I’ve got to hand it to Firmin Debrabander: I’ve never seen so much fail in one anti-gun article and I’ve read thousands of them. The Atlantic Monthly writer has somehow managed to weave an intricate tapestry of lies and mischaracterizations to blame Americans who exercise their natural, civil and Constitutional right to keep and bear arms for the breakdown of the rule of law in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. Wait. What? What breakdown? FBI crime statistics show a steady fall in the violent crime rate. Oh right. Facts. Who needs them? Firmin Debrabander does. Let’s take him to school . . .
Polls show that gun owners cite self-protection as the primary reason they are armed. Their intentions are generally good and admirable. The gun-rights movement has done a great job making the argument for individuals to be armed to protect themselves and their families in their own homes. What if you are faced with a menacing home intruder and police are far away? In that situation, it makes good sense to be armed.
This a classic Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail lead. You begin by complimenting your opponent. Showing him respect and deference. Portraying yourself as a reasonable, rational, peaceable person willing to engage in a civilized debate. King continued in that vein. Debrabander does not.
But there is an unfortunate lesson playing out for those who have armed themselves to feel safer—and for all of us, too. The gun-rights movement has worked hard to push an increasingly radical agenda that undermines both our personal safety and our civic fabric. To that extent, there is something almost tragic occurring here: The well-meaning citizens who arm themselves in droves, perhaps even in public, are in that very process threatening the peace and order they seek to preserve, and claim to uphold.
Radical. I don’t think that word mean what Debrabander thinks it means. Well, what he wants it to mean. Fresh out of the gate he’s implying that gun rights advocates are extremists. Because guns are a bad, bad thing – and getting worse! For you, for me, for society. Gun owners asserting their Second Amendment protections and – gasp! – carrying guns in public are on the road to hell, though it be paved with good intentions. And they’re dragging the whole country with them. Allegedly.
Stand Your Ground laws are a prime example. These laws, which the NRA has championed in almost two-dozen states, are a logical extension of gun rights from the private home into the public sphere. What good is it to carry a gun in public if you are not also legally protected when using it in self-defense—or perceived self-defense? How are guns supposed to deter criminals if gun owners are legally hindered from wielding their weapons? Stand Your Ground removes these legal barriers so that people can better protect themselves.
“Perceived self-defense.” The trap is set.
But this also has social consequences. Thanks to Stand Your Ground, citizens must now fear their armed neighbors in addition to prospective criminals. What if someone who spies you walking down the street thinks you look suspicious? What if you become a target for would-be George Zimmermans? Or what if the man you argue with, or potentially insult or offend, even unintentionally, is armed and irascible—and the argument escalates?
And we’re off! Off into the world of gun control, where Stand Your Ground laws allow gun owners to target and, yes, shoot law-abiding fellow citizens. You and I know that’s not the case. Stand Your Ground laws remove the legal obligation to retreat in the face of a credible, imminent threat of death or grievous bodily harm.
Debrabander’s proof that SYG spells the death of us all? George Zimmerman. A man who didn’t claim Stand Your Ground in his defense, who was pronounced innocent of all charges by a jury of his peers. And, I might add, the United States Department of Justice. He further suggests that armed Americans are all potential killers, despite the fact that millions of Floridians, millions of Americans, are armed in their own defense and don’t shoot anyone – no matter how irascible they may be.
It’s the “rivers of blood” anti-gun agitprop approach. A theory which isn’t borne out by the facts. Despite misleading polls, gun ownership — indeed concealed carry — has been increasing dramatically in the last few years. Again, violent crime is down. If you remove urban gang bangers from the stats, it’s an even more dramatic drop. While there are plenty of anecdotes of firearms-related crimes by “average” people, statistically speaking, armed Americans are not a problem. Period.
The latter possibility was chillingly illustrated in a movie theater in Tampa last year, when retired police captain Curtis Reeves shot and killed Chad Oulson after the two had argued, and Oulson threw popcorn in Reeves’ face. Reeves initially invoked Stand Your Ground, claiming he did not know if Oulson meant him bodily harm. Florida’s Stand Your Ground law protects gun owners if they so much as sense the threat of bodily harm. In the darkened movie theater, Reeves said he could not tell the nature of his assailant’s weapon—he didn’t know that Oulson was only throwing popcorn. In a Stand Your Ground society, it makes sense to suspect your neighbor—and fear the worst.
That last sentence blows my mind. Debrabander is defending Captain Reeves’ actions. Reeves’ trial has yet to reach its conclusion, but I don’t know one gun owner who thinks it’s OK to shoot someone who throws popcorn at him. Debrabander is wrong, wrong, wrong to suggest that one must merely “sense” the threat of bodily harm to shoot someone legally.
As stated above, as enshrined in law throughout this land, a threat must be imminent and credible. A jury will decide whether or not Reeves had good cause to believe his life was in danger. Meanwhile, the idea that it’s OK to gun down someone simply because you “sense” someone’s about to do you harm, that “sensibility” faces the “reasonable person” standard imposed by the police, the District Attorney, the prosecution, the judge and, ultimately, the jury in a court of law. Just like George Zimmerman.
