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    The author personally faces a big Life Question — how far should we go in the name of self-defense?

What's this?
The author realizes he has stepped into a personal Twilight Zone, and is fully expecting Rod Serling to comment at any second.

Start: If you needed to kill someone, could you do it?

Earlier this week, much to my delight, I found myself grappling with just this fine question. This is a tough one, and has a number of implicit assumptions behind it, assumptions that demanded scrutiny and consideration.

Here are my conclusions.

A Offer I Wanted to Refuse … or Did I?

While visiting my stepson and his fiancee Tuesday this week, I was informed by him that I would be going with him and my wife to the gun range on Friday.

Gun range?

Excuse me?

This in fact took a bit of nerve on his part. Being in law enforcement he has plenty of that, but he also probably fully expected me to refuse, and somewhat adamantly, and risked placing some tension in what has become an excellent relationship with a great deal of respect in both directions.

A few years ago, my wife, who was at the time spending long stretches at home alone in a neighborhood that had its share unsavory moments, made the decision that she should be able to protect herself adequately. In came the gun permit, and the nine millimeter, and on her better days my wife would be escorted by my stepson and a friend or two to the gun range. She turned out, to her own surprise, to be something of a natural with a hand gun.

Its name is Emmie, as in Ameila Earheart. Named for a strong woman.

I was not delighted with the idea. (Of the gun, that is. Not the name.)

Besides being outside of my comfort zone, the idea of learning how to handle a weapon, for me, means three things:

  • An understanding of how to use the weapon safely and maintain it adequately;
  • A commitment to personal responsibility regarding it. There are, unfortunately, a lot of statistics that tell us most gun-related deaths occur between family members;
  • And, the bottom line: wrapping my brain and heart around the idea of being ready to, should circumstances dictate, kill someone.

Having never fired a weapon in my life (with the exception of a BB gun at Disneyland, back before political correctness infected our thinking and Disneyland still had BB guns and shooting arcades) this set me back a ways.

Honestly, a couple of times this last week I secretly hoped something would come up so I could sidestep the whole issue.

I understood my stepson’s reasoning behind his insistence, and I couldn’t fault it. What if the situation arose where something ugly happened, and Gayle couldn’t take action for one reason or another? Or worse, what if something happened to her — or to both of us — that my simply accepting a little bit of orientation could potentially prevent?

In the case of the latter, it would be very difficult to forgive myself, assuming I ever could.

What’s a “Gun”?

Guns were never a tangible part of my life.

My father had been a volunteer policeman in my little hometown. I remember him, when I was very young, directing drive-time traffic — such as it was — with a police whistle and a flashlight in a downtown intersection which, at the time, didn’t have a stop light. He had a .22 calibre pistol he kept locked up in a drawer with an imposing padlock, and I learned that he had developed tinnitus from some poor hearing safety habits while he was target practicing.

Unlike most local men, he never developed an interest in hunting, and I believe because of that and the influence of television I tended to think of hunting as a faintly barbaric practice.

(I must confess I still haven’t bellied up to the bar when it comes to the morality behind vegetarianism. I recognize that even though I don’t personally get my hands bloody, every Whopper, drum of Colonel Sander’s Original Recipe, or every Grilled Tilapia Combo I buy cost the life of something somewhere.)

(Fast food, despite claims to the contrary, isn’t made entirely of sawdust and soybeans.)

And, largely through the timing of my birth, I have had no military experience, which would by necessity expose me to weapons. I was too young for Vietnam, and too old for the draft inacted in the aftermath of the Iran fiasco of the Carter Administration, wedging my age of exposure neatly in between.

For these reasons, guns were never really a part of my life, and I frankly didn’t see the need to even think about bringing them into it.

Three Questions

As the week passed, I knew the question wasn’t going to go away. If need be, could I kill someone?

This comes down to a three questions.

1. Is life sacred?

Though I have not personally witnessed a birth of my own child (there aren’t any), I fully understand the sentiment. How could life not be sacred, having been part of such a miracle?

