Don't Go for the Gun 

Armed self-protection isn't the remedy for the problem; it's part of the problem.

The carnage at the Virginia Tech campus last month has inevitably revived the arguments about gun ownership in this country.

Advocates of arming the population as a means of preventing gun violence take the view that guns in the hands of citizens will always be effective in neutralizing the threat posed by an armed assailant, when nothing could be further from the truth.

There was a time, not too long ago, when I was the proud owner of several guns. I had lived my whole life in fear of guns and with the belief that their use and ownership should be severely controlled. So, to confront my fears and prejudices, I embarked on an episode of my life that saw me accumulate and familiarize myself with the use of a variety of firearms.

I was the proud owner of several exotic shotguns (for sport-shooting purposes) and managed to acquire more than a few Glock, Beretta, Smith & Wesson, and lesser-known handguns. I even had the big daddy of handguns, a .357 Magnum (the kind Clint Eastwood made famous in his "Go ahead, make my day" scene in Dirty Harry).

I joined a local gun club. I was living the fantasy every boy of my generation envisioned when he got his first toy gun. I even went to the trouble of being trained in the use of the handguns and getting a carry permit issued by the state. I carried a concealed weapon in the belief that in this Wild West town I needed protection from crazed criminals.

Then, I was robbed at gunpoint not 500 yards from a police station (a fact I throw in only to show that no place is totally safe from a determined criminal). The robber surprised me as I was entering a store late at night and already had his gun drawn and pointing at me from no more than five feet away, much the same way the assailant in Virginia was already brandishing one (or more) of his weapons when he confronted his victims.

As it happens, I was "carrying," and I gave a fleeting thought, during what seemed to be the longest few seconds of my life, to wondering whether I could, O.K. Corral-style, outdraw him. But I realized, thankfully, I probably couldn't shoot him before he shot me (or worse, that we would both die in a hail of bullets), and I abandoned that thought as I threw him my wallet.

Since I'm writing about the incident, I obviously did the right thing — not to mention that I'm not sure I could have shot another human being, even at the risk of my own life. And I'm not sure whether I could have hit my target. I must admit I still have moments when I regret not having at least tried to defend myself, but then I realize: Charles Bronson I'm not.

Even law-enforcement personnel, who are thoroughly trained in the use of firearms, will tell you that in the heat of the moment, the likelihood of hitting your target diminishes substantially.

The proponents of a ubiquitously armed citizenry assume that merely carrying a gun equips the person carrying it to use it effectively and rationally, when the fact is, increasing the number of guns being carried in the population will only create more guns available to be stolen or used for some unintended purpose (i.e., suicide, crimes of passion, accidental firing, bystander injury, etc.).

My gun-toting days are now behind me, primarily because of my recognition of the uselessness of doing so, born of my experience with an armed assailant. I don't regret familiarizing myself with the world of firearms, but my experience taught me guns aren't the solution to gun violence, they're the problem.

Marty Aussenberg writes the "Gadfly" column in "Political Beat", where a longer version of this essay first appeared.

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