TwinCitiesCarry.com - Joel's WritingsEditor's note: This essay from July 1992 originally appeared on Joel's training web site in 2003.
The Burglar, the Knife, and the Gun
On July 15th, 1991 — five days after my daughter's first birthday — at just about four in the morning, the burglar in our bedroom reached a hand under the covers, on my wife's side.
Felicia came awake instantly, and shouted — "There's somebody in the room!" and I snapped awake and shot out of bed, shouting — bellowing, Felicia says — something to the effect of how I was going to get my gun and kill the bastard.
I think the burglar was already fleeing when I yanked open the drawer. I remember thinking, as I pulled out my then newly-acquired 9mm Ruger P-85 — yes, the same model that Colin Ferguson used to kill a bunch of unarmed commuters — that I had to get a good view of him before I shot him, because our one-year-old daughter was across the hall in her room, and for all I knew, he was holding her. And I remember thinking that if he was holding her, I'd have to shoot low and hit him in the legs, or high, and shoot him in the head.
But we had a trigger lock on the Ruger, and in the dark I couldn't find my keys, so I ran to the bureau and ripped open the locked bag with the .22 target pistol in it, fumbled in the dark until I found its magazine (a politically incorrect 13-round magazine, by the way) and slammed it into the pistol, racking the slide as I ran to check on Judy — who, thankfully, slept through the whole thing.
I remember thinking that the slide had worked too easily, so I wasted a round by racking it again, dumping a cartridge on the carpet, and then I carefully pushed the safety switch off, toward that little F for Fire —
— and took a deep breath.
My wife and daughter were safe, and they were behind me, and there was no sense in gambling, chasing a burglar or burglars off into the night.
So I just crouched at the top of the stairs, no doubt very unromantic looking in my jockey shorts with the potbelly hanging over the waistband in front, thinking that if one of them came up the stairs I'd put three rounds in his chest, and one in his head. (Actually, I distinctly remember thinking, "I'll put three warning shots in his chest, and one warning shot in his head." It didn't seem funny then.)
And I also remember reminding myself not to put my finger on the trigger until I had a target to shoot at, and I never did end up putting my finger on the trigger that evening, because they had all run away, and and when the police arrived — I'm told it was less than five minutes; it felt like a couple of years — we were dressed, and went downstairs to look at the damage.
At least three of them, probably four — it would take at least two people lift our large-sized TV set, and it looked like one of them was working on the VCR and another was emptying out Felicia's purse while the third came upstairs. There's some reason to believe it was the gang known as the Nokomis Bandits, who we read about a few days later, a gang of four who had steadily ratcheted up their level of violence; if so, we got off a lot easier than most of their victims.
As such things go, it wasn't all that bad.
They got: Felicia's Banana Republic bag; her credit cards and wallet, containing about $30 cash; about $20 in a container of quarters we keep — kept — for change; our huge Sharp TV set; my answering machine; her keys, credit cards and ID; a TV cable; my business card case; a few other odds and ends.
And they took our sense of security. Our home didn't seem to be the safe place it was before.
Oh — and they got another thing, something I only noticed a couple of days later, when I went to carve a roast: they took a butcher knife from the kitchen.
I sat down and shook for a few minutes. And I didn't mention it to Felicia for a number of months. A butcher knife.
Neither Felicia nor I slept through the night for many months, and even now I wake quickly at the slightest sound.
I'm not a violent guy, honest. In fifteen years together, certainly including the occasional loud argument like most couples have, I've never so much as raised my hand to my wife, and I save spanking my daughter for important issues like, say, running into the street or playing with the burners on the stove (and even then, I don't hit her hard; I hate hitting kids). That's no big deal; that's all pretty ordinary.
All of it's very ordinary, really. And what happened to us wasn't unusual — upwards of a million Americans every year defend themselves with handguns, and that in the vast majority of cases, no shot is fired. Not surprising — the Justice Department's statistics show that if you're attacked, your best chance of getting away unhurt is to pull a gun. In the states where law-abiding citizens can easily get carry permits, like Florida, and Oregon, and our neighboring state of South Dakota, nobody can seem to find cases of permit-carrying citizens committing gun crimes, although there are many accounts of legally armed citizens stopping crimes.
Every time I hear the latest cry to take handguns away from ordinary citizens (and, of course, those few criminals who are willing to obey such laws), I think about the night we lucked out, and how glad I am that such laws weren't in force that night.
And I wonder — I'll never know — what he and his friends would have done if instead of bellowing, "I'm getting my gun and killing the bastard?" I'd said, "Please don't hurt us, please?"
Fled anyway? (And where was that butcher knife?)
We made some changes since the burglary: we added a security system, and prominently display the signs and decals, hoping that the next burglar will just go on to another house.
And, just in case he doesn't, we keep a loaded gun in a pushbutton-lock gun box just over the bed.
Afterthoughts, some seven years later....
We don't live in the same house anymore. Part of it was a matter of space — with me working at home and my sister Sharon living with us at the time Felicia was pregnant with Rachel — more space was a good thing. More space, I suspect, is usuually a good thing.
But the truth is that after you've woken up in the middle of the night to find a stranger in your bedroom, it's never quite the same, safe place again. We have an alarm, an understanding with the local authorities, and a very protective, 120-pound half-German Shepherd, half-Rotweiller dog...
... but that gun box is still bolted to the wall over the bed, with no apologies.