Me and a Gun

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.

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37 Responses

  1. Rose says:

    I’m glad you told the story, and in such a moving way. And this should be told at this symposium.Report

  2. Mike Dwyer says:

    Very moving post Russell. This is the kind of stuff I hoped we would see in the symposium. Personal experiences with guns. It’s a very diverse and complicated thing and your story is just as important as someone like myself who has only had positive experiences around guns.

    And obviously we’re glad you survived the experience : )Report

    • Thanks, Mike.

      What’s kind of striking to me is how little this very significant personal experience has actually informed my opinions on gun laws. As I hope comes through clearly in the post, I’m not at all sure what reasonable solution I might have to preventing this kind of crime, or if seeking a statutory solution is even warranted. I grew up in a relatively rural area and knew many, many law-abiding, responsible gun owners, and I really have no interest in keeping guns out of their hands. I am thus chary of well-intentioned measures that would be inappropriately broad in scope.

      I do think there is a place for municipal gun restrictions. I do think it’s reasonable that there be different rules in Chicago than in rural Kentucky. But thinking things are reasonable is a far cry from knowing how to craft them well.Report

      • Mike Dwyer in reply to Russell Saunders says:


        Ironically, my positive experiences with guns don’t really do a whole lot towards informing my gun position anymore either.

        Municipal guns laws are a good idea in theory but the problem is always in the execution. I travel with a firearm regularly. It’s hard enough to make sure I am in compliance with the state laws of everywhere I pass through. Municiapl laws would be a nightmare. Maybe there’s an app for that though? You could put in the parameters you want (ex. unloaded gun in glove box) and it would alert you when you are in a jurisdiction that doesn’t allow it.Report

  3. zic says:

    Thanks, Doc. I’m so sorry this happened to you.

    But it’s really important that you shared. Because this is the other use of guns. Intimidation. You gotta obey the person holding the gun when intimidation’s the game.Report

    • Russell Saunders in reply to zic says:

      Thanks, zic.

      And I was proofing this post last night when I read your comment in another thread about all the violence that has orbited your life, too. My experience kind of pales to yours, when viewed in aggregate.Report

  4. Tod Kelly says:

    This was quite excellent – as per usual. It’s also an important part of this entire debate that often gets overlooked.

    I think this post, along with Michelle’s reminiscing about working for the DS’s office, speak to me of the cost of guns in a way statistics don’t always manage.Report

    • Part of why I thought it might be in some way useful to share is as a reminder that focusing solely on gun-related deaths misses large swaths of how guns relate to crime. Lots of people are victimized by them but aren’t (physically) injured, and so their experience is lost in the conversation when it focuses (obviously quite understandably, particularly in our country right now) on deaths.Report

  5. Burt Likko says:

    No doubt the weapon made the crime possible. It would have been much more difficult for the thug to carjack the future Dr. Saunders without it. A part of me wants to argue that the guy would have found some other way to commit some other property crime, though. Less dramatically than the Doc’s story, when my car was broken into and the CD player stolen* I wasn’t there to witness it so if I’d have had a gun, again, it wouldn’t have prevented the crime and could easily have escalated a mid-level event into a deadly one. I suspect a substantial percentage of crimes are like this, and that is a substantial grain of sand in the idea that the presence of guns serves as a deterrent to crime.

    On that note, I stumbled across this collection of data. Guns are much more severely restricted in the UK and particularly London than they are in the US. And apples-to-apples statistics are surprisingly hard to find. One journalist did, and tackled the question of whether New York or London is safer, although her particular inquiry was as to policing styles. The answer, which ought to surprise no one, is ambiguous: London’s murder rate is lower than New York’s, but its rate of other kinds of both violent and property crimes is higher.

    Guns may serve as a deterrent to some kinds of crime like burglary, I’ll buy that. But not crime in a general sense: criminals are going to break the law. What it seems guns really do is shift the kinds of crimes that are committed from one sort to another.

    * Which gives you an idea of how long ago this was — CD players were still valuable enough back then to be worth the bother of someone stealing them.Report

    • Kim in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Guns don’t really deter burglars, though. A burglar wants to get in and get out, without being detected. He’s not in it to find people, and you can deter him just as easily by -calling the cops- (loudly).Report

    • Kim in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Guns may very well provide a good defense against people breaking restraining orders. Or otherwise “battered spouses/significant others” escaping from relationships.

