NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. In the debate on gun control, gun rights supporters often cite self-defense and protection. NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre captured that idea when he told Congress the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Of course, that's a hypothetical. What happens in real life when somebody points their gun at another person? What are the circumstances, and what's the aftermath? If you've pulled a firearm on somebody, what happened? Tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Later in the program, the advertising teams that stood by during the Super Bowl, ready for any opportunity, like a blackout. But first, stories of drawing your gun. We begin with Walter Kirn, national correspondent for The New Republic, author of a number of books, most recently "My Mother' Bible: A Son Discovers Clues to God." He joins us from a studio in Bozeman, Montana, and nice to have you on the program with us today.
WALTER KIRN: Great to be here, Neal.
CONAN: So there was a day you drove your kids into town, into Livingston, down the road.
KIRN: Yeah, a town of 7,000 people, and something happened.
CONAN: You were getting out of your truck, your kids were getting out of your truck, when you saw a (unintelligible) you described as feral.
KIRN: Yeah, yeah, my apartment, my loft is across the street from a big old downtown bar in Livingston, and the backdoor faces the street, and I had parked sort of across from it. And a guy came out of it looking kind of crazed, red-faced and locked eyes with me in that way people will and said, you know, I'm going to kill you and started across the street at me.
I happened to be moving a gun, a target pistol that was in the glove compartment of the truck. My kids had just gotten out on the other side. They didn't see me as I reached in, grabbed the pistol, sort of held it at my waistline and turned around in the seat with the door open, facing the street as this guy was now about 10 feet from me.
And he backpedaled in the way you only see in cartoons usually. From full speed ahead, he went to full speed somewhere else, and that was my experience.
CONAN: And you've obviously thought about that, where if he was going to come any closer - had you thought, are you going to point it at him, are you going to shoot him?
KIRN: You know, I had two children just a few feet away, nine and six years old. I grew up using guns, hunting to some extent. So I'm not neurologically incapable of pulling a trigger on a living being. And in that situation, I probably would've, yeah.
CONAN: And given what happened, were there shakes afterwards?
KIRN: You know, it happened very quickly, and I imagine that people who call in are going to say they had to think quickly, and when they thought about it afterwards, there were some parts that make them nervous. I'm not sure, in fact I am sure now, my gun wasn't loaded. I didn't carry a loaded gun. And if he had had a gun, it would've been a foolhardy thing to do to draw on him.
So, you know, I didn't really have time to think about that, but it caused me afterwards to think wow, if that guy had been armed, and I'd upped the ante in the way I did and yet was not loaded, things could have gone very badly.
CONAN: Yeah, it can go any number of ways, and not all of them are predictable, and you've got two kids right - glad it went well.
KIRN: Yeah, yeah, and, you know, you don't want to extrapolate from any one incident. The thing that I have thought afterward is that it gave me a little bit of overconfidence about that kind of situation. And I think I actually had to settle down a kind of euphoric response, having, you know, successfully, primally(ph) guarded children to think, you know, let's hope there's not a next time, and if there is, it might not be this simple.
CONAN: You've - in an article you wrote for The New Republic, your experience with guns, including that story, you say that the experience in a way changes your neural pathways, changes who you are.
KIRN: Well, not just that experience, which was, you know, anomalous and might never happen again, but the whole experience of learning to use firearms and practicing with them, I think it does alter your mind after a while in a lot of ways.
CONAN: Some good, some bad? Like what?
KIRN: Well, first of all it steadies your reflexes. I mean, if you're going to be good with a gun, you have to anticipate the explosion, the recoil and so on, and you have to master that moment of sort of controlled chaos. So just as a golfer might, you know, become more aware of his or her posture, a shooter becomes aware of certain physical responses related to shooting.
But it also alters your mind in this sense: When you have a gun, you start to think about scenarios in which you might use it. And they'll range from shooting at the range or hunting to, if the imagination goes the way it usually does, what if somebody broke into my house. And then maybe what if somebody broke into my house and was armed, and I was asleep. And then on and on until you might imagine what if the government became corrupt some day, and thugs came through the streets of my hometown (unintelligible) enforce some sort of tyrannical discipline. What would I do?
