“Assault Weapons” and Self Defense

When gun rights advocates bring up self-defense as a valid reason for gun ownership, a response we often hear is, “Why do you need an AR-15 for self-defense?  Why would anyone need more than 10 rounds?”

I will attempt to answer these questions, because I think there are some misconceptions about firearms and how they are effectively used in self defense.

First, the AR-15 platform, as I’ve discussed numerous times, does not fire faster than semi-automatic hunting rifles, it does not fire bigger bullets than them.  What it does do is provide an easily accessorized, ergonomic, low-recoil platform from which one can easily practice with and shoot with great accuracy.

Some people, particularly smaller framed women, have difficulty shooting handguns or shotguns in self-defense.  For these people, a low-recoil rifle platform is the ideal defensive weapon.  The goal is to give the law abiding citizen options in order for them to be able to select the best defensive weapon for their needs.

As far as magazine size is concerned, our police officers are armed with 13-17 round magazines in their handguns, and 30 round magazines in their AR-15′s.  They face the same criminal element as we do.  The reason we equip our officers like this is because we want them to have the best equipment available to help to keep them alive.  Why would we not want the option to have the best equipment to defend our lives?  Are our lives not worth just as much as that of a police officer?

Many people argue that for home defense, the odds of needing that kind of firepower is very low.  That may be true, but shouldn’t we be allowed to prepare for the worst?  The threat is not non-existent.  There are news stories of home invasions by multiple armed people who were repelled by these weapons.  And, even if these weapons were overkill for the situation we might be faced with, when it comes to our lives and possibly getting shot, why wouldn’t we want to stack our deck with aces?  The point behind defending one’s home from a criminal element is not to give them a fair fight, the point is to come out alive. Why should we not have the best technology possible to achieve that goal?

I am not asking for the legalization of explosives or machine guns.  I am not saying we should arm ourselves equal to the military.  However, shouldn’t we at least have the same options to protect ourselves as the police, who we expect to defend us from the same criminal elements?

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Assault Weapons Explained

I have spent a lot of time and energy having to explain to non-gun owners what the media and the law considers an “assault weapon,” and why banning them doesn’t make any sense.

Let’s start with this picture:

Ruger-10-22

This is a Ruger 10/22 Rifle.  It shoots one of the smallest rounds available on the market, the .22 Long Rifle.  This round is generally used for target practice and small game hunting, and is generally considered a poor choice for self-defense.  It shoots 1 shot per pull of the trigger.  And, everyone, the media, the military, and the government, all agree that this is not an assault weapon.

Now, let’s look at this picture:

Ruger-10-22_Pistol_Grip

According to the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, this is an assault rifle.  If it is used in a crime, the police and media would report it as an assault weapon.  So, what is this gun?  It is also a Ruger 10/22 rifle.  Same caliber, same rate of fire, it is functionally identical.

The gun in the 2nd picture has 2 of the features that the law and the media have deemed to make it an assault weapon.

Ruger-10-22_Pistol_Grip_Circled

The first feature is an adjustable stock.  The reason why someone might want an adjustable stock is simply because people are different sizes, and if multiple people were to want to use the same weapon (let’s say a father who takes his son hunting, or a husband and wife who go the range together), the adjustable stock allows the weapon to rest comfortably in the shoulder of the person using it.  But, for some unexplainable reason, according to gun control advocates, this is dangerous and must be banned.

The second feature is a pistol grip.  The pistol grip is also an ergonomic improvement.  Without one, a user would grip the weapon by the stock in order to fire it.  This is often uncomfortable.  According to gun control advocates, this attempt to relieve discomfort must be stopped at once.

Make no mistake, the gun control lobby’s new proposed ban is essentially the same thing.  They label these ergonomic features “military characteristics”, but they are essentially simply advances in ergonomics.  There is nothing inherently “military” about being able to adjust the stock of the gun so that it is more comfortable to someone abnormally tall or short.

