Some years ago, I reported on a self-defense/gun-safety class mainly for women at Rice University. There had been several forcible rapes on the Houston campus. Students had armed themselves. The instructor was an Army ROTC officer. A Vietnam combat veteran, he found the prospect of undergraduates packing heat unsettling, but reasoned that if they were arming themselves anyway, some training was better than none.
Unlike many entrepreneurs teaching "concealed carry" classes from sea to shining sea, he urged students to leave their guns at home. He stressed that he couldn't turn them into infantry soldiers with a few sessions in a gym basement. Even most armed assailants, he explained, aren't hell bent upon murder. They use weapons to control their victims.
Anybody pulling a gun must shoot to kill without hesitation. The soldier reasoned that most Rice students simply weren't prepared to do that. Hence the likeliest outcome was that criminals would end up murdering them with their own guns. Heightened awareness, avoiding lonely places at night, and pepper spray or mace would afford more safety than the illusion of power conveyed by a 9mm semi-automatic.
Our instructor further advised that shotguns are the weapon of choice for home defense. Unlike a heavy-caliber handgun, a shotgun will put an intruder out of business without a bullet passing through a wall and killing a sleeping child. He emphasized that anybody suspecting a nighttime home invasion should first perform a thorough bed check -- a procedure that saved me from potential catastrophe one night after my teenage son and a friend sneaked out to howl at the moon under a maiden's window at 2 a.m., leaving an open back door and a half-dozen beagles running through the house.
Creeping back home, the lads overheard me shucking shells from my 20 gauge pump, an unmistakably chilling sound. Fearing that burglars had taken us hostage, they were subsequently apprehended in headlong flight up the street. They'd been running for help, they explained.
Would I have shot an unknown intruder? I believe so. I'm also glad I've never had to face the choice. Killing a human being, almost regardless of provocation, is nothing like hunting game. Never mind legal peril. Contrary to action/adventure films, psychological fallout can be severe.
Anyway, we students next proceeded to the firing range for lessons in loading, unloading and blasting paper targets. "If you can point your finger," I wrote, "you can learn to kill" -- an observation that annoyed almost as many gun fanciers as this column will. Maybe I should have said that I was already fairly good with a shotgun, and had spent half my life aiming balls at things.
Anyway, here's the thing: In the wake of the Tucson tragedy, handgun advocates argue that a well-armed private citizen could have saved lives by putting a decisive end to alleged gunman Jared Loughner's mad act. Never mind that Arizona has the most permissive gun laws in the country. Indeed, the killer had broken no laws until he shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at point-blank range.
Ah, but there was an armed bystander. His name was Joe Zamudio, and he bravely helped subdue the gunman without firing a shot. But he's also admitted how close he came to shooting the heroic retired Army colonel who'd wrested the pistol from Loughner's hands when he paused to reload.
Thanks to the killer's 30-round ammo clip, he'd gotten off 31 shots in 15 seconds. Fifteen seconds! Everything was chaos and terror.
In Hollywood films, shootouts are carefully choreographed. Villains can't shoot; heroes rarely miss. Nobody panics. Melodramatic violence metes out justice and redeems the world.
In reality, as Americans seem fated to experience again and again without learning anything, a gunman walks into a Detroit police station and shoots four cops before himself being killed.
Two cops serving a warrant in St. Petersburg, Fla., are killed and a U.S. marshal wounded by a suspect who escapes.
Two sheriff's deputies are shot at a Walmart near Seattle before a third officer kills their assailant, whose motives remain unknown.
A policeman in Waldport, Ore., is shot by an unknown assailant during a routine traffic stop. He remains in critical condition.
At another routine stop, an Indianapolis cop is shot four times, twice in the face. He's in critical condition too.
All of these events occurred within 24 hours between Jan. 23 and 24.
It's worth emphasizing that the 11 victims were trained, experienced law enforcement officers. But their assailants, who'd found semi-automatic weapons easier to acquire than whiskey, gave them no chance.
Meanwhile, NRA fundamentalists pretend that America will be a freer, safer place if more poorly trained, inexperienced, unfit, would-be Bruce Willis heroes were waddling around shopping malls carrying pistols.
There's a word for people who cling to absurd beliefs against massive evidence. They're called cultists, and they're currently in charge.