Gun Purchase Isn't a Shot in the Dark: Experts Stress Training, Weighing Decision Carefully

By Klinger, Linda | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 13, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Gun Purchase Isn't a Shot in the Dark: Experts Stress Training, Weighing Decision Carefully


Klinger, Linda, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


You've seen the pattern repeated time and again: An act of violence such as the Starbucks slayings occurs close to home, and suddenly many residents are talking about buying firearms to protect themselves.

But gun experts and police officers warn would-be gun buyers from making a hasty decision in the throes of fear and insecurity: Bringing home a gun is a serious undertaking.

"Using a gun for self-defense is not for everyone," says Ernie Lyles, co-owner of Gilbert's Small Arms Range in Lorton, which has taught handgun-safety classes for 13 years. "First-time buyers must weigh the repercussions of using deadly force."

"You must train sufficiently to be comfortable using the gun before you bring it home," says Capt. Pat Sullins of the Spotsylvania County Sheriff's Office.

They suggest that potential gun owners confront two key issues:

* Would fear or anger impair your ability to assess a situation? If you answer yes, you should consider another form of self-defense.

* Could you kill someone and live with the consequences? Many new buyers believe they will be able merely to wound an attacker by aiming at an arm or leg instead of the trunk. But not aiming at the widest part of the body increases the likelihood of missing the target and hitting a bystander or enraging the attacker. Hitting the trunk greatly increases the chance of killing an attacker.

"Handguns can give a false sense of security," says Alexandria Police Sgt. Jesse Harman. "If you believe you have the power to protect yourself against any threat, you may become careless about exposing yourself to risk."

Nonetheless, using firearms against violent predators has proved to be an effective self-defense practice, according to several studies.

A 1993 Department of Justice study found that 67.2 percent of people who had used a weapon to defend themselves against violent crime believed it had helped their situation.

Moreover, a 1996 study by University of Chicago professor John Lott and David Mustard found that allowing people to carry concealed weapons deters violent crime - without any apparent increase in accidental deaths.

The University of Chicago study, based on 16 years of FBI crime data for all 3,054 U.S. counties, concluded that if states without right-to-carry laws had adopted them in 1992, about 1,570 murders, 4,177 rapes and 60,000 aggravated assaults would have been avoided annually.

However, Alexandria Police spokeswoman Amy Bertsch says concealed weapons add another anxiety-inducing unknown to a police officer's routine traffic stop.

She advises anyone with a concealed-handgun permit who is pulled over to keep his or her hands on the steering wheel, immediately tell the officer about the permit and describe the gun's location.

* * *

"Guns kept in the home are 43 times more likely to kill someone you know than to kill in self-defense," says Jake Tapper, spokesman for Handgun Control, citing a 1986 study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Mr. Tapper also cites 1992 and 1993 reports in the same publication that found much higher incidences of suicide and homicide in households with guns than in those without guns.

National Rifle Association spokesman Jim Manown acknowledges that owning handguns for self-defense is a serious choice.

"Firearms ownership is just one of many self-defense options," he says. "We encourage individuals to develop personal-safety strategies that consider all available possibilities, including better locks and lighting."

* * *

Local gun experts and vendors advise buyers to begin firearms training long before their purchase and to continue it monthly for as long as they own the weapon.

First-time buyers can improve their understanding of a handgun's capabilities by tracking down basic information.

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