A Gun of My Own

Loretta Kemsley

Muzzles flashing, bullets ricocheting, bodies falling everywhere. Is this your vision of self defense? It isn't true, and the movies have not done you any favors by portraying it this way, whether you envision your own dead body or not.

There was a time I would not have owned a gun. That era no longer exists. It was a simpler time in which I felt safer. Even in this more complex era, I did not change my mind easily. The process was evolutionary over many years and encompassed a great deal of research.

Raised in a household where guns were not discussed, let alone owned, I did not give them a second thought until my late twenties when I met a woman who was to become my best friend. She was a police officer, as was her husband. Soon I was part of their circle, surrounded by gun-carrying people, all with badges in their wallets. Childless by choice, this couple became part of my children's lives, stepping into the roles of "aunt" and "uncle" almost automatically. This meant my children had to learn about guns, a requirement because they would be around them constantly.

They taught my daughters how to shoot from an early age, and where to hide if they're home alone while a crime occurs, where to hide the gun so they can arm themselves quickly, and under what circumstances they should shoot. They were shown the safest place in the house, exactly how to position themselves for hiding and firing, a gun they both knew how to use was hidden there and a telephone was installed. They were even taught the exact time to fire if an intruder was coming up those stairs, since this person's only reason to be climbing would be to inflict harm . The recommendation they received was solid. If you have to shoot, shoot to kill because you may not get another chance to save your life.

My own education was not as specific. At first, we never discussed guns; I just accepted them as a necessary part of their job. When it became apparent my daughters would have to learn gun safety, I decided I should learn too.

In the beginning, I was uncomfortable. I only wanted to learn how to check for bullets, how to remove them if they were in the chambers, about safety catches and how to be sure they were in place. Of course, this also meant I had to learn the mechanics of examining a gun, its working parts, how to handle it safely, and when it would fire. It was natural to want to peer down that scope while doing this. Still, I never went to the firing range or intended to shoot one.

Police officers are required to carry a gun even while off duty. When we went horseback riding, my friend carried a small weapon in a special holster made for her bra. When we shopped, dined, and ran errands, the gun was in her purse. It wasn't long before this was a source of comfort for me. I felt a little safer in her presence, especially since crime was rising swiftly.

When the police department began offering courses in personal safety, I was among the first to enroll. These courses did not deal with guns but on surviving without a weapon if you became a victim of crime. The emphasis was on how to check parking lots for suspects while standing in the store's doorway, to be wary approaching my own truck, how to fight back if my best precautions didn't work. The best chance of survival is at the first crime scene, not the second, which is usually isolated and far from help. Even if a criminal is armed, they intructed, the victim should resist in a public location. Criminals are less likely to use the weapon at all in public and less likely to be lethal if they do. I learned to steel myself to the thought of risking a possible gunshot or knife wound rather than allowing myself further horror by leaving the parking lot under threat of force. Even if I died, it would be swift rather than under conditions of torture. Hard ideas to accept.

I began to carry mace for protection, then wondered if I made the right decision. I felt the same inner conflict when I thought of carrying a stun gun. Which would be more suicidal: carrying a weapon in self defense or choosing to be unarmed? When I discussed it with my best friend, she thought I should carry either but went a step farther. She would teach me how to use guns for self protection. At first, I declined, but then I thought it over. Being with an armed person gave me piece of mind. Why not become armed myself? I knew I was level headed and responsible, not likely to overreact in a bad situation. I accepted and began learning in earnest, spending a lot of time at the firing range.

Last year, I was invited to go on a business trip with my friend, which I readily accepted. On the way, she said one of the reasons she picked me was her husband, who thought I was the most likely person to make the right decisions if we were accosted, thus she would be safer. Considering how many cops they could have invited, I was flattered, all the while knowing his idea of a good decision: being unafraid to make the decision to kill before being killed and knowing when to not pull the trigger.

However, I am also well aware that being armed is no guarantee I won't be killed. I lost a good friend on Christmas Eve about 15 years ago. He was on patrol, had just received a call concerning a store robbery, and stopped a suspect. We don't know exactly what happened, but he never drew his gun, so he didn't see it coming. The youth, who was later caught, stood over him and pumped five extra high powered bullets into him, totally unnecessary since he was already dead. He was a good cop who let his guard down at the wrong moment.

On the other hand, I have another friend who is still alive because she carried a concealed weapon. She was jumped in a parking lot by two thugs. She managed to break free and draw her weapon, at which point they fled. She did not shoot but would have. She has said she will continue to carry her gun even after she leaves the force, whether or not she keeps her permit.

Over the years, I have come to the conclusion I have a better chance of survival with a gun than without. I could be overpowered, it is true, but I am a fairly strong fighter and might be able to break free, just as my friend did. I also know enough to keep alert, make sure no one gets too close, and that gives me the room to hang onto my weapon.

But safety doesn't end with purchasing a gun. It is just the beginning. My home has been surveyed by police officers who have recommended the best places to keep a gun for easy access and survival. These are methods which work. They are part of an overall plan of knowing which room, and where in the room, to hide; where to hide a phone just to call for help; how to exit the building without incident. I have doors which would be hard to break through and locks on those doors which protect every room in the house. I know which walls and furniture would offer me the most protection. Very complicated planning has been graciously provided for my defense.

There are those who caution me about the decisions I have made. They dislike guns and fear my own might be used against me. These are the same people who use the same words of caution about mace and stun guns. They believe I am in more danger of losing them to a criminal than in protecting myself. Unfortunately, I won't really know which view is correct until I am in the midst of danger.

I do know this: I have a right and even an obligation to survive if I can. If a person has chosen to become a savage predator with me as the victim, I won't have any other choice. I will have to use my weapon in self defense.

If you want to know more about staying safe, with or without guns, read Debra Lottlejohn Shinder's article "Staying Safe--Armed or Not".

About Loretta Kemsley.

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