Sunday, May 1, 2011

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I am a newspaper columnist by trade, and host a daily radio talk show.

And once or twice a week, to get ideas and to clear my head, I take walks through the neighborhoods of the city where I work. Just an amble, to see what's going on and to visit with people. Over the years, it's been a great source of stories and personal enrichment.

And through it all I've never had trouble. I go to the worst parts of town, and talk to cops and crooks, and because I treat people with respect and kindness, they treat me the same way. Until last week. Last week, as I write this, something changed. And I'm not sure how I will react to that in the long run, but I know that I'm here to consider it because of my gun.

It was a beautiful day, bright and warm, and at 3:30 in the afternoon I had just passed an elementary school. There were low-income housing projects on both sides of the street -- a busy, city thoroughfare -- and scores of people were out happily enjoying the sun or visiting on their stoops. I was half watching a group of teen-agers playing basketball when I heard running footsteps approaching me from behind.

I turned and saw a young man strangely dressed in a winter coat and hat. He started to speak to me. I kept walking. He said several words, the only one of which I could understand was, "money." I looked puzzled and he repeated himself. Still not able to make out what he was mumbling I said, "I'm sorry, but I'm not understanding you. What did you say?"

He was clear this time: "Give me your money."
I kept walking, like I always do with panhandlers, and said I didn't have any money. He reached over and touched my pants pocket, seemingly feeling it for its contents, and repeated his request. I kept walking, and repeated my refusal.

"Hey, I'm going to stick you," he said. "I'm going to shoot you. Give me your money."

As he spoke he was pulling his hand from his coat. I braced and watched it, and saw it come out empty. And I kept on walking. We were surrounded by possibly hundreds of witnesses, it was broad daylight, the police cruise that street constantly, and this guy was reading like a chump to me. So I figured he was nothing more than a panhandler, and a rather unimaginative one at that. So I repeated my refusal and I kept walking.

And when he clubbed me I remember the only sensation I had was one of wonderment. Holy cow. So this is what that feels like. My glasses broke and flew and my head felt strange and separate. I wasn't really dazed, and I wasn't angry or afraid. I was mostly shocked that this guy wasn't leaving me alone. And that's all I wanted. To be left alone.

I don't know if there is an instinct for that, but I just somewhere deep felt like I wanted to walk down that sidewalk and right now something was happening to me that was very bad and was going to keep me from doing that.

That's what I realized later, as I stood in the circle of cops and started coming down.

But in the bewilderment of that split second after he pounded my head there were only two things. Simple things, unconscious things, urgent but not frantic. Get a good grip and bring the weapon between us.

My carry gun varies with my clothing. That day I had a .45 AMT Back Up in an Alessi inside-the-pants holster above my right hip. It is a small gun and the trigger pull is beastly and the kick is substantial and I realize all that now but then it just distilled into the primal need to get a good purchase on the gun.

And bring it up.

He was closing, lunging I think, and his arms were up. And I never quite looked at him directly but I stepped back and saw the ground between us and his body coming in and I knew I had to see the gun on his chest. Not the sights, and not aiming or even quite pointing, but on top of the two-dimensional image of his trunk I wanted to see my hands and the AMT.

I saw it about the same time he did. And in the instant before a third instinct would have sent a MagSafe at point blank range into his chest he stopped and turned and ran. And I was left there with a throbbing head and broken glasses and a new perspective.

And here's the point I want to make.

It wasn't like I imagined. It wasn't like in the Army, when we thought we were young fire-eaters. There was no anger, or hate, or macho. It was a passionless fight. Mechanical, automatic, unconscious. There is no swagger in this tale. I am not some kind of big man now. A conditioned response was stimulated, and if that stimulus had not been removed when it was, I would have killed a man. And I do not glory in that.
But because of that response, and because of that gun and my God-given right to defend myself, I got to live. And three hours after it happened I was walking my family down another street, going out for ice cream, talking to my kids and laughing.

And that, if you don't already know, is why I carry a gun.

- by Bob Lonsberry reprinted from Guns & Ammo magazine, copyright 1997. 

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