Use a Gun in Self-Defense

Use a gun in self-defense? Know challenges, consequences

Posted by Daniel P. Finney  on May 12, 2014 - The Des Moines Register

Mauderly Home

Jerome and Carolyn Mauderly were asleep when escaped fugitive Rodney Long broke into their rural Bedford home at about 10:15 p.m. last August.

Long had already shot and wounded Taylor County Sheriff's Deputy Dan Wyckoff. He barged into the Mauderly's home, cut their phone lines and took their cell phone. Jerome Mauderly, who was 71 at the time, pleaded with Long to take what money the couple had and offered him the keys to his Jeep parked outside.

But Long held the couple hostage at gunpoint for four hours. Jerome Mauderly believed Long would kill them. Shortly after 2 a.m., Mauderly managed to get his shotgun. He shot and killed Long.

"It's easy to say you would rather be tried by 12 than carried by six, but taking a life is never easy."- Sgt. Jason Halifax, Des Moines police spokesman

"It was very stressful knowing you took another man's life," Mauderly recalled in a recent interview with The Des Moines Register. "It took me some time to make peace with it. It took my wife a little longer, but we're both at peace now."

Few incidents of self-defense will be as clear-cut as the night the Mauderlys were terrorized. Those who train both law enforcement and the public to use firearms say it takes regular and rigorous training to know when and how to shoot.

"It's easy to say you would rather be tried by 12 than carried by six, but taking a life is never easy," said Sgt. Jason Halifax, Des Moines police spokesman and a law enforcement firearms trainer. "There are mental aspects of it. It will change your life. Saying you can do it and doing it are two very different things."

Halifax doesn't discourage people from exercising their Second Amendment-protected right to bear arms.

However, he does encourage anyone who has a firearm for home defense to carefully consider what they are able to do and what they're willing to do according to their own values. He also encourages people to seek more than the basic firearm safety instruction that's required by law to receive a carry permit.

"Shooting targets on a range is one thing," Halifax said. "You can put all your shots on a dot when you control the situation and can decide when to fire. But when your adrenaline is pumping and your heart is beating faster, you're not going to shoot the same way you do at the range — not without a lot of training."

Rick Largesse trains citizens on firearm usage for Controlled Chaos Arms, a gun dealer and manufacturer in Baxter. Largesse emphasizes an adage about use of force: "You always default to your lowest level of training."

Largesse often encounters people in his classes who buy a gun for defense because "it feels right."

"I'll have guys who run through 800 or 1,200 rounds come up to me and say, 'I hate my gun,' " Largesse said. "It's a little bit (like) buying a car and never taking it for a test drive."

When buying a handgun for defense, Largesse recommends simple and ergonomic.

Manual release safety and magazines that are difficult to swap out make the gun less useful in a high-stress situation that might require lethal force, Largesse said. A revolver or basic semi-automatic is much easier to manipulate than more complex weapons, he said.

Don't just buy the biggest gun you can, or settle for something simply because it's easy to conceal, Largesse said. Pick a weapon you can hold comfortably, and make sure you can manipulate its features easily, he said.

"You want a weapon that matches your grip strength," he said. "Some guns are easier to pull the trigger on than others."

A 9mm round is "ideal" for personal defense, Largesse said. But regardless of what you choose, make sure you can handle the weapon's recoil and weight.

Above all else, Largesse recommends regular practice and training.

"That doesn't mean going to the range once a week and blowing through a hundred bullets," he said. "A lot of training you can do at home. Practice your grip. Practice how you would get to the weapon if you were under stress. Practice how you stand when you hold the weapon."

The most difficult training is simulating the stress of being in a situation in which lethal force may be necessary. Some trainers ask shooters to run in place for several minutes before firing on a target. Largesse uses a shot clock, forcing his students to fire all their rounds in short bursts.

"To graduate, you have to be able to put all your rounds within a 1½-inch circle on the clock," Largesse said. "It's not easy, but it can be done if you practice and control your breath."

Even if well-trained and properly drilled, a person may face other consequences when using deadly force.

"You're going to face more legal scrutiny if you are not in law enforcement," said Halifax, the Des Moines officer. "If you miss and hit a bystander, that's going to be something you answer for in court. And there are a lot of tough questions: OK, somebody stole your wallet. Do they deserve to die for that? There are going to be a lot of legal fees."

But for Jerome Mauderly, the Bedford man who killed a violent intruder in his home, the question was not about whether the man holding him and his wife at gunpoint deserved to die. It was a question of whether he could preserve his wife's life and his own.

"He had us there for four hours, and we kept asking him to go," Mauderly said. "He'd already tried to kill a policeman. The handwriting was on the wall."

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