AR-15_pre-banThis is an AR-15.  The media and lawmakers both label this as an assault weapon.  Let’s go over this weapon real quick.  Caliber?  .223 Remington (or alternative, 5.56mm NATO).  If you’re not knowledgeable about guns, let’s talk about the caliber real quick.  .22 vs .223 is not a big difference in size.  The difference is only .003 inches.  The .223 Remington is a much faster moving round (and looks much bigger not because the bullet is much bigger, but because there is more gunpowder), but it is still only used to hunt smaller game, and some hunters consider the .223 Remington to be inhumane when used to hunt dear because it is more likely to only injure and not kill the deer outright.  Most hunters use much bigger caliber rounds to hunt bigger game such as deer.

Other than the minor caliber difference and the ergonomic differences, what is the functional difference between this gun and the first one?  Essentially none.

So, why is this AR-15 an assault weapon?  Because it contains 2 features that the government has labeled “military characteristics”.  The first, like the Ruger, is the pistol grip.  The second is the bayonet mount.  Now, I do agree that a bayonet mount is a military characteristic, but are gun control advocates really trying to argue that an AR-15 is significantly more dangerous due to its bayonet mount?  During the ban, the exact same gun shown above was manufactured, except without a place to mount the bayonet.

The legislation that gun control advocates are attempting to introduce (led by Senator Feinstein) reintroduces the same restrictions, while at the same time “exempting 900 specifically named weapons used for hunting or sporting purposes”.  Think about it this way.  If there are 900 different models of firearms that have these same ergonomic features that they are exempting, are these features really that deadly?  And if not, why ban the features?  Perhaps the manufacturers of those 900 models specifically exempted stand to cash in when their competitor products get outlawed?

I find it hard to believe anyone other than a politician can claim in the same breath that certain features are dangerous and must be banned while at the same time exempting 900 specific models that contain those features.  The truth is, none of the these features make weapons more dangerous, and none of them should be banned.

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Why do we have the 2nd amendment?

When I see gun rights advocates debating with other people, one argument comes up repeatedly from other gun rights advocates that frustrate me.  I have often see this statement used to by gun rights advocates: “I don’t need to justify why the law you’re proposing is bad.  The 2nd amendment says shall not be infringed.  That’s the only justification I need.”

Yes, I understand that’s what the amendment says, and yes I understand that under a strict reading of that amendment, whatever law that the other person was proposing is unconstitutional.  But, by not defending the your position on its merits, and instead relying on the 2nd amendment to do your work for you, all you’ve done in their eyes is given them a justification for repealing the amendment.

The original Constitution stated that slaves counted as 3/5 of a person.  When that phrase became obsolete, we amended and removed it.  The fight for gun rights, at its heart, is a fight to show that the 2nd amendment is not obsolete in the modern world.  Otherwise, it’s not only the laws passed by Congress we have to worry about, it’s the existence of the amendment itself.  Whether that amendment is repealed or made irrelevant by the courts, it’s critical we don’t allow either to happen.

So, our job is to convince as many people as possible that the 2nd amendment is relevant to the modern world.  It doesn’t matter why that person thinks it’s relevant, only that they believe that it is, so that we have their support using it as the cornerstone to affect positive changes to gun rights in this country.  If they think the amendment exists for self-defense, how does it help our cause to tell them they are wrong?  We need to stop correcting people who believe that.  I don’t care that the founders passed it to protect us from the government.  I’ll take their support either way.

This is why, especially when the facts are on our side, we need to fight bad legislation using those facts instead falling back on the 2nd amendment.  Because when we present the stronger argument than anti-gun people, we can strengthen the 2nd amendment by saying, “And this is why the 2nd amendment exists, to protect us as a society from misguided attempts at gun control such as this one.”

Anti-gun people such as Piers Morgan are getting more and more desperate.  They know they do not have the facts on their side, so their only solution is to shout down people who disagree with them.  Study up on the facts, present your case calmly, and let them make fools of themselves.  Don’t take the bait of not defending the 2nd amendment on the facts.  The facts show we are a better country because of it.

