[Preface: I began working on this piece a few months back. It is not a coincidence that I’m posting it now, but it was not initially intended to be a response to the Colorado theater massacre. While this is not a direct response to that atrocity, it is timely, particularly in light of the political debate that’s been reignited as a result.
I do want to honor the victims--the dead, scarred and traumatized alike. I am grieved by the crimes of this chaos-lover. I am also encouraged by the many tales of courage that have been emerging.
While an emotional response to this horror cannot and should not be avoided, a rational approach to policy is wisest. Exceptional cases make bad, knee-jerk laws. It is with that in mind that I offer the following for your reflection.]
Do you believe people have the right to defend themselves?
No? Well then you can oppose concealed carry with a clear conscience. But, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you answered “Yes”.
If yes, do you believe people have the right to defend themselves effectively?
Let me clarify. A 100-pound woman is being attacked by a 200-pound armed assailant. Of the things which she could pull out of her purse or jacket pocket, which do you think would be the most effective for defense? A) a whistle, B) keys, C) pepper spray, D) a clenched karate fist, or E) a snubnose revolver.
I hope we can agree the best answer is E) a snubnose revolver. Ideally, she might try less-lethal means first and pull the gun as a last resort, but the immediacy of the situation may require a lethal threat being met with a potentially lethal response. Thankfully, most self-defense incidents involving concealed carry weapons end at the presentation of the weapon without it needing to be used. Nobody wants to get shot.
You might ask, “Well, what if he gets the gun away from her?” It could happen. Results aren’t guaranteed--that’s where proper training comes in--but that has nothing to do with her right to try. She has the right to vote, too, but that doesn’t guarantee her candidate will win.
The core of concealed carry is the belief that people have a right to self defense--and the defense of others--and to exercise that right effectively. It doesn’t matter how you interpret the 2nd Amendment. How you answer the question “Do you believe people have the right to defend themselves effectively?” is what matters.
If you can agree that they do, you have the freedom to say, “I’m afraid of guns and can’t imagine owning one, but I do believe people have a right to defend themselves effectively, so I’m going to support those who are willing to do it responsibly.” Not really much of a stretch.
I suspect you can go further. “I believe the right to defend oneself shouldn't belong solely to people trained in martial arts, the young and strong, or those free from disability. I don’t believe people’s right to defend themselves ends when they leave their home and returns when they get back.” Basic human rights, right?
Let’s go back to the notion of effectiveness. We need to look at this both philosophically, in terms of what rights mean, and practically, in terms of how guns function as tools.
If you say that a right exists but create obstacles to exercising that right, does it really exist?
This was the reality of Jim Crow laws in the South. Southern blacks had the right to vote on paper, granted by the 15th Amendment, but not in practice. Sure, you can vote, the Mississippi election judge might say, just as soon as you show me the deed to your land. Or take this reading test. Or pay your poll tax.
Apply that to the right of self-defense. If we agree that you have the right to self-defense but I allow you only martial arts and pepper spray, do you really have the right to self-defense? Maybe. If you’re in fighting fit shape and the winds are favorable. But what if you’re physically disabled, elderly or simply weaker than your attacker? Either you have a right--meaning you can effectively exercise it--or you don’t.
As a tool, guns are great equalizers. It’s cliched but true. Weapons have been used throughout human history, but nothing compares to the handgun as a tool for self-defense. While shotguns and many rifles are more devastating physiologically, a handgun can be carried on one’s person almost effortlessly all the time, used one-handed by even the weakest and yet still dissuade all but the most determined assailant. No “common sense” gun law should ignore this reality. Concealed handgun carry is the logical expression of the right to effective self-defense.
“So what about the Colorado theater massacre?” you might ask me. “Is concealed carry the answer to something like that?”
We’ll never know. The law-abiding theatergoers didn’t have a chance. Despite Colorado having provisions for concealed carry, the theater was posted as a “Gun-Free Zone.” But that’s a topic for another time. I’ll simply leave you with a quick link to some similar scenarios that ended very differently: http://nakedlaw.avvo.com/2010/10/8-horrible-crimes-stopped-by-legal-gun-owners/