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Outdoors/Adventure

When not having a gun was a lifesaver

Five or six years ago, my wife and I were asleep in our modest two-story house here in Olympia, Washington. It's an older neighborhood near downtown. Our autistic adult son slept in the next room. About 2 a.m., my wife wakes me up. She says there's somebody downstairs.

"Aw, c'mon honey," I say. "No really," she says. So I got up and walked down the hall to the head of the stairs. I heard somebody downstairs.

First thought, guns stored in basement, second thought, no phone upstairs, third thought, I'm scared &%#@less but I need to keep this guy (guys?) away from my wife and son or die trying.

So with a rush of adrenaline I raced downstairs, rounded the corner at the base, and there, 15 feet away, in the faint light from the street, stood a big guy clad in white shirt and pants and black boots. (Straight outta "Clockwork Orange"?)

Clad only in my jockey shorts, I put up my dukes. The guy started walked toward me. Awww *%!@, I thought. That's when I went nuts. I shouted 'get out' and charged him and shoved him hard in the chest. He stumbled backwards. I kept rapidly shoving and shouting all the way to the front door. I reached around, opened the door, and shoved him out. Locked the door. Ran and locked two other doors. Called the cops as the guy politely knocked away on my front door. The cops took him away and charged him with trespass.

I'm sure you've figured out by now that the guy was drunk or stoned or both and came home to the wrong house. He was 27 and lived a block away.

To this day, I thank God that THAT time I didn't have a gun. Because I would have killed young Josh Anderson, the dumb %$@!. For me, living in a low-crime town, 71 years old, avoider of road rage etc., I currently judge that I don't need a handgun. That judgment is situational, I guess.

I think anybody who decides to get a gat first should do the same risk analysis.

This story was sent to me by Hal Spencer and it appears with his permission as the opening for the follow-up to the column on home defense a few weeks back.

While it's not possible to cover all the issues surrounding home defense in one short column, this story illustrates why the shooting of an uninvited guest in the home is not the pat answer for every situation. Some would argue that shooting this person would have been justified. Maybe. But I'd guess that most of us would not want the death of someone making a mistake to haunt us the rest of our lives.

Some readers have asked about bear spray as an option for home defense. The first thing to consider is, to borrow the adage, "Don't bring a knife (or bear spray) to a gunfight." Bears do not arm themselves. In other words, bear spray, no matter how good it may be, cannot defeat incoming bullets.

Christine Cunningham checks the pattern and distance of a big can of bear spray. (Photo by Steve Meyer)

There are things that seldom get talked about with bear spray — in particular, its use in a confined setting, particularly a small home or apartment. The user quickly becomes an unintended victim of the spray — as does anyone else in the house.

The effects vary, just as in its use on bears. Some are seriously affected, some are not. The home becomes quite inhospitable for the residents while it airs out. Even in outdoor settings, the cloud in the air will often affect the sprayer. Try it in a controlled setting so you know what to expect.

During most of my 23 years in law enforcement, I was an instructor in the use of oleoresin capsicum, the ingredient that makes bear spray what it is. For law enforcement personnel to use it on duty, they were required to take a full spray of the stuff, directly in the face. After it was administered, they were required to fight through the effects and continue their mission of subduing the individual that was causing the behavior.

There were two reasons for this: understanding what happens when you spray someone, and to not use it indiscriminately. I saw hundreds of people sprayed with this stuff, some with very significant issues, some with not the slightest effect. These were sober people, not using mind-altering substances.

There are numerous choices for bear spray. Bear spray can be used for home protection. (Photo by Steve Meyer)

Having said that, most people do stop bad behavior once sprayed; some do not. It is the same with bears, as witnessed earlier last fall in Southeast where a bear mauled an individual after being sprayed.

Yes, it will work on bears, but it won't work on all bears — particularly bears committed to attacking. It seems many bear spray incidents are of the nuisance variety where the bear is being troublesome and seems threatening and when sprayed the bear backs off. That keeps people from just shooting them, but it doesn't always stop the problem.

Get a dog?

"Get a dog," is a common suggestion and yes, a dog can be a game-changer in the home-security business. Not attack dogs, mind you, a dog that will alert when it hears something amiss and barks loudly and buys you a moment or two to collect yourself and prepare.

Dog barks will deter would-be home invaders most of the time — but not always. And the person who comes forth despite the dog will be willing to hurt or kill the dog to finish whatever they came to do. Some people are willing to sacrifice a dog in such circumstances; I am not one of them. Our dogs are family.

Steve Meyer and Christine Cunningham’s setters won’t attack an intruder but they never let anyone sneak up on the house. (Photo by Steve Meyer)

Some cannot have dogs where they live. Adding a dog to the household brings with it the expense of caring for the dog, taking the time for daily exercise and attention. Some people get a dog, chain it up and throw food and water at it once in a while. It seems to me those folks shouldn't have a dog.

This column is about guns and hunting, and the first column on the subject of arming oneself for home security didn't discuss the other considerations for that reason. The significant response to the column suggests it's appropriate to delve into these things, at least briefly.

Prevention remains the best course in thwarting bad things that might happen.

Good door locks are a simple first step. Home security systems with alarms and cameras are another option. Paying attention to who's frequenting your neighborhood can provide advance warning that things may be amiss.

In any event, personal security — at home, on the street, or in the backcountry — is the responsibility of the individual.

As one gets into the subject, "what if" exercises can help guide personal security choices. Think about things that have happened to other people, apply them to yourself and ask, "How would I deal with that?" This applies to walking down the street, lying in bed at home or hiking in the backcountry where you have the dual issues of two- and four-legged predators that may wish you harm.

Taking on the responsibility of a firearm for personal security is not for everyone for a variety of reasons. Exploring other options is in order and there is a wealth of information available on the subject. If you're concerned about safety, it is worth exploring every option.

Steve Meyer of Soldotna is lifelong Alaskan and an avid shooter. He writes every other week about guns and Alaska hunting. Contact Steve at oldduckhunter@outlook.com

Correction: An earlier version of this column said a bear killed someone in Southeast after being sprayed. Actually, it mauled the person.

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