The bleeding man, stumbling and shouting in front of our Alexandria, VA townhouse, awoke my wife and me late one Sunday night last autumn. He and another man had been arguing for about 10 minutes in the shadows of our dark cul-de-sac. After they ripped off each others' shirts, their argument escalated to blows and finally to a knife fight. Now one of them approached our door. My wife screamed. Was he armed and about to break in?
Already on the phone on hold for five minutes on the regular city police line, I hung up and dialed 911. The only gun in the house, Dad's old .22 bolt-action Remington, sat useless in the closet with no shells. If this man wanted to harm us, there was literally nothing I could do, except throw lamps and use harsh language. And hope the law would save us.
As I waited for the police to arrive, fear clamped my heart, a nauseating, dead feeling of helplessness that comes with being at the complete mercy of unpleasant circumstances. But under that fear was a seething anger at myself for my current plight -- a poor victim waiting for rescue.
In retrospect, it's somewhat surprising I was ever in such a helpless position. I grew up with firearms. When I was a boy some 20 years ago, Dad's .22 was as familiar as the web of veins on the back of my hand. It was with that gun behind Grandpa's house, tucked away between two fertile tobacco fields on a lonely kink in the Ohio River, that Dad taught me at age 8 to properly aim and fire at a target -- usually an empty Pepsi bottle. The action was so worn I often cocked it 3-4 times to get off a shot. No mind, it seemed like the greatest gun in the world to me. When Dad allowed me to hunt for black birds alone when I turned 12, my chest swelled with pride.
As I grew up in the tranquil Ohio suburbs south of Cleveland, however, my interest in firearms waned. I went to college, married, had a son, bought a house in the city, the anti-gun rhetoric of the national press a persistent drumbeat on my subconscious. In my mind, firearms were just another tool, no different from an axe, rake, or shovel, certainly not worthy of any special, sacred status that the NRA assigned to them. And I couldn't understand the fanaticism of "the gun lobby," whose members apparently wanted pistols adorning every hip in America. It's crazy, I thought, why would anyone be so obsessed about the right to own a firearm? Why do people get so fired up about the 2nd Amendment? What was the big deal?
My answer arrived in the form of a bleeding man at my doorstep. Fortunately, he hadn't meant us any harm, and the police soon arrived and hauled him away to the hospital. My wife and son went back to bed.
As I washed the pools of blood off my sidewalk with the garden hose and watched water tinged pink trickle into the gutter, I thought back to that moment of paralyzing fear when I held the phone in my icy hand, and my subsequent anger. Although everything had turned out fine, I had been completely powerless in the face of the unknown. The police were nowhere to be seen. For a moment, all the many protections and safety features of our modern society, in which some people place so much blind faith, were stripped away. At a potentially life-threatening moment, I was on my own. How many murder and rape victims have been in that situation, unarmed and waiting for the police to arrive?
For the first time, I thought about the naivete of the gun control crowd, who steadfastly believe in their poor human ability to legislate evil criminal behavior out of existence by "removing" guns from society. Washington, D.C., just on the other side of the Potomac River, has been a firm believer in this flawed thinking since 1976 when it banned gun ownership within its borders. In that time, murder rates have skyrocketed. In 1976, there were 702,000 citizens living in D.C. and 188 murders. In 1996, there were 543,000 citizens and 397 murders.* The city fathers were effective. Guns have disappeared in D.C. -- from the hands of the law-abiding. There are more guns than ever in the hands of criminals, and they have a disarmed public to prey upon at their whim.
I also thought about the gun grabbers' complete reliance on law enforcement to protect us. As fine a job as police officers do, there aren't enough of them to prevent many serious crimes. It took the police more than five minutes to respond when I called 911. What could they have possibly done for us if that man had kicked in the door and blown gaping holes in my wife, son, and me with a .45, other than bag our cooling bodies for the leisurely drive to the morgue?
As I continued to hose the blood off the concrete, these thoughts were swept away by another -- a deep new respect for the 2nd Amendment, one that penetrated down to my marrow. How wise The Founding Fathers were to recognize in The Bill of Rights our God-given right to self-defense. Our other constitutional rights don't matter a whit if we aren't around to enjoy them.
The next morning, sunlight shined bright through the bedroom window and when I glanced outside, the blood stains on the pavement were gone. I logged onto the NRA website later that day and paid the $35 membership fee to join four million other NRA members in defense of our Constitution.
In the weeks after, I obtained my concealed-carry permit in Virginia and purchased a Glock 19 as a means to defend my family from those who would do us harm.
Today I stand as another strong, proud convert to the side of America's 1st Freedom. And I am confident that 10 years hence, when my son is 18, America will have one more.