Not to diminish this experience in the slightest degree, but clearly life must be some kind of expression of both the sacred and the transient, because everything living dies.

It is my personal belief that there is some mechanism in place regarding conscious life, such as you and presumably me, that could be summed up quickly as “reincarnation.” I suspect this is actually much more complex than simply having a life in the past, dying, and being born once again chronologically later, but for the purposes of this discussion the concept is adequate.

We can kill someone’s body, but I do not believe we can destroy someone’s soul.

Further — again, my personal belief, based on the literature of Near Death Experiences and some exposure to psychic mediums — is that the relationships we have in our lives continue after death, and that the event of death, in some cases, does not fundamentally change the character of the individual who died.

The dead are with us. It’s just that most of us can’t perceive them.

Sending someone to the electric chair isn’t necessarily going to change who they are; it just takes them “out of the game” for a while, and we may in fact have to deal with them again … later.

Death appears to be inevitable, and in the Cosmic Big Picture may in fact be nothing more than a personal and temporary inconvenience.

2. Is killing a sin?

This really comes down to a different question: is there such a thing as sin?

The short answer is no. The long answer is that the belief in sin can make you feel just as damned as any Biblical miscreant you’d care to name. But, if we remember that one of God’s attributes is Unconditional Love, then we can dispense with the tyrannic imagery of a white-haired Yahweh striking our names from the Book of Life and casting us into the outer darkness “with a wailing and a gnashing of teeth.”

I do not dismiss the idea of regions of otherworldly experience that correspond to the traditional Christian Hell, and I do not repudiate the idea of Malicious Intent, but these are subjects that are not relevant to the current discussion.

3. Is killing ever justified?

There would be those pacifists, individuals with the unassailable authority of the Gandhis and the Mother Teresas who would tell us that killing is never justified. And yet we’ve had the recent words of the Dalai Lama telling us that Terrorism cannot be addressed by non-violent means.

But this steps away from the real point, and threatens to drag us off into a discussion that would probably be nothing more than an intellectual exercise. In our own lives, in our day-to-day world, are you, me, or Joe the Plumber justified in killing a fellow human being?

It seems to me that the old adage fits: there’s a time and place for everything. It seems intuitively obvious that self-defense in the face of malicious intent or insanity is justified.

It would take someone whose authority I respect deeply to convince me otherwise.

Into the Fire

I must confess that I’ve been teasing you to some degree. I can’t tell you if, should I be put in the situation where I might need to kill someone, that I could actually do it.

In reality this is one of those moments where none of us can anticipate our reactions. We can imagine, we can “what if,” but we really can’t know, because until we’re personally confronted with something like this in our own lives it is outside our experience.

The best we can do is make our peace with the idea, and be prepared for the possibility.

I am not an unreasonable person, and anyone putting me in a situation that would force me to respond with force clearly would not be acting in a rational manner.

There is no point in arguing with a sick mind.

The Law of Attraction folks (some of them, anyway) would tell me that by preparing myself for these kind of situations, I am in a sense inviting them to manifest. I do not dismiss this, but I will argue that by being ready, I am less fearful of the possibility, and less apt to focus attention on it.

Come what may, I have made my peace with the idea and have begun to get ready for the possibility.

Take this!
The author prepares to commit mindless violence against a defenseless sheet of paper.

The session at the shooting range wound up actually being Saturday (yesterday), and I surprised my stepson and myself by out-performing my wife’s first outing.

Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks?

(Sit, Sparky! … Stay! … Roll over! … Write! …)

(… Good boy!)

My first eight rounds.
My very first eight rounds ever, fired from the standard engagement distance of seven yards (about 6.4 meters) is above. The shot in the neck was actually intended for the head, but otherwise I managed a fairly clean grouping in the “shoot to kill” zone (around the heart), as opposed to the “shoot to bleed to death zone” (below the rib cage and in the abdomen).


Copyright © 2009, by Daniel Brenton. All Rights Reserved.