Armed Oregon
Citizens Stave
Off Gun-Wielding Attacker
By David Reinhard
From The Oregonian

A teen wielding a gun . . .
The phrase takes the breath away these days -- and sets many knees to jerking and tongues to wagging for ever more gun-control laws.
But an Oregon teen wielding a gun in Lebanon last week presents a far truer -- and more positive -- picture of gun use in America than all the Littletons and other tales of gun violence. So, for that matter, does what happened when a neighbor of the Lebanon teen-age boy picked up her handgun.
The teen-age boy and, later, the woman were defending themselves against an attacker who had already allegedly shot two people, one dead. But don't expect either armed hero to become a media celebrity, or armed self-defense to become our smart set's cause celebre. Using guns in legal self-defense just isn't part of the media super-story, especially when teen-agers are involved.
But facts are inconvenient things, and here's what happened in Lebanon as alleged by police: Early Wednesday evening, Marc A. Holcomb Jr., a 28-year-old man with a criminal record mistakenly freed from the Lane County Jail, shot two brothers after an argument at a Sweet Home residence. He fled. He was trying to force his way into homes and trying to steal a vehicle in Lebanon. At one home he fired two rounds from his semiautomatic into the front door. At another, he confronted a 16-year-old boy who was home with his 7-year-old brother. The teen-ager grabbed a .22-caliber rifle and shot Holcomb in the chest and . . . .
According to criminologists Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, law-abiding citizens use guns to defend themselves against criminals about 2.5 million times every year. This far surpasses the number of times guns are used to take a life. They found that, in 83.5 percent of successful gun defenses, the attacker either threatened or used force first. Three-quarters of the time the attacker did not know the intended victim.
The Lebanon teen was unusual in this respect. The vast majority of folks who use their guns to defend themselves don't even fire their guns, much less fire at their attackers. They simply brandish the guns or fire off warning shots to scare off their attackers. Less than 8 percent of the time does a citizen wound or kill his or her attacker.
Brandishing is what happened a few houses later last week in Lebanon. Here's how correspondent Matt Sabo detailed it in The Oregonian Thursday:
"After getting shot, Holcomb allegedly ran to Nancy Rabine's home and pounded on her front door. Rabine refused to let him in and grabbed a 9 mm handgun. He went to another door at the house and smashed out a small window near the doorknob and reached inside for the handle, she said.
" 'I told him I had a gun and told him I would use it if he didn't back off,' she said.
"Rabine said that she beat on the man's hand with the butt of her gun and that he eventually handed her his handgun, which was empty of bullets. When she turned to call 9-1-1, he ran away, she said."
Women, it turns out, have a special stake in gun-aided self-defense. Kleck and Gertz found that the 2.5 million self-defense cases included more than 200,000 women who were defending themselves against sexual abuse.
Economist John Lott of the University of Chicago School of Law has concluded from his studies that more gun ownership means less crime. He figures there would have been up to 1,800 fewer murders, 4,800 fewer rapes, and 94,000 fewer aggravated assaults in 1992 if more concealed weapons permits had been granted.
But might that mean more accidental deaths for adults and kids? Well, there were 1,400 accidental gun deaths in 1996, and 200 of those involved kids under the age of 15. Compare that to 950 child drownings or 2,900 children killed in car accidents.
What might have happened to the 16-year-old and his brother in Lebanon if he hadn't been armed? Or the gun-toting neighbor lady?
Some gun-control measures make sense. But we also ought to talk sense about the value of guns. As the Alan Ladd character said in the film "Shane" years back, "A gun is a tool, Marion, no better or no worse than any other tool . . . . A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that."
The guess here is that many in Lebanon are remembering that today.


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