically, with no training whatever. (When an automatic pistol misfires up-close, the inexperienced user is in a world of trouble.) Finally, a revolver is a cinch to clean.

Nearly as important as getting a gun (and if your life is in danger, any handgun is better than none) (14) is the hugely important issue of building a legal defense before you shoot anyone. To this end, you should buy some books on the subject. It is astonishing that a study of the relevant law is not a requirement for obtaining concealed carry permits. Even automobile permits require a rudimentary study of the law. (15) One of the most valuable books on the legality of shooting someone is The Law of Self-Defense by Andrew F. Branca. (16) It explains by many legal examples (not stirring anecdotes) just what the law says, and how it has been interpreted by the courts. Remember, stirring newspaper accounts or American Rifleman magazine snippets on civilians who used a gun to successfully fended off an attack are not legal advice; nor does the NRA provide examples of all those citizens who tried to defend themselves with a gun and got thrown in jail. (17)

Remember, you are not carrying a gun to make the world safe for democracy. You have already been threatened, or have good reason to believe your life will be at risk in the immediate future. The first step is to try to get that threat on the record. If there is a threatening letter, make several Xerox copies and take (do not send) the original letter to the police. Insist that a formal complaint be initiated and get paperwork from them to indicate you have advised them of this threat. Ask for a restraining order even though this might seem to make the aggressor even more angry. Better an angry ex than an ex who sits in jail happy he finally got rid of you. Copy this paperwork and keep one set of copies at home in a safe place, and another somewhere else--at work, in a safe deposit box or at a friends. Some place where an angry boyfriend won't think to search for it. If you can afford a lawyer, get one and ask him to file for a restraining order.

If the threats are by telephone or verbally to you in person, buy a small, cheap cassette recorder and a suction-cup telephone connector at any Radio Shack store and record the conversation. (Take the recorder with you to work if he calls you there.) Once you have an incriminating recording, make copies and take it to the police, as above.

The second step is to look for witnesses--anyone who has seen you being threatened or being roughed-up. These could be kids, neighbors, the mailman, etc. Get their names and telephone numbers. If they will oblige, ask them to give you a written description of what they saw happen to you, and sign and date it, and make copies and add to your police/lawyer's file. Or just have them and talk into your cassette recorder, identify themselves, and state what they saw or heard.

The third step is to tell a few close friends of what is happening, as well as your employer, if that won't jeopardize your job. (18)

The most difficult part of protecting yourself with a handgun may be to get a carry permit from the Police Department. One thing they sometimes require is a list of all the places you have lived in the past 20 years! In a few jurisdictions, getting a handgun permit is nearly impossible, or requires political clout--usually a lot more than a single mother can muster. New York City and Washington, DC are two such places where your attacker practically has to announce on network television that he intends to do you grievous bodily harm before the police department will move--and they may still refuse. (19) Also, they are often extremely overworked and understaffed in their Licensing Units. This can put you in the impossible position of having to weigh the risk of carrying an illegal firearm (0-20 years in jail) against the risk of getting killed! Even obtaining an illegal firearm is difficult for the law-abiding beginning shooter--especially on the short notice a death threat often demands. And, if you get caught with an illegal gun, it may mean you can be barred for life from ever obtaining a carry permit regardless of the danger to your life! (This is how our government protects the innocent from predators. The predator's rights, however, are jealously guarded by the entire legal apparatus.)

Just keep in mind the police are not legally obligated to protect you from death threats. They may protect you, or they may leave you to protect yourself. And they may, or may not give you the right to use a gun to do so.

Fortunately, more and more States are legislating "shall issue" laws which require the police to issue a carry permit to any citizen over the age of 21 who has a clean record--and even to some with a less than spotless record. And in those locales where the laws are more restrictive, (the"may issue" cities such as Boston, and San Francisco) building a strong case may help speed the issuance. But this is not done overnight. In restrictive cities, it can take two to three months for your permit to clear--often far too long for it to be of help in a sudden emergency situation. In an acute emergency, if the police won't help, try to think of a friend, a business acquaintance or any sympathetic person who might be able to help. But don't do nothing, and dont cower.

