When Harold J. O'Brien, well-known local operator of several out-call massage parlors and a self-described law-abiding citizen, heard the sound of crashing glass in his 11th Street office early Monday morning, he placed an emergency call to the police and then grabbed his pistol from a desk drawer.

O'Brien shot and missed three times and the would-be burglar was gone by the time police arrived. But an arrest was made anyway. Police took O'Brien into custody and charged him with having an unregistered handgun.

"I couldn't believe it," O'Brien complained to a reporter yesterday. "I was fingerprinted, handcuffed and treated like a common criminal for trying to defend myself, and they let the suspect get away."

He was later released and charges were dropped when it was discovered that the gun was registered. Police had no record of it but O'Brien did.

Angered by his arrest and detention, O'Brien sought the help of the National Rifle Association, offering his case as an example of the manner in which D.C.'s stringent gun control laws infringe "on a regular citizen's right to protect himself."

"Probably," he theorized in a telephone interview, "they were just waiting for someone like me to come along." But according to an NRA spokesman, who asked not to be named, the organization has no immediate plans to champion O'Brien's cause.

"He may have a good point," the spokesman said, "but we've been working to improve our image lately and I don't think this would help."

O'Brien, who was arrested last month for passing out solicitations for outcall masseuses at a Metro stop near police headquarters, said he plans to file a civil suit against the city "for whatever the lawyers can think of."

He said he is willing to take his complaint into the courts, even though it means that "as a former military man and someone who was trained to kill, I'll have to admit that I got spooked and fired into a brick wall before the guy came through the window."

"I'm angry and bitter," O'Brien said, "and I don't care if I don't get a penny, as long as I get my pound of flesh."