CONAN: Yeah, "Mad Max" scenarios.
KIRN: Yeah, I mean, "Mad Max" or, you know, Wounded Knee. I mean, America's had plenty of experience with real-life government intrusion. To make too much of it is probably nutty, but it's happened.
CONAN: We want to hear your experience. What happened to you when you pulled a gun on somebody? 800-989-8255. Email us, firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll start with Alexander(ph), Alexander's with us from Miami.
ALEXANDER: Hello, Neal, how are you?
CONAN: I'm well, thank you.
ALEXANDER: I'm happy to hear that. Neal, I was in more than one situation where I had to pull an assault rifle is what I was using. On one occasion, it was a home invasion, and because of my reluctance to fire upon an assailant who was walking up at me, the man almost killed me. It turned out he was a karate expert who had recently fallen into crack.
And it was fortunate that it was an assault rifle. Any other handgun or shotgun, and I would be dead because he broke my nose, pulled my rifle away from me in one fell swoop. And what woke me up was hearing the clicking of the rifle and seeing the barrel pointing at me as I was on the ground.
I was able to recover. I tackled him, and we fought for the rifle for a very long time, which must have been maybe two minutes.
CONAN: That is a long time.
ALEXANDER: And it ended up that I was able to get the safety off, I had managed to get my finger inside the trigger guard, and I was holding on for dear life. I couldn't see very well because my nose had been broken. But to make - to sum it up, he took three in the belly and one in the head.
CONAN: And he had not been able to figure out the safety is what you're saying.
ALEXANDER: No, no, he tried firing. His disposition was clear. He tried firing at me. But it was the clicking sound that actually brought me to because I had gone down. I had fallen to the floor.
CONAN: And how did you - what was the aftermath of that?
ALEXANDER: Well, it was very difficult, Neal. First, they need to make the 911 number a little bit shorter because it took me quite a few times to actually dial the 911, my hands were shaking so violently. And then after that, you know, I was able to call, and the police showed up, and they took me downtown and took a statement.
And at that time there was no Stand Your Ground law in the state of Florida. And you wouldn't believe what I went through. You would not believe what I went through. And this was clearly a home invasion. I could not have possibly, you know, put out all the evidence that was there. There was a shopping cart in the front door, you know, clear signs of, you know, entry and forced entry.
What was interesting about my situation, Neal, is that I was actually doing political asylum claims out of that venue. So I had heard a lot of stories of people that had had, you know, that had suffered, you know, assaults at the hand of either Nicaraguan rebels, the Sandinistas and whatnot.
CONAN: And people on both sides of the government, presumably.
ALEXANDER: Oh absolutely, yes sir, yes sir.
CONAN: I'm glad you survived, Alexander. That must have been...
ALEXANDER: It was very traumatic, Neal. I was very - you know, even though I was put in a situation where I absolutely had no choice, I felt that the loss of his life was a failure on my part. A year to the date later I had another incident where I used my assault rifle to fend off a person who was attacking me with a large screwdriver.
It was a very bad neighborhood, Neal. I was in at least four situations that involved gunplay. And it was an assault rifle, and I was able to actually - you know, I fired warning rounds, which I feel in retrospect if I had fired warning rounds with the first assailant, he would be alive today because he would have known that I was serious about shooting him, which I was not. I couldn't shoot him, Neal, even when he came up to me. I could not bring myself to shoot him.
CONAN: Well, it's - have you considered moving?
ALEXANDER: I had a lot of responsibilities in that neighborhood.
CONAN: I don't mean to make light of it, but...
ALEXANDER: No certainly. I probably should have. What actually caused me to move was that last incident, it was somebody breaking into my car, and, you know, fending him off, and then after I let him go, hearing the police sirens because on this occasion I had called the police. But in that neighborhood, they take a very long time to show up.
