What Would You Do With an Intruder at the Door?
LOS ANGELES — I was working at my desk the other day, overlooking my front yard, when I saw a man walk by the window and around the corner toward the back of the house. He was in his late 20s, wearing a rumpled gray sweatshirt; I’d never seen him before.
I waited, expecting him to come back around, since there is no other way out. When, after a few minutes, he didn’t reappear, it dawned on me he could be a burglar. There had been postings on Nextdoor.com about break-ins. I looked out the back window and saw him, systematically peering into windows.
Like many Americans, my first instinct was to grab a gun. I suspect I am not the anomaly that my friends and family think I am. I am comfortable with guns. I grew up shooting targets for sport and took part in marksmanship competitions. I have also voted for Democrats in most elections, strongly support gun control and am against the death penalty. I do not think the drafters of the second amendment envisioned concealed semiautomatic weapons and hollow-point bullets in everyone’s hands.
I always figured that in a life-or-death situation, I could reason or talk my way out of it. But a few months ago, we heard about a 70-year-old woman in Orinda, a Northern California town near where I grew up, who was shot twice by armed robbers. Luckily, she survived. Why did the assailant shoot her? Because she tried to communicate with him, which interfered with his idea of how the encounter should go. So, as a last resort: a gun.
I am not an alarmist: Statistically, I know the chances are that I will never need one. Rationally, I know I may even be worse off with a gun. A study by epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that having a firearm in the home almost doubles the risk of a violent death there. Another study, by the Violence Policy Center, found that in 2012 there were 259 justifiable gun homicides (that is, people turning the tables on an aggressor), but more than twice as many unintentional fatal shootings.
我不是危言耸听之徒：从统计学角度看，我知道自己很可能永远也不需要枪。理性地说，我知道如果有一把枪，我的处境也许会更糟。由疾病控制与预防中心(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)的流行病学家开展的一项研究显示，家中存有枪支，几乎会让暴力致死风险高出一倍。由暴力政策中心(Violence Policy Center)开展的另一项研究显示，在2012年，共发生259起有正当理由的枪杀案（意即人们扭转局面，杀死闯入者），但意外枪击死亡事件的数量是其两倍还多。
On the other hand, friends in law enforcement and the military do keep firearms at home. A police detective friend once came over and we went through a dozen intruder scenarios, examining every possible point of entry. There was only one instance in which having a gun might possibly help me. Even so, he advised me to have one. He described situations he had encountered in which homeowners had protected themselves from intruders.
When an older family member decided to get rid of her shotgun and pistol because of arthritis, she offered them to me. So, without fanfare, I became a gun owner.
Now, with this sketchy-looking stranger in my backyard, I retrieved a gun and loaded it. Then I called the police.
The intruder was still in the backyard eyeing the windows. Maybe he was listening to see whether anyone was home before breaking in. Maybe he was waiting for an accomplice. It was odd and threatening to have a stranger hovering there. I ran through more possibilities: He could be a laborer. But he had no tools. I saw no unfamiliar cars in the street. Also, I hadn’t hired anyone.
I tried to envision what would happen next. The police would arrive soon and handle things. But the intruder could break in at any minute. There would be a confrontation. If he was armed, I might have to shoot him. I might kill him.
The voice of reason, the voices of my dear parents, filled my head: If there is no other way, I should shoot him. The phrase echoed for me: If there is no other way.
Then it hit me. There is another way: I could simply get myself out of the house. Then there’d be no confrontation.
I sneaked downstairs, left through the garage door and waited on the corner of the street. Standing there, I realized: There is nothing in my home worth a man’s life. They are just material possessions. I can defend my life if called upon, or the lives of my family, but I don’t need to defend my stuff by shooting someone. That’s just crazy.
Two Los Angeles Police plainclothes detectives, a man and a woman, showed up. They asked me to let them into the house so that they could get to the backyard through the house (this was safer for them than approaching him in the open in the yard). I stayed in the living room.
I heard the male detective talking to the trespasser, but I couldn’t make out the words. A helicopter circled above. Then he said to the man: “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m not going to hurt you.” A few moments later, they had him cuffed. They radioed for a patrol car, which came in a few minutes and took the intruder away. The detectives came back in for me to sign their police report.
“It seems that this guy is having mental health issues,” he said. “He was talking to God while we were with him in the backyard, asking God to forgive him and to not let us hurt him.”
“He was just out there in la-la land, staring into space when we found him,” the female detective added. “I don’t think he would have broken into the house, but you never know. The detectives downtown will make him understand that he can’t do that again.”
I saw compassion in their eyes. They were not angry at the man, nor conflicted about what needed to be done. These detectives did what they were trained to do: preserve the peace, defuse the situation.
I heard from them the next day. They reviewed my security camera footage, in which the man appeared to be very deliberately checking out doors and windows. The police speculated that his “talking to God” may have been a routine to deceive arresting officers.
That much was unresolved, but what of my decision to reach for a gun? After the encounter, I was off-kilter for days. The incident could have gone so differently.
We all know the statistics that guns don’t make us safer. But we fool ourselves into thinking that those statistics don’t apply to us, just as we all think we’re better-than-average drivers, and every gambler thinks he can beat the house. In the same way, we reach for guns because if there is a confrontation, we don’t want to be unprepared and we think we will beat the odds.
We are a planning species. We buy fire insurance though most of us will never need it. So I’m keeping my guns nearby, just in case. It’s what feels rational, even if it isn’t. And for one more night, I will go to bed as someone who has not killed another human being.