WELL, it's official: I'm a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association. I shelled out $25, and now I can proudly tell the world that I'm a member of the gun lobby.
Recently, I told a friend that I had joined the NRA, and he gazed at me incredulously and said, "Do you own a gun?"
Now, that's a dumb question. Of course, I own a gun: a 357-Magnum. How can you be a real NRA member without a gun?
In fact, some NRA members believe you need a war chest filled with guns, a cache of super deadly ammunition and a bazooka to be a true champion of the Second Amendment. I'm not one of those extremists. I bought a pistol for one simple reason: to protect my home and family. I don't want an arsenal, I just want a fighting chance if someone breaks into my townhouse in Randallstown.
Some of you must be asking, "Why wouldn't you just call 911 and let the cops handle it?" Because no matter how efficient the police are, there are times when 911 just ain't quick enough.
What would you do if an ax-wielding, PCP-crazed nut hacked his way through your front door at 3 a.m.? If it happens, would you be able to calmly pick up the phone, call 911 and wait for the cops? Not hardly. It's the perfect situation for a hollow point fired from a homeowner's gun.
I can trace my feelings on this issue to the mid-1980s, when I worked as a rewrite man for The Evening Sun. I would come to work at 4:30 a.m. and immediately begin searching for crime news. I would call police stations in Baltimore and elsewhere in the state and be astounded by the volume of crime. Murder, mayhem, maimings, aggravated assaults - it was a seemingly endless stream of man's inhumanity to man. The most sensational stories got into the paper, but many other acts of brutality went unreported for lack of space.
One front-page story stands out. On the night of September 18, 1986, Frank Green, a New York fugitive, shot and killed a Maryland Toll Facilities policeman near Havre de Grace, then wounded three more officers during a chase through the town.
Green managed to elude his pursuers for hours, and just before dawn the next morning, he kicked in the door of a house and terrorized the occupants. Green waved his pistol and demanded money and a new shirt. He took a set of car keys from one of his captives and fled in the vehicle. Fortunately, Green didn't hurt anyone in the house. He was captured a short time later. He received four life terms plus 215 years for the crime spree.
A new phrase has entered our lexicon: home invasion. That's what happens when you answer the doorbell and some creep forces his way into your house, to rob you - or worse. I ran that phrase through the The Sun's computerized library system and found numerous incidents. The lesson here is, don't open your door unless you're reasonably sure who's knocking, and keep a firearm for backup. Remember, there are times when 911 just ain't quick enough.
I do not have a cavalier attitude toward firearms, and I hold a deep respect for human life. Please don't get the impression that I sleep on my sofa with gun in hand, waiting for some fool to break in. Chances are nothing like that will ever happen. But, then again, it might.
Crazy things happen, like the time I went home and interrupted a burglar. It was strange. A moment after I entered the front door, a sixth sense told me something was amiss. A flash of terror stopped me in my tracks. An instant later, I heard a commotion in the basement: The intruder was knocking over things as he fled through the back door. That incident taught me how vulnerable we can be in our homes.
Just ask Carl Rowan if there are times when 911 just ain't quick enough. Rowan, a champion of liberal causes, including gun control, shot an intruder about 10 years ago. So much for ideology when you think your life is threatened.
It's estimated that Americans own about 200 million firearms - up to 85 million of them handguns. Each year, more than 450,000 crimes, including 10,744 murders, are committed with guns. Last week, the Justice Department reported that violent crime has fallen to its lowest point in 24 years, and property crime also has shown a significant decline. But Americans use guns defensively about 2.5 million times annually. Brandishing the weapon is almost always sufficient to stop an attack, according to John R. Lott Jr., the author of "More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws" (University of Chicago Press).
The U.S. gun industry is made up of a handful of small, mostly privately held companies, with total sales of approximately $2 billion to $3 billion annually. These companies could find themselves fighting for their lives because of slumping sales and lawsuits filed by cities and towns across the country.
A recent Los Angeles Times article cited a Harris poll that found only 32 percent of the respondents reported having a gun in their homes, compared with 40 percent in 1996 and 48 percent in 1973.
"Among the explanations: greater concern about guns and safety, lower crime rates, a crackdown on licenses to sell firearms, the aging of the prime gun-buying generation, and a marketplace in which most people who want guns already have them," the article said.
Last month in Chicago, lawyers and mayors from 13 U.S. cities met to devise a strategy for a joint legal assault on the gun industry. In November, New Orleans and Chicago became the first two cities to file lawsuits against gun makers to recover the costs of emergency health care and police services resulting from gun-related crime. Chicago alone is seeking about $433 million in damages.
It's clear that the purpose of these suits is twofold: to implement gun control by circumventing the legislative process, and to drive U.S. gun makers out of business. It's also clear that the lawyers will be the big winners, as they were in the recent $206 billion tobacco settlement and the continuing asbestos litigation.
Chicago's lawsuit declares guns a "public nuisance." New Orleans is suing under product-liability law by claiming that gun makers failed to include safety features, from low-technology locks to more sophisticated "smart gun" technology. Smart guns cannot be fired by anyone other than the authorized user. The technology would result in a dramatic increase in gun prices.
I have a lot of problems with the extremists in the NRA, but I joined because it is the only way to stand up to anti-gun activists who are using lawsuits to override the legislative process. I didn't believe I'd ever be a part of any right-wing organization, especially one that includes Charlton Heston and Trent Lott, but here I am. Gun control should be an issue for the voters, not a crusade pushed by a horde of greedy lawyers masquerading in white hats.
And for those of you who are sitting on the fence on this issue, remember - there are times when 911 just ain't quick enough.
Mike Adams is the editor of Perspective.