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There are no victories when guns are drawn

| Sunday, Feb. 24, 2002

It was too easy to see the e-mails and phone calls coming. They were spotted, as New Yorkers say, coming through the Midtown Tunnels. The only surprise was their sheer number.

It was about what anyone could expect when they make an enemy of the gun nuts, a fanatical lobby capable of launching a fierce counterattack at even the slightest dis of their sacred "sport."

This time, they weren't calling in to complain and kvetch about one of my "anti-gun" columns. They'd scored what they believed to be an undeniable victory, a double-slam dunk of public relations that they thought had proved their point once and for all.

We're talking about the pair of shootings in Millvale and New Kensington last week, where, twice, intended victims of robberies managed to fend off their attackers Charles Bronson-style. Anyone who's ever been victimized by crime — and that's most of us — might have felt a twinge of satisfaction when we heard the details.

On Monday, 82-year-old Carl Schmitt of New Kensington popped off two rounds from a small-caliber derringer into Tim Slomkowski, 34, who was trying to strong arm his way into what turned out to be the wrong senior citizen's apartment. The next day, used car dealer William Raley of Millvale sent away Wilkinsburg's John Wesley Davis — a would-be robber with a name straight out of a Louis Lamour Western — with a bullet wound instead of the bag of cash he'd hoped for.

Regardless of where you stand on gun control, you've got to hand it to both Raley and Schmitt. They protected their homes and families and weren't naive enough to expect mercy from robbers.

But the people who wrote in celebrating these two events like they'd just received word of an eight-figure lottery payout seemed to miss one point: Even if the targets are criminals, shootings are still tragedies, not moments to be celebrated.

"Even a lily-livered liberal like you can't deny that guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens will stop most crimes," wrote a frequent correspondent from Overbrook. "Let's see you try and turn this one against the solid American citizens who are only protecting their Second Amendment rights," said another.

Sure, the two failed robbers will probably think long and hard before they try blustering their way into someone else's hard-earned, but we're still a long way from deterring crime and the conditions that cause it. If every single Pittsburgher, every American citizen, from 8 to 80, were armed and ready to draw down at a moment's notice — a scenario the gun nuts commonly proscribe as heaven on Earth — would we really feel safer going about our daily lives?

For every robbery deterred with a handgun, we're risking road-rage shootings, summary executions when the presence of strangers makes us nervous in our communities and miniature Mogadishus every time the ref makes a bad call down at the Igloo.

Returning the last of the pro-shooting e-mails, I was reminded of a Bugs Bunny cartoon where ill-tempered gunslinger Yosemite Sam challenges Bugs to a showdown. First they draw six-shooters. Then seven shooters, eight shooters and nine shooters. Soon, they're brandishing twelve shooters the size of howitzers.

Bugs, sensing the futility of an arms race, eventually wins the upper hand with a pea shooter. Smart rabbit.

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