Setting: American inner city, 8:58 P.M.

Mr. Chang stares out the barred window of his family-owned Quik-Stop. It is a dismal, rainy night, not exactly the best for business. Perhaps closing the store a couple minutes early wouldn't be such a bad idea after all. He knows that Ling worries about her husband working these night shifts.

Just as Mr. Chang begins to shut things down, a beat-up Seville speeds up to his shop, its front tires finally coming to rest on the sidewalk. Out pour Spike, Blade, and Hammer, each brandishing a machete larger than Mr. Chang's head. In his other hand, Hammer holds his trademark Louisville Slugger, with which he sets about smashing the shelves in the back of the store. Blade, still bragging to his friends about the previous night's sexual conquest, pops open the fridge and starts to look for a Coke to quench his thirst. Spike walks up to the counter, his 7-foot, 280-pound frame too large to even completely fit in the security camera's range of view. And it looks like he's been having a bad day.

His request is that Mr. Chang open up the cash register. Mr. Chang quivers, hoping that the gang does not recognize him as the shopkeeper who got their friend Cowboy sent to the slammer.

Quiz: How is Mr. Chang most likely to defend his store and his person?

a) Explaining to Spike that tonight's business has not been very profitable, and suggesting that he come back another night when there is more money in the register.
b) Whipping out his own knife and engaging his guests in hand-to-hand combat.
c) Pulling out his shotgun and pointing it at Spike, while calmly suggesting that the criminals leave his store, as he has also been having a bad day.

This "fictional" tale is played out dozens of times each night in America. Happily, more often than not, no one ends up hurt. Hmmm, I wonder how that's possible...

Thanks to TheLady for all the inspiration at the just get rid of guns node.

D) Mr. Chang whips out his shotgun and aims it squarely at Spike, catching him off guard. At the same instant, the other two men each whip out a handgun on the other side of the store. Now Mr. Chang has two guns pointed at him, locked and loaded, held by two men with little respect for human life. He, on the other hand, has a single shotgun with no long range capability pointed at 1 out of 3 men.

Quiz: who is going to survive in this situation?

Not to say guns aren't useful for self defense, but there are also situations where a gun is going to do you more harm than good. If 3 men come into your store, and you don't know if they are armed or not, my money says you're a lot better off cooperating than trying to fight it out in a situation where you are outnumbered. Keep in mind a gun is an active threat on someone's life, and pointing it at a someone who is trying to rob you could easily provoke them to do something stupid and irrational. It could also scare them away, so I guess it all depends on how you see the odds...

Right now my gun is at home buried in a drawer with no bullets in it. I don't even know where the bullets are. It has not always been so; things changed when I shot my bed on accident.

It was a Friday night. I had just sold my car for quite a bit of cash. My husband and children were gone for the weekend. Even so, I would not have thought to get the gun myself. This was my husband's idea via the telephone. The conversation went something like:

Me, proudly: Hi honey. I just sold the car! 9,500 in cash!

Him: Who bought it?

Me, really proud now for being bi-lingual: A couple of guys... I had to speak Spanish and I STILL got $9,500 for it!

Him: You better get your gun. They might come back..thats a lot of cash.

This was before I shot the bed so I thought getting the gun was a reasonable precaution to take. So I went to the safe and procured my weapon - a Lady-Smith .357.

Now, I KNEW that guns were dangerous so I attempted to take the proper precautions. As I was opening the cylinder to make sure there were no bullets in the gun, I dropped it. Instinctively I went to catch it and catch it I did -- by the trigger.

The gun went "BLAM!!!

I went "EEEEEKKKK!! and ran away. (I have no idea who I thought I was running from...I just ran). When I had collected myself enough to go back into the bedroom I saw that I had killed the bed. A nice, neat bullet hole through the comforter was clearly visisble. It had burn marks around the edges.

I was mortified and all I could think to do was to try to hide the evidence of my accident. I was not thinking too clearly because I got the idea I could just turn the mattress over to hide the hole....But bullets shot from a .357 GO ALL THE WAY THROUGH A MATTRESS. Dammit.

I finally confessed what had happened to my husband but have still never told my mother who is dead-set against guns. And I have never touched the damn thing since.

You know Apu, the friendly convenience store clerk of the Simpsons? The one who sells shlushie syrup straight no flavor? Of course you do, because you stopped into his store more than once to buy a last twelve pack on your way to the party? Or maybe because you had been at the bar all night and really needed a new issue of Penthouse to get you through the night.

Well, I’ve been Apu. And while I haven’t been shot ten times, or even once, I have been robbed at gunpoint. Twice.

The first time was a standard pro job. One guy came in to case the store. Bought himself a box of Chiclets. As I was giving him change his partner came in. Now I found myself faced with two rather angry looking young men, one with a sawed off 12-gauge pump action shotgun, the other with a silver .38 revolver with an octoganal five inch barrel. I don’t remember much of their faces, but I do remember their guns. Very well. The shotgun ended up at the base of my skull as I lay facedown behind the counter. The pistol barrel was inches from my nose.

I am proud to say that I held my feces in place.

The second time was odder. There was a young guy with a beard, acting kind of odd. He bought stuff then went outside. I dropped some cash into the safe, and then he came back with a .22 pistol. Your basic Saturday Night Special. I gave him the money in the cash register, all $14 of it. About a minute later a cop arrived, wishing to warn me that a group of kids were taking turns knocking off C-stores, presumably to get money for some reefer.

The point is that while there are occasions where you can defend yourself with a gun, most of the time you cannot. My residence has been burglarized on four different occasions. At each time, I was at work, and it is reasonable to presume that the villains cased the place well enough to know my schedule. In both incidents listed above the moment I knew I was being robbed was the moment I found myself staring down a barrel. Criminals don’t meet you in front of the saloon and say “Draw!” They like surprise. My friends who have been mugged learned of their predicament when they felt the knife against their ribs.

Are there ways I could have protected myself against robbery? Sure are. I deadbolted and pinned a solid wood closet door that contained the guts of my stereo, saving it from the first two robbers. I could have put in a burglar alarm perhaps. But I could not have prevented the armed robberies, because you meet lots of strange people after midnight in a convenience store. If I had gone for a gun, they would have shot me. If I had a gun there but not used it, they would have stolen it, thus further increasing their firepower superiority.

Oh there will be occasions where criminals show enough tactical stupidity to let Annie get her gun first. My favorite story is of a guy who robbed a liquor store with a double barreled shotgun. He wanted the clerk to know he was serious, so he fired one warning shot into a display case and another into a ceiling. The necessity to reload at that point gave the clerk time to get his still loaded gun. But such events generally make the news, and when you consider that often murders don’t make the news that should tell you how rare such things are. If someone practices home invasion against a rabid gun owner, the local criminal population may drop a bit.

But those are the exceptions that prove the rule.

What a gun does do is give you the feeling that you can do something. The feeling of security matters. But the cost is large. Most murders take place between friends and acquaintances, the product of an argument, too much alcohol and a handy weapon. Kids get shot through accidental discharges. In fact an accidental discharge is far more likely then using a gun against an intruder.

I know the NRA spreads as gospel that you can defend yourself with a gun. In the real world that almost never happens, and the dangers that a gun at home pose to your family outweigh that rare possibility. There are other reasons for gun ownership (eg collecting, target shooting, hunting) but protecting yourself with a gun is a fool's bargain.

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