The young lady recently murdered while hiking the southern tip of the Appalachian Trail might be alive today if she had tucked a pistol into her backpack or fanny pack. Yes, I know it’s against the law to carry a pistol on the trail, but which would you prefer — breaking a bureaucratic rule or getting your brains knocked out and then being decapitated?
I’m afraid too many of us have spent our lives in an urban environment and have thus lost touch with the reality of the outdoors. When you go into the woods by yourself, you leave not only your car behind, but the protection of the law. When you are by yourself, whether on an urban street or in a forest, and someone comes along with the intention of assaulting you, you are on your own. There is no help. Your choice is run or fight. And a fight is a physical thing, not an intellectual matter.
Of course, if you are as fit as Chuck Norris and have the martial-arts skills of Jet Li, then maybe you can survive without a pistol, although bringing a black belt to a gunfight is not going to do you much good.
Merely having a gun does not mean you will survive the encounter. The gun is an inanimate object, a tool. It can’t think, it can’t move, it can’t aim itself, and it can’t fire itself. You have to supply the brains. These days, everyone would do well to add a pinch of paranoia to his otherwise sunny disposition and trusting nature. If you are in an isolated area, any stranger should be considered an enemy until proven differently. That doesn’t mean you attack the stranger; it just means you watch him carefully and don’t let him get too close to you or behind you.
For a gun/tool to be of any use, it has to be loaded and readily available at the time and place you need it. You can’t very well say: "Uh, hold up there a moment, will you? I know I put that pistol somewhere." A friend of mine who had lived in New York City all his life moved to Florida and went a little nuts when he discovered that any legal adult can buy a gun. He bought an arsenal. I reminded him one day that all his guns and ammunition stored at home wouldn’t help him if someone jumped him in the parking lot.
I’ve never been a gun collector. To me, guns are just tools, and they have only three functions: recreational shooting, hunting and self-defense. In a self-defense situation, you are going to need only one gun, and if you haven’t protected yourself with your first two or three bullets, chances are you won’t have need for the rest of them. I am not an advocate of the spray-and-pray school of shooting. The only bullets that count in a gunfight are those that hit the bad guy.
The best self-defense tactic is to avoid putting yourself in a position where you will need to shoot. The majority of violent crimes are committed in certain neighborhoods. You know where they are. Stay out of them. Don’t mope about looking vulnerable. Secure your home and secure your car. You don’t have to be grim to be alert.
Two more points: Before you buy a gun for self-defense, make sure you are psychologically prepared to take a human life. That’s not a minor thing. Death is irrevocable. There are always consequences. If you aren’t prepared to deal with them, then you’re better off buying pepper spray and a pair of running shoes.
Secondly, learn to use your gun. That means lots of practice. If an attack comes, it will come unexpectedly and suddenly, and you won’t have time to fumble around wondering where the safety catch is. Always shoot to kill.
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.