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.