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The Blank Tape

By Robert A. Waters

I keep it beside my computer, an ordinary blank tape. Once in a while, I put it in my cassette player and listen to the silence.

Dozens of other tapes lie on my desk. They're all labeled with names and dates. When I turn them on, I hear strangers telling me how they used guns to survive an armed robbery or an assault. The voices are from the mid-west, Deep South, New England. They're blue collar and white collar, young and old, male and female.

Middle America.

The wisdom in those voices are in direct contrast to the silence on the blank tape. That tape represents the lost voices of unarmed victims.

As a writer of books and articles about people who used guns to defend their lives, I've interviewed many who by all rights should be dead. While the debate rages over what this nation should do about gun violence, these folks hang in limbo. By any standard of measurement, they should be declared national heroes.

But that would turn the debate around.

So they're ignored.

I pick up a tape at random and insert it into the machine. Mary Lou Krause of Swanton, Ohio is speaking. When two armed robbers targeted their home, she and her husband Jerry were ready. While Jerry fought the attackers, Mary Lou used her .22-caliber revolver to shoot one of them.

When she relives the confrontation, I sense the fear in her voice, the catch in her throat. But when she tells of the plan she and her husband had formulated for just such an event, her voice rings with excitement. "When people knock on the door," she says, "I look out our picture window. If I know them, I let them in. If I don't know them, I get my gun and stand behind the door so they can't see me and I let my husband talk to them. I'm ready if needed." Simple, but effective.

I turn on another tape. It's Ann Barry, a history professor from Kentucky. She speaks of the terror she felt after two men used a pick-ax to batter down her door. "My mind was frozen," she says. "I couldn't breathe. All I could do was take short, quick gasps, like a dog panting in summer."

Barry met the invaders with a .357 Magnum. After a wild shootout in her bedroom, the assailants fled, one with a bullet in his abdomen.

On the tape, Barry expresses her outrage at those who would deny her the right to defend herself. "One suggestion," she says, "has been to require combination safety locks on [guns]. The gun is in the dark, unloaded, and you're trying to work a combination lock, load the gun, and be ready to protect yourself from a home invasion, all in a matter of seconds. Forget it--you're dead, murdered by criminals who follow no legal restrictions."

The voices on the tapes come through loud and clear: anger at an assailant who put them in the position of having to shoot; fear for their own lives and the lives of family members; and finally, relief at having survived.

To a man (and woman), they express outrage at a government that would take away their only hope of survival in case another attack occurs.

I pick up the last tape. It's almost too painful to hear. I guide it into the machine and listen as the story runs to its brutal conclusion. Near the end, Sammie Foust urges me to "write about the aftermath."

But who wants to read about the lone survivor of a train wreck? And that's what she looked like when James Wayne Horne finished with her.

Fortunately, when she finished with him, he looked dead.

The three-time loser broke into her Cape Coral, Florida home one spring morning and tortured her and cut her and used her face as a punching bag. Had she not had a gun, Foust would be another murder statistic in some dry FBI report. Even though she's thankful to have survived, her life has been hell since.

The aftermath?

Who wants to read about a former beauty contestant whose face is scarred from knife cuts? Who wants to read about soemone who can only eat soft food because her gums and teeth were nearly obliterated in the assault? Who wants to read about someone slowly going blind in the eye that was knocked out of its socket during the onslaught?

And who wants to read about the years of financial hardship, of counseling, of flashbacks, of night-sweats?

It's too painful, Sammie. I can't write it.

I replace hers with the blank tape.

For an hour, it spins in silence.

Then, in the background, I hear faint whispers. A woman's voice grows louder. And suddenly the tape blasts me with screams and shrieks and moans.

Then I hear a woman's whispered prayer and silence once again.

There are no gunshots, no male voice screaming in pain.

And I realize that the blank tape has finally spoken to me.

Of the aftermath.

It's reliving Sammie Foust's last moments had she not had a gun.

Mr. Waters is the author of The Best Defense: True Stories of Intended Victims Who Defended Themselves with a Firearm.