Sword incident proves handguns actually save lives 

With one swift slash from a samurai sword, John Pontolillo made a convincing case for ... private ownership of handguns?

Oh, you betcha.

Pontolillo is an undergraduate at Johns Hopkins University. Before Sept. 15, that’s all he was — one of the many JHU students who have to bust their humps studying so they can graduate from one of the most challenging and academically competitive campuses in the country.

But nine days ago, Pontolillo went from being a simple college guy to being in the center of a maelstrom that developed after he slashed a burglar in the backyard of a house he shared with fellow JHU students.

Pontolillo used a samurai sword to defend himself after the burglar lunged at him. With one swish he nearly severed the burglar’s left hand and pierced his chest. The man bled to death before paramedics arrived.

The alleged burglar — and I’m using the word “alleged” guardedly here — was a career criminal who had been arrested more than 20 times, based on what I was able to learn at www.courts.state.md. Donald Rice was 49 years old and through the years had been charged with assault, resisting arrest, drug possession and theft.

On Aug. 16, 2008, Rice apparently went completely bonkers. Baltimore County police charged him with 28 offenses stemming from one incident. Most of the charges were dropped, but Rice served at least six months anyway.

He’d only been out of prison three days when he met his tragic but predictable end in that backyard. Rice sounds a lot like the character Vernon Johns notoriously eulogized. (Johns was the immediate predecessor of Martin Luther King Jr. at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala.)

The deceased was, like Rice, a career miscreant. Those expecting a sympathetic eulogy didn’t know Johns very well.

“He lived a trifling and useless life,” Johns said. “He walked around Montgomery daring someone to slit his throat. Last week somebody obliged him. He lived like a dog; he died like a dog. Undertaker, claim the body.”

Rice seemed cut from the same cloth, which may be why some in the Baltimore area cheered his death. But, inevitably, some cast him as a victim, too. A Baltimore Sun editorial lamented the killing, claiming that “even burglars don’t deserve to be killed with a razor-sharp sword.” (That leaves us all to ponder this question: What, exactly, do burglars deserve to be killed with?) Later, in the same editorial, the newspaper pondered what would have happened if Rice had been armed.

And there, dear readers, you have a classic example of what I call lib-think. I take it you noticed the underlying assumption: Criminals are supposed to be armed. It’s kind of in their job description. But law-abiding citizens being armed? Oh, perish the thought.

With that one supposition, however, the editorial writer pretty much made the case for why we Second Amendment enthusiasts — gun nuts, to those on the left — insist on our interpreting it to mean private ownership of firearms, including handguns, is perfectly constitutional.

Let’s ponder how the scenario would have played out had Pontolillo been armed not with a samurai sword, but a handgun.

Would Rice have been so quick to lunge? Would he have turned tail and skedaddled, which is what criminals tend to do when confronted with gun-toting, law-abiding citizens?

I can see the scenario: Pontolillo says to Rice, “Mr. Burglar, I’d like you to meet two of my best buddies ever, those esteemed Americans Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson. You might want to stay put until police arrive.”

And Rice would have done so. Or fled. Bottom line: He’d be alive today to tell the tale. So private ownership of firearms actually saves lives, and could have saved Rice’s.

That’s not just my opinion. Gary Kleck, a criminologist at Florida State University, has done research to show that Americans use firearms 1 million times a year to defend themselves.

According to the book “The Seven Myths of Gun Control” by Richard Poe, Kleck found that “in 98 percent of those cases, no shots [were] fired. The criminal [fled] at the mere sight of the gun.”

If there’s a lesson for Pontolillo to learn, it’s to give up that sword and buy a handgun.

Examiner columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to Sudan.

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Gregory Kane

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Examiner columnist Gregory Kane is an award-winning journalist who lives in Baltimore.

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