In the debate about guns and gun control I like to think I have a small advantage because I've been in the middle of gunfights and seen people shot to death... more than once.
The first time was in Rochester, NY during my first week on the air as a television reporter. A man had run amok shooting people in his house before sprinting down the street and taking over a bank. The station sent me out there with a microwave truck and I went live on the air as the gunman opened fire and shotgun pellets hit the building 20 feet away. The SWAT team closed in and shot that guy dead 150 feet from us. I never had time to figure out whether I was more scared of getting killed or being on live television.
A few years later I was in Providence, RI when a group of guys bumbled a bank robbery and scattered into the neighborhood. One of them ran up behind a house and managed to take a pursuing cop as a hostage. My cameraman and I stood in the middle of the street as the robber and the cop moved down the driveway in tight unison. Great pictures. The robber used the cop as a shield to climb into the open door of an unmarked police cruiser with the intention of driving away. Not in Providence. A shotgun was fired as a distraction and a big detective moved in blasting with a handgun. The gunman turned and fired out the back window, blowing glass at us, but in a split second he was dead.
I've been in gunfire during a shootout in Mexico, at a roadblock in Kuwait City and in the middle of the Los Angeles riots. Living in Los Angeles, my wife and I have had gunfire outside two homes we've lived in.
The thing that's always struck me is that the shooting starts without warning and ends with even less. I never ducked, dropped to the street or hit the floor in my own home. You have no time to react. Gunshots, boom, somebody dead, over.
The notion that an amateur armed with a gun could pull it out and save the day is just silly. The shooting in most cases would be over before the supposed good guy could react and he'd be lucky not to drop his own weapon in fear. An armed guard at a school, as the NRA suggests, would merely be the first to die because he won't see it coming or get to his gun on time.
For a while I worked as a newspaper reporter covering the courts in Rochester. They had these big guys known as escort deputies who moved the more dangerous defendants from their cells to the courtroom and back. I saw them with hands on mobsters, street thugs and vicious drug-deal murderers.The deputies used to put the handcuffs on the defendants and walk them with one hand gripping the cuffs. The idea was that if the guy tried anything the deputy clamped down his hand and the cuffs tightened in a painful pinch that pretty well disabled the bad guy. I never saw one of them misbehave.
The interesting thing was that the deputies did not carry guns. I asked one of them why, and he just said, "Oh, you don't want to have guns around, they're dangerous."