Thinking about buying a gun

Paranoid chatter in the U.S. media about guns and mass shootings during the past several weeks shows you that if absurdities are repeated long and often enough they eventually acquire some plausibility. So much so that Stew and I, the ultimate firearm virgins, recently talked about buying a gun for self protection at our ranch in Mexico.

Even after living for ten years in New York, and then thirty years in Chicago with Stew, I’ve never seriously considered owning a gun. Neither one of us has been in military service or has ever held much less fired a weapon of any kind.

So naive am I about the subject that I once talked to someone about just wanting a gun to shoot a burglar or other assailant in the foot, shoulder or other non-vital area, as my idea of self-defense.

Your camera or one of your eyes?

This guy laughed and explained that I completely missed the point of using a gun: You’re supposed to aim for the chest or the head to kill the person ostensibly threatening you, and worry about the details later. There are no halfway measures in a shoot-out.

The closest I’ve come to an assault weapon was talking to an Israeli soldier, of all places, at the one gay bar in Tel Aviv about fifteen years ago. That’s how I learned, up close and personal, that the Israeli army indeed didn’t have any qualms about enlisting gay men.

Yet unsettling talk in San Miguel about crime recently got Stew and I talking about a buying gun, to the point of visiting the U.S. consul to get his thoughts.

It’s not all groundless paranoia. Our ranch is about fifteen miles out of town, with a house that while hardly baronial does stick out amid the surrounding poverty and could make us a potential target.

Mexican law enforcement is famously corrupt and inept, particularly in a two-pothole town like San Miguel. Worse still, Mexican criminal law is a spaghetti bowl of conflicting and self-defeating regulations and jurisdictions almost designed to provide immunity to criminals rather than protect the public.

Crime in San Miguel does not remotely resemble the narcotics-fueled mayhem along the U.S. border, about ten hours from here by car yet regularly reported on CNN and other media outlets as endemic throughout the country.

Thanks for asking, but no, we don’t have to swerve around dead bodies on the way to the church or put on a Kevlar vest before watering the front yard.

Still, crime around San Miguel seems to be ratcheting up gradually. I use “seems” because there’s hardly any concrete information or statistics on which to base your level of fear. So you have to go on rumors which tend to inflate as they bounce around.

There have been a few confirmed incidents recently scary enough to make you gag on your morning oatmeal. During the past six months, two stiffs, hogtied and their heads covered with plastic bags, were found about ten miles up the road from us near the town of Jalpa. Then the owner of the local broiled chicken franchise was kidnapped in broad daylight. Was he one of the hogtied stiffs? Nobody knows.

Add to that several home invasions involving machetes, guns and who-knows-what–one victim almost lost an eye–and keeping a gun begins to sound like, hmm, a not-bad idea. A close neighbor showed us the Nancy Reagan-size pistol he carries in his pocket at all times, just in case. He also employs an armed night watchman.

But just as paranoia starts to boil in your head, logic and logistics bring you back to earth.

The U.S. consul cautioned that although it is theoretically legal to keep a gun for self-defense in one’s home, the realities of an American expat killing a Mexican citizen has the ingredients of a really ugly political situation. Remember the spaghetti bowl that passes for criminal law in this country?

But let’s think about the scene of two armed burglars–their adrenaline and experience with weapons presumably much higher than yours–breaking into your home while you’re sleeping or watching television.

By the time you reach for your cherished gun and start shooting, your odds of coming out alive go down to damn near zero. More likely the ensuing and chaotic shoot-out will leave you or someone in your family dead. Or maybe both.

Frustrating but true is that you’re ultimately better off handing over your camera or iPad to the intruders instead of reaching, Rambo-like, for your gun, machete, baseball bat or whatever. A camera is replaceable, a limb or one of your eyes is not.

Lamentably that scenario is not very heroic or suitable for a thirty-second television spot by the National Rifle Association. But is the most sensible and realistic thing to do in such a situation, whether in San Miguel or New Orleans.

