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Gun owners talk: Self protection is more complex than 'stand and fight'

Gun owners – including one who is a shooting victim and one who killed in self defense – talk about the logic of their tough decision to carry a gun for self protection: Killing isn't always their first goal. Experts stress the complex responsibility involved in carrying a gun.

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Miami attorney Scott Hidnert tells a harrowing tale of being chased by an armed robber in a parking lot one night in 2007. As Mr. Hidnert started his car, the masked man ran at him holding a gun; the attorney rushed his car to the security gate, but the gate opened too slowly.Hidnert reached into his glove compartment for his Glock pistol and jumped from the car to face the attacker, who was about 15 feet away; Hidnert shot several times, hitting him once and killing him. Police called it a legal use of lethal force. Hidnert now says: "I never thought I'd ever pull it out and use it. But now I keep it with me all the time. If I didn't have the gun, my children would be fatherless now. The gun saved my life."

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Another father across the country in Longview, Wash., Ed Hunt, has a more reluctant resolve about guns as self-defense. "I've read the statistics, and I know violence has gone down," says the former journalist now working as an emergency room nurse. But "I have that sort of whiplash every day, being in my happy house and going to work where it's often violent."

He applied last month for a concealed-weapons permit after seeing enough threats in his environment to justify it, including violence he's seen in the emergency room, reported muggings outside the hospital, an unsettling experience with a menacing group of men when he was camping with his wife and two small children, and living in an isolated rural area far removed from law enforcement. He will buy a small pistol "as a last line of defense."

For another father of four children under age 7, Jim Irvine, the decision to carry a loaded pistol holstered on his hip nearly 24/7 is simple: What good is a gun in your bedroom if you need it when a "bad guy" is at the front door?

Mr. Irvine is a commercial airline pilot and the head of the Buckeye Firearms Association, which pays for firearms training for Ohio schoolteachers whose districts have requested it. He works hard to disguise the lumpy gun in an inside-waistband holster. But when people do find out he carries, he says they sometimes ask, "Are you paranoid?" He says his response is: "Are you paranoid because you wear a seat belt when you drive? It's just reduction of risk."

America's elephant in the room

Guns in the US can be "scary" for those who don't own or understand them, says Rose Everett-Martin, a mediator and handgun owner who is working on a civic dialogue program to find common ground on the issue in Butte, Mont. For Americans, she says, the use of guns "is [like] the elephant in the middle of the room for a family with dysfunction."

That dissonance is never far from those who have decided to bear arms for defense. Margaret Stroup is barely past the time she'd shake at the sight of a gun, and she was offended at the insensitivity of a man who recognized her and "walked up ... and introduced me to his wife as 'the lady that went to a gunfight without a gun.' "

Yet today, Stroup can articulate very clear reasons she thinks a gun will help her navigate her world.

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