 

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Gun Control: The “Europe” Argument

One common argument brought up by gun control proponents is the idea that Western Europe, particularly England, has lower gun murder rates than here in the United States.  This article is to help gun rights advocates respond in an educated manner to this argument, because while the statement is true, it is flawed on a number of fronts.

First, people will claim that England has had only 1 mass shooting in recent history, while the United States has had many of them.  They are referring to the Cumbria shootings in 2010, when a gunman killed 12 people and injured 11 more.

A couple of facts need to be mentioned to bring this into perspective.  England has 53 million people, while the United States has 311 million people.  I think this picture makes my point clear.

North America eats Europe.

North America eats Europe.

In order to compare mass shootings between Europe and the United States, you have to essentially include the entire continent of Europe to get a fair comparison.

If you’re wondering how many mass shootings the United States has had versus Europe right now, you’re asking the right question.

The answer?  Using the FBI’s definition, meaning shootings where 4 or more people are killed, between 2001 and 2010, Europe has had 13, the United States has had 7.

That’s right, Europe, whose countries have much more stringent gun control laws across the board, has had more mass shootings than we have had.  In fact, the numbers match up with overall population numbers almost exactly.  This means that you’re going to have about the same percentage of crazy people anywhere you go, and those crazy people are going to be able to get their hands on guns no matter what your laws are at about the same rate.

Now, they will say that England has a murder rate of 1.2 per 100,000, while the United States has a murder rate of 4.8 per 100,000, 4 times more.  This is also true (if they claim the difference is more, they’re incorrect).  However, their murder rate has been much lower than ours for over a century.  In fact, their murder rate went up from 1.5 to to 2.1 in the 6 years following their gun ban.  This means that their gun ban cannot possibly be the cause of their lower murder rate.  Some other factor (cultural, economic, access to health care) must be the actual reason.

When you dig a little deeper into the facts surrounding the “Europe” argument, one quickly realizes that there’s nothing about Europe that suggests that banning guns is the solution.

If you are asked where the source of this information comes from, here is a set of sources for you to direct people to:

Murder Rates by Country: United Nations

Mass Shootings in Europe: Gun Control and Mass Murders (Published June 2010)

Mass Shootings in the United States: NY Crime Commission (An Anti-Gun Group)

Update 12/19/2012 10:00PM:  Someone pointed out Europe’s population doubles that of the United States.  Yes, this is why I said that Europe’s 13 shootings to the United State’s 7 mirrors population patterns.  Also, the article recounting Europe’s mass shooting limits itself to Western Europe.  If we were to account for Eastern Europe’s shootings, the numbers would skew in favor of the United States.

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“Compromise” on Gun Control

One question I get asked a lot, by both gun control supporters and moderates in general is this: “Why are gun rights advocates not willing to compromise on gun control?  Maybe we don’t ban handguns, but surely people don’t need an AK-47.”

There is a flaw in this line of thinking.  If one side believes in “less government control on guns”, and the other side believes in “more government control on guns”, the “middle” is not “more government control on guns.”  Maintaining the status quo is the compromise.  There are already some gun control laws in place.  What the gun control lobby is asking for when they want to compromise is to split the difference between the status quo and what they want.  “Give us some of what we want while you get nothing” is not a compromise.

Many gun rights advocates are guilty of the same mistake, “I’m asking for machine guns to be legal, but I’m not asking for tanks.  See?  Compromise!”

A “compromise” proposal would sound something like this, “Ok, let’s let teachers carry weapons in schools, but ban AK-47′s.”  If you’re not giving up something to get something, you aren’t compromising.

But to answer the original question, the reason that gun owners aren’t willing to compromise, and I mean really compromise, is because what the gun control lobby asks for doesn’t make sense, and won’t make us safer.

