Terrified by an intruder who had broken into her Walton County home earlier this month, Melinda Herman grabbed a .38-caliber pistol to protect herself and her two children. As the intruder drew closer to their attic hiding spot, Herman called upon her handgun training, practice and motherly protective instinct and fired six shots, five of which struck her target. The barrage drove the wounded intruder out of her home, where he was later arrested and hospitalized.
I do love a happy ending.
You can debate the statistics about how often guns kept in the home are used for good or evil. You can point out the many instances in which such weapons end up in the hands of children or criminals, or in which people mistake a loved one for an intruder, with tragic consequences. Those are facts that every would-be gun owner ought to know and weigh in their personal decision-making. But in this case, for Herman and her family, access to a firearm and the training to use it wisely worked out well.
Since the incident, opponents of gun-safety laws have seized upon Herman’s story as some sort of counterweight to the tragic mass murder of young children in Connecticut that is now driving a reassessment of our national gun laws. But the connection is tenuous at best. No serious gun law proposal in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy — and certainly no gun law that I would ever support — would attempt to disarm Herman or deny her the right to protect herself and her loved ones. That is simply not at issue.
Herman is a law-abiding, rational, trained adult, not a criminal or a person with mental-health problems. Likewise, a .38 pistol kept for home defense is not a semi-automatic high-velocity assault weapon with a large-capacity magazine being marketed as a cure for those insecure in their masculinity. Those distinctions are critical and easily drawn, both in law and in logic, and it’s important that they be recognized.
In other words, let’s keep this reasonable and rational, on all sides of the issue.
Here in Georgia, for example, state Rep. Paul Battles of Cartersville has announced legislation that would allow an administrator in each school — at the discretion of school district leadership — to undergo annual state peace-officer firearm training and be certified to carry a weapon at school. I don’t have a serious problem with that approach, in large part because it is voluntary for districts and because it meets the basic common-sense test of limiting guns to responsible, trained people.
The biggest danger of such an approach is the false sense of security it might create. In the infamous 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, an armed police officer was on duty at the school but found himself outgunned by the two student perpetrators. Of the 13 innocent people killed that day, 11 died after the killers’ initial engagement with armed law enforcement.
The tragic case of Keith Ratliff, a self-described “gun nut” who was found murdered in his Carnesville office earlier this month, surrounded by high-powered weaponry, further demonstrates that guns, like laws, are at best an imperfect defense. There is no solution to such violence; no single answer.
However, limiting gun possession and ammunition purchase to responsible citizens who are trained in their proper use — people such as Melinda Herman — would go a long way in reducing the carnage and heartbreak. In fact, if I could pass just one gun law, it would be a law barring the sale of ammunition to anyone who cannot demonstrate that had taken and passed a gun-safety course within the last five years.
I don’t know why that’s so hard.
– Jay Bookman