Roll Over, Bark, and Beg

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Oh god. There is no hope.

The other day I glanced at the web site of the Lake Chapala Society, a social club of sorts for expats around Mexico’s Lake Chapala, an hour south of Guadalajara (where I live). Clicking on “Safety,” I found a long list of reasons why you should never, ever use a firearm to protect your home and family. No. See, you might miss, or be scared, or the intruders might take it away and shoot you, and they might be all mad and hurt you when all they wanted was your television. No, the best thing is to let them do what they want, and then maybe they won’t do anything bad to you.

This supposedly was written by a retired cop but, if so, he (or quite possible she, judging by the tone) doesn’t sound like any cop I have known, which is whole lots. Anyway, his, her, or its advice, is “Leave the guns to people who are trained and prepared to use them.” Which he says he is.

Nuts. To begin with, cops usually know little about guns. They get a bit of training in the police academy, and then once or twice a year go to the range to fire a couple of magazines. Being actually good with a pistol requires putting tens of thousands of rounds downrange. Street shooting, which is what cops do in the unlikely event that they do any shooting at all, requires training of the sort offered by IPSC or, years back, Jeff Cooper and Chuck Taylor.

A few cops will learn on their own. When I went to shoot at the NRA range on Waples Mill Road in northern Virginia, I saw an occasional dedicated cop. But police departments don’t engage in real training because it costs a lot, takes a lot of time, and just isn’t worth it. The average cop never fires his weapon in line of duty. It serves chiefly as a badge of authority.

Smith (I’ll call him or her) implies further that no one who isn’t a cop knows how to use a pistol. He needs to get out more. In the small-town South of my boyhood, everybody had guns. We used them for hunting, for shooting varmints, and for plinking. My father gave me my first rifle when I was eleven in Athens, Alabama. In high school in Virginia, the first day of deer season was a school holiday because the teachers knew the boys would all be in the woods. When I was fifteen, friends and I often went to the dump in Colonial Beach at night to snap-shoot rats.

I later went to a federal fire-arms school at Parris Island in South Carolina. You may have heard of it. So did hundreds of thousands of other kids. The emphasis was on deadly force. At Camp Lejeune we did fire-and-maneuver with live ammo. (Also flamethrowers and 3.5" rocket launchers, though I do not recommend these for home defense.) If Smith were to check the number of men who have gone through the Army or Marines, he would find that very large numbers of people have had training in the use of firearms.

But what I dislike most about Smith’s advice is his advocacy of helpless passivity. It embodies a profound change in American attitudes, which once favored self-reliance. Now it’s reliance on the group. Don’t take primary responsibility for your defense. No, that would be violent, or scary, or macho, and all. No, let the criminals do whatever they want with you, rely on their merciful natures, and call 911 if you survive.

This is exactly what Smith advocates. If I were a criminal, I would love this guy.

His advice is bad. He says, correctly enough, that most intruders want chiefly to steal things. Think a little. At two a.m., you hear a noise and turn on the lights. You find two guys with knives. You can now identify them. They have knives. Focus on this point. Knives, and you can identify them. Do you see where this leads?

If they leave you alive, you will call the cops immediately after they leave. They know this. If they tie you up, well, you are tied up in the presence of two career criminals with knives. This may work for Smith, but I’ll pass. It just isn’t optimal. If they leave you conscious and tied, you will begin shrieking for the neighbors as soon as they leave. The neighbors will call the cops — and you can identify the intruders.

In the real world, criminals are not always interested only in your television. They will accept such side benefits as offer. This engenders fascinating situations. They discover your daughter of sixteen in her bedroom. “Hey, little girl, you’re real cute. Let’s get a better look. Take those pajamas off.” You get to watch. They may or may not choose to leave witnesses.

If you think these things don’t happen, regularly, you have never been a policeman in a big city. A friend of mine, a Chicago cop, tells of arriving at the scene of a break-in. The intruders had beaten the man unconscious and, among other things they did to her, bitten the woman’s nipples off. Literally.

I remember going one night to a hospital with a DC cop to interview a rape victim of fifteen. She was screaming, sobbing, choking, the doctors trying to sedate her. Messed up for life. Smith is right: Don’t have a firearm in the house. It might make them mad. They just want your TV, see.

In Virginia to get a concealed-carry permit, you attend a mandatory class on how to use a pistol. One of the instructors when I did it was a (very competent) female agent of the FBI. She talked to the class, some of whom were women, about rape. She made the obvious point that very few women have the slightest chance of fending off a two-hundred pound deviate perhaps armed with a knife. A small concealed-hammer revolver, fired maybe through a coat pocket, can easily be handled by a woman of ninety pounds. Studies show that a rapist who has been shot several times loses ardor. We’re talking way beyond Viagra.

What is true of intruders is that they don’t want a firefight. When you rack a round into the chamber of a semi-auto, the sound is unmistakable and means only one thing: Someone is preparing to fire. You have to want a television very badly to go against someone who audibly is planning to kill you and audibly has the means.

You can do as Smith wants — let them do it, whatever it is, and then call a qualified professional. Or you can shoot the sons of bitches. Your choice. I don’t care.

Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and the just-published A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. Visit his blog.

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