How I Became a Gun Owner

I used to be one of those people who asked questions like “Why would anyone need to carry a gun in a restaurant?” That line of thinking abruptly ended almost 16 years ago. I’ll get to that in a moment.

When I was growing up, I didn’t have much exposure to guns. At summer camp I fired a box or two of .22s out of an antiquated bolt-action, single-shot rifle. That was pretty exciting, and I do vividly remember the day when a guest counselor brought a .50 caliber blackpowder rifle to the firing line. Our allocated one shot each of fire and brimstone had us prepubescent boys channeling Daniel Boone for days.

Still, I grew up neutral to the issue of firearms. Sure, as a young buck, guns always fascinated me—I think it’s in guy DNA—but we never had any in the house, and I wasn’t motivated enough to whine, beg, and plead for more exposure.

As an adult, I was equally neutral. I didn’t have any objection to firearms, but when kids came on the scene, I made a deliberate—and in hindsight, unthoughtful—decision not to have guns in the house. Because, you know, kids. That was the extent of my passionless logic. If someone had forced me to relive my high school debate class and take a position one way or the other, I would have flunked simply by lack of substance.

In short, I spent the majority of my life as the poster child for the people we most need to win over - those who have never really thought about guns in a meaningful way. This is the group that can be swayed to one side or the other with a couple of discussions, or perhaps a life-changing event.

I was swayed by a life-changing event—an unfortunate one—on Mother's Day weekend back in the year 2000.

I was half-owner of a restaurant and had just moved away from the day-to-day operations to get back into the technology business. Saturday morning, around 9 a.m., I got a call from a 15-year-old employee of our restaurant. She told me that my business partner had been shot.

Still in a state of shock, she sounded frighteningly calm as she handed the phone over to a Sheriff’s Deputy. He then filled me in on the details.

A couple of guys had walked in the door around 8:15 a.m., surprising my partner and the 15-year old girl, both of whom were starting the process of preparing for our normal 11 a.m. opening time. They initially demanded money, but ended up shooting my partner 11 times, for no reason at all. They also tried to execute the young girl, but the gun jammed, and they ran off.

As I learned later, the two thugs were a couple of former employees who had started a rampage against several of their previous employers. First, they tried and failed to rob another nearby restaurant. Next, they lured a delivery driver for a former employer to an abandoned house. They killed him in cold blood, not even knowing him. Finally, they ended up at our place.

The police officer asked me if I was aware of anyone that “had it out for me,” because the killers had asked for me at some point during the event and said something like “tell Tom he’s next” as they left. I was stumped. Our business was in an affluent suburban neighborhood, and we had been blessed with plenty of great employees over the previous few years. How could this happen here?

I was about a two-hour drive away when I got the call, and I have to tell you I’ve never felt so helpless and out of control in my entire life. Not knowing whether my partner was alive or dead, all I could do was drive—and worry. I worried about him. I worried about our young employee. I worried about my family being stalked by psychopaths.

Close your eyes for a minute and imagine that someone is out there trying to kill you. Now think about going about your daily life, wondering at which moment someone is going to pop out of nowhere and shoot you and your family. It’s unnerving, to say the least. It’s a level of helplessness that I could never have imagined before that day.

To make a long story short, and to get to the lessons I want to share, my partner was spared by a series of what can only be described as miracles. He’s not only alive today, but well. Happily married with beautiful children, he owns his own business and is making the world a much better place, every single day.

As for the bad guys? I watched the surveillance tape later that morning in the police station and recognized the murderers as the two former employees. I never would have thought that either of them were capable of something like this, but as I watched their calm, cold, calculated, and merciless behavior on the tape, I recognized that evil is something we can never really understand. Based on the identification, the detectives and uniformed officers went into pursuit-and-capture mode, and did not sleep until the two were apprehended. Now, they’re both in prison serving consecutive life sentences.