Before that happens, it’s far more useful to padlock gates and windows, get a gang of noisy mutts–Mexicans, including burglars, are for some reason deathly afraid of dogs–leave lights on, hire a watchman for when you’re away and take a number of other measures far less dramatic or catastrophic than buying a semi-automatic, whatever that is, and commence shootin’.

Ultimately, the paranoia involved in buying and keeping a potentially lethal weapon so diminishes your quality of life that it seems hardly a worthwhile exercise. Who wants to have to check that their gun is loaded in the night stand and ready to kill someone before going to sleep every night? Or have a firearm within reach anywhere in your house?

If life around our ranch becomes that perilous, it’ll be a clear signal that it’s time for us to move, though judging by the gun-induced mayhem and hysteria back home, I’m not sure it would be back to the U.S.


For a different, if not very persuasive (to me), point of view I just read in the New York Times, read this:

17 thoughts on “Thinking about buying a gun

  1. Anonymous

    I think you're right. At the end of the day, it's probably more hazardous to own a firearm than not. And I'm with you with regards to firearms experience, though I haven't had the pleasure of chatting up an Israeli soldier in a gay bar in Tel Aviv. Perhaps some day if I'm lucky, LOL….All that said, there are plenty of truly horrifying crimes happening daily in Mexico. I'm not in the alarmist camp, but I'm neither in the rose-colored-glasses camp. The country does have some serious problems with crime, and the justice system (particularly including the lazy and inept police) are a big part of those problems. I find it fascinating and sad at the same time that this BIG problem doesn't get the attention it urgently needs. That said, your odds of being involved in something untoward at home are slim, but non-zero. I'd personally have bars on my windows and a strong front door (preferably steel) if I lived in such a remote location. Heck, in Mexico City I'd probably want the same. Its symbol may be an angel, but not all the residents are. Be safe. We readers are counting on you. Saludos,Kim GBoston, MAWhere the police are impressively competent, responsive, and really all you could ask for. Unfortunately, state troopers are another matter entirely.


  2. Hoping you guys can remain safe and comfortable in your home there, without extreme measures that diminish your quality of life. I'm in Colorado, by the way, where we now have “Report suspicious people and activities” and “Know where the exits are located” PSA's before each screening in theaters…


  3. About fifteen years ago, an English woman I was dating came to visit me in Oregon. The first thing she asked was whether she could see my gun. I may have purposely misunderstood the request. When I realized she was talking about a handgun, I told her I did not own one. She was disappointed. She thought every American owned a gun.Even though I have a good deal of experience with firearms, all of that experience is professional. I do not have one in my house — never have. I also tend to be a bit cavalier about leaving doors open at night in Mexico. For the breeze. I have a good deal of trouble, as a follower of Jesus, imagining that a human life is worth less than anything I own.


  4. We've taken it as purely risk-benefit issue and concluded like you than a gun is more dangerous that whatever protection it might provide. The narcowar situation is horrible and there don't seem to be any new ideas coming from either side of the border.Al


  5. those are better suggestions than what somewhat suggested: Packing a gun when you go to the theater. Imagine if 30-40 people take that to heart and start shooting if something happens…al


