Unfortunately, the plastic permit card you may be carrying around as a handgun owner only gives you permission to carry a concealed weapon. It does not give you permission (or tell you how) to use it! It is very important for each citizen to note that currently you can only use deadly force when you are in fear for your life, or when the life of another is definitely at risk.

As I found out the hard way, the phrase "in fear for your life" is a very subjective one. If a citizen (or law enforcement officer) shoots a weapon at a person, that action most likely will be given the closest scrutiny. The governing phrase "in fear for your life" will be subject to wide interpretation, quite often by police and prosecutorial personnel who were not at the scene.

Despite the fact that the above incidents passed muster and I was not charged with any crime, I have a large legal bill I ran up trying to protect my rights and to recover weapons confiscated by Metro-Dade County. I also suffered many months of self-doubt brought on by various investigations and the conclusion by one group of police officers, who knew nothing about me, that "I was developing a violent personality." (In fact, I hadn't even slapped at another person more than a few times in 40 years.) If I really stated to Mr. Martinez that "I blew my stack" a few times, that only happened because I was scared silly by the outrageous criminal threats and acts of others.

You should be aware that you do have the right to protect yourself, but that "protection" should be viewed with a wide scope in mind. To protect yourself from legal harm (both civil and criminal), I would advise citizens to avoid confrontations if at all possible -- and especially if you are alone.

Firearms should be used only in life-threatening situations when there is not other choice. If you think that there is a good chance that you will have to use a gun, don't stop with the silly class required to get your permit. Take advanced classes -- even situational street-combat training -- if you can. And remember, in the urban environment, each bullet that misses its target may bring serious harm or even death to an innocent party.

Second, I would like to categorically deny all the accusations made in attorney Milton Hirsch's threatening letter. Following suspicious persons at a distance, on a few occasions, and at the request of others, or observing subjects you reasonably believe may be violating, have violated, or are about to violate the law does not constitute "stalking." Notifying and warning victims of subjects' self-confessed criminal tendencies, or seeking information about suspected criminal activities does not constitute "traducing."

Frighteningly, what Mr. Hirsch and his hooligan-supporting clients really want us to believe is that, to defend our property and lives, we law-abiding citizens are only permitted to call on a "law enforcement" and "criminal justice" system that long ago ceased to be able to protect us, and that we have no rights to defend ourselves with tactics which, while somewhat unconventional (and I'm sure very discomforting to criminals), are really perfectly legal. His letter indicates just how far the law breakers in our society will dare to go to get their way. Make no mistake about it, that letter is a direct threat to each and every one of us who are sick and tired of being pushed around by this undesirable element.

We will ask our local governments just one more time to protect us. If the government of New York City can cut its crime rate by 25 percent in two years, then surely it can be done here. We have mayoral and county commission races in progress. If our failed governments are to have any chance at all in justifying their reason for being, the campaign slogan of these races must address the real number-one issue (as it finally did with the economic one in the 1992 presidential campaign) -- it's the crime, stupid.

Lastly, I would like to say that it's a bit kicky and perhaps even occasionally useful to have a Wyatt Earp image, but that's not really what I'm all about. Strict law enforcement is very important, but it is only one aspect of our community's efforts to revitalize itself. As the thick file I gave Mr. Martinez will attest, my civic achievements, in addition to Crime Watch, include the rejuvenation of a small, faltering homeowner's association into one of the largest, most active, and most successful ones in the county.

We have brought about the replanting of hundreds of trees, made stunning improvements to a county park, worked closely with the business community to restore our hurricane-ravaged, Publix-anchored shopping plaza. We have cleaned up our streets from the blight of graffiti, trash, derelict autos, downed signs, broken lights, et cetera. And lastly, we have tried very hard to be very compassionate and understanding in a very diverse ethnic and cultural milieu -- to help those who are disabled, less fortunate, or in need -- getting them family counseling, cleaning up their properties, helping those who were cheated after Andrew, solving disputes with their neighbors.

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