      Not that I’m suggesting it be the battered person using it.Report

    • I have little doubt that the man who robbed me would have found some other criminal mischief to accomplish. He might have selected mine at random to hotwire and steal, assuming he had those skills. He might have broken in and stolen the CD player (this was also back in the day when doing so still had some upside). But I wouldn’t have feared for my life, and would gladly have given the car away to have avoided that experience.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I am not sure if guns would deter burglars. Burglars seem to get caught when they enter a place at a wrong time.

      My apartment was burgled during my first year of law school. I went to the library to study on a Saturday and when I got back my apartment looked fairly normal. No great mess. It took me a few minutes but then I realized “Hey, where is my laptop?” The criminals seemed to have waited until they noticed I was gone and then found a way in without causing much damage and simply walked out the front door. I imagine they got someone to naively buzz them in. The burglars simply took everything that was light and not bolted down. This included my laptop, ipod, digital camera, and interestingly my laundry quarters. They did not take my stereo, silverware, plates, CDs, DVDs, clothing, etc.

      A few months later, there was another burglary in my apartment and it was on the same floor. This time the burglar jumped the back fence and climbed up to the apartment. However, someone in the apartment above heard him and called the police. They caught this guy. IIRC he had a long list of property crimes going back to the 1970s and was a middle-aged white guy. Also a junkie. If he was not caught, he would have gotten away with my neighbor’s very expensive jewelry. After this, my landlord installed a steal door and the apartment has not been burgled since.

      A lawyer I worked with used to be a public defender in San Francisco and he told me that a shocking amount of burglaries go uncaught in San Francisco. IIRC the number was 80 percent. I tried to find statistics on-line to verify but could not. Most burglars do what the guys who broke into my place did. They case until they know someone is not in and move in and out as quickly as possible. Burglars also seem to know which places to steal from. IIRC if a place is the victim of one successful burglary, the odds of it being stolen from again increase significantly.

      I have not seen it as much recently but when I first moved to San Francisco, I remember noticing that a lot of cars parked in the street did have their windows broken into while parked overnight outside. So this kind of crime still happens. San Francisco also has an issue with thieves stealing copper wiring because it is easy to sell for scrap and an unregulated market.

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        “stealing” scrap metal is an industry around here. Nobody actually dumps stuff off at the dump, they just abandon it on the North Side, and trust that someone else will take it to the scrapyard, and get the money for it. Not that theft doesn’t happen too…Report

  6. Rose says:

    Not that this is anything like the doc’s story. But just on the idea of having a gun with you. One time, I was involved in a merge into one lane into a construction zone. The guy I was driving with decided that everyone should alternate, the other car clearly didn’t want to let us in. The other car “won.” Once we were in one lane, the other driver parked his car, got out, and started kicking my car, dented my fender, and then tried to break my window with his fists. I was pretty terrified. I’ve often thought that if I had a gun, I might have shot him. But we didn’t. So we drove away from him into the construction zone. And he got into his car and drove away.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to Rose says:


      I had a similar story that went a bit further. I accidentally cut someone off one evening pulling out onto a busy street. It was two guys in a large truck. They got about 6 inches from my rear bumper and stayed on my tail for about a mile. Then we stopped at a light and they pulled up next to me and were yelling things out the window. I ignored them and continued on. They got behind me again and rode my tail for another mile or so. Then I decided I had enough.

      What they didn’t realize was that I was coming home from a hunting trip and had a friend in the car. So I popped the hatchback and he pointed an unloaded shotgun at them. Needless to say they stopped their truck and left us alone.

      Not very proud of that story (we were 19 at the time) but hotter heads might have fired a warning shot instead of simply threatening them. That is the reason I don’t keep my gun loaded in my car. I’m not prone to road rage but anyone can lose their cool.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        This gets to what is really the core of the conundrum of weapons.

        Anyone can lose their cool, and in that moment, you’re not thinking rationally or cautiously. Every one of us is nineteen and immature and making bad decisions at one point or another in our lives, and guns escalate the consequences of those bad decisions dramatically. By definition, there’s no deterring irrational people, and there’s probably no deterring negligent people. So isn’t it safer to get the weapons out of the equation?

        But at the same time, the negligent and the irrational are also the ones most likely to disregard rules about guns and therefore to have them when they shouldn’t. So it doesn’t matter how many rules we make, these are the people who are going to break them. The thug in the OP, who carjacked the Doc when he was still in med school — that was a premeditated act, one set up with his co-conspirators and thought out in advance. It wasn’t going to matter what rules were out there, this cat was going to find a gun and he was going to do some crimes with it.

        Unless we fire up the time machine and go back in history and uninvent guns, there doesn’t seem to be a way out of that — the very people who we can most easily agree ought not to have guns are the very people most likely to have them even if they’re not allowed at all.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Rose says:

      “I’ve often thought that if I had a gun, I might have shot him.”