Avoid applying to the police to issue you a carry permit when you are highly distraught--say after a frightening encounter with your assailant. Rather, wait until you are composed (even if it means coming back at another time). The police don't want to issue anything in the heat of a highly emotionally-charged situation. They prefer carrying out the application interview with a calm, rational adult.

Finally, after having created a legal defense by registering your threat with the police, and a personal defense by buying a gun and learning to use it, think carefully about how you can further decrease the threat by creating a situational defense.

Consider that your home is still the most likely place for an assault by someone you know. Therefore they may lie in wait for your coming or going. Figure out where the creep is likely to lay in wait, and how you could evade him. Practice the evasion--say by running to the back door of your house, or a neighbor's garage, etc. Practice drawing the gun (don't let anyone see you). You will discover on the first practice run that nothing worked as you thought it would. You couldn't get you hands around the grip of the gun because it had become entangles in a pair of panty hose; when you finally got it out, the strap of your handbag interfered with the hammer of the gun. When you jumped behind a car to brace yourself for the shot, you stepped off the curb and twisted you ankle.

Here is Trade secret Number 3: Any act that you must perform under the adrenaline jolt of fear must be practiced many, many times. This includes shooting someone. (It especially includes shooting someone.) And this is the reason trained self-defense experts are so much better at attacking or defending than untrained shooters. By dint of their constant repetition, they are able to perform the correct action in spite of the disturbing influence of adrenaline. Like football players, their practice lets them think under the extreme pressure of getting clobbered--and they get good at it, and they become very fast and sure. Once confidence is gained by the realization that they can outmaneuver an untrained person, much of the fear disappears, and the trained shooter can then concentrate on the task at hand without interFEARence. Like the expert skier who glances with gleeful anticipation down an extreme slope that would kill a novice, the trained self-defense expert exercises a highly practiced skill that will let him eliminate most of the danger of a novice shooter's pointed gun.

A stout door and lock system is another good first defense. Cheap locks screwed onto flimsy doors can be kicked-in with few good boots. A solid wooden door is a necessity, and one that is steel clad is even better. Consider installing a "Fox" lock which consists of an iron bar standing two feet back in a recess in the floor The long bar slips into the door lock at chest height and helps braces the door from inward battering. A steel door jam (the outer door frame) will also help prevent the door from being pried open too quickly. Of course, no door will withstand a severe battering--but a good door may give you enough time to call 911. Shooting though the door at your attacker who is trying to break it down is also a powerful discouragement. (This is not advice the self-defense experts like to give, because, as they say, you might kill an innocent bystander. Sure. There are always lots of old ladies standing around watching while some nut tries to batter down a door. (20))

In nearly all States, any stranger entering your home by force can be considered intending to kill you and may be shot on the spot without warning and generally without severe legal consequences 21)--even if you could have escaped out the back door. But, for the novice shooter, if you enter your apartment and discover an intruder stealing your belongings, leave instantly. If you cannot leave easily (perhaps he blocks your escape), some experts believe that your best option is to pull out your gun and just shoot him. But note the exact situation:

1. You enter you home and are surprised by an intruder.
2. And, the person is not authorized (not Con Ed, the plumber, etc.).
3. And, you cannot leave because your way is blocked by the intruder. (Even though you are not legally obliged to do so, leave if you possibly can. Try to leave the armed confrontation to the professionals.)
4. And, at the sight of your gun, the intruder does not immediately freeze.

Do not negotiate. Do not let him pretend to "explain" why he is here, and under no circumstances let him make any move, however casually. Your job is to make him freeze, and, at a safe distance from you call 911. If he talks, tell him to shut up. Keep the maximum distance between him and you. Never let him get closer. Realize that if he is close to you, raising his hands puts them very close to your outstretched gun. Snatching the gun away will take less than a split second.