CONAN: Did you go for counseling after the incident?
ALEXANDER: I did. I did. I did. I went to see one psychiatrist. He wasn't particularly helpful. He wanted to prescribe medications right away, which I really didn't - I'm now a registered nurse, but - which I really didn't want to go on medications.
And I went to go see another psychiatrist that did something called - it's a therapy for PTSD called guided eye visualization. And that seemed - I don't know that that worked so well, but when I got the bill for the third treatment, and my insurance wasn't covering it, I realized that I just couldn't afford to be crazy.
CONAN: Well, few of us can. Thanks very much for sharing your story, and I hope the new neighborhood works out better.
ALEXANDER: Happy to oblige, Neal, absolutely. I've been a nurse now for 12 years. I haven't gone back since.
CONAN: Thanks very much, Alexander. If you've ever pulled your gun on somebody, what happened next? What was the aftermath? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. More with Walter Kirn after a short break. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. You may have heard Martin Kaste's recent piece on MORNING EDITION about a man named Dan McKown. In 2005, he was at a mall in Washington state when gunshots rang out there. McKown had a legal, concealed gun, which he drew. Then the shots stopped, so he put it back in his jacket. And then he looked into the shooter's eyes.
DAN MCKOWN: So anyway, I'm standing there like Napoleon Bonaparte with his hand, you know, in his jacket. So I said: Young man, I think you need to put your weapon down.
MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: And that gave the other guy just enough time to shoot him.
CONAN: The gunman shot McKown multiple times.
MCKOWN: At the time, I thought I screwed up and that I failed.
CONAN: But in the end maybe not. No one was killed. Some believe challenges like the one McKown presented can change the course of a mass shooting. So if you've pulled a gun on someone, what happened? Give us a call, tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Send us email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our guest is Walter Kirn, national correspondent for The New Republic. Joining us - and Walter, I wanted to ask you: Your story, obviously we heard the story like the one from Alexander. When you started sharing your story, do you hear other people's stories like that?
KIRN: Well, every once in a while I do. And, you know, I was listening to that story on the air just a second ago, and I thought: How strange. Here we are, it sounds like we're in a western. These are stories from contemporary America about gunplay, very violent gunplay. And I know when I told mine, and I think when I heard the caller tell his, there's a kind of gallows humor that automatically comes up. You get a little riled up telling it.
And you know, the notion that we're a civilized place kind of falls apart slightly when this topic comes up. And I notice that when I've told my story, it's often been reciprocated, and you can never tell. They're like war stories. There can be a little bit a feeling of unreality about them, you know, but, but it happens.
CONAN: And obviously if you're talking to somebody, they all have good endings.
KIRN: Well - not necessarily. I had a friend who, much like your last caller, came home to his house, someone had broken in. This guy went for his shotgun. He wasn't willing to use it. The guy took it away from him and beat him half to death with it. And he was still there to tell the tale, but he wasn't in as good a shape as he might have been otherwise.
CONAN: Joining us now is someone who trains gun owners on responsible use of their weapons. Rob Pincus is a personal defense and shooting instructor in Bexley, Ohio, where owns ICE Training Services. He's also managing editor of Personal Defense Network. He joins us by smartphone from Bexley. Nice to have you with us today.
ROB PINCUS: Great to be here, Neal, thank you for having me.
CONAN: And what do you tell your students about pulling weapons in a situation where you're pulling weapons on somebody, pulling a gun on somebody?
PINCUS: We talk a lot about should versus could. A lot of the debate in the firearms industry revolves around the laws. And of course the laws vary from state to state, and the laws vary from city to city in some states. And of course we have instructors who work in Europe, in the different places where the laws are dramatically different than they are here in the U.S.
So the conversation of what you can do legally becomes very convoluted very quickly. And the reality is while we certainly advocate that responsible firearms owners are going to follow all the laws and be very aware of the laws, the reality in that moment comes down to whether or not you should use a firearm.
