Loose Canons

The Duty of Self-Defense

Ignoring the lessons we should have learned from the Aurora and previous massacres.

By 7.23.12

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The movie theater slaughter in Aurora, Colorado last Friday cost at least 12 people their lives, and scores of others were injured, some of whom may yet die. The reactions to it, from liberals and some conservatives, have been assiduously ignoring the lessons we should have learned from this incident and those like it in the past.

Liberals react by condemning the NRA, calling for more gun control, and engaging in an orgy of political hand-wringing. The vacuity of the gun control debate was illustrated all too well by the exchange between Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) yesterday on Fox News Sunday.

Di-Fi called for a reinstatement of the so-called "assault weapons ban" she authored in 1994. She said that Holmes's weapon, apparently an AR-15 rifle with a 100-round magazine, was a weapon of war that shouldn't be sold in America. Di-Fi believes that massacres occur because the high-capacity rifle and pistol magazines (by her definition, those that hold more than ten cartridges) are in Americans' hands. Millions are, though probably fewer than a dozen have been used by the mass murderers.

Johnson, in response, pointed out that Holmes could have killed just as many people with a bomb. But his conclusion -- that there's nothing society can do to prevent more massacres in the future -- is as nonsensical as Di-Fi's idea that the availability of the high-capacity magazines is the cause of mass murders.

In 1966, Charles Whitman killed 16 people at the University of Texas with a hunting rifle. In the Columbine High School massacre of 1999, which took 12 lives, the killers used a variety of weapons including a semi-automatic pistol, a shotgun, and a carbine. The 2007 Virginia Tech shootings took 33 lives, and the shooter didn't have an "assault rifle" (a term susceptible to no precise definition, as the now-expired assault weapons ban showed). Islamist Nidal Hassan killed 13 with a pistol in the Fort Hood 2009 massacre. Six died in the 2011 shootings that injured Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson, the shooter again using a pistol. Now Holmes has allegedly killed a dozen people using a rifle with a high-capacity magazine while tossing tear gas grenades into the crowd. He was reportedly wearing some Kevlar body armor and carrying one or more pistols and a shotgun.

There are several facts these mass murders have in common. The least important is that they were all committed with firearms.

The two most important facts are that all the shooters were mentally ill and that in all of the incidents -- except the Texas Tower massacre in which Whitman shot from too high a vantage point to be vulnerable to his victims -- these mass murders could have been limited or even prevented by people defending themselves.

As Charles Krauthammer pointed out, states' concern for civil liberties has resulted in a situation in which it has become almost impossible to commit mentally ill people without their consent. Even in cases such as that of the Virginia Tech shooter, people who are known to suffer from dangerous mental conditions are left on the streets. The Army had ample warning about Nidal Hassan. The fact that it ignored the warning signs because he is a Muslim should be a national scandal.

The Constitution's Bill of Rights was crafted to protect the individual citizen from tyranny. The Founders didn't trust government and neither should we. The Second Amendment, we know from the Supreme Court's D.C. v. Heller decision, protects individuals' right to keep and bear arms. The court emphasized that the right to self-defense can be thwarted by law such as those it overturned. The Fifth Amendment says that no person can be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.

That means, in the case of the mentally ill, that they must be protected from the kind of politically-generated diagnosis of mental illness prevalent in Soviet Russia and many other despotisms. But that is not to say that we shouldn't make it easier -- a lot easier -- to involuntarily commit dangerous people to mental institutions and deny them, as best we can, the ability to purchase or possess guns.

All of the shooters in these incidents were mentally ill by our standards. (The Fort Hood shooter, Maj. Hassan, was acting out of his religious-ideological beliefs. He will have to abandon his beliefs to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.) Some were not yet determined to be insane. Universities and state governments should be changing their rules and laws to make it easier and faster to identify the dangerous mentally ill and get them off the streets.

For the rest of us, we have to rethink our right of self-defense. It's a right that has become a duty.

Picture yourself in the Fort Hood building, in a Virginia Tech classroom, standing near Gabby Giffords in Tucson or in that movie theater on Friday night. You're working or studying or out for a fun time. Suddenly, there's someone shooting at you and those near you. You're helpless unless you're armed and well trained to respond with deadly force.

If you're not a cop -- and if you're following the rules that were in place at Fort Hood or in that movie theater (thanks to the army in one case and the theater owner who prohibited guns in the theater in the other) -- you're unarmed. All you can do is run or hug the floor, shielding your spouse or date with your body and possibly sacrificing your own life in the process. You may be lucky enough to be uninjured and close to the shooter when he pauses to reload. In the Tucson incident, one lady who found herself in that situation began a wrestling match with the shooter which others joined, subduing him and ending his shooting spree.

Regardless of where you stand or lie or run, the incident will be over by the time the police arrive. You, your spouse, and friends will either have survived or been killed or injured.

I've heard a lot of "experts" (including Di-Fi) proclaim that if people in the Aurora theater had been armed, the massacre would have resulted in more deaths and injuries. Really? There reportedly were 71 people killed or injured. I can say with considerable assurance that if one or more properly trained and armed people were there, they could have shot and either incapacitated or killed the shooter long before he finished his killing spree. Even with a small concealable pistol a trained shooter could have knocked down, disabled, or killed the shooter despite his body armor. Had someone done so, the casualty list would have been much shorter.

The police won't be there in time to save you. If the only thing you have in your hand is a bag of popcorn and a killer begins shooting the crowd you -- and your spouse and children and friends -- will probably die. Every American who is lawfully entitled to carry a weapon has a duty to do so. Part of that duty is to get the training and to continue to practice with the weapon so that you can shoot, quickly and accurately, under the worst stress you can imagine. If you don't think so, read Dave Grossman's essay, "Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs."

Gun control advocates are pointing the section of the Heller decision that says that some restrictions on gun ownership can be constitutional. The liberals now are saying that "sensible" or "moderate" new gun control laws are the answer, reserving the definition of those terms to themselves. But no gun control law will stop the killers. Chicago has some of the most stringent gun control laws in the nation and it's now the murder capital of the country.

Each of us can, and must, resolve ourselves to our duty of self-defense. We cannot rely on the government to defend us every minute of the day. We have to accept our duty and do our best to perform it.

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About the Author
Jed Babbin served as a Deputy Undersecretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. He is the author of several bestselling books including Inside the Asylum and In the Words of Our Enemies. He is coauthor (with Herbert London) of the new book The BDS War Against Israel. You can follow him on Twitter@jedbabbin.