I Got My Equalizer

On his most recent XM Satellite Radio show — the one with the theme of “GUNS” — Bob Dylan played a track by the “woefully underrecorded” Robert Jefferson. It was called I Got My Equalizer (and he wasn’t singing about audio equipment, as Bob also observed). It’s a great tune, convincingly performed by Mr. Jefferson.

The idea of a firearm as an “equalizer” is also one of the best arguments that gets made in favor of allowing law-abiding citizens to own and carry guns. (Of-course the 2nd amendment to the U.S. Constitution should arguably make the whole debate moot, but that’s another story.)

A world where good citizens are not allowed to own firearms is one where the old and frail can be victimized and intimidated at will by the young and strong. It’s a world where women can do little on being attacked by larger and stronger men, other than hope that someone is around to help. It’s a world where all manner of mild and gentle souls can be brutalized and/or murdered by callous thugs who care about nothing except getting what they want.

A gun is indeed an equalizer. A weaker person, armed with a gun, is likely to send an unarmed attacker — however physically strong — running away in fear. They attack the weak in hopes of an easy score, not a chance to dodge bullets. Even if the attacker is himself armed with a gun, he is not likely to want to engage in a shoot-out with his quarry, for the same reason. These people are fundamentally cowards; they only attack when they feel sure they can get away with it.

The National Rifle Association in the United States quotes figures that say that “U.S. gun owners use firearms for protection as frequently as 2.5 million times” per year. I don’t know how that figure is derived, but what’s clear is that guns are used by the innocent in self-defense far, far more often than they are used in the random killings that dominate the news whenever they occur.

The NRA keeps track of the local news stories and “police blotter” type items that track these events (since they never make big news) and keeps an archive of them on the web at this link.

I’m just going to reproduce a few relatively random examples here. It’s not hard to find examples which illustrate exactly what Robert Jefferson meant by calling his gun an “equalizer.”

Hugo Daily News, Hugo, OK, 05/19/06
State: OK
American Rifleman Issue: 8/1/2006
It seemed odd, even a bit suspicious, when a man knocked on 81-year-old Edna Songer’s door twice in one day, the first time claiming to be looking for a dog and the second asking for a glass of water. Police say that when the man returned for a third time, Songer tucked away a .25-caliber pistol and went to the door, where she saw the man and an accomplice jerking on her screen door until its latch hook came out. Both men were dressed in camouflage and one had a roll of duct tape. Songer shot through the screen door, causing both men to flee the scene.


NewsChannel5, Cleveland, OH, 03/07/06
State: OH
American Rifleman Issue: 6/1/2006
A 75-year-old grandmother had problems with people trying to break into her home, which is why she bought a small pistol she fondly calls “the peacekeeper.” So she was ready when, according to police, two teens came looking for trouble. The burglars could not see the woman, but with the assistance of a mirror, she observed them breaking into her door while she tried to dial 9-1-1. Once inside, the thugs found themselves face-to-face with the woman’s pistol, and one look was all it took for them to flee. Police caught up with the suspects after a brief pursuit.


Journal Star, Macomb, IL, 12/06/04
State: IL
American Rifleman Issue: 3/1/2005
Leonard Gamage of Macomb, Ill., does not like to admit he is in his 80s, but even so, he was able to fight off a home intruder more than 60 years his junior. The incident began when Gamage heard banging at his front door. When he opened the door, a man shoved his way inside and began to wrestle with Gamage, who was trying to make his way to his rifle. “I have not had my hands on that rifle for five or six years,” he said. “I didn’t even know if it was loaded.” Once Gamage had the rifle in hand, he threatened the intruder, who seemed undeterred. When the intruder lunged again, Gamage shot him in the foot and held him until police arrived.


Savannah Morning News, Savannah, GA, 11/19/05
State: GA
American Rifleman Issue: 2/1/2006
Harry Carpenter suffers from pulmonary fibrosis and wears oxygen tubes for much of the day, but that didn’t stop him from fending off two knife-wielding burglars. Police say two young men barged into his home, one forcing him at knifepoint to sit on a couch while the other demanded money from his wife, Jackie. When Jackie pretended to faint, Harry’s captor went to investigate. Harry sneaked into the laundry room where he kept an unloaded .22-cal. rifle he’s owned since his youth. “I shot many a squirrel with that thing,” he said later. The intruder returned before Harry could load his firearm, but Harry racked the bolt home as if it were loaded. “He yelled out, ‘Let’s go, he’s got a gun!'” Harry recalled. The suspects fled the scene and were being sought by police.


Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Lubbock, TX, 03/26/06
State: TX
American Rifleman Issue: 7/1/2006
According to authorities, a 29-year-old man entered the bedroom window of a sleeping 70-year-old Tom Ritter and his wife, and viciously stabbed Ritter with a knife. Ritter’s wife, awakened by the commotion, fired one round from her revolver into the intruder’s chest. Ritter was listed in stable condition. The suspect was under police observation in the intensive-care unit at another hospital.


The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, AZ, 03/08/06
State: AZ
American Rifleman Issue: 6/1/2006
When a man dressed in black approached a woman on the street, implied he had a gun and demanded cash, she initially tried the passive approach. Police say that although she had a concealed-carry permit and a revolver tucked away, she handed some money over and hoped the robber would leave. But when that didn’t work, and fearing her life was in danger, the victim drew her revolver and pointed it at the robber, who ran away. According to a police officer, “She was in fear of her life, and she defended herself appropriately.”


St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, MO, 02/07/06
State: MO
American Rifleman Issue: 5/1/2006
After an 87-year-old woman’s home was burglarized, her daughter gave her a .38-caliber handgun so she’d be prepared if it happened again. That gesture may have saved the senior citizen’s life. According to the police, early one morning, the woman awoke to the sound of a man breaking into her home. Calling for help wasn’t an option; he had cut her phone wires. After the man removed the security bars from the woman’s porch and attempted to access the front door, she fired a round from her pistol. The would-be intruder lay dead on the woman’s porch for nearly four hours before her daughter showed up for breakfast. “She couldn’t call for help and was afraid to go outside,” said a state policeman. Authorities are investigating whether the man, a career criminal, was also responsible for the first burglary.


Pensacola News Journal, Pensacola, FL, 03/06/06
State: FL
American Rifleman Issue: 6/1/2006
When Edward Lucas, Sr., checked to see why the neighbor’s German shepherd was barking in the early morning hours, he found a man trying to break through his door. “I yelled, ‘Get out of my house!’ but he kept coming,” Lucas said. “I was scared to death.” The 63-year-old then grabbed a .22-cal. rifle and yelled for his girlfriend to jump out the window and call the police at a neighbor’s house. According to police, when the intruder crashed through the door, Lucas shot at him at least four times. The assailant, who had 14 criminal convictions including seven felonies, died on the scene.


Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Arlington, TX, 11/10/05
State: TX
American Rifleman Issue: 2/1/2006
After finding a muddy footprint on her back porch and hearing glass break, Susan Buxton was convinced that someone was in her home. According to police, she searched each closet until, finally, as she pulled open the one nearest her front door, she saw a man’s face peering out from underneath a coat. “Shh,” he pleaded. Buxton told her granddaughter to call 9-1-1 and ordered the intruder to lie flat on the floor, or she’d shoot. The home invader then did something he likely regrets: He reached for the 66-year-old woman’s .38-cal. revolver. She fired once, hitting the intruder’s leg. “Ow, you shot me!” he cried out before fleeing. The man, whom police say eluded them by hiding in Buxton’s home after stealing a pickup truck, was apprehended on a balcony a few houses away. “If I didn’t have a gun to protect myself, I probably wouldn’t be here,” Buxton said.


The Fayetteville Observer, Fayetteville, NC, 03/15/06
State: NC
American Rifleman Issue: 6/1/2006
A pregnant woman was lying on the couch in her home when she heard the mini-blinds on her kitchen door rustle. Police say the woman, whose 1- and 3-year-old children were also in the home, got up to investigate and found a man trying to break in. When she spotted him, he ran around the corner of the duplex to the front door and tried to kick it in. The woman warned the prowler that she had a gun. When he replied that he also had a gun, she shot at him and he returned fire. The intruder was hit in the chest and died on the way to the hospital. No one else was injured.

I enjoy reading these stories. Aside from anything else, I think it’s great literature. It’s such incredible drama, distilled into the most economical prose imaginable. I mean, really. In a fair world, each of these stories would qualify as front page news, and there would be fawning interviews on all the morning TV shows with the people who defeated or drove away the bad guys by firing or merely brandishing their trusty old guns. But, it’s not a fair world. And that’s why you need an equalizer.

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