And we simply talk about the ultimate (technical difficulty) self or others and that that's really the only reason why you should be presenting a defensive firearm inside your home, outside of your home. The reason needs to be...
CONAN: And I hate to interrupt you, Rob. Rob, I hate to interrupt you, but your smartphone is betraying you. So if you wouldn't mind picking up the regular phone, and let's see if we can do it that way. And are you there?
PINCUS: You got it. We got a backup plan here. Is this working now?
CONAN: This is plan B. But thanks very much for coming. Yes, it sounds good. So you were saying it's the difference, the only situation in which you should pull a firearm on somebody is immediate threat.
PINCUS: Yeah, it's when you need to. So it's not an issue of can you pull your firearm, which a lot of people enter into the conversation, they say it's legal, is this allowed. It really comes down to need. Once you've met all the legal requirements to have the firearm and be a responsible firearms owner, do you need to use the firearm to defend yourself or someone else?
CONAN: And I assume there's a lot of, well, deprogramming to do after all the gunplay we've seen on TV and the movies.
PINCUS: Well, when it comes to the actual use of the firearm, absolutely. A lot of what we see in the media, the entertainment media, isn't the best way to use a firearm, and in a lot of cases even a smart way to use a firearm. Quite often, you know, the drama in the action movie scene comes when the good guy gets the gun taken away or the gun kicked out of his hand or something, and that's when the fight ensues. So we definitely teach things a little differently than what people see on the big screen.
CONAN: So the situations, though, are - you know, people are unaccustomed to being in situations like that. It's difficult enough for police officers or people in the military.
PINCUS: Absolutely. We approach all of our training from a personal defense, a home defense standpoint or even for the military and law enforcement that we train from what we call a counter-ambush point of view. In other words, if you knew the attack was coming, especially in the personal issues, you would have avoided the fight. You wouldn't have gone to mall that day. You wouldn't have opened the door for that person that you thought was, you know, selling Girl Scout cookies or something. You get ambushed, you get caught off-guard.
So your training, your preparation needs to take that into account. And that's why the responsible gun owner really can't be thinking about doing a legal cross-reference in the heat of the moment. They need to be thinking about do they need to defend themselves, or do they not need to, and that's really the crux of the responsibility issue of presenting a firearm.
As your other guest Walter mentioned earlier, if someone presents that firearm, but they're not really willing to use it, they don't need to use it, it can actually cause more of a problem.
CONAN: So if you're going to pull a gun on somebody, be ready to use it.
PINCUS: Yeah, and that's the idea. You don't present that firearm. It's different in the military, it's different in law enforcement, where you may use that firearm as a challenge. And certainly in personal defense situations, we do sometimes see what we call a psychological effect, where someone will present a firearm, and a bad guy will decide, well, I guess that person isn't a victim, that person isn't one of the sheep, and that person can protect themselves, so they'll change their mind.
And of course there's time for the person defending themselves to stop and to not shoot or to not continue to shoot once we get that psychological stop. But once that firearm is brought into play, there's a responsibility to be able to defend yourself and use it and protect that firearm from falling into the bad guy's hands.
And this is really a decision that has to be made when someone chooses to own that firearm for personal defense in the first place.
CONAN: And I assume responsible gun ownership involves more than a couple of days of training.
PINCUS: Well, it depends. The reality is that we have courses everywhere from four to six hours for people who are interested in learning how to select the right firearm and learning how to store it properly in their home, learning the basics of home defense. And then it really comes down to practice.
So formal training could simply be a few hours, some exposure to some basic ideas, or it could be several days. We have some students who will take, you know, five days a year of formal training. Some will only take four, six or eight hours in their entire lives, but they'll maintain those basic fundamental skills through a practice regimen that makes sense for their lifestyle and budget.
CONAN: And we're talking today about people who have had to pull their gun on somebody. How often has that happened to your students? Has that happened to you?
