(Long. Was feeling wordy, as is usual for me.)
There was no single defining moment.. more a series of events and thoughts that culminated in my decision to arm myself.
Years ago I read a news article (I don't remember where) about a young couple that was assaulted by several men. The guy was beaten to a pulp and then forced to watch as they repeatedly gang raped his girlfriend. It was just one story but it stuck with me, and I never looked at groups the same way again.. in fact I sort of obsessed over it.
I started researching group dynamics and psychology, I read some incredibly gruesome accounts and watched some pretty gory videos. There's a shocking amount of footage out there showing different factions doing almost unimaginable things to each other. Beheadings, beatings, burnings, torture, etc.
It changed the way I looked at both groups and individuals. It's not that I assumed that every group of guys walking towards me intended to beat me up and take my stuff, it's more that I came to recognize that if they wanted to there was nothing I could do about it. If they wanted to gang rape my SO I'd be powerless to stop it.
That said, I was still strangely willing to interact with people I didn't know. I'd often give people rides.. I go stargazing a lot so I'd be coming home at 2-3am and if I saw someone on the side of the road I'd usually pull over and let them in. Most of the time I'd feel reasonably safe. Still, sometimes I had that uneasy feeling. Other times I was forced to reckon with the knowledge that the stranger in my car intended to do me harm.
I picked a guy up around 1am, it was 27~ degrees out and he was walking along the Highway with a sleeping bag in his arms. We picked up his girlfriend and headed to the address he'd given me when he first entered. When she asked where we were going, he gave a second address... but we were not headed in that direction. Visibly confused, she asked a few minutes later. He gave a third address.
I had the overwhelming feeling that I was about to be 'jacked' and was fortunate enough to see a local Sheriff out on an early-morning patrol. I flashed my lights at him a few times, pulled over and jumped out of the car. The homeless guy bolted, leaving his girlfriend in the car. The deputy drove up and asked if everything was alright, I explained and he called it in. Turns out the guy had a history of carjacking and they found a knife tucked into the sleeping bag he dropped a few yards from my car. Not sure if they ever caught him, but I'm glad I never found out what would've happened to me if I hadn't run into that deputy.
Still, even that was (somehow) not enough. I just told myself that while it was dangerous, it was a situation I could easily avoid by not picking up strangers. Which.. amusingly, I still do. Way to mitigate risk, self!
So like I said.. it was the little things. It was going out for a late night run (pattern: night owl) and realizing that an approaching car has slowed down just a little too much, for a little too long. It was being screamed at through my driver's side window by some drunk who had gotten out of his car and was pacing around blocking traffic. It was Virginia Tech. It was Utoya (Norway). It was the ever-increasing feeling that the person most likely to defend me was.. me. And I was unarmed.
I had the mindset and I was aware of my surroundings, but I lacked the ability to do anything about danger even if I saw it coming. I was constantly on my family about leaving the doors unlocked but I didn't put a lot of thought into exactly what I would do if some undesirable gained entrance to my house. Poke him with my knife?
I had this desire to assist people when I was able, but overlooked the risks inherent to doing so. In fact the most recent event (the 'tipping-point', if you will) involved just that desire. I was pulling onto my street, seconds from home, as I happened to look up and see a man very clearly pushing a woman through their open 2nd story window. There was no doubt about it. He'd pushed her. I pulled into my driveway, got out and started walking to their house. Then I stopped. "What the hell am I doing?" I turned around and went home. Mad. Unlocked the door, walked in, locked the door. Really mad. Went to my bedroom, put away my stuff. Livid.
I knew what I saw, but I'd turned around because I wasn't sure how to handle it. My cowardice and indecision were really pissing me off. What do I say when they answer the door? What will I do if she's hurt? I'm not very physically imposing (both a source of some shame and motivation as I hit the weights)... what if he attacks me? My anger won out. I walked back out, knocked on their door and the guy answered. I told him I'd seen a woman being pushed and asked if everything was alright (as my heart rate skyrockets).. he laughs and says yes. I say I'd like to hear it from her.. he calls, and she comes out saying they were just playing.
No fireworks finish, just me looking stupid on my neighbor's doorstep. Still, I felt simultaneously relieved and disappointed. Relieved that she was unhurt and disappointed that I had, however briefly, entertained the idea of letting what appeared to be a violent domestic dispute continue. After my adrenaline dissipated and I managed to get to sleep, I woke up and started looking into carry options. I'd never carried but I've handled firearms enough that I'm comfortable with them.
A few days ago I purchased a Glock 23, and I'm looking into something smaller (LCP, PM9) for those times when I can't conceal it. I won't fool myself into thinking that I can handle any situation, but I also won't be too tempted to turn my back on someone again.