The news of massacres in public places has become disturbingly common in recent years. The pattern seems nearly predictable: a disturbed, suicidal young man with a gun opens up on a room full of innocents, and people die. I cannot imagine the terror of those endless moments, cowering helplessly as some nutjob wanders among my fellow victims and I, deciding on his whim who lives and who dies. It’s so horribly . . . unfair.
The news always carries the panicked 9-1-1 calls after the fact. We hear the terror in the victims’ voices as they wait for the police to gather in enough strength to effectively and safely confront an active shooter. Please, God, they must think, please don’t let him take me.
At that moment in time—in that focused, terrible instant of life and death—I doubt that anyone gives a moment’s thought to what kind of tragedy in the shooter’s life might have led him to do such awful things. I doubt that they care whether the weapon was legally obtained, or whether a background check was done. In that circumstance, if I could see past the panic, I think I would feel true bitterness that that guy gets to decide whether I will live or die, and that I don’t have a vote in the outcome. It’s just wrong.
In a shootout, votes come in the form of return fire.
I live in the Commonwealth of Virginia, where nearly 280,000 non-law enforcement personnel carry concealed weapons permits. That’s a little over 3% of the population. Every permit holder has been vetted by the feds and by the state police, and they’ve shown that they have no history of mental illness or violent crimes. I find that comforting.
Less comforting is the knowledge that if I travel to Maryland, my neighboring state, or to the District of Columbia, where assault and murder rates are significantly higher than in the Old Dominion, it is a felony to carry a firearm in public under virtually any circumstance. Thus, the bad guys—the assaulters who, by definition, are less concerned about acting feloniously—get to choose which of the lambs they wish to slaughter without consequence. Understand the meaning here: in those areas and in many others throughout the country—hello, Chicago and New York—the guy who defends himself from a life threatening attack by use of a firearm is still guilty of a felony. The police and the prosecutors expect for you to wait for rescue by the police because when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.
How is this anything but unjust? How is it not obvious that gun-free zones are target-rich environments for bad guys?
In the political arena, this discussion invariably comes around to the common memes of banning certain kinds of weapons or limiting the size of magazines, or the greater meaning of the Second Amendment. All of these are worthy of civil discourse (yeah, good luck with that civil part), but such topics fall outside my argument here.
We are where we are. Folks who shouldn’t have guns have them, and they’ve clearly realized that there’s no quicker route to fame than opening up on a crowd. Adam Lanza, the Newtown monster, obsessed over the Columbine killings (thanks in part to wall-to-wall media coverage), and reportedly kept spread sheets of famous mass murders. He was a nutjob.
People like him are an immeasurably tiny percentage of the millions of gun owners in the United States, yet they grab the headlines—this, despite the fact that violent crime in America is at record lows. I understand that perception is reality, but what I don’t understand is the popular reaction to the perceived reality: Rather than rising up against the threat, the anti-gun crowd preaches timid surrender as the best solution. Duck and cover. Shelter in place. Be patient for those twelve, fifteen, twenty minutes that it takes to assemble the counter-assault teams. Await your turn to die.
Is it difficult to understand why some people would like to have the right to shoot back?
Since I’m relatively new to the Roundtable, and we therefore don’t know each other all that well, I want to be crystal clear about the point I’m making: I do not believe in vigilantism, and I remain firmly committed to running away as the best possible defense against danger. Sometimes, though, running is not an option. I cannot imagine how anyone who faces an imminent threat of death or serious physical harm at the hands of a murderer would not have the right—would not demand the right—to defend himself. To recognize the right to defend, then, is to recognize the right to carry.