- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 10, 2006

Monday, May 29, marked a milestone in citizen-response to crime. An ex-Marine fought off muggers who cornered him on an Atlanta street. (The Washington Times, May 31) Five people — armed with a shotgun, pistol, and brass knuckles — got out of a car and chased Thomas Autry, a former Marine cook who served in the 1991 Gulf war.

Evidently unaware that police advise surrendering to armed thieves, Mr. Autry kicked the shotgun away from one assailant and stabbed two with his pocketknife when they jumped on him. His attackers fled, but police found them at a nearby hospital — Amy Martin, 17, dead of her wounds and Christopher Daniel, 17, in critical condition. Mr. Daniel and three other teens were charged with aggravated assault and armed robbery. Police said Mr. Autry “acted in fear for his life” and will not be charged.

Mr. Autry, who sustained minor injuries, is not culpable. But he told reporters he wasn’t a hero: “It was either fight or flight. I tried the flight, but they caught me. If I could rewind it back and not have it come out the way it did, I would. But I can’t.”

Those willful teens sought an easy mark. Instead, they found a Marine who looked down the barrel of a gun and resisted. They became statistics instead of creating one. But Mr. Autry’s future is still cloudy. A lawsuit by the family of the girl he killed defending himself is possible.

In 1984, Bernard Goetz shot four young blacks on a New York subway train. The youths claimed they had merely “asked” Mr. Goetz for $5, but he said he fired after one boy brandished a sharpened screwdriver. No one died, but Darrell Cabey was paralyzed when a bullet struck him in the spine. (The “panhandlers” said Mr. Goetz shot Cabey again after wounding all of them.)

“The Subway Vigilante” beat the attempted murder charge, but got 8 months in prison for gun-possession. In 1996 Darrell Cabey sued Mr. Goetz and won a $43 million judgment. The jury found the defendant “acted recklessly and deliberately inflicted emotional distress on the plaintiff.” As Mr. Goetz had limited means, the court attached 10 percent of his wages for 20 years.

In 1993 Colin Ferguson shot 25 people (killing six) on a Long Island Railroad car. Passengers subdued him when he tried to reload. Refusing the insanity defense, he got 200 years in prison for the murders.

Remarkably, no one in that crowded car was armed and able to deal with the killer. Later, I wondered if some passenger was armed, but delayed using his weapon until he was threatened. We’ll never know, but New York doesn’t really approve of self-defense.

In 1995, an “enraged” young man at a Northern Virginia convenience store beat a female clerk senseless while customers watched but did nothing. (Commentators who raged about apathetic bystanders must have missed the Vigilante case.) At the time, I imagined a bystander’s thoughts:

This guy is nuts. He’s probably armed, too. Jeez, I’ve got to get home for supper and my kid’s ballgame. If I intervene, I could get stabbed or even shot. That would mean a trip to the hospital, no ballgame, and no supper tonight maybe never, if I end up dead. Besides, if I brain him with a wine bottle I might become Bernard Goetz II. I’m sorry about this, but it’s not my problem.”

But maybe the times are a-changin’. In 2002, three students subdued a Nigerian student who had shot and killed two faculty members and a student (and wounded three others) at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va. A small but telling fact — included by only six of the 100-plus papers reporting the story — was that two of the three students who subdued the gunman were armed. Hearing the shots, they ran to their cars for weapons, then returned to disarm the killer.

Most of the over 100 newsmen never mentioned the armed student’s details. It was a “media conspiracy of silence”: 2.5 million crimes a year foiled by armed citizens are “an inconvenient truth” rarely spoken of by the media. Research shows criminals fear the “armed mark” far more than they fear police intervention.

Only Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois and Wisconsin still deny citizens permission to carry a concealed weapon. California, New York, Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware issue limited numbers of weapon-permits. All others will issue a permit to a citizen with a clean record. Alaska and Vermont let citizens carry a weapon without a permit.

Gun-opponents try to twist the data, but right-to-carry laws reduce crime. (Criminals want easy pickings, not the OK Corral.) Ten states with the lowest crime rates all have right-to-carry laws. Hysterical predictions of Dodge City on street-corners have so obviously not occurred that antigun activists have stopped making them.

Over the last 20 years, the national firearm death rate has actually declined, while firearm ownership has doubled and 22 states have passed right-to-carry laws. Gun-related accidents have not increased in right-to-carry states.

Even the perverse milieu of mass shootings shows the salutary effect of right-to-carry laws. Why have such events happened at schools? Because even crazed young killers can see a school offers certainly unarmed victims, whereas you could get zapped by some pistol-packin’ grandma if you start blasting at the mall.

Thomas Autry didn’t have a firearm but he was armed with something more important — an attitude of resistance. When push came to shove, his assailants got more than they bargained for. An aroused citizenry is the greatest proof against tyranny — including the tyranny of crime.


Author of a weekly column, “At Large,” in the Atlantic Highlands Herald, an Internet newspaper.

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