Creek" by Patricia Mae Young
Staying Safe -- Armed or Not
Debra Littlejohn Shinder
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.
IF YOU CHOOSE TO OWN A GUN
- 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
- 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
IF YOU CHOOSE NOT TO OWN A GUN
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
- 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
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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