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« Part 2: First Trip to the Range | Main | Part 4: My First Handgun »

February 03, 2004

Part 3: Arma virumque cano

Dang, that's pretentious!

I sing of arms and the man, the opening line of Virgil's Aenied. I had to translate the blasted thing my junior year in high school.

Yeah, I took three years of Latin. But I recovered.

Today, we'll be discussing why I've decided to arm myself after 40 years of going unarmed.

When I announced my decision, and asked for help, I got lots of good comments and advice, and also some interesting questions.


Why do you suddenly feel the need to have a gun?

Have you ever needed one before?

When was the last time you needed a gun?

Are you playing follow the leader?

Is it for fun or self defense?


Well, first of all, I'm not following anyone's lead on this. I couldn't care less whether Glenn has a gun or not. If I were going to imitate something about him, I'd get a smart, beautiful wife, and buy a Mazda RX-8, not a gun. And maybe blend a few puppies.

But I digress.

Second, while I do expect to enjoy shooting (I enjoyed my rather limited experience with guns in summer camp, and I also enjoy using my bow) this is more a practical decision than recreational.

Third, I have indeed been in a situation where I wished I was armed and wasn't. I was a night clerk at a mini-mart and got robbed at gunpoint. The robber didn't wear a mask, and paused on his way out after taking the money. He was drunk, high, or both, and as he paused and stared at me, I was watching his gun hand. The gun was down at his side, but he started to bring it up, and I got ready to hit the floor behind the counter. You have no idea how helpless that feels, knowing somebody could end your life and you couldn't do a thing to stop him.

Obviously, I lived. He dropped his hand and went out the door, and I stood there for 5 minutes, just like he said, then called the police.

Two months earlier, I had been working at another store in the same chain, and the manager came in one night to talk to me. Her husband was on the police force, and he had just caught two guys who had beaten a 70 year old man to death while robbing him. One turned state's evidence o the other, and informed the police that the night of their capture, their plans were to rob and kill me, and the rob and kill the manager of the grocery store across the street.

These two events not only ended my retail sales career (no real loss) they started me on the path to gun ownership.

Here's the thing. Twice now, I've been in situations where I was completely unable to defend myself. In the first, I was at the mercy of a robber. In the second, it was only dumb luck that the police caught these guys when they did. In both cases, my survival was out of my control. I placed the primary responsibility for my safety into somebody else's (the police) hands.

That wasn't a good feeling then, and is even worse now. By their nature, in a crisis, police are reactive, not proactive. If I get shot, knowing that they will spring into action to try and trackdown the guy who killed me is a very cold comfort. As a matter of personal philosophy, as well as practicality, I've long considered buying a gun and learning to use it in self defense.

But I haven't acted on it until now. Why?

Because until now, I've had very young children in the house, and the risk/reward calculation said it was better to rely on the law of averages than on a gun. Crime is fairly low and I live in a safe area. The chances of something happening where I might need a gun were very low, so the value of having guns around the house was also very low. At the same time, because I had small children in the house, there was also an appreciable risk of a real tragedy. In my opinion, the reward (increased ability to defend myself and my family), was outweighed by the potential danger (a child getting ahold of a gun). Add to that reasoning the steps needed to make a gun at home safe from a child (unloaded, trigger-locked, and locked away) and the gun would be virtually useless in an emergency situation.

But now the children are older; all but one have been through a hunter safety class in school, and have handled and fired a shotgun. They know what to do around guns, and are old enough and disciplined enough to follow the rules. The chances of a tragedy are now low enough that, again in my opinion, the benefit now outweighs the risk.

But this is only part of the answer, because this has been true for a while now. Both of my oldest sons have shotguns, given to them by my father. They are kept safely in the house, and nobody messes with them. So why am I acting now?

Last week, I started a discussion on my personal philosophy. In the process, I started thinking about the implications of some of my basic assumptions, particularly the first one, about maximizing freedom. Freedom carries a price along with it; responsibility. If I want a small, unobtrusive government, then I have to shoulder much of the burden of my own existence. I'm responsible for earning a living, paying my taxes, paying for my medical care, and so on.

I also must shoulder at least some of the responsibility for my own protection.

Citizen safety can run the entire spectrum from full police state to complete self reliance, AKA anarchy. As the slider moves away from police state to total self reliance, the citizen takes on more responsibility for his own safety. Now that doesn't mean the citizen forms vigilante groups and lynch mobs, but that we should take the steps necessary to protect our selves, our families, and our property. It's very similar to taking a first aid course. You're not trying to replace the EMT or the doctor, but to augment them. Since I find the idea of a police state totally abhorrent, I believe that I must accept more of the responsibility for defending myself and my family.

There's another reason that contributes to my decision to arm myself, one inherent in the second amendment. Some see the first clause of the second amendment as a restriction on the right to bear arms. They claim that by mentioning the militia, the signatories to the Constitution only wanted a National Guard type organization to be armed. But I have a somewhat different take, one that accounts for both clauses of the amendment, unifying them into a coherent whole. Rather than the first restricting the second, it actually intensifies it.

It says, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a
free State..."

Necessary to the security of a free State.

Necessary.

The Second Amendment tells me that those who wrote and ratified the Constitution believed that a Militia, drawn from a population of citizen gun owners was necessary for the security of a free state. Not only is it my right to own a gun, but, according to this interpretation, I have a responsibility to do so, not only for the safety of my family, but for the safety and security of my nation.

Granted, this is not a typical interpretation of the Militia clause, but it makes sense, particularly so in today's world. Not only do we have a criminal threat to contend with, we now have to consider a terrorist threat as well. Homeland Security suffers from the same problems the police do, albeit to a lesser extent; they are reactive, rather than proactive. While this greatly hampers their effectiveness, the only other option is the one we've discussed before, of giving them enough power that we live in a police state.

We've gone too far down that road already.

So, since I am unwilling to give anybody the power they would need to provide for my personal security, I must shoulder that responsibility myself.

Posted by Rich