Houston Astros outfielder Luke Scott slammed an ammo clip into his .45-caliber Glock handgun, assumed the ready position and fired off 10 successive shots in 2.5 seconds, causing shell casings to fly in every direction. The thundering noise of gunshots filled the air and echoed through the trees, briefly disrupting the silence that surrounded his makeshift shooting range on a strip of land just a mile or so from the house he grew up in DeLeon Springs, Fla.
"That's a clip," Scott said matter-of-factly as he looked up, emptied the cartridge from his handgun and slid the weapon into his front pocket.
Scott proceeded to walk up to the target that was blowing in the breeze 10 feet away, the ideal distance for practicing self-defense maneuvers, and pointed to the form of a man that was outlined on the target. With a bull's-eye on its chest to highlight the kill zone, Scott began to count the bullet holes that were on target: "There's one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine ..." He stopped to chuckle then said, "That's a poor soul right there.
"An athlete gets paid a lot of money," he said. "And someone who is after that, a thief, a mugger or someone who steals from people, they are taking a chance with the law that if they get caught, they are going to jail or face some other problem."
With a broad smile, he added, "In my case, you are going to get shot."
Scott, who was called up from the minors in July, batted .336 with 10 home runs in an impressive rookie season with the Astros. He is also one of the many athletes who carry a gun.
"How do you combat a man with a firearm?" Scott asked. "You don't combat him with a golf club, baseball bat or a knife. You combat him with another firearm."
Scott has a license to carry a concealed weapon and claims he carries his gun with him almost everywhere, always wanting to be prepared.
"I'll put this like thatů" Scott said. He picked his gun up off the table, placed it in his back pocket and made sure his shirt wasn't tucked into his pants, covering up the gun. He did a quick spin with his arms in the air and said, "You can't see it."
Scott has never been in trouble with the law, but the list of professional athletes who either have been charged or arrested for gun-related crimes is long. The combination of athletes and guns increasingly has become a volatile mixture.
Many incidents indicate that athletes rely on firearms for self-protection or as a means to resolve an altercation. But estimates on how many professional athletes carry guns, legally or illegally, vary. By Scott's estimation, as many as 20 percent of Major League Baseball players carry concealed weapons, and more than 50 percent own some type of gun.
Roger Renrick is familiar with the prevalence of guns among professional athletes. A former Boston police officer, Renrick is now a bodyguard who has worked for Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker and Jalen Rose. Renrick describes gun ownership among NBA players as "very common."
"I would probably say close to 60 percent," he said.
New England Patriots wide receiver Jabar Gaffney, a gun owner himself, said he thinks 90 percent of NFL players have firearms.
"Lots of guys I know have weapons either in their house or, in places where you can carry it, they have a permit to carry it," Gaffney said.
Some athletes own guns for hunting, but most athletes who carry guns do so for self-protection.
Scott recounted a time when he was thankful he was prepared, a late night when he was at a gas station in Texas.
"Last year, we had a lot of people come in from New Orleans to Houston shortly after Hurrican Katrina. There were a lot of people walking the streets. I knew my surroundings. I wasn't in that good of a part of town and it was 1 o'clock in the morning," Scott said. "I was by myself and no one was around. I just took my gun and put it right there."
Scott lifted his shirt to reveal his handgun tucked down the front of his pants, the handle slightly visible.
"I saw this guy about 30 feet away. I'm just watching him, minding my own business and, as he approached me, I said, 'Can I help you with something?' Just like that."
Reenacting the incident, Scott demonstrated how he lifted his shirt to reveal his Glock.
"I could see he had something in his hand behind him, and he stopped, and his eyes got real big and he started stuttering, so you know he's up to no good."
Scott raised his arms in mock surrender and continued: "He goes 'I ain't gonna lie man, I ain't gonna lie. All I want is a dollar. I'm gonna go in and buy a beer. I'm not gonna buy food. I'm not gonna buy water. I ain't begging for money for that. I am gonna buy alcohol with it.' Just straight up."
"And I looked at him. I said, 'You stay right there.' And I just watched him and I reached in my car to the center console, grabbed a dollar, put it right on the hood and said, 'Go ahead.' And the whole time my hand was on my gun. I didn't fire a shot, didn't even point it at him."
Another armed athlete is former NFL player Jay Williams.
"I carry a gun every day of my life. When I get up in the morning and get dressed it goes on my hip, and when I go to bed at night it comes off my hip," said Williams, who played 10 years in the NFL, most recently with the Miami Dolphins in 2004. "I would rather have it and not need it, than need it and not have it."
Williams is now a gun dealer, selling weapons mostly at gun shows and over the Internet. He says some clients are athletes.
As the son of a police officer from Washington, D.C., Williams grew up around firearms. He now belongs to a gun club in North Carolina, where he practices his shooting once a week.
"Athletes are not carrying a gun just to carry a gun and to say, 'Yeah, I carry a gun,'" Williams said. "They are carrying guns to protect and defend themselves."
Williams maintains that the dangers faced by professional athletes are real.
"A lot of criminals, they will look at you like, 'Shoot, let's follow him home. Let's see where he lives. Let's see if we can get him for his jewelry, his watch, his car.' You never know what is out there," Williams said.
As high-profile figures in society, many athletes claim they are targets, citing their wealth and prominence as reasons to be wary.
"Guys are jealous of your stature in life, the fact that you are playing ball, the fact that you are making all this money. The fact that when you go to a club or restaurant, young ladies might flock to you," Williams said. "You might have a disgruntled fan who is pissed off how the team is playing. And maybe he has something to say to you about it. Now, odds are he is not going to come at you in a violent way, but you never know."
