Have Gun, Will Not Fear It Anymore Lifesaving Experience Alters Woman's Attitude

By Pinkham, Paul | The Florida Times Union, July 18, 2000 | Go to article overview

Have Gun, Will Not Fear It Anymore Lifesaving Experience Alters Woman's Attitude


Pinkham, Paul, The Florida Times Union


Bleeding and weakened from the bullet wound in her chest, Susan Gonzalez aimed her husband's .22-caliber pistol, the one she hated, and emptied it into one of the robbers who had burst through the front door of her rural Jacksonville home.

Those shots ended the life of one robber, led to a life prison term for another and became an epiphany for Gonzalez, a 41-year-old mother of five who runs a photography studio.

Gonzalez had always feared guns, never wanted a gun and argued with her husband, Mike, to please not keep guns in their home.

"I hated guns, all of them," she said. "I was that scared of them that I didn't want them around."

That all changed that terror-filled night nearly three years ago when Susan Gonzalez fought for her life inside her family's home near Jacksonville International Airport.

She and her husband, 43, no longer argue about guns, and she goes almost nowhere without her holstered Taurus .38 Special. She sits with it while watching television and takes it outside to do yardwork.

She joined advocacy groups such as Women Against Gun Control and the Second Amendment Sisters.

And she became a vocal opponent of gun control, traveling to Washington in May to meet with President Clinton and counter-organizers of the Million Mom March, which organized a huge Mother's Day rally to support gun control legislation. She recently taped a segment scheduled to air on ABC-TV's 20/20 in the fall. And this month, she was filmed by a British TV crew for a documentary on Americans and guns.

Gonzalez's story is naturally compelling because she was anti-gun and because she successfully defended herself against an armed intruder after being shot herself, said Janalee Tobias, founder and president of Women Against Gun Control.

"She actually fired a gun," Tobias said. In most cases where potential victims protect themselves, Tobias said, a person is able to scare off an intruder simply by displaying a weapon.

Gonzalez never imagined herself advocating gun owners' rights. She still weeps at the memory of taking a man's life.

"I live every day knowing I had to shoot that boy," she said.

But she said she thinks it's important that stories like hers get told.

"Two and a half years ago I felt just like all them other women [at the Million Mom March]," she said. "You hear about criminals with guns, and you hear about kids committing suicide with guns, but you never hear about the self-defense aspect."

"I think my story tells it all."

'I KNEW I WAS DEAD'

The 42 bullet holes police counted in the Gonzalez home the morning of Aug. 2, 1997, are stark evidence of the sheer terror the couple endured on the night that changed their lives.

The night seemed to be winding down as any other. While Mike Gonzalez slept, his wife sat on the couch watching television and waiting for their 18-year-old son to arrive home from a friend's house, where he had been playing video games.

Susan Gonzalez remembers hearing the doorknob jiggle about 12:40 a.m. She thought to herself as she walked toward the door, "Wow, he's early."

Suddenly the door flew open and two masked men burst into the doublewide wearing gloves and camouflage jackets and waving guns. One of them ordered Susan Gonzalez to lie down, but she ran. He chased her back to the master bedroom, where she woke her husband and tried to hold the door shut. She was shot in the chest.

"It burned like a fire going through me," she said.

As her husband, 43, wrestled with the two robbers in the living room, Susan Gonzalez dialed 911, told the operator they were being shot, gave her address and hung up. She then grabbed her husband's Ruger .22 from a drawer in the headboard and, fearing she would hit her husband by mistake, fired several shots over the robbers' heads to scare them off.

It didn't work. …

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