Up in arms

Emily Bialkowski
Managing Editor

With all the attention gun control and mental illness have garnered in the wake of the horrific Connecticut school shooting, it was a bit surprising to read about the Milwaukee County, Wis. sheriff who released a radio ad urging residents to learn to handle firearms so they can defend themselves while waiting for police. He said law enforcement cutbacks have changed the way his police force can respond to crime.

In the 30-second commercial, first aired Jan. 18, David Clarke Jr. said personal safety is no longer a spectator sport. He said, “I need you in the game,” and explained that lays-offs, furloughs and staff reductions to the tune of 48 positions left him with little choice. He said he wants to encourage residents to be a partner in their own safety. Clark said simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer the best option.


Most taxpayer-funded agencies release statements about reduced services after budget cuts, but Clark has taken it to an entirely new level of alarm. In an interview with The Associated Press, Clarke said he just wants people to know what their options are. While self-defense isn’t for everyone, some people see personal safety as their own responsibility, he said, and they should be trained properly. “I’m not telling you to ‘Hey, pick up a gun and blast away.’ … People need to know what they are doing if they chose that method — to defend themselves,” he said.

His remarks are naturally drawing a lot of criticism, but I view the situation with intrigue.
As a child I was taught guns are bad, and my brothers and I were not allowed to have a toy gun of any kind, including squirt guns. I didn’t question the rule then because, like most childhood rules, you learned to just follow them. It wasn’t until college that I found out that my father – a combat veteran of the Vietnam War – swore he would never possess a firearm again after returning to the States. I deduced that the strict rule about guns in our household was instituted out of respect for my dad.

And even though guns, toys or otherwise, were not allowed in my house, I met many friends who naturally knew how to use – and owned – a firearm, mostly for hunting. The more exposure I had to guns the more I became familiar with the idea that not all guns are bad and perhaps it is OK to possess a firearm. I saw evidence that you can train a young person to properly handle such a weapon, again, for hunting. That said, I would venture to guess the same people who know how to properly handle guns for hunting, would have no problem using the same weapon to defend themselves or their family if they were being attacked or threatened, especially in their own home.

Indeed, my exposure to guns increased dramatically when I met my husband 13 years ago. I remember the first time he showed me around his apartment. I distinctly took note of the gun rack on the wall of his spare bedroom chuck full of various rifles and a pistol. I wouldn’t even touch the objects back then.

Today I am a lot more comfortable with guns – at least the ones in our house. I even remember asking Brady one day after staring at his gun case, “Which one would you give me during the apocalypse if you had to leave?”

It was the shotgun. “You’ll be able to aim it in the general direction of the bad guy and hit him,” he said.

I have no problem with the Milwaukee County sheriff’s message. I myself would benefit from proper firearm training. I would like to be able to defend myself and my family in an emergency. I also agree with his statement that the public needs to be a partner with law enforcement.

Clark said, “You can beg for mercy from a violent criminal, hide under the bed, or you can fight back. … Consider taking a certified safety course in handling a firearm so you can defend yourself until we get there.”

Maybe I will.

You can contact Emily Bialkowski at [email protected]