After the Newtown massacre, a friend asked me if I kept a gun in my house. No, I do not, for several reasons. The first is personal experience.
The last time I had a gun in my place of residence was in Vietnam. In early 1970, my Army unit moved to the river city of Can Tho, in the Mekong Delta. It was not a particularly dangerous place, but every once in a while there'd be a reminder that a war was going on.
We — a small group of commissioned and warrant officers — stayed in an old French guest house on a main street. We slept with our helmets, flak vests and rifles under our cots. One morning just before dawn, a booby trapped jeep blew sky-high in front of the building. I awoke to a wall of fire and noise, rolled out of bed in a semi-conscious fog and leveled the M-16 at the explosion.
A figure darted in front of the large window. A sapper? I put my finger on the trigger, but didn't squeeze it. In a second or two I recognized the person. I had nearly shot the housemaid, mama-san, the pleasant, hardworking older woman who cleaned the place. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply and thanked God.
I happily turned in the black rifle when my tour was over, and haven't picked up a gun since.
There's also the data. Despite the National Rifle Association's shamefully successful efforts to stymie research (30,000 deaths and 70,000 injuries from guns in the U.S. each year is not a public health problem?), there are studies that say a gun in the house is much more likely to be used in a suicide or homicide than to repel an intruder.
According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun in the home is 11 times more likely to be used in a completed or attempted suicide, seven times more likely to be used in a criminal assault or homicide and four times more likely to be involved in an unintentional shooting death or injury than to be used in a self-defense shooting. Disagree with the numbers? Then allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research the issue.
After Newtown, it was somewhat surprising to learn that about two-thirds of the 30,000 gun deaths a year are suicides. And yet, maybe it shouldn't be surprising. Someone is badly depressed, maybe has had a few drinks, and starts thinking that the gun in the drawer is his only way out. I knew a guy who did this. Perhaps the worst part was that after he shot himself in the head he didn't die right away.
I also wonder about the efficacy of keeping a gun in the house. I wouldn't keep a loaded gun. Though my children now are in their 20s, we have relatives and friends with younger kids who visit fairly often. On the other hand, I can't imagine an unloaded gun being much help, in a pinch.
Some people keep loaded guns in gun safes and bring them out at night. I really don't want to be stumbling around at night with a loaded gun; God only knows what will happen. I've been there.
Also, I question whether I need it. I have good door and window locks and live in a densely populated area where people walk at most hours of the day and look out for one another. The town has a very good police department. I also have a baseball bat.
Finally, for any of you in the burgling community, there's nothing in my house worth stealing, and much of what is there will end up on freecycle.org.
I know levelheaded people who know their way around firearms and keep handguns for home protection, and I don't have a problem with that. The problem is that guns get into the hands of people who do not meet those qualifications.
I know what the Newtown weapon can do to a human body. I could barely sleep for two nights after those children and women were killed. If we can't pass sensible gun laws now, we are utterly pathetic.
Tom Condon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.