Guns and Bullets — Fight or Flee?
Periodically a tragedy like Columbine occurs and reminds us of the “killing power” of a gun or guns. I expect that an argument could be made that alcohol, irresponsible driving, or unnecessary military action kills more people than the legal and illegal use of firearms. I don’t care to go into the infinite number of arguments as to whether or not certain types of guns should be banned. I am more interested in trying to understand whether I should own a gun and whether I can use it responsibly.
My father occasionally hunted and I was given a new rifle, a 22 caliber Remington Nylon 66 for my thirteenth birthday. My first hunting trip alone resulted in a personal disappointment. I was idiotic enough to aim and fire at the first moving animal I spotted, a timid red cardinal posing beautifully on a limb. I didn’t consider the consequences of a perfect shot. Within moments I stood weeping, holding warm helpless death in my palms. My rifle was lying on the ground. The impact was significant–shooting at a living creature would never be a favored hobby. In the future, no matter what I shot, I saw “cardinals.” I don’t think I was ever told that I needed a firearm for self-defense. Guns meant a hobby, adventure, and a source of food.
Later, as a young adult, I acquired a 10-gauge shotgun to hunt ducks and doves in West Tennessee. More than anything I bought the gun to act like a hunter so I didn’t seem so foolish freezing my buns in a duck blind or tagging with friends on their adventures. Those experiences never proved that positive. In fact they drove me further from seeing hunting as relaxation. For example, one of my best friends, Andy, invited me to go deer hunting on a very cold day in 1972. He boosted me into the air to reach the first tree limb from which I could scale to a large V in the tree where I only half fit. After six hours of thirsty shivering and feeling like my butt would never straighten to a normal shape or experience a painless existence, I vowed to leave the “fun” of game hunting to those with higher pain thresholds. So my guns gathered dust in one or another closet for the next fifteen years until I suddenly and unexpectedly needed protection.
Strangely enough I have traveled to a number of volatile countries such as Egypt, Liberia, and Colombia. Fortunately I never felt an imminent need for a firearm. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about the U.S.A.
Late one Saturday evening in 1987 I reclined in the basement family room of the Cumberland Presbyterian manse in Louisville, Kentucky. At the time I was alone. Our house was located on Manslick Road—a busy street between Shively and downtown Louisville. Even in the dark of night, cars passed the house with frequency. So much so, that we became oblivious to the airbrakes of the semi’s, the popping of accelerating motorcycles, or the ambulances on their way to the St. Mary’s Hospital located one-tenth of a mile from our house.
Our house was built on the first lot north of the church. And then there were two empty lots before our closest neighbor. The neighbors directly in front of us lived on a wine estate and we could barely see their house. Our neighbors to the back were so far removed we could not hear or see each other. Sometimes, people stopped by the house to ask for directions or for a financial need. And, occasionally, members would drop by for a variety of needs without an appointment. Occasionally, in the late evening, I needed to be undisturbed and shut off all the lights except the front door light and retreated to the solitude of the basement. This night I was relaxing on the couch in nothing but my boxers watching T.V. The action started sometime after 11 p.m.
There came a rapping at the upstairs front door. I ignored the knock, assuming it was someone lost and looking for directions. The visitor persisted with each round of knocks being louder. So, I headed upstairs. The problem was to get to my bedroom and my pants I had to pass directly down a hall visible to any guest looking through the glass section of the door. I darted by, grabbed my blue jeans, and went to the door. By then, the visitor had apparently tired of knocking and was not to be seen. So I walked through the living room to look at the parking area on the church side of the house. I spotted an aged Buick with a driver. Immediately, loud knocking began at the outside door that entered the kitchen on the dark backside of the house; so I walked angrily toward that part of the house ready to lambast someone for such rude behavior late at night. But, just as I turned the corner to enter the kitchen, there arose a terrifying clatter. Someone had kicked the door to kitchen open. I froze in a state of incredible indecision—fight or flight. I was ready to shout as loud as possible, but no one entered. In a moment I heard the car spring to life. Carefully I went back to the living room window and saw two men leaving in the car. I thought, “These guys are leaving to see if the house is alarmed. They will be back!” I ran to the phone and called 911 to report an attempted break-in and request a squad car.
I then went to the kitchen to see the condition of the door. The primary door lock had been broken out of its frame, but the triple lock still functioned so I closed the door and secured it. Then, I had to decide, do I leave or stay? I decided to load my shotgun, wait for the police, and if the thieves returned before the police, to turn on the door light in their face when they approached. I hoped that would cause them to retreat a bit wetter than they had come; then, I would open the door and shoot into the air as they ran away.
I ran to the closet to get a gun, only to remember my ammunition was in the basement in a cabinet. When I got to the basement “one-bullet Barney” could only find one deer slug. So, I finally got it into the chamber and returned to the kitchen to wait. The police did not arrive before the perpetrator. By now I was second-guessing my strategy. Sure enough, a car returned and one of the men got out of the car and I heard the car pull away. The exploring thief came to the back door. When he got nearly to the porch landing, I flicked the switch—illuminating a black unshaven middle-aged man in a stocking cap. He reeled quickly and took flight. I tried to open the door, but I was shaking so badly I couldn’t get the key in the lock. And, when I finally got the door open; I could see him disappearing behind the back of the church into any number of backyards, probably to try to find a phone and call for a pickup.
Finally, ten minutes later the police arrived and apologized for not being able to come immediately because of another case. If I had it to do again, I would have reported a possible murder. They went through the formalities of a report, but never contacted me again.
The next day I made the necessary calls for security doors. Could I have shot someone to protect my family or myself? There is no doubt in my mind, but I would choose another option if possible. If there is the choice between fight or flee; next time I will flee.