  6. Anonymous

    I grew up with guns on a farm in Illinois, learned to use them, went hunting with my father who kept a loaded rifle behind the kitchen door. I never saw him use it on anything but rabbits, squirrels and such, which we ate. But he took guns seriously and said many times, when little boys play with guns someone will get hurt…and he wasn't referring to children.Writing from the countryside outside San Miguel where I am as safe as I have ever been….I have no illusions about what that is, but I'm more afraid of rattlesnakes than men.Fast forward to Salt Lake City in '83, where I woke up with a knife at my throat and was raped in my own bed. If I'd had a gun it might have been used on me. I found out later that the rapist had killed someone in an argument over a gun. I used my brain instead and survived…he got 3-7, I got life.After that I got two large one, a pepper spray on my key chain. I admit, if I was traveling alone in New Mexico I did have a crowbar (illegal) under my seat blanket, and my father's Smith and Wesson 38 under the seat. New Mexico is a very rough state. And the Indian reservations in Colorado are no place you should be alone at night on the road, regardless of what you have for defense.Train your dogs, get a bear pepper spray, put good locks on the doors. Don't leave the doors and windows open unless you have bars. People take advantage of opportunity. When I listen to the things people say about what they would be able to do with guns, I can only shake my head. They have no idea how fast things happen, how the element of surprise is the critical issue that makes a gun useless most of the time, and certainly without dogs to warn you, how dangerous it is to have a gun unless you are incredibly good with it. There were lots of guns in the crowd when Gabby Gifford was shot. It was over before anyone knew who the shooter was. And, as one comment said, ” I realized I'd probably have died instantly if I'd pulled out my gun.”


  7. Also there is the problem of error. You are asleep and someone is suddenly at the door of your bedroom. If you wait, they may shoot you– so you grab your pistol and fire. Only it's a neighbor who has come to wake you up and get your help for a family emergency. Or…local children do break into your house while you are gone. They find the gun and commence to play with it. It fires and one is badly hurt…The dogs are the best option. If you like dogs…


  8. Anonymous

    My humble opinion, is You guys need a gun like a fish needs a bicycle. I am a Texan, I was raised with guns, I had to sell my guns when we moved to Mexico. Yes I owned more than one. If you do not have the training, and the respect, and the knowledge to know, when you have to pull a gun, you are doing so, with the intent of shooting someone. I shot a lot of snakes, and I have been Deer hunting, and every year of my childhood, we had to shoot the pig, we slaughtered, for food.Paul Petersen, Brownsville, TX


  9. Anonymous

    Don’t think that bad guys breaking into your home only want your Ipad or big screen t.v. Most of the time they are most likely on drugs and don’t care if they hurt you or not before they take your stuff. Owning a gun and having the proper training on how to use it and deal with bad guy situations doesn’t create paranoia, it empowers you and gives you an inner strength. You are no longer afraid. You are no longer at the mercy of anyone. You no longer have to rely on the Police to come to your rescue. Police very seldom can respond to a home invasion in time to help you anyway. And in your situation….what police?I carry a .380 Ruger LCP concealed semi-automatic pistol everywhere I go everyday, no exceptions. But the last thing I want to do is to ever have to use it. We have a pistol grip 12 gauge short barrel shotgun in our bedroom loaded withOO buckshot. Tip: When you’re out in public, be aware of what’s going on around you. Cross the street to avoid groups of men hanging around, look down alleys as you cross them, etc.I tend to agree with the US consul about shooting Mexicans. Last fall, an ex-marine (John Hammar) was planning on traveling through Mexico with his friend to vacation in Costa Rica. They were going to be camping so he was taking a gun for protection.He showed the US border guys his grandfather’s antique shotgun (a .410 low power gun meant for hunting birds). They had him fill out the appropriate papers to present to the Mexican border people as he entered Mexico. They immediately put him into a border prison (controlled by the drug cartel) (is that bizarre or what?). Long story short, he was near death when he was finally released 3 months later. Bill Oreilly was the person most responsible for persisting with reporting the story and urging viewers to press our government to get him released. So, as you might imagine, the “killing a Mexican thing” could get ugly. But at least you’d still be alive.And then there’s the psychological problems associated with killing someone you’d have to deal with. But at least you’d still be alive.If it came to that, a Jalpa dump job after midnight might work for you too. On the positive side, when bad guys break into your home (it happens over 1 million times a year in the U.S) most are stopped by just pointing a gun at them. They dislike guns even more than dogs. There are relatively few shots ever fired in those situations. And your buddy is right. If you must shoot, you put 2 into the chest area. If that doesn’t stop the threat, the 3rd shot goes between the mouth and the top of the nose (cranial ocular cavity) causing instant death. Shots to the skull can actually bounce off.Interesting fact: You can shoot a person in the heart and if they are high on drugs and are nuts and determined, they can fight you for up to 30 seconds until their blood pressure crashes and they pass out. If you do decide to buy a gun, I would suggest a Smith and Wesson or Ruger LCR.38 revolver. Revolvers are very safe when loaded, fairly powerful and foolproof. They won’t jam or misfire like semi-automatic pistols occasionally do. You can load them and let them sit for 20 years and they will still fire flawlessly. If you don’t feel you could deal with arming yourself, I would suggest investing in a thick custom made steel door installed on your bathroom closet securable with a big steel bar from the inside. That would give you a “safe room” that you guys and the animals could retreat to until the bad guys give up trying to get to you and settle for trashing your house and taking your stuff. It would probably take 30-60 seconds for someone to breach your house locks, giving you time to get safely inside the closet.In any case, you need to be proactive and have a plan in case someday, someone forces their way into your home no matter how fat of a chance of that event ever happening might be.Knute,La Crescent, MN