Most athletes would agree.
"To the criminal element, anyone with money and fame is a target," Scott said.
"Away from football we try to be regular people, go out and have a good time," Gaffney said. "But eyes are always on us and sometimes people want what you have and they try to get it."
In September 2000, the Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce survived a brutal multiple stabbing at a Boston nightclub. Pierce is now licensed to carry a concealed weapon, but leaves his gun at home and hires a bodyguard when he goes out. Still, Pierce considers himself a target.
"Because I'm recognized from TV, people want what I have," Pierce said. "You have to be careful because people out there in the world are very envious of your life."
But some players don't agree that an athlete's high profile makes them a target in society.
"I don't know what you need a gun for in the NBA," former Utah Jazz star Karl Malone said in disbelief. "What are you doing that you want a gun? Who have you pissed off that you need a gun?" Malone's eyes grew bigger and he shrugged his shoulders, apparently confused at the reasoning behind athletes' fear of being attacked.
Malone is hardly anti-gun. An avid hunter, Malone even has been a spokesman for the National Rifle Association. But he rejects the argument that athletes need guns for protection.
"I think it's just a smoke screen, just an easy reason to say you want a gun," Malone said.
While Malone supports the constitutional right to bear arms, he said he is skeptical of the average athlete's mentality when it comes to firearms.
"Everybody sticks their chest out now when they have a firearm on them," Malone said, mocking the thought process of the common athlete. "'I come up from the hard part of the streets, the mean streets, and I need my gun and all of that?' Come on, please, enough of that already. We're tired of that."
Malone said he wants athletes to realize the dangerous nature of guns.
"Now why do these guys carry guns? Is that the 'cool' thing to do? Well 'cool' gets you dead!" Malone said.
"I know there is probably somebody out there who's carrying a gun because it makes him feel like more of a man," Williams said truthfully. "You don't carry a gun just to make you feel like you are big-time. That's the wrong reason to carry."
For athletes who claim they need a gun for protection, Malone has a suggestion: stop hanging out in places of risk.
"Three a.m.? My goodness gracious, what were you doing out at 3 o'clock in the morning? Who were you with? Where were you at? Do you need a gun to protect you or do you need a babysitter to get you where you need to be all the time so that you don't get in any trouble?" Malone said.
Malone said he thinks the problems stem from the people athletes sometimes keep as company, and the places they spend their free time.
"You can enjoy yourself in nice places, but we're talking about gun stuff," he said. "We need to talk more about where we are going, what we are doing, and who we are hanging out with that lead up to these confrontations."
The Indiana Pacers' Stephen Jackson made headlines and created controversy when he allegedly pulled a gun during a night out with his teammates. On Oct. 6, Jackson got into an early morning fight outside a strip club in Indianapolis. According to police, Jackson fired at least five shots in the air. Jackson and two of his teammates had their guns seized by police, but Jackson was the only player charged. He has since pleaded not guilty to charges of battery, disorderly conduct and felony criminal recklessness. His trial is scheduled for Feb. 12.
"I think what Stephen needs to realize is he put himself in even greater danger by pulling the gun," Malone said. "Because what stops this person from getting on the telephone, turning the corner, telling his buddies to come down -- 'This man got a gun' -- and shoot him?"
Following Jackson's arrest, NBA commissioner David Stern said he would like players to leave their guns at home when they go out in public. "I don't think it's necessary to walk the streets packing a gun," Stern said during his preseason teleconference. "I think it's dangerous for our players.
"It's a pretty widely accepted statistic that if you carry a gun, your chances of being shot by one increase dramatically," Stern said. "We think this is an alarming subject, that although you'll read players saying how they feel safer with guns, in fact those guns actually make them less safe. And it's a real issue."
Pierce said he is not confident that Stern truly comprehends the players' position in this matter.
"I understand David Stern wants to clean up the image, but I think David Stern has to understand where we come from and what some of the players like to do," Pierce said. "I mean, we want to be looked at like normal people, but it's unfortunate that we can't."
Williams said athletes should be able to make their own decision on when and where to carry a gun for protection: "No league has the right to tell you how to defend yourself."
The NBA and NFL have similar policies regarding players and guns, each noting that even if players are licensed to carry a gun, they cannot carry them into stadiums and arenas, practice facilities or on team planes.
Although Major League Baseball has no written policy on players and guns, Scott says he never carried a gun into Minute Maid Park or on Astros'road trips. But everywhere else he goes, Scott says he is packing and prepared.
While Scott, Williams and Malone preach gun safety and advocate caution, all agree they will not hesitate to use their weapon for protection if their lives are in jeopardy.
"I hope I never have to pull my gun on anyone," Williams said. "I don't ever want to have to do that. But I will defend my life and the lives of people in my family."
Said Malone: "Would I use a gun if I had to? Absolutely. If it's my life and your life, and that's what it came down to? A gun? And we can't work it out no other way? Yes. Absolutely. But I hope in my life it never gets to that."
Scott discussed how his gun could save his life.
"If someone comes up in a threatening manner, you can say it with words. After that, action."
Scott reaches into his back pocket, draws his handgun and extends his arm in the ready position.
"This right here is enough to say, 'What do you need?' You better back off."
Steve Delsohn is a reporter; Arty Berko and Lindsay Rovegno are producers for "Outside the Lines." Researcher Shahien Nasiripour contributed to this story.