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The Gun Control Debate: Terminology

Gun control advocates ask why pro-gun people are “afraid to talk” about the issue in the aftermath of a mass shooting. For me personally, I think it’s because the media’s misuse of firearm terminology prevents an educated discourse on the subject.

To everyone talking about gun control right now: I am not here to present a case for or against any gun control. But, since you insist on talking about it, can we please get some terminology right?

A Kel-Tec P3AT - A pocket sized semi-automatic firearm

A Kel-Tec P3AT – A pocket sized semi-automatic firearm often used for concealed carry

A “semi-automatic” weapon is a weapon that fires exactly 1 shot for each pull of the trigger. Let’s be clear, semi-automatic weapons are NOT machine guns. Machine guns (automatic weapons) are already banned, and they have been since 1986. A handgun that someone buys to protect their home is a semi-automatic weapon. A small pistol that a woman carries in her purse to protect herself is a semi-automatic weapon. I understand your desire to ban weapons that are “more deadly” than others. We can have a discussion about the finer points of what you think that is. But, the word “semi-automatic” is not the word you’re looking for.

Next, the term “assault weapons”. Assault weapons are also not machine guns (see above). An assault weapon is simply a firearm that *looks like* their military counterpart. The specific definition of an assault weapon (as defined by the 1994 law that expired in 2004) include features such as barrel shrouds, bayonet lugs, and pistol grips. None of these features contribute to how deadly a weapon is, but rather how scary they look. The only feature of the assault weapons ban that had any significance to its killing capacity was the “high capacity magazine” ban, which brings me to my final point.

 

Glock 19 - 33 Round Magazine

A Glock 19 w/ a 33 Round Magazine that extends beyond the frame of the handgun.

The word “high capacity magazine” is another term that is also misused. After the Gifford shooting in Arizona, there was talk about banning “high capacity magazines” because the shooter used 33 round magazines. Yes, 33 round magazines on a Glock 19 is a high capacity magazine. It is an extended magazine, and not the size that the gun is designed for or comes standard with. It also hangs out of the bottom of the firearm and is both unwieldy and looks a little ridiculous.

 

 

Glock 19 - Standard

A Glock 19 used by many police agencies and homeowners, standard capacity, 15 rounds.

However, I don’t understand the why the gun control lobby has defined “high capacity magazines” as anything more than 10 rounds. That gun (which is the compact model), comes standard with magazines that hold 15 rounds of ammunition. In order to get a 10-round magazine, you have to special order from the manufacturer who has to put a plastic block at the bottom of the magazine to artificially limit the capacity. 10 rounds is not the “normal” capacity for a handgun. Instead, it is a “reduced capacity magazine”. I am open to discussing the dangers versus practical applications of a 33 round magazine, and certainly there are not many people who “need” such an item. But, let’s be clear, the 13-17 round magazine that comes standard on many firearms used by police officers today are not “high capacity”, they are the standard capacity.

Personally, I don’t believe that more gun laws are the solution. But, unlike some of my fellow gun rights advocates, I am not opposed to having a discussion about it, nor am I opposed to a solution that, in the aggregate, results in lives saved. However, please stop throwing proposals out there if you have no idea what you’re talking about.

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Half Baked: Gun Control Advocacy After Shooting Deaths

This past week, NFL football player Jovan Belcher killed 2 people, his girlfriend, then himself, in a tragic murder-suicide that causes everyone to reflect on what his friends, family, and society at large could have done to have prevented this.

It does seem that every time such tragedies occur that gun control advocates lay in wait to use these tragedies as anecdotal evidence as to why we should listen to them.  I understand why.  If you truly feel that banning guns saves lives, I’m sure you find this nation’s relatively pro-gun stance (compared with most other countries) somewhat frustrating.

