Short Subjects


"4th-Of-July Creek" by Patricia Mae Young

Staying Safe -- Armed or Not

Debra Littlejohn Shinder

copyright 1997

Gun ownership is a choice which carries with it a tremendous responsibility, and it's not a "one size fits all" solution to personal protection. There are many who can't, don't want to, or shouldn't carry a firearm. To become armed or not is a personal decision and either choice has its own set of dangers.

Whichever you choose, it's important to learn the rules for keeping yourself and your loved ones as safe as possible in today's dangerous world. Following are tips for doing so, both as a gun owner and as an unarmed citizen.


Choose your gun carefully. Spend the extra money for a high quality, name brand firearm; a high percentage of accidental discharges occur with cheap "Saturday night specials." Seek advice from someone knowledgeable about guns.
For self defense, don't buy a small caliber weapon that's not capable of quickly stopping an attacker. If you only inflict a minor wound, you'll put yourself in more danger. Avoid .22s or .25s. The smallest caliber appropriate for self protection is .380 caliber, and .38, .357, 9mm, .40 or .45 are better.
If you aren't interested in spending a lot of time to practice with your gun, get a revolver instead of a semiautomatic. For in-home protection, consider a pump action shotgun, which is highly effective and requires little skill to use.
Whatever gun you purchase, familiarize yourself with it thoroughly. Take a class or get instruction from a friend who knows how to shoot. Practice regularly, and if you choose a semi-automatic, train yourself to clear jams quickly.
Learn your state's laws regarding the legal issues of self-defense. Obtain a concealed weapon permit, if your state requires one, if you want to carry your gun outside your own property. Never flaunt your firearm in public. If you're stopped by the police while armed, inform them that you have a gun; you will be treated as a felony suspect if they discover it on their own.
Educate everyone in your family about firearms safety. Make sure everyone, including children, knows there is a gun in the house and that it is a lethal weapon. Tragic accidents occur when kids stumble across guns that parents never told them about and think they're toys or give in to their curiosity. Don't think that just because you have no children of your own, it's not necessary to keep your gun in a safe place. Visiting kids are notorious for getting into things.
Keep your gun in a safe but accessible (to you, not to kids or intruders) place. One of the best options is a small chest secured with a push-button combination lock. Up high on a shelf in the back of the closet is not a good hiding place. Kids are great at exploring seemingly hard-to-reach places; a gun that's sufficiently hidden from them there will take too long for you to get to if you need it for self-defense.
Whether to keep your gun loaded or unloaded is a matter of choice. If you ever need it, you'll probably need it quickly. If you choose to keep it unloaded, learn to load it quickly. If you choose to keep it loaded, it's even more important that you secure it in a locked chest as mentioned above. In any case, always treat every gun as if it were loaded, even if you know it's not.
Never play with a firearm or allow anyone else to do so. Never point a gun, loaded or not, at another person unless you are prepared to kill him.
Don't be lulled into a false sense of security by firearm ownership. A gun does not make you invulnerable. It is still important for you to observe the same safety precautions and practice crime prevention and avoidance as recommended below to those who choose not to be armed.

"There's only one thing that's better than winning a firefight, and that's not getting into a fight in the first place." -- police firearms instructors' motto


There are many alternative methods of protecting yourself from violent crime that don't involve using firearms. Criminals target women, the elderly, children, the handicapped -- those who appear to be most vulnerable. It's important to develop skills and a plan for self-protection; this results in an air of self-confidence which will deter would-be attackers.

For home protection, make sure you have good locks (deadbolts) on doors and windows, and use them. Lighting keeps away burglars, who prefer to work under cover of darkness. An alarm system is another good deterrent, especially one wired to dial the police department. Involvement in a neighborhood crimewatch program is highly recommended.
Dogs are very useful in keeping intruders out. Even a small dog that makes a lot of noise alerting you to the presence of strangers will scare most criminals away. Guard dogs or attack-trained dogs should be treated as the weapons they are, with time put into working with them and learning their commands. Become aware of the legal ramifications of ownership.
A "safe room," often a large closet, with a reinforced door, good locks and a telephone, is the ultimate home self-defense option. It should be easy for all family members to get to and capable of keeping an intruder out long enough for help to arrive. Ideally, you would keep a cellular phone there in case the outside lines are cut, as well as weapons if you own them.
On the streets, as well as at home, you can protect yourself with less-than-lethal weapons. Mace or pepper spray are widely available for civilian purchase. If you choose to carry spray, be sure to practice your response to an attack, and be aware that although it will temporarily disable most attackers, some are immune to its effects. If you use the spray in high wind, it can come back on you, so be careful not to depend on the spray as a "cure all" to the self-defense problem. Stun guns are another option. Like spray, they are more effective against some assailants than others, and you must be very close to the attacker to use one.
Self-defense classes are becoming more and more popular. Choose one that emphasizes escape techniques and a few simple, easy to remember defensive moves. Martial arts training is valuable in many ways, but is a long term learning process. Unless you want to devote a great deal of time and commitment to making it a lifestyle, you're better off with a course designed to overcome your natural reluctance to injure another person, develop your awareness of imminent attack, and show you how to implement some quick, effective responses.
Train yourself to be observant about what's going on around you. This is the key to avoiding dangerous situations. Stay alert to anyone or anything that seems suspicious or "not right." There is power in numbers; surround yourself with other people when possible, especially at night or in high-crime areas. Rapists, muggers and other criminals abhor attention. Carry an attention-getting device such as a loud police whistle, and use it to call for help. Learn to use your voice to do the same.
Make a commitment to survival. If you're attacked, do what you have to do -- don't worry about being "nice" or "ladylike" if your life or physical well being is threatened. There are times when it's wiser not to fight back, such as when your assailant is holding a gun or knife on you. The most important thing is to stay as calm as possible and access the situation. If it does become necessary to fight, you must not do it half-heartedly. Even if you don't carry a "weapon," almost anything can be used as one: car keys, high heel shoes, a heavy book. Once you decide to fight, don't hesitate and don't hold back. Go for your attacker's vulnerable areas -- the eyes, the testicles. Get away and get help as quickly as possible. Don't stop to look back or have second thoughts of sympathy for your attacker.

Different self-defense methods work for different people, and under different circumstances. The most important thing you can do is make yourself aware of what all your options are, and choose what's most appropriate for you and your situation. Regardless of the particular self-protection options we choose, we have a common goal: to stay alive and safe.

Your best weapon is the one between your ears." -police defensive tactics instructor

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