TAMPA — Noah Herron had never given much thought to personal safety. The Bucs reserve running back and former Green Bay Packer had never had to.
"I grew up in the country not being able to even see my neighbor's house. We didn't lock our doors at night," said Herron, a native of Mattawan, Mich., in the southwest part of the state. "I even felt like Green Bay (Wis.) was a small town and nothing would ever happen there. I slept many nights with my doors unlocked. So, with that being said, after feeling threatened for my life, I think (protection) is necessary."
Herron had never seen himself as a gun owner. But his outlook changed in May, the instant a would-be burglar climbed through a first-floor window in his house while Herron was upstairs in his bedroom. Herron, 5 feet 11 and 218 pounds, thwarted the burglary by disabling one of two suspects, beating him with an unscrewed bedpost. The suspect was hospitalized.
In the event there's a next time, Herron, 26, figures he'll be more prepared. Now he owns a gun.
Firearms have become a popular means of protection for many NFL players. But the dangers of irresponsible gun use have taken center stage again, this time in the wake of Giants star Plaxico Burress' accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound last weekend, a shooting that has ended his season and drawn weapons charges in New York City.
It has been widely debated why Burress, 31, and others consider guns a necessity. Herron isn't the only Buccaneers player who can make a compelling case for having guns — legal, registered ones — accessible.
Cornerback Phillip Buchanon survived a home invasion in 2006. At least six men in ski masks burst into his suburban Atlanta house and held him and friends at gunpoint for more than an hour. The men took valuables — electronics, jewelry, clothing — and Buchanon's luxury SUV. He also was pistol-whipped.
"I look at everything differently after that incident," Buchanon, 28, said.
Without getting specific about his position on gun ownership, Buchanon dropped a hint that he, too, has armed himself.
"I'm protecting myself," he said. "Believe that. I'm not going to tell the world, but trust me. I protect myself."
The NFL frowns on guns. Its weapons policy "strongly" recommends that players not own them. Weapons are expressly prohibited on the premises of all NFL facilities and a number of other locations, ranging from places hosting team functions to team hotels.
But players can't be prohibited from legally possessing guns in other environments and having a concealed-weapons permit in states where that's legal. Given players' exorbitant salaries — and the public knowledge of their earnings — gun ownership can appeal to professional athletes.
But some remain wary of it.
"I always feel like it's never a positive when you start talking about weapons," guard Davin Joseph, 25, said. "I don't want that on my mind, the fact that I maybe took somebody's life. And you don't want (a gun) involved because it can always escalate a situation. And it seems like it never ends in a positive way. It's either going to be you getting hurt or somebody else getting hurt. Sometimes, a cooler head is the best way to handle things."
Receiver Michael Clayton, 26, owns multiple weapons but emphasizes responsible use.
"You have to really know your weapon," he said. "It's not just something you carry around and mess with. You need to know how to handle it, how to take it apart, everything. It has to be your best friend, because if you're in a situation where you have to use it, you can't be messing up.
"I have a family to protect, and I will protect myself at all times. But I'm very careful with my weapons. I use them at the range, and everything I do with them is legal. I keep them locked up around my kids, and I take all the precautions you have to take with weapons."
To some extent, avoiding trouble is something a player has control over. In the case of Burress, some Buccaneers wondered why he felt it necessary to carry a gun into a nightclub.
"It's foreign to me to have to worry about something like that, to think you have to have a gun to be safe," linebacker Barrett Ruud, 25, said. "I've never gone anywhere where I felt like I wasn't safe … and I probably wouldn't go anywhere where I felt unsafe."
Times staff writer Rick Stroud contributed to this report. Stephen F. Holder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NFL policy on guns and other weapons
Excerpts from the NFL's policy, instituted by then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue in 1994. It applies to all employees of the league and its teams, including players and nonplayers.
Prohibitions: Whether possessed legally or illegally … you must not possess these weapons while traveling on league-related business or whenever you are on the premises of:
•A facility owned, operated or being used by an NFL club
•A stadium or any other venue being used for an NFL event
•A facility owned or operated by the NFL or any league company.
Legal Possession: In some circumstances, such as for sport or protection, you may legally possess a firearm or other weapon. However, we strongly recommend that you not do so.
Discipline: If you violate this policy … you are subject to discipline, including suspension from playing. And if you violate a public law covering weapons, you are … also subject to criminal prosecution.