This is when journalists like Jason Whitlock and sports commentator Bob Costas come in, clamoring for more gun control.  They claim that they support the ownership of guns by law abiding citizens, yet claiming that “If Javon Belcher didn’t have a gun, he and his girlfriend would still be alive today.”  None of these people, of course, presented any kind of solution that simultaneously ensures law abiding citizens have access to the tools necessary to hunt and to protect themselves and their family, while at the same time preventing the possession of such guns from people who would use them to commit crimes or harm themselves.

The reason is their position is hypocrisy.  They want to have their cake and eat it too.  They want the support of both gun owners and gun control advocates.  It’s intellectually dishonest journalism.

Think about it.  Why is it that none of these people have presented any single law that would have simultaneously prevented Javon Belcher from having access to a gun while simultaneously not restricting the rights of law abiding citizens?  Because such a law doesn’t exist.  Passing a law that says, “Crazy people can’t have guns” doesn’t do any good (and in fact, is already law in most states).  A crazy person who is about to commit a murder-suicide isn’t worried about breaking one more law.  Bob Costas knows it, we know it, and yet people like him think they are doing society some kind of favor by yelling for gun control when they know no effective solution exists short of mass disarmament.  But, for fear of upsetting the pro-gun audience, they are too much of a coward to suggest this themselves.

This is why gun control measures that actually get proposed are proposed not by people like Bob Costas, but by people like Mayor Bloomberg.  He has no problem telling you he’s not trying to preserve anyone’s 2nd amendment rights. He just wants to take guns away from people whenever he can.  He doesn’t care whether you’re law abiding or not.  His goal is basically, “We’ll disarm as many people as we can, and if we get lucky, some of those people might be bad.”  And while I disagree with Mayor Bloomberg, and I think his position is harmful to our society, at least he’s honest, I’ll give him that.

Now, some of you might be wondering what’s so bad with his plan.  After all, some of those people might be bad, right?  The problem with this argument is that it only looks at one side of the picture.  Most of those people are good, and some of them might prevent themselves or their family from becoming victims of violent crime when having a gun.

Ok, let’s stop for moment.  If, after reading the last paragraph, you are imagining some sort of scenario where having a gun doesn’t help you because the criminal already has a gun pointed at you, as some sort of rebuttal, you are the person that needs to stop and listen really carefully to what I’m about to say.

Pro-gun people like myself are not claiming that owning or carrying a gun will always prevent you from becoming a victim.  There’s no such thing as a sure thing.  But people need to realize that crimes rarely play out the way you or a criminal might think it would while daydreaming.  Criminals make mistakes.  They let down their guard.  They get distracted.  The point is not that you have a foolproof solution, but being able to meet someone who intends to rape or murder you or your family with equal force gives you options you might not otherwise have.  It changes the odds.  We know this is true because people use firearms in self-defense successfully every day, often in response to criminals who have guns and got the drop on the victim.  Your daydreaming exercise doesn’t change any of that.

As I said in a previous article, even studies done by people who are anti-gun, such as Harvard professor David Hemenway, admits there are hundreds of thousands of defenses uses of firearms every year.  And while Javon Belcher’s death is a terrible tragedy, if we banned guns from the country as a whole, we would be putting hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent lives at risk every day, and we would have on our hands the blood of the people who would’ve been able to defend themselves with a firearm but were instead made victims.

Ultimately, this is the difference between an anti-gun person and a pro-gun person.  The pro-gun person chooses not to ignore the lives if innocent people saved in self-defense.  If a 17 year old gang member breaks into my home, gun in hand, with the intent of robbing me and was willing to shoot me to make a clean getaway, and I manage to defend myself with a handgun, the anti-gun person adds that’s 17 year old’s death to the “number of children killed by a gun” statistic they use to call for more gun control.  The pro-gun person counts that as a life saved.

Preserving life is great, but surely we can all agree that when the choice is between preserving innocent life versus a criminal’s life, than the innocent life should be what we try to save first.

 

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Gun Rights Activists and Open Carry

This past weekend was the GeorgiaCarry.Org annual convention, and during that convention I had a conversation that reminded me of a topic I’ve been meaning to write on.