If he ignores you or makes any move, some people will immediately shoot him twice. Remember the earlier lessons: if you are not certain about shooting him, your reaction time to his sudden aggressive move will almost always be slower than the time it takes him to overwhelm you. However, from the moment he is aware of you, he, too, needs a second or two to assess how risky it will be to grapple you. If there are two thugs, shoot each one separately, and then prepare to shoot them each once again. Why two shots? It is never certain you will disable anyone with a single shot. A record exists of a man crazed on PCP who had his entire heart blown out by a shotgun blast and was yet able to run for 15 seconds before dropping dead. (22) A second shot greatly increases your chances of disabling the assailant, reducing his ability to attack you. If he is still advancing on you, shoot until he stops. But remember, you have only five shots. (23) That should be plenty at close range. Once you are empty, run like hell. Do not rush up to give them first aid: (24) do not examine the bodies!!

Once your are safe, call the police to report the attack. Tell them shots were fired. Then, if you have the presence of mind, call a lawyer while you are still free. Or even better, do it the other way around. PUT THE GUN AWAY. Cops converging on a shooting are in a state of high tension, and the sight of a person with a gun--any person--can lead to fatal accidents--especially if you are distraught. Remember, you've shot someone; at this stage, you're the only person who knows you are innocent.

Generally, a police offer on the scene will interview you, and make an on-the-spot decision whether it is safe to leave you alone for further questioning later (after getting your complete information, including talking to you about the incident), or to bring you in for further questioning now. Ideally you will maintain the presence of mind to say nothing except name rank and serial number. Do so in as helpful and positive a manner as you can muster, stating that you have already reported this person's threats to the police, and that your lawyer absolutely insists you say nothing more. The police officer must make the decision whether to arrest you or not. In some towns, he may be obliged to bring you to the police station. This is when the legal maneuvering will begin--and it will be a major, major headache.

WHEN YOU SHOOT SOMEONE, YOU MUST, REPEAT, MUST GET A LAWYER. Your stand on the edge of a huge cliff, with many unfriendly strangers straining to push you over--the anti-gun crowd may see your example as another reason to ban guns--and they will lie shamelessly to portray you as a wanton murder if they think it will help make their point; the assailant's family will attempt to have you prosecuted to the full extent of the law--and sue you. If they are politically connected, or are practiced at seizing the eye and ear of the media, your obvious innocence will vanish like the morning mist, and you will be chewed up by the maws of a cantankerous legal system that can be whipsawed left and right by whoever can create the biggest stink. Do not think your noble innocence will be self-evident to all and that the prosecutor and judge will smile knowingly upon your bravery. Don't count on anything more than the meanest lip-service from your court-appointed lawyer. GET YOUR OWN LAWYER.

But, in spite of the aggravation you will be put through, you will be able to endure it with an open heart. You will just have taken charge of your destiny--always a risky endeavor--but also the most rewarding one.. You will have saved your own life and eliminated a grave threat to it. That enormous victory can never be taken away from you, regardless of an unwieldy legal system, and the realization that you have vanquished the enemy will help keep your spirits buoyed. Let the legal eagles thrash away at each other. You are now a new and invigorated person. (25)

[WARNING NOTICE: The above discussion is a draft strawman, written to highlight self-defense problems, to explore various potential stratagems, and to solicit rebuttals and uncover flaws. IT IS NOT INSTRUCTION, and should under no circumstances be relied upon as a suggested course of action.]