The gun-rights movement claims it is a staunch defender of the peace, contributing to and bolstering law and order. As gun rights are currently advanced, nothing could be further from the truth.
Because I said so? Just so.
Increasingly, gun-rights advocates like National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre offer dystopian warnings to make their case. In November, LaPierre wrote a letter to NRA members—fittingly entitled “Is Chaos at our Door?”—outlining this vision. “[T]he world that surrounds us is growing more dangerous all the time,” he warned. “Whether it’s enemy state actors, foreign terrorists, Mexican drug cartels or domestic criminals, the threats Americans face are massive—and growing.” He invoked massive terrorist attacks like those in Mumbai in 2008 or Kenya in 2013, hordes of armed and violent gangs that “are embedded coast to coast,” and an influx of illegal immigrants with criminal backgrounds. LaPierre complained that the government had detained and then “intentionally released 36,000 illegal aliens” with criminal records. “Where all these released criminals went,” he wrote, “no one knows. But you can bet on this: They’re among us, embedded throughout our society. For all you know, you pass them in your car on your way to work.
LaPierre’s argument for being armed boils down to this: Americans are on the verge of—or already sinking into—a state of anarchy, where it is each man for himself. In that state, “the government can’t—or won’t—protect you…Only you can protect you,” he warns.
LaPierre’s warnings are certainly strong, but what part of what he says is factually incorrect? How well did the Feds do in protecting the innocents slaughtered during 911? Or curbing gang warfare in cities like Chicago and Oakland? What protection did they, do they offer where the rubber meets the road?
Not to mention the fact that the police have no legal obligation to protect us? Didn’t Debrander himself begin his dietribe [sic] by asking “What if you are faced with a menacing home intruder and police are far away? In that situation, it makes good sense to be armed.” How far away is far away?
The cumulative effect of these efforts is a society where security must be upheld or enforced by individual gun owners, who could misperceive what justice demands in any given situation. Our police have a hard enough time with this task. Consider the controversies in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island last year, where unarmed black men, implicated in minor crimes, died because police used excessive force. Police chiefs are generally critical of the profusion of privately held arms and laws that embolden gun owners to wield their weapons in public. Gun-rights advocates like to argue that ordinary citizens should be armed in public on the premise that they can halt shootings or crimes in progress. This argument is often summed up by LaPierre’s claim that “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” If only the “bad guys with a gun” advertised themselves as such, or the “good guys with a gun” acted that way in all circumstances.
Debrabander is mischaracterizing the Michael Brown case where, again, a court and the Justice Department both concluded that his killing was a lawful case of self-defense – not “excessive” police force. The writer’s slam against LaPierre’s “good guy with a gun” assertion, stating that it’s darn near impossible to tell the players without a scorecard, flies in the face of the facts. Yes, his vaunted police shoot the wrong person. More often than armed non-LEO armed citizens. In fact, I haven’t run across a single example of a mistaken defensive shooting by a non-LEO in five years.
More than that – much more – Debrabander makes no mention whatsoever of the tens of thousands of examples of successful defensive gun uses by armed Americans. It’s a glaring omission. So obvious one must wonder if Debrabander left out this inconvenient truth on purpose, knowing that it torpedoes his entire premise: that armed Americans (who aren’t criminals) are a danger to society. They most decidedly are not. Not on balance and not in any statistically significant way.
LaPierre’s Manichean universe, neatly divided between forces of good and evil, bears little resemblance to our messy real world. Consider the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson, where Jared Loughner shot Representative Gabrielle Giffords in the head at a constituent meeting outside a Tucson shopping center. After attacking the congresswoman, who survived her grievous injury, Loughner shot eighteen people and killed six. It turns out there was an armed citizen present at the shooting—and he drew his gun, ready to shoot the attacker. However, he identified the wrong man and nearly pulled the trigger on an innocent bystander. Luckily, he did not.
Hello? Joe Zamudio didn’t shoot the wrong person. Surely that backs-up the contention that armed Americans aren’t a danger. The fact that he could have is neither here nor there. An armed American could shoot the wrong person. But they could also run over someone in their car. Or poison them accidentally. By any sensible metric, firearms owners pose no threat to innocent life. The only case that can be made against them is anecdotal. And if this is the best Debrabander’s got, a case where nothing happens, what does that tell you about his thesis?
Another favorite gun rights saying is that “when seconds count, police are minutes away.” In other words, it’s better to have a gun on you, or an armed ‘good guy’ in the midst of a shooting, when police cannot arrive soon enough. But first responders arrived at the scene of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting within three minutes of the first police radio broadcast of the attack. Police arrived on the scene at the Aurora movie theater 90 seconds after being called. How small ought that window be to satisfy gun-rights advocates? Perhaps it can’t be small enough. In their view, guns must be ever-present if society hopes to keep order. This logic implicitly undermines law enforcement’s role in society. The world is just too dangerous, it argues, and cops are outmanned and outgunned (again, thanks to the NRA’s efforts). Armed citizens are therefore needed to fill those gaps when cops are not present—no matter how small or short those gaps may be—in order to keep the peace.