There was a Doonesbury comic a while back that blasted people who open carry as rude and obnoxious “yahoos.”  I saw many comments from many pro-gun people across the internet who were offended by Gary Trudeau’s comic.  Certainly, I don’t appreciate the insinuation that people who open carry resemble the caricatures in that comic.  However, I think people missed an important message from that comic strip.

An anti-gun lady in the comic sees someone open carrying, and opens up with the line, “Oh god… More open-carry yahoos.”  I’m not offended by that line at all.  In fact, I’m sure it accurately represents the feelings of some people when they see someone openly-carrying a firearm.  But, notice one important thing.  She didn’t gasp and run out of the store.  She didn’t say, “Oh my god!  A gun!”  She didn’t pick up the phone to dial 911.  She reacted with irritation, not fear.

At the end of the day, do I care whether Gary Trudeau likes guns?  Do I care if the lady in the comic does?  Not in the least.  My goal isn’t to get everyone to like guns.  My goal is to get everyone to accept that there are people who carry around them every day.  People are willing to live next to someone they don’t like.  They will fight to not have to live next to someone that they fear.

So, when you see someone who seems annoyed by your openly carried firearm, that’s a win.  Even if you’re surrounded every day by people who hate guns and hate that you carry it, doing so every day will only make them less fearful, and still promotes a positive long term outcome.

This leads to into my next point.  I read a news article where, in a case that the police were clearly in the wrong, the “gun expert,” William Marsh, interviewed in that story stated he was, “personally against openly carrying guns.”  Instead, he says people should get “concealed weapons permits” and, presumably, carry concealed.  He then goes on to say, “People see a gun and go ballistic… There are a lot of bunny huggers out there … as soon as they see a gun they think of death and destruction.”

He is entitled to his opinion that concealed carry is preferable.  I’m sure his observation that some people might think of death and destruction or otherwise become agitated when they see a gun is true.  And, I can also understand the desire to distance oneself from the man that was the focus of the article.  Yes, it’s tempting to say, “Oh, yeah, that guy made a poor choice, I would’ve made the reasonable one.”

Unfortunately, statements like those hurt the gun rights movement.  First, he openly insults people who are anti-gun.  Then, he goes on to paint people who open carry as people he wants to distance himself from.

This was a perfect opportunity to have said, “There’s no reason to have reacted that way.  Whether you agree with his decision to open carry or not, he wasn’t a threat to anyone.”  Instead, he basically said that it’s normal for people to become afraid at the sight of an openly carried gun, and that it was the man who was openly carrying who should change their behavior.

The bottom line is this.  When you are supposed to be a “pro-gun expert” and you talk to a reporter and portray to the media and the general public that the people who open carry are the unreasonable ones, you are hurting the gun rights movement much more than the person who was open carrying ever could.  So please, if you’re going to do that, don’t pretend you’re doing the gun rights movement any favors by concealing your weapon, you’ve more than made up for it with your words.

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Mass Shootings and Gun Rights Revisited

On Friday July 20th, Aurora Colorado experienced a horrific event.  As the country’s thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families, the media has taken it upon themselves to use this discussion to renew the discussion on gun ownership.  I’d like to take a minute to address a few points that seem to be lost in this discussion.

First, even among the strongest gun control advocates, there seems to be a consensus that more gun control laws would not likely stop the tragic situation that happened in Colorado.  An article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution points out “Someone intent on killing will find a means…. those who have spent years studying mass murder know that any so-called solutions must go far beyond gun control.”  In an article for CNN, the writer admits, “Still, murder in its most extreme form, as in the Colorado shooting, is particularly difficult to prevent through gun regulations, or other strategies, for that matter.”  Yet, despite having admitted to themselves that gun control would not have prevented tragedies like the one in Colorado, they still insist that more gun control is needed.  If you cannot prevent people intent on killing from obtaining weapons, what’s wrong with giving the people in the theater a fighting chance?