1) "Handguns" comprise "pistols" and "revolvers." Pistols are handguns in which the cartridges are inserted sequentially into a single, fixed "breech" or firing chamber of a gun. A cartridge is a shell casing containing the propellant (gun powder) to which is affixed the projectile ("bullet", but the term "bullet also refers to the complete cartidge). Generally the cartridges are stored in the handle of the pistol--put there within a container called a magazine. The cartridges are stacked in the magazine and compress a spring which tries to force them out. As each shot is fired, the entire top of the gun or "action" of the pistol ejects the spent shell casing of the bullet just fired on its slit-second backward motion, pushes back ("cocks") the hammer, and with its return forward motion, strips another cartridge from the magazine and forces it into the breech, ready to be fired. This all happens too fast for the eye to see. Revolvers are a type of handgun (often known as "six guns") in which the cartridges are stored in a revolving breech (the "cylinder"), which sequentially lines each bullet up with the fixed barrel for each new shot.
2) And, should you be cowering behind your bed, facing an angry ex-spouse who is swinging a baseball bat around and threatening to teach you a lesson you'll never forget, be sure at that time to quickly telephone your lawyer, to see if in this specific instance you have the legal right to shoot in self-defense. That is what any jury will expect you to have done. At a minimum.
3) Question: If you were present at an armed bank robbery, and you had the opportunity to shoot one of the perpetrators and thereby possibly abort the robbery, (but also, possibly result in a gun battle of deadly consequences) do you, as a civilian, have the legal right to do so?
4) Ben Cooley
5) There are numerous non self-defense reasons to obtain a carry permit: to preserve ones constitutional right to bear arms, to have the right to carry in the event of civic unrest, and to be able to travel with guns for hunting, competition, etc., with a minimum of hassle.
6) But, of course, all State laws are different. Check yours to see what gun ownership requirements are. Usually it is just to obtain a Firearms Identification (FID) card.
7) By far the largest category of concealed weapons permittees are middle-aged persons of white.
8) Goertz was carrying illegally in New York City and shot four Black youths who were threatening subway passengers. His trial was long, expensive, with the very unusual political outcome that he was found not guilty.
9) I know, couldn't I not use this example? (Just shows how pervasive ideology is, and how it pervades everything we do.)
10) John R. Lott, "More Guns, Less Crime." This massive study of gun use in the United States is the most thorough, and the least ideological study of this subject ever conducted. The results prove the dramatic reduction in violent crime in states where concealed weapons are legal so strongly, that the book has been anathematized by the anti-gun fanatics. They cannot and will not discuss it, without immediately demanding (screaming) for you explain how to bring the life back of some innocent child who was killed by a handgun, etc., etc. This common, blind, ideological freak-out will be the subject of another essay.
11) However, has anyone ever heard of someone ever being killed by a thrown knife? (Hollywood again.)
12) But forget the NY Times. They don't even do cigarette ads anymore.
13) The term "automatic" when applied to guns is confusing. Strictly speaking, an "automatic" gun means when you pull the trigger, the gun keeps shooting until it runs out of ammunition, or you let go of the trigger. A machine gun or "Tommy gun" is the classic full-automatic action. (Today it's the Uzi.) Full-automatic weapons are never permitted for civilian concealed carry. However, the term "automatic" is also loosely applied to conventional pistols with semi-automatic actions, which means when you pull the trigger, they shoot a single round, eject the spent casing, reload a fresh bullet and cock the hammer for the next shot--for which you have to pull the trigger again.
14) "A hit with a .22 is better than a miss with a .44.""
15) But, of course, a driver's license is not a constitutional right.
16) "The Law of Self-Defense," by Andrew F. Branca , Operon Security, Ltd, Acton, MA. Available from Amazon.com. Dense because of the many legal citations, but solid.
17) I know; don't criticize the NRA.
18) A stalked waitress in a nightclub might be too risky an employee in the minds of the owner.
19) This did not stop anti-gun activist and State Senator Dianne Feinstein from getting a carry permit for herself--while she backs legislation to prevent that right to nearly everyone else. Left-wing "equality" in it's finest expression.
20) Of course, what these experts are really worried about is that the high-caliber round they suggest you use could go through the door and through the walls of the apartment across the hall and hit someone. Another disadvantage of the bigger calibers.
21) But it will help a lot if he is not shot in the back.
22) From an FBI document on effectiveness of pistol calibers. Can't think of the name.
23) Most small .38-caliber revolvers have five, not six shots.
24) If the thought of rendering first aid even crossed your mind, or their moaning in pain breaks your heart, you should probably not buy a gun in the first place. They could be faking; and even if dying, they would like nothing better than to take you with them.
25) Is it true?





 

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