Owning a Gun

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As one might expect of a man so brilliant, Thomas Jefferson had the perfect answer to modern politicians itchy to disarm the ordinary citizen.

"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms … disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. … Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man."

This is an entry in his Commonplace Book, dated sometime between 1774 and 1776.

Can anyone argue against his logic? Criminals are by definition lawbreakers and don’t obey gun-control laws. It will be no consolation to you that police may later charge the man who murdered you with the additional crime of possession of a firearm by a felon. That won’t buy you a ticket out of the cemetery. You’re history.

Even in our modern society, 99 percent of the time police don’t get to the scene until after the crime has been committed. Between the time you first perceive yourself as the pending victim of a crime until the police arrive (if they do at all), you are on your own. Self-defense is no longer a theory. Running away is rarely an option. Your choice is to fight or suffer what the criminal has decided to do to you.

Having a gun won’t guarantee you’ll win a gunfight, but it will certainly guarantee that you will have a chance of winning. If the criminal is armed and you aren’t, you have no chance at all. Some younger men who keep in shape might imagine they can handle their assailant, so I will simply pass on to them the advice of a tae kwon do master who was a member of the South Korean intelligence agency. "If your life is in danger, use a gun," he said.

Any honest martial artist will tell you about the principle of distance. You can’t hit a man beyond the distance of your outstretched arm. You can’t kick a man beyond the length of your leg. But a man with a gun can stand 15 yards away and shoot you. And unlike Jackie Chan or Chuck Norris, you don’t have a scriptwriter who will determine how the fight will end.

I’m not suggesting everyone go out and buy a gun. Owning a firearm for self-defense is a serious business. A gun is an inanimate object. If it’s loaded, cocked and the trigger is pulled, the gun will kill or maim anybody who happens to be in front of the barrel when the firing pin strikes the cap. You want to be dead certain the person who gets the bullet deserves it, because killing is an act of finality. You can’t undo it. You’d better be sure you can live with it. And for God’s sake, don’t leave a loaded gun where children — yours or a neighbor’s — can get to it.

Because you can’t rely on the modern justice system to produce justice, I will also pass along some advice an old country lawman gave me when I was a young reserve deputy.

"Son, if you ever have to use that thing," he said, "make sure the judge can hear only one version of what happened." In plainer language, if you have to shoot somebody, kill him. Otherwise, in these crazy times, the perp may sue you even though he is a career criminal who initiated the assault. Or some prosecutor who doesn’t believe people should defend themselves might try to indict you.

The human race hasn’t changed over the millennia. There are still good people and bad people, kind people and cruel people. There are still predators who will prey on people they think are too weak to defend themselves. There is a lot more to self-defense than I have space to talk about, so I will close with a story from the 1800s.

A man on his way to Texas asked an Arkansas store owner if he thought he would need a gun. "Well," the store owner said, "maybe you will and maybe you won’t, but if you do, you’ll need it in a hurry."

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

© 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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