How I Evolved on Guns After a Terrorist Attack

In the wee hours of Friday morning, April 19th, I evolved on guns.

First, a confession: I’ve never owned a gun. I never wanted one in my home and, like a lot of moms, I wanted to raise non-violent children and thought keeping guns out of our home was one way to do that. When my kids were young, I didn’t want them to play with toy guns — in fact, I was rather insistent about it. Eventually, I realized that little boys will make guns out of just about anything — bananas, sticks, the dog’s paw, their fingers — nothing is safe from their imaginative minds. So I compromised and allowed squirt guns and non-gun-looking Nerf guns, but nothing that resembled a “real” gun.

My sensible (ex-military) husband indulged me in this when they were toddlers, but as they grew, he convinced me that our boys needed to learn firearms safety. He took them to firing ranges where they learned to fire weapons and even to enjoy them. Our 21 year old couldn’t wait to get his concealed-carry permit the minute he reached the legal age. I’m thankful now for my husband’s insistence that our children not be raised to fear guns.

But I never wanted a gun in my home.

It probably goes back to my childhood. My dad always kept a shotgun in the bedroom closet, along with the ammo on the top shelf. He used it for his twice-a-year hunting trip with my mom’s brothers. As a bleeding-heart animal lover from a young age, it always pained me to see skinned bunnies and squirrels on the kitchen counter. So I have some “issues” — when I saw the gun in my dad’s closet my mind went to dead bunnies. And somewhere along the way (I don’t remember a specific conversation, but he had a way of doing this), my dad put the fear of God in me about touching that shotgun. The year my brother and I peeked at our Christmas gifts hidden behind the shotgun, I was terrified the thing would go off. I never, ever touched it. Not even once.

I realize it’s a completely irrational fear and in some ways I’ve always felt it was a betrayal of my strong support for the 2nd Amendment. Last year I dipped my toe in the water and experienced shooting for the first time. I enjoyed a trip to the Hillsdale College shooting range during Parents Weekend and it turns out I’m not a bad shot. Friends never understood why I didn’t own a gun and some urged me to purchase one for my protection. But still I hesitated because of my discomfort at having one in my home.

The other thing holding me back was my belief that if you’re going to own a gun, you must be willing to shoot to kill. If confronted with an armed intruder or assailant, shooting to maim or firing a warning shot may not be an option, so a gun owner must wrestle with the moral implications of shooting someone to death. I searched my heart and realized that in the heat of the moment of an attack, I wasn’t sure what I would do with a gun in my hand. I knew that could be more dangerous than being unarmed; it wasn’t worth the risk.

But all that changed early Friday morning. Along with 80,000 others around the world, I found myself glued to the live-action police drama being played out online. I first noticed the tweets with the hashtag #BostonPoliceScanner late Thursday evening and was soon engrossed in the manhunt, listening to the officers on the ground in Watertown and Cambridge and simultaneously following the tweets from the worldwide audience. Throughout the night, a community of sorts formed as I began to recognize Twitter handles and together we “watched” law enforcement officers create a perimeter and lay down a grid so they could search the neighborhoods of Watertown. We listened as they responded to calls from residents who “heard something” in their sheds or thought they saw a “guy with a backpack” walking down the street. This was repeated dozens of times throughout the night. When police broadcast their location, many listeners typed the address into Google Street View and so could see the streets and even houses they were responding to.

It was both surreal and very real at the same time. It was a strange combination of social media and reality show with the knowledge that life and death were on the line.

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At one point, someone tweeted this:

I’m halfway across the country but if someone knocked on my door right now I’d pee my pants.

A moment of levity during a very serious, very scary night.

It was the moment I evolved on guns — the moment my support for the 2nd Amendment went from abstract to concrete.

Boston-area residents were told to “shelter-in-place.”

We’re asking people to shelter in place. In other words, to stay indoors with their doors locked and not to open their door for anyone other than a properly identified law enforcement officer,” said Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick in a press conference in Watertown. “Please understand we have an armed and dangerous person(s) still at large and police actively pursuing every lead in this active emergency event. Please be patient and use common sense until this person(s) are apprehended.

I realized at that moment that the police cannot protect me from the Dzhokhar Tsarnaevs of the world.

The best they can do is tell me to lock myself in my home while they search for the bad guy. Though the residents of Watertown (and the surrounding greater-Boston area) were held in a state of near-martial law, the best most of them could do was huddle in their homes, hoping the police would take their 3 a.m. call and come running to rescue them before the terrorist killed them.

Chris Wallace interviewed Dianne Feinstein on Fox News Sunday about the Boston lockdown and asked her if the million people locked in their homes in Boston might have felt safer with guns.

“Some may have [wanted guns], yes,” Feinstein said. “But if where you’re going is ‘do they need an assault weapon?’ I don’t think so.”

Wallace pressed Feinstien on whether citizens should be able to decide the best way to protect themselves in their homes:

“How about a machine gun then?” Feinstein asked. “We did away with machine guns because of how they’re used. I think we should do away with assault weapons because of how they’re used…you can use a 12-gauge shotgun and have a good defensive effect and there’s the element of surprise.”

“Now you’ve got police all over the place in Watertown, so I don’t really think this is applicable. I think there are people who want to make this argument,” she added.

As I listened to the police scanner during the Boston manhunt, I wasn’t thinking about “police all over the place” in the “personal security guard” sense that Feinstein seemed to be implying.

Instead, I imagined a mother huddled in the nursery with her baby. Her husband is out of town and she is also listening to the police scanner, praying the terrorist doesn’t burst through her back door.

I imagined an 85-year-old World War II veteran living alone. He fought the Nazis on foot across Europe and his government just instructed him to “shelter-in-place.” He turns out the lights in his home and hunches over his radio waiting for updates though the long night.

I wondered if they could protect themselves if the worst happened.

In the middle of that night listening to the Boston police scanner, I evolved.

I realized right then that if I were holed up in my house while a cold-blooded terrorist roamed my neighborhood, I wouldn’t want to be a sitting duck with only a deadbolt lock between me and an armed intruder. There are not enough police and they cannot come to my rescue quickly enough. They carry guns to protect themselves, not me. I knew at that instant if Dzhokhar Tsarnaev showed up at my door while I was “sheltered-in-place” and aimed a gun at my head and only one of us would live, I could pull the trigger.

I’m shopping for guns this week. I’ve been told a 12-gauge shotgun is a good choice for home protection, but I’m open to suggestions.

UPDATE: My First Gun