Last week, Melinda Herman shot an intruder in her Georgia home
She had learned to shoot only two weeks before
Her story has gained the attention of gun rights groups
This is not a movie. There’s no dramatic music in the background. A happy ending, far from a guarantee.
The concern in Donnie Herman’s voice was clear as day. So was his stress. With two telephones to his ear, he listened to his wife, Melinda, as she fled into an attic of their Loganville home. With her: Her two 9-year-old children and a loaded .38 revolver.
In the house: An intruder with a crowbar.
On another line was the 911 operator Donnie Herman had called for help. Herman’s words to his wife, as he sat helplessly, an hour away from the home, were recorded.
“Stay in the attic,” he instructed her, calmly.
“He’s in the bedroom,” she told him. He repeated the words to the 911 operator.
“Shh. Relax,” Herman said, trying to calm his wife.
Then he instructed her to do what was fast becoming a realistic possibility.
“Melinda – if he opens up the door, you shoot him! You understand?”
What happened next has made the Hermans the new faces of the right to bear arms.
Melinda Herman fired a six-shot revolver at the intruder, hitting him five times, in his torso and in his face. Surprisingly, he managed to flee.
Gun rights groups say this shows that law-abiding citizens should be allowed to buy their weapon of choice and as big a magazine or ammunition clip as they like.
They remind people that Melinda Herman had only a six-shot revolver.
“It’s a good thing she wasn’t facing more attackers. Otherwise she would have been in trouble and she would have run out of ammunition,” said Erich Pratt, director of communications for the Gun Owners of America.
“She shot him five times and he still didn’t drop. This is going to endanger people’s safety.”
The right of self-protection has been thrust into the forefront in a national debate after last month’s Newtown, Connecticut, tragedy.
This week, a federal task force led by Vice President Joe Biden is holding talks with private industry groups, the NRA, and legislators – all to determine the correct balance between the right to self-protection and preventing further mass shootings.
Meanwhile, Americans are flocking to gun shops to buy guns and ammunition in record numbers – partly due to Newtown and partly due to their fears that the rules are about to change on what they can legally own.
The FBI said it conducted almost 2.8 million checks for gun purchases in December, a record high for a month.
Donnie and Melinda Herman own two guns for protection at home, but until two weeks ago, she had never fired a gun. Her husband told sheriff’s department investigator’s that he took her shooting so that she’d be familiar with the family’s guns if she ever had to use one.
Now, clutching the .38 revolver, Melinda Herman was in the middle of a heart-pounding crisis inside her own home.
She had already locked multiple doors before she and her children took refuge in an adjacent-room attic – the kind with a small door that you have to bend down to go through.
The intruder had used the crowbar to break through the front door and then two other doors upstairs, and she could hear him coming closer and closer.
On the phone, Donnie Herman calmly instructed his wife about the use of the weapon she had practiced on.
“Remember everything I showed you. Everything I taught you,” he told her, and he reassured her that help was on the way.
Then it happened.
“She shot him. She’s shooting him. She’s shooting him. She’s shooting him. She’s shooting him. … Shoot him again! Shoot him!” Donnie Herman said as the 911 dispatcher listened.
He then lost phone contact with his wife and children. His anguish and the pain of not knowing what had happened may be etched in his mind for eternity. But they were safe.
He learned later that his wife fired all six shots, and hit the intruder with all but one bullet.
Not realizing she was out of ammunition, she ordered the man to stay on the floor as he bled. She then fled the house with her children.
Walton County Sheriff Joe Chapman – whose office responded to the shooting at the Hermans’ home – said he believes the mother and her two children were in a life-and-death situation and she had no choice but to exercise her constitutional right to self-defense.
“Had it not turned out the way that it did, I would possibly be working a triple homicide, not having a clue as to who it is we’re looking for,” he told CNN.
Despite being shot five times, the suspect, identified as Paul Ali Slater, still managed to get back into his SUV, but he drove off the road and crashed a short distance away.
He remains hospitalized. Due to privacy laws, the hospital cannot divulge any information on his condition.
But the controversy continues. Home gun ownership and self-defense will always be controversial.
The Hermans’ story of self-defense is being used by the National Rifle Association and the Gun Owners of America to make their point to the White House and Congress about gun ownership.
But Donnie Herman has told people he’s not interested in being a poster boy for anyone. He has not yet responded to CNN’s request for an interview with him and his wife.
“My wife is a hero. She protected her kids. She did what she was supposed to do as a responsible parent and gun owner,” Herman told CNN affiliate WSB.
Yet it’s unclear whether the benefits of having a loaded and readily available gun in one’s home outweigh the drawbacks.
“It’s more common for an armed homeowner in the United States to be a victim of suicide, homicide, assault or an accidental shooting than it is for that person to shoot an intruder,” according to Dr. Arthur Kellermann, a senior health policy analyst at Rand Corporation, a non-partisan think tank.
Kellermann led research for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the 1990s which found that people who have guns in their homes are nearly three times more likely to be a victim of homicide and nearly five times more likely to commit suicide.
Experts also say that simply having a gun for self-protection does not guarantee safety. They say the fear is that many people will take part in what might be considered a feeding frenzy by purchasing a gun, but not learn how to properly use it.
Sheriff Chapman holds courses for homeowners who want to learn how to safely and properly use a weapon.
“Be proficient with it. Be taught how to use it. Train with it,” he said.
“I often tell people, ‘If you don’t think that you have what it takes to take a human life then don’t bother buying one. Don’t waste your money. Don’t waste your time,” he told CNN.
“Don’t put it in a drawer and think that’s the answer to everything, because it isn’t.”
CNN’s Tom Watkins contributed to this report