In pushing this agenda, the gun-rights movement mistakenly urges supporters to think that public order rests upon overt shows of force. In a democracy, however, peace is founded on rule of law.
At this point, Debrabander’s rant is slipping into incoherence. As hard as it is to believe, he’s arguing that the police response to the Sandy Hook and Aurora slaughter was sufficient. And that ayone who thinks that they need an armed response to a mass shooter at the moment the killing begins or, hopefully, before, is undermining the rule of law. That’s just crazy talk.
Speaking of irrational thought, I’m not quite sure why Debrabander chose to italicize the words overt show of force. Surely that’s an exact description of police openly carrying firearms. You know: good guys with guns.
The rule of law is essential for maintaining the peace in civil society. It is also an act of faith: People presume and trust that everyone else around them will act lawfully and safely. For example, I must presume that the driver in front of me will obey the laws of the road; I must also presume that he will not, Mad Max-style, swerve around to aim a rifle at me and start firing. If people know others around them are armed, they may grow suspicious of each other, restrict their dealings with one another, or, in some circumstances, not deal with them at all. An over-armed society is a recipe for widespread mistrust and suspicion, with dire consequences for the vibrancy of civil society.
What pray tell is an “over-armed society”? Where does Debrabander draw the line? Probably the same place that Everytown for Gun Safety and its ilk draw the line (if they would but admit it): at anything less than complete civilian disarmament. Anyway, facts. Here’s the rundown of states with the highest percentage of gun owners [via usliberals.about.com no less]:
- 1. Wyoming – 59.7%
- 2. Alaska – 57.8%
- 3. Montana – 57.7%
- 4. South Dakota – 56.6%
- 5. West Virginia – 55.4%
- 6. Mississippi – 55.3%
- 6. Idaho – 55.3%
- 6. Arkansas – 55.3%
- 9. Alabama – 51.7%
- 10. North Dakota – 50.7%
Do these strike you as states where residents are “suspicious of each other, restrict their dealings with one another, or, in some circumstances, not deal with them at all”? Any more than any other state, I mean.
Gun-rights advocates typically consider themselves staunch conservatives. But it is worth reminding them that it is a bedrock principle of conservatism that a free society requires strong rule of law and that citizens must do all they can to ensure it and strengthen it. Milton Friedman argued that the duties and reach of government extend no further than articulating the law, making sure it is heeded, adjudicating differences between citizens, and prosecuting offenses against them. Beyond that, Friedman affirms, government should let the law and market do its work, with the compliance of free and rational citizens.
What part of that is incompatible with gun ownership?
. . . this clashes with gun-rights advocates’ worldview. They imagine some kind of libertarian paradise where government retreats—where law remains widely acknowledged and respected—and individual gun owners are free to enforce the law if and when they deem it necessary. But [conservative English political theorist Michael] Oakeshott understands that an armed and potentially violent public only goads the government into action and force. Law enforcement knows that gun owners may use their weapons recklessly, and prepares itself accordingly. Oakeshott’s strongest point is that an over-armed society makes government bigger, more intrusive, and more aggressive in carrying out its vested duty of maintaining order. It goads government, and the law enforcement officials who work for it, towards arbitrary shows of power and force. In this way, too, the gun rights movement makes its wishes and warnings come true. The NRA says citizens must be armed to combat government tyranny. But an over-armed society ensures that government will be anything but restrained.
Blaming gun owners (specifically the NRA) for “goading” excessive police/government force isn’t the stupidest anti-gun argument I’ve ever encountered but it’s certainly in the top ten. As John Basil Barnhill (not Thomas Jefferson) said, “Where the people fear the government you have tyranny. Where the government fears the people you have liberty.” Show me an example of an “under-armed” society where liberty is not dying, dead or in danger of extinction. And brother, I lived in the UK.
A common feature of the many police shootings perpetrated over the last year, and highlighted in the media during and after Ferguson, is that police now assume their suspects to be armed. Given the state of affairs the NRA has fostered, this may be a prudent and understandable assumption. But it also means police are instinctively cautious, hostile, and all too ready to use their weapons against ordinary citizens. In an over-armed society, we may also expect to see a steady uptick in the number of cases involving police brutality or excessive force. And then, as the NRA would have it, the government is most fully and clearly the people’s enemy, too.
Debrabander’s conclusion is the dictionary definition of scurrilous: defamatory, libelous, scandalous, insulting, offensive and gross. Bone-headed? That too. If Debrabander seriously believes that law-abiding armed Americans are “goading” the police into lawless brutality and excessive force by their very presence, he’s living in a world of his own imagination. Meanwhile, back in the real world, armed Americans are defending themselves, their families, their community and our Constitutional republic. Any other interpretation is simply anti-gun animus wrapped in cold, calculating nonsense.