The first firearm I purchased was just because. The year was 1993. I was young, had money burning in my pocket, and my buddy needed cash. And so, for a couple hundred bucks I owned a 9MM handgun, which immediately went under the bed, mostly forgotten, a totem to my spendthrift ways.
Another 15 years would pass before that investment paid off.
When we moved to Los Angeles in 2003, the gun came with me, and I again slipped it under the bed because that is where it had always been. Five more years passed.
I don’t want to say that our Los Angeles neighborhood changed, because I don’t know that for a fact. Maybe our luck changed. All I know is that things went to hell pretty quickly.
I worked out of the house. My wife commuted. It was February, so it was dark when she got home. One night, before she had even taken off her coat, we heard gunshots followed by a car crash. Trust me, only in movies do people confuse a car backfiring with gunshots.
I’ll never forget the conversation with 9-1-1.
“Did you actually see the gunshots or just hear them,” the operator asked?
I told her I had only heard the gunshots.
She hung up on me.
We were on our own.
Suddenly my forgotten handgun became the most important thing in the house.
When the police did show up, we learned that this had happened. Not 20 feet from where my wife had been just a minute earlier, one of our neighbors — who lived just two houses down — was pulling in to park when she was ambushed by her estranged husband. After being shot in the head more than once, she died instantly and her car coasted into another.
My closest neighbor, believing there had been an accident, ran out to help only to have a gun pointed at him. Thankfully, the murderer ran off. But now he was on the loose, and the best guess was that he was desperate, armed, and somewhere close hiding out in the thousands of places available in the jumble of homes on our block.
All night long helicopters patrolled overhead with their spotlights. The most L.A. moment of our 10 years in L.A. happened that night — watching a live helicopter shot of our own house on the local news.
It was an awful night, but one that would have been even more agonizing without an effective way to defend myself and my wife. Three weeks later the police finally captured the guy.
It was sometime after this that my next door neighbor, an LAPD officer who worked in the gang squad, was targeted for retaliation at his home. This hung over us for months.
Then came the full-blown gunfight just up the street that resulted in two cop-shooters on the loose and a shelter-in-place order.
On Easter Sunday, no less, we spent hours sitting on the floor waiting for the all clear — hours that would have been unimaginable without a loaded pistol within reach.
Earlier that same afternoon, my wife and I walked home from church in the very same spot where the gunfight took place and two bystanders were hit.
The last straw came in the form of an armed robbery. My wife was just about to leave when two masked gunmen stormed into her doctor’s office demanding money. They herded my wife and three others into the small copy machine room and made them lie on the floor. My wife felt a gun barrel at the back of her head. Sure she was about to die, she prayed out loud to the Virgin Mary until the gunman told her not to worry.
She found out later that the police had arrived right away but refused to go inside fearing a gang was setting them up for an ambush.
Before another year passed, we returned to our mountain home in North Carolina. The gun is still under the bed, only now it is cleaned regularly, I have practiced with it at the range, and joined the NRA.
What is the moral of this story? Well, there are two. To begin with, over 25 years, I have only needed that gun twice, but at the time I would have given away everything in exchange for one.
Second, the police only show up after someone’s dead.
You must be able to defend yourself and your loved ones.
My reasons for buying a gun might have been irresponsible, but not owning one would have been even more irresponsible.
Finally, my awakening towards the necessity of owning a gun and the vital importance of the Second Amendment and the NRA — things I had given almost no thought to beforehand — had nothing to do with culture, tradition, or politics.
All it took was one harrowing night of having a gun when I needed a gun.