I think—no, actually I know—that the reason I felt so helpless was because I had never thought of personal protection. I had no “real” recognition of the dangers in the world around me. It wasn’t until unspeakable evil stepped into my life that I recognized my failure to accept the world for what it is, not what I wished it to be. Bad people are out there, and they do bad things—things that you and I can never understand with a rational thought process.

It would be all neat and tidy if I could say that the light bulb went on and I immediately decided that arming myself was the right answer, but it didn’t. I certainly recognized the problem of my helplessness, and recognition is always the first step, but in all honesty, the solution didn’t gel in my mind for quite some time. It had taken months before my sluggish brain figured out that learning how to use a gun for self-defense was the right approach for me. Do you know what cemented the decision in my case? It wasn’t about my personal protection; it was about my family. Here I was, a husband and father of two young children, and I realized I was completely unprepared to protect them.

I own guns and have concealed carry permits, but far more importantly, I learn something every day to improve what skills I have. I read. I watch videos. I go to training classes. Most importantly, I practice. Does all this make me invincible? Nope, but it does make me better prepared. I’ve assumed my responsibility to protect those I love and work diligently to perform those duties to the best of my ability.

So what does this mean for you? Here are some thoughts I'd like to share based on my experiences:

The world is what it is. It’s up to you to decide how you’re going to approach it.

Wishing the world were different will not make it so. Since the beginning of humanity, there have been evil people doing evil things. What makes you think that the human race has suddenly become enlightened enough to behave civilly? Bad things will happen. Hopefully, violence will never intersect your life, but it’s out there.

You have to have a plan.

The trite saying goes something like “the middle of a crisis is not the time to plan.” It’s absolutely true. Only you can decide what the right “plan” is for you. Your plan may be to accept whatever comes your way. Your plan may be to arm yourself and get training. Whatever your plan is going to be, settle it in your mind now.

Self-defense is your responsibility. You are the first responder.

I am eternally grateful to the law enforcement team that helped us. I don’t exaggerate when I say they literally did not sleep until the perpetrators were caught. However, they would be the first ones to tell you that they can’t be everywhere. They arrive after the event is finished to start the process of documentation and apprehension. In a violent crime, there is no time to call for help and there certainly isn’t time for help to arrive. When seconds count, help is minutes away. Your encounter will be over and done before help arrives. Heck, it will probably be finished before you can even dial the phone.

You’re not accomplishing anything unless you train.

Should you decide to take responsibility for the protection of your family by getting a gun, you have accomplished nothing until you learn how to use it under the worst of circumstances. All the concealed carry permits and hardware in the world won’t help you one bit unless you’ve learned, practiced, and practiced some more. When violence happens, it’s sudden and unexpected. Unless your body and brain have well-developed pre-programmed responses, you’ll almost certainly fail. Would you ever expect to win a martial arts tournament by watching The Karate Kid? Even if you watch it 19 times, you have developed no skill.

Shooting for self-defense is no different. Buying a gun and taking a concealed carry class only prepares you to go to the range, if that. Our industry is blessed with thousands of qualified individuals who are happy to help you learn, so take advantage of that. Read the content here at Range365, watch the videos, and find a local instructor with good recommendations. Most importantly, take skill development and practice seriously. After all, it is a matter of life and death. If you don't do it for yourself, do it for your family. If you get killed because you’re unprepared, you’ve failed in your obligation to protect them, haven’t you?

This has not been an easy piece to write, because it dredges up a slew of painful memories. I’m doing it for you. I hope that you realize that no matter how nice you are, or how careful you are about where you go, that evil is out there. It doesn’t have boundaries based on your rational thought processes. You may not need to carry a gun in a restaurant, bookstore, or movie theater, but you don’t get to decide how other people out there will behave. You don’t get to decide when and where violent criminals will strike. We certainly didn’t expect trouble to come knocking in broad daylight in a tranquil neighborhood shopping center.

You may never cross paths with the dark side, and I sure hope you don’t, but it’s out there. I urge you to stop and think about how you’re going to deal with it if you do.

Tom McHale is a frequent contributor to Range 365.