In the mid ‘70s, I had recently left the Army and started working as an emergency physician at a hospital in Huntsville, Alabama. It was a Wednesday, church night, and I was working the evening shift.
A woman in her thirties was brought in with a bullet wound in her leg. She told us that her boy friend had shot her during an argument. The wound didn't look serious; bleeding was minimal. It appeared to have been caused by a 32- or 38-caliber hand gun. I placed her in a room, ordered an X-ray, and sat at the physician desk to write up the chart.
A few minutes later, she came running by us, wearing nothing but a hospital gown, shouting, "He's come back to finish the job!" She then ran through the waiting room and out the front door.
The boyfriend stepped around the curtain screening the room. He was wearing a dark blue work shirt and holding a chrome-plated 38-caliber revolver. Even today, 46 years later, I still remember how it gleamed against the dark background of that shirt.
There was a sort of rustling sound as everyone ran for cover. We had left the ER, but there was no way to reach a door to the outside.
As luck would have it, there happened to be a state trooper at the front desk, in the process of checking in an arrestee. Someone told him of the commotion, and he pulled his gun, slipped into the room, and ordered the shooter to drop his weapon. The man immediately did so and was arrested. He was drunk, and as he was leaving, he remarked that "I could've had them all."
That encounter taught an indelible lesson:
1) Unarmed people in an enclosed space are totally helpless when confronted by an armed assailant. They are sitting ducks.
2) Just one person on the premises, who was armed and knew how to use a gun was able to prevent a possible mass murder.
Shortly after that, I bought my first hand gun. I have owned them ever since.
Gerald Kratz grew up in Miami and graduated from Coral Gables High, University of Miami, and Emory University School of Medicine. As a doctor, he worked in emergency medicine. He spent 14 years as medical director of the Community Health Service at Jackson Memorial Hospital. He retired in 2005.
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