This week I received a half dozen emails featuring the video of 71 year old Samuel Williams, a concealed handgun carrier who stopped two assailants in their attack of an internet café. We have no certain insight into the plans of the perpetrators since their crime was interrupted by a carrying citizen who was prepared to stop a crime before it escalated. The two thugs who came into that café with a pistol and a baseball bat might have just been there to shake the patrons down and they might have planned another Columbine or Aurora, Colorado type massacre; we’ll never know because an armed citizen stopped the crime before it got that far.
We have no idea how frequently an individual successfully defends himself with the use of a legally purchased and carried firearm, but it happens multiple times every day. Florida law concerning the use of deadly force is similar to law here in North Carolina and, watching the video, I was a little concerned the local authorities might possibly charge our 71 year old hero. In North Carolina, and I think Florida, too, the citizen cannot use deadly force against a retreating assailant. Williams did indeed chase the bad guys out of the building continuing to fire, something that, as a shooting instructor who certifies concealed carry applicants, I’d have advised against.
Indeed, before the sun came up on Aurora there were calls for more restrictive gun laws even though the only thing that would have stopped that event, other than a plainclothes policeman being in the theatre, was an armed citizen like that 71 year old concealed carrying Floridian. The problem is that, in the United States, we pass legislation as a reaction to something that happens rather than through a rational thought process. It does little or nothing to correct our problem, but it makes good politics and provides opportunities for photo ops and interviews.
Consider how the Aurora murders could have been avoided. The murderer had a spotless record; no laws prevented him from purchase and a multiple purchase law would have made no difference in the outcome. The extra guns gave him no tactical advantage and probably slowed him down. You can get more shots off with a carbine unencumbered than you can carrying two extra handguns and a shotgun. Carrying two pistols and a shotgun was either for theatrical effect or for the fulfillment of his fantasy since the application required only the rifle and extra magazines. Limiting magazine capacities would probably not have helped since changing magazines takes seconds with practice and the pause wouldn’t have been long enough for an unarmed person to take advantage unless he was only feet away.
Had we passed a law prohibiting the sale of any kind of firearm ten years or even 50 years ago, this young man was certainly smart enough to figure out how to get one of the millions of guns that would still be floating around. Remember, he acquired a complete set of body armor and the materials to make multiple bombs. This was no casual spur-of-the-moment event; it was planned by a person of great mental capacity. Had firearms been totally unavailable, he had the capacity, according to reports, to make a very sophisticated bomb.
Metal detectors in the front of the theatre wouldn’t even have helped if the news stories are correct. According to eyewitnesses, the murderer came into the theatre unarmed, and used the exit to arm and armor himself before coming back in through the same door to commit his atrocities.
It’s been mentioned that he was wearing body armor and one might assume that, had 71 year old Samuel Williams been there, he might not have penetrated it. This is possible but Holmes was also wearing a gas mask which would have impeded his general awareness. The theater was noisy and Samuel Williams’ attack method on the internet café assailants was to attack from behind. The gas mask and helmet would have enhanced an armed citizen’s ability to approach from behind as Williams did.
Holmes was wearing body armor. A smart armed citizen might have gone for a head shot; certainly he wouldn’t have made things worse. An armed citizen might not have managed to stop the attack, but an armed citizen was the only reasonable chance of stopping the attack short of a psychic predicting it. Of course, none of this could have legally happened because, like Columbine and Virginia Tech and so many of these incidents, the theater was a gun-free zone.
So, other than an armed citizen intervening, was there another way to prevent this, perhaps changing the way the murderer was affected by society? I think there could have been, though it would be harder than forcibly going after every gun in the United States. I think events like this happen because evil is celebrated to add thrills to the story in books, TV, video games and, of course, movies. There has been a shift in the way our society views evil. Our movies, like the Batman movie, celebrate the hero but they also glorify those who commit crimes of senseless evil like the Joker.
Years ago, movie and TV crime was motivated by the desire for money. Now, it’s about evil for the sake of evil; monetary gain is secondary. The murderer, Holmes, was apparently fascinated with this, telling police when he was arrested that he was the Joker, an evil character in the Batman storyline. He was playing out a fantasy of evil for the sake of evil. The reason we have so much of this kind of crime is that we have people in this country who fantasize about being a super evil character. Think of the amount of publicity a two bit thug like Charles Manson has generated. Having said all this, I’m not in favor of censoring movies to control their content. I really don’t think it’s possible, any more than collecting every gun in the United States, to make everyone safer is possible.
The demands to restrict gun ownership come from those who don’t believe you have the right to defend your own life or have the capability to defend yourself. Roger Ebert, in a recent rant about the evils of people owning guns, asked a man who carries a gun why he did so. The gun owner stated he lived in a bad neighborhood. Ebert’s response was, “Why don’t you move?”
The problem is that now, with individuals like Holmes, it’s no longer possible to avoid danger by staying out of “bad neighborhoods”. The bad guys aren’t just drug dealers and gang members; they’re also award-winning honor students. The threat can come from anywhere. That is not meant to be paranoia-inducing, but simply realistic.
The real debate is about whether or not you and I have the right to protect ourselves and others or if we should depend on professional law enforcement officers. Certainly, a trained law enforcement officer would have been effective in both the internet café and the movie theatre. Unfortunately, it simply isn’t possible to have enough trained law officers everywhere protecting everyone. Even though it was remarkable how fast the police responded in Aurora, it was too late for the victims, the event was over when they arrived. Had the internet café thugs decided to kill people, many or all could have died before they arrived.
So really, how do we stop individuals who decide to attempt something like this? In the Aurora incident, the only thing that could have stopped these murders was an armed citizen, yet, cries to take guns out of the hands of citizens reduce the ability of an individual to protect and defend himself and others. It would take years to remove all the existing firearms from the hands of the public even if the majority of the populace was in favor of it. In countries where individual firearms ownership has been outlawed for half a century, there are illegal guns. Someone as smart as Holmes would have acquired a gun, if not, he would have made a bomb. We certainly aren’t going to change the view of evil in society and culture in any reasonable amount of time; we’ve been on this path for half a century. Censorship isn’t a reasonable recourse in a free country. It’s not possible to profile these people and intercept them; we simply don’t have the resources. The answer is: we can’t prevent these people from doing this kind of thing. We can only stop them when they begin.
The sad commentary is that, as I write this, Holmes is being played off as a diabolical genius on TV and the internet, exactly the character he emulated, the Joker. Somewhere, some twisted soul is watching the same telecast and fantasizing how he could emulate the Holmes/Joker and make himself just as famous for being evil.
Image © iStockPhoto.com/Ron Bailey