Her voice has the soft drawl and cadence of one who has not just lived in the South for a while, but was born there. Yet she speaks with the confidence of a professional woman who knows her own mind, and who has the kind of personal inner core of strength that inspired the title of the movie about Southern women, “Steel Magnolias”.
Dr. Sandra K. Brooks is a pathologist in Johnson City, Tennessee. She was raised in the South, went to school there, and built her medical practice there. Back in the early ’80’s, she was 25 years old, and she and her husband were in the very exciting midst of moving into a new condominium.
While he was away, Sandra had the happy and busy task of getting organized, cleaning, unpacking, and overseeing the various workmen who were hired to get the condo just the way she wanted it.
Security was important to Sandra and her husband, and on this day, a burglar alarm system was being installed in her unit. She decided that the control panel should be in the back bedroom closet, where it would be easily accessible but also out of the way. As the installer labored to hook up and test all the wires (it takes hours to properly install a good security system), Sandra cleaned the windows until they sparkled, and thought about how nice life was going to be in her brand new home.
She had virtually forgotten about the alarm system, until the installer finally emerged from the closet and declared the job done. He gave her a warrantee card, explained its terms, and had her sign it. “Is there anything else I can do for you?” he asked.
“No, there’s nothing else, I don’t think. Everything’s fine!” Sandra replied happily, her thoughts already on the next tasks to be done.
“Oh, I bet there’s something else I can do for YOU.” He looked at her oddly and put unpleasant emphasis on that last word.
The early warning system that Mother Nature installs in every woman’s brain started sending signals to Sandra that something was going very wrong here. “I don’t know what you mean!” she said, stalling for time as she quickly assessed the situation and realized that her 5’5″, 125-lb body would be no match for this husky red-headed workman who was 6 feet tall and built like a linebacker.
She began to be seriously alarmed, and chanted the mantra that generations of women have been taught to use as a talisman against danger: “My husband’s going to be home immediately.”
And, like generations of women have learned to their dismay, invoking the imminent appearance of a protector doesn’t carry much weight with someone who knows that hubby probably isn’t due home for hours. “Oh YEAH, there’s something I can do for you.” he repeated, as he pressed close to her, and started pushing her, backing her toward the bedroom at the end of the hall.
Sandra said everything she could think of that might stop him, but he ignored it all. “I can do something for you! I KNOW I can,” he repeated with relish, as he anticipated the act he was about to commit.
With his quarry intimidated, obviously overpowered, and virtually cornered in the bedroom, he pushed her down onto the bed and started to unbutton his shirt…
But this quarry wasn’t as intimidated or as overpowered as he thought she was. The fear she felt was combined with anger and the resolution to fight him at all costs, and relief that she wouldn’t have to fight him empty-handed. Her hand went under the pillow and groped for the revolver she kept there, a little 6-shot Charter Arms .32 caliber, loaded with 5 rounds and the hammer down on an empty chamber. She brought the gun out and pointed it at him.
The whole time he had been pushing her down the hall, talking about what he was going to do “for” her, she had been thinking, “Just wait until I get my pistol, and then I’ll do something for you!” Now she had the gun in her hands, and the determination to use it.
The instant he saw the gun, he turned and ran out the bedroom and out of the condo, leaving Sandra shaken, still angry, and fiercely victorious!
Shortly after that, her husband came home. Sandra told him what had occurred, and his response was typical of the times, “Well, it’s going to be your word against his. If you really want to report it, I’ll stand by you, but you know what will happen.” Sandra knew. Nothing would happen.
Once she had recovered from the shock, she did call the manager of the security company to report the problem she had had with his employee. The manager was quite firm. “Well, lady, all I can tell you is that it is your word against his. That man has worked for this company a long time….” So, Sandra’s husband was right, she wasn’t believed.
The red-headed would-be rapist had run out of the apartment so precipitously that he left all his tools behind. He never came back for them, of course, but a few weeks later, another person from the alarm company called Sandra and explained that the workman who installed her security system had left some of his tools there that needed to be picked up.
“Tools? No, he didn’t leave any tools here,” was Sandra’s response.
“But he said he did,” the man protested.
“Well, it’s just his word against mine, isn’t it?” Sandra replied sweetly. This was the only small satisfaction she was able to exact, though a few hundred dollars worth of useless tools wasn’t much compensation for what she had been through.
In the years since that incident, Sandra has continued to depend on a firearm as part of her personal protection strategy. She found a Gloria LeMaster gun purse at a gun show, and is delighted with its professional looks, well-organized interior, and hidden gun compartment. “I never go anywhere without a gun except on a plane.”
Many doctors don’t understand the necessity for being armed. The four other doctors, all men, in her group practice don’t even own guns, much less carry them. “I can’t imagine that,” Sandra admits, “I’d feel naked without a firearm to protect myself and my family.”
“People in my group, and at the hospital, know that I’m a proponent of shooting, and I have an NRA sticker on my truck,” she says. “Some people think you’re some sort of monster or weird person because you own a gun, but I tell them ‘Look, I’m a regular person. I just want to have some chance against an attacker. When somebody attacks me, I’m not going to roll over and take it.’ ”
Recently, the New England Journal of Medicine has taken to publishing articles on sociology and criminology, arguing that firearms are a public health problem and so ought to be restricted. One doctor even published a piece titled “Should Ammunition be Restricted?” and of course he thought the answer was Yes.
But the woman who faced down the burly workman with the aid of a gun remembered her experience, and took pen in hand to eloquently chastise the members of her profession who think that all guns are bad guns. Here is her letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, published in the November 3, 1994 issue:
If Dr. Cassells’s letter is representative of how physicians think about handguns in this country, then I am shocked by the lack of common sense in our profession. Do we really believe that criminals buy their ammunition at Wal-Mart?
Restriction of the sale of handgun ammunition to shooting clubs, police, and the Secret Service will not solve the problem and will create an even larger one. (Remember what happened when liquor was outlawed?) The hard-working, law-abiding citizens who believe in the principles that our country was founded on will be affected, not the criminals. A huge black market for ammunition will develop just as such a market is now developing for handguns and the approximately 19 so-called assault weapons that have been banned.
Dr. Casscells, if you wish to give up the only means of protecting yourself and your family, it is your right to do so. But please do not try to decide for the rest of us who do not wish to give up that protection. I can only tell you that possession of and willingness to use a handgun saved me from certain rape and possible murder. My assailant would not have been frightened of mace, pepper spray, or a nightstick.
The media brainwash us all to believe that guns are bad. I would like to hear the good things for a change, because I know there are many instances in which gun owners have saved their own lives and the lives of their loved ones.
I am one physician who is proud to be a member of the National Rifle Association.
Signed, Sandra K. Brooks, M.D.
A large number of physicians agree with Sandra, and many of them, including other women, took the time to write her to express their support.
In the years since Sandra’s attempted rape, the world has changed a lot. Women are now much more likely to be believed when they report attacks. In addition to the increased awareness of the law enforcement community, there are lots of support groups and rape crisis centers, and companies are more likely to take seriously reports that their employees are trying to rape their customers.
Looking back on the attack with the wisdom of hindsight, Sandra says, “Nobody would have believed me then, so I did not report it to the police, which I still regret to this day.”
I’ve heard many women say they did not report attacks to the police, and universally, they say years later that they wish they had made a report. If this ever happens to you, tell the police, tell your friends, tell your family, TELL EVERYONE! It may still be your word against his, but you will be amazed how many people will believe you!