      Isn’t it easier to say that given that you didn’t have a gun? Why do you assume your motivation to act would have been vastly different had you had a gun than had you not? And I think it is fair to classify it as “vastly different” given that in one circumstance you’d opt to “do nothing” and in another you’d opt to “possibly kill a man”.Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Kazzy says:

        I can attest that I’m reasonably certain that at one point in my life, if I had known I had access to a firearm, I probably would have wound up killing somebody.

        I might get that post up before the weekend, but no promises.Report

        • Kazzy in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:


          That isn’t impossible to believe. But my guess is that, absent the firearm, you still did something in that situation, no?

          Sans gun, Rose could have called the police, screamed for help, run the guy over… any number of things. But she didn’t do any of that because of restraint or fear-induced-paralysis or whathaveyou. That she would have reacted wholly differently with a gun in her hands seems a bit incredible, and the type of thing that is easy to say given that never was (and likely never will be) her reality.

          And I don’t mean to pick on Rose in anyway… I just am a bit doubtful that she actually would have taken out the gun and shot the man had there been one in her car.Report

  7. Jaybird says:

    A very good essay that gets down to the heart of the problem.

    I wish that that guy didn’t have a gun. I wish that we didn’t have gun crime. I wish that that had not happened (not only to you, but to the other folks who had reason to sign).

    And I don’t know what could be done to prevent that sort of thing.Report

  8. Rufus F. says:

    I’ve been very lucky- my few mugging experiences have only involved being outnumbered or beaten senseless by a few guys in places I shouldn’t have been. They were easily forgotten. I don’t know how easy I’d let go of something like that if it happened to me with a gun pointed at me.Report

  9. Glyph says:

    police officer was compelled to clarify, somewhat sheepishly, if I’d been in the area looking for drugs or a prostitute

    In other, less-stressful circumstances, I can imagine this line of questioning putting “Millicent” in high dudgeon.Report

  10. Kazzy says:

    Shouldn’t this be titled “A Gun and I”.

    Seriously, though, thanks for sharing what I’m sure is not an easy story to tell.

    If I may ask, was it Baltimore?Report

    • Russell Saunders in reply to Kazzy says:

      It was not Baltimore.

      And the events described happened a very long time ago, and whatever trauma I suffered has lost its power to bother me. (I do wish I could go back and take the USMLE again. Oh, well.)Report

      • Glyph in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Buddy of mine is doing residency in Boston, and tells me apparently the neighborhood around his hospital is so bad the staff do not stop at stoplights at night, and the hospital posts a guard at the nearest intersection.Report

        • Kim in reply to Glyph says:

          that’s not bad. bad is when they have boards with nails across the roads, to pop your tires.
          (that’s not big city, that’s small town america)Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Russell Saunders says:

        Maybe I’m a bit ignorant/brash/arrogant, but Baltimore is the only city I’ve ever really felt afraid in when ending up in the wrong part. That is why I thought of it when you were describing the story.

        I’ve lived in Boston, NY, and DC for extended periods, rendering most “scary” parts not so scary anymore. Which doesn’t mean I didn’t face a risk there; just that I ended up in most of those parts often enough that avoiding them would have required major sacrifices in how I lived my life, something I wasn’t willing to do out of fear.Report

        • Glyph in reply to Kazzy says:

          I did get lost in a bad part of Detroit once in the early 90’s and it was pretty hairy then. I can only assume that now it is completely controlled by the C.H.U.D.’s.Report

        • Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

          I believe that many people are terribly unobservant.
          If you’ve been to the bad parts of DC, you’ve seen buildings that have been hit by some pretty decent explosives (grenades/mortars).
          Unless they’ve cleaned them up (“gentrified”).

          Naturally, my “adventurous” friend has managed to stumble into KKK meetings in DC — that’s one scary thing to do! (“whoops, wrong room!” *run like hell*)

          Philly’s worse than Baltimore, nowadays. Crime runs downhill, and Philly’s the cheapest part of Boswash.Report

        • Russell Saunders in reply to Kazzy says:

          If you e-mail me at my account, I’ll tell you the city where this happened. Not that there’s a crack team of sleuths out to break my pseudonym, but since I went to the trouble of creating one I may as well gesture toward preserving it.

          And the state where this occurred is largely rural, “safe” territory, including my hometown. (Attention, folks! A clue!) When I told people I was moving to New York City, many evinced concern for my safety. The above events allowed me to give them a rueful smile, inform them that NYC had much better crime stats than where I had been living, and having been the victim of a violent crime I figured I’d already met my lifetime quota.Report