The most common response you will get to this question is that adding more guns will do more harm then good.  This is then broken up into 2 reasons.  First, gun control advocates will assert that if multiple people were to have a firearm were to respond simultaneously, they would not be able to differentiate the other friendly from an enemy.  Second, they claim that, in the chaos such as what happened in Colorado, a person could not have possibly made an accurate shot to kill the shooter.

In response to the first argument, I do not believe this has ever been true in any armed response to a mass shooting.  In the Arizona shooting of Congresswoman Giffords, a permit holder with a weapon responded.  He assessed the situation and reacted appropriately.  No shots were fired by him.  It’s dishonest to suggest that permit holders, by nature of carrying a gun, are itching for an excuse to use it.  Permit holders are reasonable people who can assess a situation before pulling a gun and opening fire.  Only people who fail to understand the self-defense culture would believe such a thing.

As for the second argument, the reason people make this argument is because they fail to understand the goal of self defense.  Anyone who has ever taken a defensive firearm class will tell you that your goal is not to kill the target.  Your goal is to stop the threat.  In the context of a mass shooting, your goal is not to kill the shooter.  Your goal is to stop him from continuing to kill people.  These are NOT the same thing.

When you respond to a crazed shooter with lethal force, history as shown that the shooter is likely to respond by running, or taking cover, or killing himself.  As I’ve written in a previous article, there have been cases where this has happened.  In the shooting at Luby’s Cafeteria, the shooter fled into a restroom after an officer fired a warning shot into the air.  A school shooting was stopped by a principal who simply pointed a gun at the shooter and held him for police.  In neither case was the shooter required to pick out a target in a crowd or, in the second case, even fire his weapon.

The universal truth that never seems to be mentioned is that mass shootings stop when armed resistance presents itself.  In most cases, the shooter stops killing others altogether.  But even in the minority of cases where the shooter might fight back, at least he’s no longer killing helpless innocent people any more, as his focus is on the person threatening him.  An armed response will almost always improve the situation, even if the citizen responding never fires or hits his target.

I know there are still many of you who believe that there are “common sense” gun control measures out there, and that they should be explored if they can prevent tragedies like the incident in Colorado.  My response is simply this.  It’s wrong and short sighted to stop at mass shootings.  Even taking the “common sense” approach, one has to look at all situations where a firearm could be used to save a life.

According to a well regarded (and, at the point he was researching this report, an anti-gun) professor and criminologist at Florida State University, Gary Kleck, estimated that there were approximately 2.5 million defensive uses of a firearm every year, the majority in which no shots are fired, and the mere presence of a good guy with a gun caused the criminal to stop.  Even the academics who thought Kleck’s numbers were high, such as Harvard professor David Hemenway, conceded there were hundreds of thousands of incidents of defensive use of a firearm every year.

So, before you support a law that gun control advocates claim will prevent tragedies like the Colorado shooting, I only ask that you honestly ask yourself this.  If the law that is proposed has the side effect of preventing some of those hundreds of thousands of people from being able to get a firearm with which to defend themselves, doesn’t such a law do more harm than good?  Even if you could save the lives of the 12 people in Colorado, if it comes at a cost of hundreds or thousands of other innocent lives, how is that common sense?  Please take a long hard look at the true cost of those kinds of laws.

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Stand Your Ground: Why We Have It, and Why We Need It

I’ve seen the major media outlets describe it a hundred different ways.  I’ve seen media them call “Stand Your Ground” law the “License to Kill” law, the “Shoot First and Ask Questions Later” law, and other names that provoke the image of a secret agent or the wild west.  I understand that the media needs to distill the news into 5 second sound bites, I just wish the phrases they pick accurately describe the facts, instead of just sounding catchy.

In order to form an educated opinion about what has now become a controversial law, one needs to understand why this is law exists.

