“Using guns in life-or-death situations” was a headline in last Saturday’s Tribune about a new study that looked at what happens when regular people try to use handguns in self-defense.
I’ve never been in a life-or-death gun situation. But I’ve witnessed three of them as a news reporter for the Telegram-Tribune (now The Tribune) and KPRL radio. I saw three people shot to death and three seriously wounded.
The message I got from the Saturday article was that carrying a gun in a school or church or other public place isn’t enough to stop crazy shooters. You should also be trained in gun fighting.
I saw my first gunfight in 1974 in Paso Robles. A middle-aged man had been drinking that day. He also bought a single-shot shotgun. He returned to his little house next to the Glen Speck School grounds and found his lady friend was absent.
She returned that evening in a taxi, which he greeted with a shotgun blast. The birdshot didn’t penetrate the car door or injure anyone. The police soon arrived and so did I with my tape recorder. My Army training or my cowardice prompted me to take cover behind a garage. Only my microphone protruded beyond the wall.
I recorded several minutes of shouting and shooting, some as fast as a trigger could be pulled. The man was shot in the neck and leg but survived and went to prison. Two officers had slight birdshot wounds.
My next shootout was in 1977 in a former tourist court in San Miguel. A tenant was drinking and shooting his .22-caliber rifle. People got scared. Soon sheriff’s deputies, Highway Patrolmen and other lawmen arrived. Some lay on roofs of other cabins, which circled the central cabin where the gunman was.
Two deputies managed to throw tear-gas grenades through a cabin window. The man emerged on the front porch carrying his rifle. He wouldn’t drop it. He was shot and died in the hospital. I heard that doctors found a lesion in his brain.
My next gun battle was in 1987 in Paso Robles in the municipal courthouse parking lot. A 44-year-old woman and 24-year-old man tried to kidnap their former lawyer. The 73-year-old attorney resisted. They eventually shot him and were in turn shot by officers concealed nearby. The man and woman died. The lawyer and one officer were seriously wounded, but survived.
The article in last Saturday’s Tribune said people without firearms training did poorly in a recent test. The test involved simulated confrontations with carjackers, armed robbers or suspected thieves. For one thing the untrained people didn’t take cover.
I remember being taught in Army basic-training how to “hit the dirt” while keeping my M-1 rifle pointed in the right direction. That was a long time ago, and today we’re talking about pistols. I also haven’t learned or practiced modern gun-fighting, so I couldn’t respond quickly or calmly. I’ll be safer without a gun.