It has been said time and again, but it bears repeating: About the only thing that restrictive gun laws have done in our country is prevent the good guys from defending themselves when bad guys attack. This maxim applies directly to the San Bernardino, California, situation, an immense tragedy in which fourteen innocent people were gunned down by a married couple with Islamic extremist allegiances.
California has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation, including a ban on assault rifles of the type that were used in the San Bernardino attacks. But that did not stop terrorists from obtaining the weapons illegally and using them on defenseless citizens. This sad story has repeated itself in numerous instances of mass shootings around the nation, from an elementary school in Newtown, Massachusetts to Umpqua Community College in Oregon.
However, the tide is starting to turn. Washington, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said in a recent “60 Minutes” interview that because deaths in mass shootings usually occur in the first few minutes (before first responders have a chance to arrive on the scene), members of the public should protect themselves by any means at their disposal, whether that means running away or trying to overpower the attacker. Chief Lanier’s statement is a stark departure from the usual advice given by law enforcement: stand by and wait for the police to arrive. But in the age of the suicide terrorist or mass shooter that advice is no longer applicable. People have to do whatever they can to protect themselves, even if that means killing an attacker.
On the other side of the debate, you have gun control advocates who argue that mass shootings are made more possible by permissive gun laws that allow deadly weapons to get into the hands of criminals. But that flies in the face of the obvious facts. Case in point is the city of Chicago, which has one of the highest murder rates of any major city in the U.S., while at the same time boasting some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation. Not only have thousands of people died by gun violence in Chicago over the past few years, police and first responders have rarely if ever prevented an active shooter from taking out innocent citizens.
Chicago has a concealed carry law that permits citizens to apply for a license to bear arms. However, the approval process is shrouded in secrecy. The city’s Concealed Carry Licensing Review Board is being inundated by lawsuits over its refusal to issue licenses to law abiding citizens. The suits allege that the review process violates citizens’ constitutional rights to due process because it is conducted entirely in secret, does not provide a reason for refusal, and provides no administrative appeals process once a person’s application is denied. The kicker, of course, is that these restrictive laws disproportionately affect African-American applicants with no criminal records, many of whom have military backgrounds indicating that they would be responsible license holders. One wonders whether this process has in fact been designed specifically to prohibit inner-city blacks from bearing arms and upholding their Second Amendment rights. This would not be the first time gun regulations have been used to selectively discriminate against inner city residents — people who are arguably most in need of protection.
We have to change our orientation towards bearing arms and realize that the nation’s founders enumerated the right to bear arms in the U.S. Constitution for a good reason. With proper training, guns can be our friend, and offer protection for our homes and families. People need to know, for example, that even in jurisdictions like Washington, D.C., there is a concealed carry licensing process that has been in place since 2008. It requires that one’s firearm be registered and the carrier licensed. The licensing process requires training on the operation of firearms as well as the self-defense laws and situational awareness training. Many people may not be aware of this, but the D.C. law has a lot in common with Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ laws. In D.C., for example, there is no duty to retreat from a threat. You are justified in using deadly force if warranted to protect your own life, or even the life of a third party. The process for learning your rights and obtaining a legal carry permit can often be expensive and time-consuming, but when it comes to protecting one’s life and the safety of one’s family, it is a duty we have to embrace.
Race and socio-economic background definitely play a role in the process of responsible gun ownership. Firstly, financial requirements to get through the licensing and registration process can be daunting. For someone with no prior training, it might cost upwards of $1,000 to get all the necessary training and certification (in New York it can cost up to $11,000). The second barrier is generally time. Training courses are demanding and require dedication to mastering the basics. The third thing is background, meaning if people have been involved in law enforcement issues in their youth, that might hinder them from being licensed in the future. In the immediate aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting, gun sales have skyrocketed all across the United States. People are looking to protect themselves and their families. In this day and time a knife won’t help you, but a gun just might. People feel more empowered when they have learned how to defend themselves. It is a deeply held American sentiment that to be robbed of one’s safety and security is paramount to living under tyranny. And that is something we just won’t stand for.
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