Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization
The other weekend a man named Ian, one of my fellow citizens in the rural northeast corner of Washington State, heard his dog barking and went to check out what was going on. What he found was an intruder he says was “definitely whacked out on something,” dressed in black. Way out in the back woods where Ian lives, the front yard is not a place where you just wind up by accident late at night. But this intruder had picked the wrong house to try breaking into.
Ian, you see, is very prepared for this sort of thing because of his service in the Marine Corps and a career as a correctional officer. He’s one of those guys who sits with his back to the wall in a restaurant and reflexively does 180-degree eyeball scans of the scene. It’s not something he enjoys; he has PTSD from his time spent in very rough places. But the other night, that vigilance served him well.
He retrieved his AR-15 with its 30-round magazine. That rifle, he says, “while not guaranteeing my safety, allowed me to have a fighting chance against a possible threat” in those first dark moments confronted with an unknown intruder, when Ian “had no idea of how well armed he was or if he had friends, waiting in the shadows of my expansive property to try and help victimize myself and my family.”2
The guy was messing with the door handle. Ian “swung the door open” and his unwelcome guest “went from the porch to the concrete quickly with some assistance. Supposedly he’s got some broken bones.” That, Ian added, can happen when you’re falling. Especially with some assistance from a well-placed foot appearing out of nowhere. He proceeded carefully but firmly:
My wife retrieved her weapon and covered me while I did a cursory search of him and I found a 7 or so inch knife.
I held him at gunpoint while waiting for the cops. He started to bend his arms as if he might get up so I reminded him to stay down and then he cried a bit about his ribs.
After 40 long minutes–not an unusual amount of time for our far-flung rural area–the “cops came and cuffed him up and I told him if he ever came back, he dies.”
Note Ian’s use of non-lethal force to drop the guy, even as he held one of those big bad “assault” rifles at the ready.3 The intruder had no shots fired at him, though Ian was ready to “press his head out the second I saw him and the whole time I had him down. I was totally prepared to. I told him, as serious as I could that I would and please don’t make me do it. By that time he was crying about his ribs anyway.”
But he’s glad he didn’t need to, because he didn’t want his “kids to see a body if they don’t have to.” For those of you that think it’s an easy thing to do, Ian says, “you’ve never done it.”
He didn’t feel good afterward. This wasn’t going to make the PTSD any easier. Though he was glad to know that he still has what it takes to protect his family, he said the incident took him “back to a place I don’t miss.”
But let it be known, he added, “This guy fell like a sack of potatoes and had he not, he would have died. I’m no tough guy but I will end your life to protect my family.”4
I don’t have his training or experience, and I never would’ve had what it takes to be a Marine. But a traumatic experience years ago showed me just how long it takes for a response to a 911 call out here. (That it took 40 minutes for the police to finally arrive at Ian’s place didn’t surprise me a bit.) The defense of my home and family is up to me, and for me, the Second Amendment is not about being able to go hunt with a bolt-action rifle.
Hell, I don’t even hunt. Never have. But I do have some guns, ones I’ve shot plenty at old appliances and other worthy practice targets and at least know how to aim. The firearms are all safely locked away; I have no patience with parents who leave deadly weapons laying around for curious kids to check out. But, note to scumbags: “Locked away” definitely does not mean “inacessible if needed quickly.”
This and the other image are actual photos Ian took while waiting for the police to arrive, reproduced here with permisison. ←
From an open letter Ian posted online addressed to Washington’s Attorney General regarding a proposed “assault weapons” ban. ←
An armed homeowner without Ian’s training and experience could easily have made a tragic mistake at this moment. There are stories of fathers accidentally shooting their sons returning home late at night, or coming horrifyingly close to doing so. ←
Thanks to Ian for permission to quote these remarks in the fourth paragraph and thereafter from a summary he sent to some friends and acquaintances after the incident. ←