PINCUS: In law enforcement, I have had to - you know, I had my firearm deployed and pointed at people to challenge them or keep them from doing something that would have resulted in me or someone else getting hurt. Luckily in the private sector I've never had to pull a firearm to defend myself, certainly never had to do it inside of my own home.
Many of our students, obviously as armed professionals, have used their firearms to defend themselves. And some of our citizens that are students also have used them inside the home and outside the home. And several of them have had to shoot, unfortunately.
But as you alluded to earlier, if they're there to report the story and to tell us what happened, good, bad, wrong, right, what part of the training worked and what lessons they have to share with others, then that's much better than just being a victim of violent crime.
CONAN: And if you could point to one lesson that we could take away, what would it be?
PINCUS: The lesson is not to think that the training should be controlled and choreographed. The lesson is that, you know, if you saw it coming, you would have avoided it. And that's always going to be the smart choice and the right choice, to not have to use the firearm. You don't go into a situation that you know might be dangerous simply because you're armed. Instead, being armed causes you to avoid those confrontations even more.
If you take your safety and your personal defense seriously enough to have a firearm, then you certainly should be locking your doors and avoiding dangerous places and dangerous people.
CONAN: And do you pronounce the easy acronym of your I-C-E training services? Is it ICE training services?
PINCUS: Usually that's the default, but we do try to make sure that people realize it stands for integrity, consistency and efficiency. So we emphasize that it is I-C-E Training Company.
CONAN: All right, thanks very much for being with us today. We appreciate your time.
PINCUS: Thank you, you, Neal. Appreciate you having me.
CONAN: Rob Pincus with us from Bexley, Ohio. Let's see if we get another caller in on the conversation. Let's go to Ross, and Ross is on the line with us from Saint Louis.
ROSS: Hi, Neal. How are you?
CONAN: Good. Thanks.
ROSS: Yeah. So I was in middle school, actually eighth grade year, middle school, walking home from school with a couple of friends. We ran into some older kids. We thought they were from our neighborhood, never really found out. But it was, you know, midwinter time, roughly 40, 50 degrees outside. A guy pulled a gun out on us and waited until they were just about to pass us and pulled out a gun. It was like, hey, give me your stuff. Giving that I grew up in a rough neighborhood, we were kind of used to fighting anyway, so I just - I immediately grabbed the guy's hand that he had the gun in, and we wrestled for it, and it went off.
When it went off, I grabbed it from him and pulled the trigger. It went off again. Everybody scattered. It was more out of a - I guess it was out of instinct or just fear, but, you know, after that, it became one of those things where gun ownership for me after, you know, growing up has been something I've been very reluctant to do at this point. Just a few years ago, I was, you know, I ended up getting another handgun and some training and stuff like that for home protection, just out of safety sake with all the shootings and stuff that are going like that.
But that was a pretty scary situation. Of course, one of the neighbors called the police. We found out later it was actually just a starter pistol, so it wouldn't have done anything to anyone, but it really did change the way I look at, you know, handguns and shootings and stuff like that.
CONAN: That's a formative experience. Close range, a starting pistol can do some damage, but it's not going to kill anybody. But it's - well, I'm glad you shared the call, and I'm glad that things have worked out for you. But that's about the definition of self-defense, don't you think?
ROSS: Yeah. There you go.
CONAN: Yeah. All right. Thanks very much for the call, Ross.
ROSS: Thank you.
CONAN: I was wondering, Walter Kirn, as you listened to the story of the - that story and our instructor, the idea of never pulling it unless you're ready to use it, you've been around guns your whole life.
CONAN: I guess maybe you live in New York for a while, and so maybe not there...
CONAN: ...given the laws there. But the - do you think you could think that quickly? In the circumstance, you did.
KIRN: Well, you know, I listen to these things, and I hear this: Guns are the problem. Guns are the solution. And round and round it goes. You know, if a gun was being pulled on me and I had the ability to defend myself, I don't think there would be any hesitation if I was able to. I mean that's do or die, so to speak. But in cloudier situations, you can only pray and hope for clarity, I think. And training and practice, obviously, is a good place to start, you know?