There is a misconception that has been repeatedly reported by the media, which seems to imply that if a state does not have a “Stand Your Ground” law, then there is automatically a “Duty to Retreat”.  This is incorrect.  Most states, including progressive states such as California, Illinois, and New York, do not require this, even if they do not have a specific “Stand Your Ground” law.   The reason is that the right to defend yourself from attack is a basic human right.  Codifying that right is nice, but at the end of the day it’s just a 2nd layer of protection.

This raises the question, if in most of the states with these laws, there was already no duty to retreat, why do we have these laws in the first place?

Before we get into this question, let me ask one of my own.  In our country, should people accused of a crime be innocent until proven guilty?  I ask this because I think we can all agree that when our justice system was created, the one central value that we can agree on is that, before sending someone to prison, the government must to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  It is this concept that is tied to the idea of the “Stand Your Ground” laws.

Usually, when a person is charged with murder, and a defendant believes they are not guilty, the burden is on the prosecution to prove they committed it beyond a reasonable doubt.  However, self-defense cases present a unique problem for the defendant.  In order to claim self-defense, you have to confess to the underlying homicide.  You are saying, “Yes, I shot the guy, but I was justified.”  You’ve done the prosecution’s work for them.  They no longer have to prove it was you who pulled the trigger.

I read an article today that bemoaned the fact that when a person claims self-defense, the prosecution has to prove it was not self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt, and that this was a “heavy burden.”  Why is “reasonable doubt” perfectly reasonable in other criminal cases, but a heavy burden in self-defense cases?  Shouldn’t people who have gone through the tragedy of having to take another life in self-defense be afforded the same benefit of the doubt as we give other defendants?

Now, to get to the heart of the matter.  In most other crimes, the prosecution must build up enough evidence that you committed a crime before they can charge you and make you go through a trial.  In self-defense scenarios however, since you are confessing to the homicide, without a stand your ground law, he can take you to trial even if he has no evidence that it wasn’t self-defense.  Self-defense is something you can raise at trial, and a jury would determine whether you were justified.

“So what?” you ask, “It’s not a big deal you get dragged to trial if it was self-defense, you’ll have your day in court to prove your side.”  Anyone who has this attitude clearly has not seen the inside of a murder trial before.  These trials could take years.  If you cannot afford the bond, which could easily cost you in the tens of thousands (and be non-refundable if you can’t pay in full and have to go through a bail bondsman), you have to stay in jail while waiting for trial.  You have to come up with money for attorney’s fees, or live with whatever overworked public defender you might be appointed.  You don’t get reimbursed even if you win.  If you do have to sit in jail while waiting for trial, your employer is unlikely to keep your seat warm.

In order to help mitigate these issues, “Stand Your Ground” laws shortcut through the process to get to the heart of the matter.  To give you a visual, think about it this way.  Let’s say that the term “reasonable doubt” means that you are guilty if the court is 80% sure you are guilty.  “Stand Your Ground” laws allow you for a hearing up front to argue that you are immune from prosecution because you acted in self-defense.  You have to show by a preponderance of the evidence (over 50% chance) that you acted in self defense.  If there’s a 51% chance you acted in self-defense, then by definition the court can’t possibly be 80% sure that you are guilty.  So, you get immunity, you get your life back in a few months instead of a few years, and it gives incentive for prosecutors to actually gather evidence before dragging you into court.

I believe that people are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  I have no doubt that no law is perfect, but that our justice system demands that we err on the side of letting people be free rather than possibly putting innocent men in jail.  I also do not believe that a person’s life should be destroyed by our justice system simply because they had to defend their lives or the lives of their loved ones.  If you believe in these important values in our justice system, then you should also believe that “Stand Your Ground” is a necessary concept to protect innocent people who were forced to take a life due to self-defense.

If there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt that it was not self-defense, or that someone was committing a crime or provoked the confrontation, than neither the claim of self-defense nor the “Stand Your Ground” law will help them, and that’s the way it should be.

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