  10. As a single woman living alone for the last 36 years, I've never felt the need for a gun. I'm alert, proactive, drive all over this grand country called Mexico and am not afraid. I've researched the statistics of the FBI, Interpol and the Mex government stats. We're a heck of a lot safer here.I'm sorry you don't have a good opinion of the Mexican police. I've had nothing but positive experiences from the Police Chief down to the patrols at night. They've been prompt, courteous and helpful in the instances when I needed them.Caught up on your last months worth of blogs. Good to see ya'll are still having fun!


  11. This is my 6th winter in San Miguel, and I've been reading and enjoying your blogs for quite some time. This one really struck me as especially timely. As the result of media hype and the strange things that go on in our world I've also had thoughts recently about buying a gun – for the first time in my 65 years on this earth. But like you, I doubt that will ever happen. Hopefully the chances of someone breaking in to kill us are small (especially since we have an 80# dog that everyone in the neighborhood knows about) and, like Steve Cotton, the thought of putting anything I own above another human life is simply not possible. Thanks for writing this, and keep up the good work.


  12. Great Stuff, Al. We had a cat burglar get into our compound in San Rafael a month ago using a ladder to get over the 15 foot wall As he walked by our outside door of our bedroom, the burglar alarm went off: our 19 lb. former street dog, Mosey, went ballistic. He barked aggressively and charged the locked door. This was too much for the cat burglar. He ran up the iron staircase on the outside and let himself down with a rope looped through the terrazza railing. This was at 4:10 am, and both of us were awake the rest of the night. That day, Mosey deserved Porterhouse steak, but got Pozole instead.We have upgraded our security. I bought a THICK wire rope bicycle lock and looped it through the iron door that leads to the patio, our bedroom, and the staircase to the Terrazza. I put the bicycle lock at the top of the iron door and wove it in and out. Few Mexicans can reach up 7.5 feet to deal with that. Third, I rigged a Rube Goldberg device with trip wires tied to 7 Pellegrino bottles at the top of the 19 stair iron staircase. Anyone approaching our bedroom door will get an unimaginable clatter of bottles.On the inside of our house, Mosey stands on guard with acute hearing. In my bedside cabinet, I have a boat horn that shrieks at 140 decibels (Great for stopping large street dogs who want Mosey for lunch). Surely, this is enough to blast any burglar at the threshold of pain and, further, it would be enough noise to wake Enrique and Veronica across the compound. Also in the cabinet, I have a ballpeen hammer to deal with an intruder breaking and coming in a window. The telephone is another weapon. In San Rafael, the police events that I have seen here lead to a response in this neighborhood with 3 cars. What is the solution? I definitely will not buy a gun. The big house up by the Dog Park near the Botanico have 5 large dogs: 3 black Presa Canarios and 2 Mastiffs. I saw them up there on a walk. Each dog weighed about 150 lbs. I think those pups would stop any gang trying to make it over the wall. –Bill


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