I signed up just today, so I hope I'm not committing any blunders posting on this thread, especially on such an emotional topic.
Others have commented on the importance of intentionality, on the one hand, and on the permissibility of "striking a blow" when the intention is "to escape." That was very well said, and I've nothing to add to any of that. Dagon's posts are particularly interesting, with his background in corrections, and I respect his decision. Also, as was pointed out earlier, the default in Theravada seems to be toward pacifism, and away from "striking a blow in order to escape."
In case it's of interest to anyone, I can comment very briefly about firearms. Going back to intentionality as the key, the question becomes, "What is your intention in having, carrying, or using a firearm?" To the average person, a firearm is made to kill, and having or using one indicates the intention to kill. That would certainly create bad karma, so anyone with that view of the matter would do most skillfully to have nothing to do with firearms.
Depending on the individual, it might be possible to carry a firearm with a different intention. I have worked in law enforcement, and I have carried a firearm. I asked a Theravada monastic in the US whether working in law enforcement could possibly be seen as "right occupation," and he gave that infuriating answer: "It depends." It depends on your intentions, and it depends what you might do when faced with circumstances that seem to call for wrong action, or wrong speech, etc.
My job in law enforcement was serving arrest warrants: my work day was spent arresting people. My intention was to protect... the people I was arresting. Another person in that job might break down the door, use excessive violence, etc. I've been able to do the job without breaking any doors, without using any violence, without harming anyone--partly, of course, because I've had the good fortune not to run into anyone who was determined to fight me. But I knew that this might happen sooner or later, and as required for the job, I carried a firearm. I did it with no intention of harming anyone. The facts that were uppermost in my mind were:
- The likelihood of using it was slim--more than 90% of police go their entire careers without ever using their firearm in the line of duty.
- If a situation arose in which a firearm is needed, the majority of the time no shots are ever fired. Drawing the firearm ends the confrontation.
- If it became necessary to fire a shot, the person is unlikely to die: when police specifically try to shoot someone, about 75% of the time nobody actually dies.
- Finally, whether or not anyone dies, my intention would be to end the conflict, not to cause death.
I won't say whether that proves I had right intentions, or that carrying the firearm was right action, and I certainly
would never say that this proves that other people should do so. But perhaps it illustrates a frame of mind in which carrying a firearm might not be unskillful action. That said, I very seldom carry a firearm anymore. The more the precepts sink into my consciousness, the more I simply don't want to do so. Not that I never do, or that I've decided never to do it, but the desire to do it simply isn't present.