I'm not really afraid of people who've learned to use their guns in responsible ways. I am afraid of people who have gotten some notion from a movie or popular culture, gone out and bought a gun and not prepared themselves for what might happen next.
CONAN: We're talking about what happens when you pull a gun on somebody. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And let's see if we can talk with Victoria. Victoria with us from Portland.
VICTORIA: Yes. This is Victoria. I personally have been - well, I personally have prevented becoming a victim myself and my four-year-old daughter because I had a gun. Because I had a gun, no one got killed, and we didn't become a victim. And it happened numerous times, most recently here in Oregon when my daughter was four-and-a-half. I had a camper van, and I was traveling back and forth. I live in Portland and was traveling into Northern California. And I stopped at Roseburg rest stop - in Roseburg, Oregon, on a Wednesday evening about eight o'clock, which is already dark, November.
And there was no cars in the parking lot at all. It was completely empty. And we had a young puppy. And so I left my four-year-old in the van, and I said, here, you know, lock the door. I said you can see mom. I'm going to walk the puppy, just don't open this door for anything. And I have an old Smith & Wesson that belonged to my father, and, yes, it was loaded. And I carried it in the van because it was just her and I. I never put it in my pocket when I got out. But that night, I didn't consciously think about it. I had my raincoat on.
It was cold and windy, and I stuck it in the pocket of the raincoat. And I'm walking this puppy down, and as I start to come back to the van, I see a very nicely dressed guy coming out of the woods across the grass. And he had on slacks, dress shoes, leather jacket, you know, not something you go out in the woods in. And as he started - and I was watching him, of course. And as he started coming towards me, there was nothing - where I was parked, there was no facilities or anything.
And he was smiling, and he said - and he started yelling when he was about 75 feet away, 60 feet away. Do you know where I can find water? And I'm pointing in the opposite direction. He kept coming towards me. He was trying to cut me off from getting back to the van. When he thought he had bisected that distance and he was between me and the van that I couldn't get there, his whole tone changed. He made it extremely clear what he was going to do. He was unzipping his pants, and he started telling me, verbally, what he was going to do.
And I had my hand on the gun. For a moment, I was thinking about, OK, what am I going to do. Until my four-year-old started running the window down in the van, and that was it. I pulled the gun out because the last thing he had said to me is something about I'm going to show you what you've got for me or something like that. And I just said I've got this. You want this? And he turned and ran back into the woods.
Now, because I've had the gun - and that's not the only time. There's been another - there's been other times, too. Because I had it, because I want to use without any doubt in my mind the minute I saw my daughter was in danger - nobody died. And, you know, like I said, there's been two other occasions. Nobody died because the gun made them changed their minds. They don't expect a woman to have it, and it catches them off guard, that you can defend yourself. So I'm going down that street to get a permit to carry, because I've done that and I realized that, you know, traveling when she was little and stuff like that, I had a gun in the van if we were camping, and I will - I'm going to completely legal about it, but...
CONAN: That's obviously wise. But I'm really glad the situation worked out the way it did.
VICTORIA: Yes. I am, too, because like I said, at worse, I would have been raped and who knows?
CONAN: And who knows?
VICTORIA: It's - and women are killed that are raped. And...
CONAN: And then there's a four-year-old right - who - it would - could have been a nightmare. But thank you very much for sharing your story and be careful, OK?
VICTORIA: OK. Thank you.
CONAN: Walter Kirn, I'm sorry we didn't have more time to talk to you, but thank you very much for being with us today and sharing your story.
KIRN: It was fascinating. Thank you.
CONAN: Walter Kirn, national correspondent for The New Republic, with us from Bozeman in Montana. When we come back from a short break, we're going to be talking about the advertisement that everybody is talking about the Super Bowl. An advertisement that was invented during the Super Bowl, in fact, during the blackout. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.