Ex-soldier doesn't want guns in the house now

Posted Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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After the Newtown massacre, a friend asked me if I kept a gun in my house. No, I do not, for several reasons.

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. 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.

Despite the National Rifle Association's shamefully successful efforts to stymie research (30,000 deaths and 70,000 injuries from guns in the United States 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. Maybe it shouldn't be surprising. Someone is badly depressed, maybe has had a few drinks, and starts thinking 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.

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 is a columnist for The Hartford Courant.


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