Ron Dixon acted the way any of us would have -- if, that is, we had the same courage. He pointed his 9 mm and fired. Dixon shot the intruder he had found rummaging through his 2-year-old son's room in his home in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, N.Y. For that, Dixon is facing jail time.
His case hits at a central blind spot of gun controllers, who discount the role of guns in self-defense and consider almost any discharge of a weapon a moral offense. For the Brooklyn district attorney, a gun is a gun is a gun, whether it's wielded by a punk or by Ron Dixon.
On Dec. 14, Dixon was still in bed around 7:30 a.m. when he heard a noise. He saw someone lurking in the hallway outside his second-floor bedroom. He waited for the intruder to leave the hallway so he could grab his 9 mm from a closet.
After telling his girlfriend to call 911, a terrified Dixon confronted the man. Whereupon the burglar pretended he had buddies downstairs, shouting, "Come upstairs!" and charged Dixon.
After Dixon shot him twice, the intruder fell down the stairs with nonfatal wounds to his chest and groin. He turned out to be a career burglar with a 14-page rap sheet. But he isn't the only one facing time.
Dixon has been charged with a weapons violation. He had bought his gun lawfully in Florida before moving to New York four years ago. According to his lawyer, at the time of the incident he was in the process of registering it in New York City, a bureaucratic drama about as lengthy as the gestation period of a pregnant elephant.
Anti-gun-control activists love the slogan "If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns." But that doesn't quite capture the complexity of the situation. If you make enough cumbersome gun-control rules, you can also make ordinary, gun-owning citizens outlaws.
Dixon, 27, works two jobs doing computer work at Carnegie Hall and a Wall Street firm on weekends, and he wouldn't have been at home at all that morning if he hadn't called in sick to his Wall Street job. From Jamaica, he served in the Navy in the mid-1990s before getting an honorable discharge. He had become a citizen and bought his Brooklyn home to live in with his girlfriend and two children, his version of the American dream.
Picking up where the burglar left off, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes is bent on interrupting the dream. He wants Dixon to take a plea and serve four weekends at the jail on Rikers Island. Hynes reasons that there are nearly 500 shootings a year in Brooklyn, so he can't go easy on Dixon -- thus failing to distinguish between the gunplay of drug dealers and a man defending his home.
Dixon doesn't want to serve any jail time for an offense that only came to light because he had to provide for his defense in the absence of New York City authorities doing so. A court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 4, and if his case goes to trail and he's convicted, he could be sentenced to up to a year.
Dixon's experience isn't rare. According to criminologist Gary Kleck, there are roughly 2.5 million defensive uses of a gun a year, although the vast majority involve only the brandishing of a weapon. Gun controllers are loath to admit these figures and focus on the much smaller -- in the low thousands -- number of justifiable homicides a year, because the frequency of self-defense shows a healthy, necessary use for guns.
Prison inmates tell Justice Department interviewers that while committing a crime, running into a citizen armed to defend himself is one of their greatest fears. And so it should be. Hynes, and other gun-control supporters, please take note -- criminals should have to worry about the consequences of the defensive use of guns, not homeowners like Ron Dixon.