The Attack on Self-Defense
by Barry Loberfeld | May 22, 2015

Some years back, a public service TV ad depicted patients being told by a doctor that they had a tobacco related illness: lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, etc. It asked, “If you’re not planning to quit smoking, then what are you planning?” So let me ask: If you’re not planning to use a firearm to defend your home against invasion, what are you planning to do?

Modern liberalism has long mocked even the possibility of citizen self-defense:

People imagine themselves getting the drop on the bad guy, confronting the craven coward in mid swagger. They will make the villains run in fear from an armed and righteous citizenry, and order will again prevail. . . .
In fact, they will first see another’s gun when its barrel is pointed straight at them, their own gun undrawable even if it were reachable. Or maybe their gun will be stolen, which just about guarantees it will become a murder weapon. [Luc Sante, New York Times, Dec. 9, 1993.]

This dogma has been falsified by the repeated reality of people using firearms responsibly to defend themselves and their loved ones. One of the most dramatic examples (from 2011) was that of Sarah McKinley, 18, a recent widow living alone with her infant son in a mobile home in Blanchard, Okla. As the Associated Press reported, she

fatally shot a New Year’s Eve intruder at her house while she had a 911 dispatcher on the phone. . . .
“I’ve got two guns in my hand. Is it OK to shoot him if he comes in this door?’’ McKinley asked the dispatcher.
“Well, you have to do whatever you can do to protect yourself,’’ the dispatcher is heard [on the 911 tape] telling McKinley. “I can’t tell you that you can do that, but you have to do what you have to do to protect your baby.’’
. . . [P]rosecutors said McKinley clearly acted in self-defense. According to court documents, [the shot intruder] was holding a knife when he died. . . .
According to authorities, [the other intruder] ran away from McKinley’s home after hearing the gunshots [though he was later captured]. . . .
According to court documents, [the intruders] might have been looking for prescription drugs. McKinley said it took the men about 20 minutes to get through her door, which she had barricaded with a couch.

What a brave soul this young mother was. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be there with only your baby while you hear God knows what trying to break into your home? Frankly, I would have been terrified even with some firepower in my hands.

But now the big question: What would have happened if she didn’t have any guns? What do the opponents of gun ownership expect to happen in that kind of situation?

A classic answer was given by Barbara L. Keller, whose “Frontiersmen Are History” appeared in the Aug. 16, 1993, issue of Newsweek. It is best to let Keller speak for herself:

Late on a Friday night, I had a personal introduction to terror. My 11 year old daughter and I were playing Scrabble. My husband had just phoned to let us know he was grounded in Dallas by bad weather. A moment later my front doorbell rang loudly and repeatedly. I stood up, wondering who in God's name was ringing at 1 o'clock in the morning. Then I heard the sound of shattering glass. Someone was breaking into my house.
As I grabbed my daughter and dashed out the side door to my neighbor's to call the police, she began to cry. "Mom! What about the boys?" My three sons—3, 4 and a mentally handicapped 8 year old—were asleep upstairs. I had made a split second decision to leave them and run for help. To go to them, or the phone, would have taken me right into harm's way. Being eight months pregnant, I couldn't carry them two at a time to safety. The minutes it took until the police arrived seemed like years. I wasn't permitted to enter the house until the officers had secured it. I stood on the sidewalk, fearing for my sons' safety and worrying about their reaction if they awoke to find armed policemen trooping through their bedroom. Blessedly, the boys slept through it, and the would be intruders ran off without entering the house.
In the aftermath of what was for me a horribly traumatic experience, my husband and I considered and once again rejected the idea of buying a gun for protection. . . .

All right—from all that, what sticks in your head foremost? I bet it’s the same as for me: three young boys abandoned to the mercy of criminals breaking into the house.

I don’t condemn Keller for running. Even if she had been totally self-sacrificial (a problematic concept at eight months pregnant) and thrown herself at the intruders, all it likely would have accomplished is getting herself attacked or killed; it wouldn’t have protected her children. Running was all she could do because, absent an effective firearm defense, it is all anyone can do.

What’s disturbing is that Keller doesn’t face the reality of what her running meant: again, three young boys abandoned to the mercy of criminals breaking into the house. She was “worrying about their reaction if they awoke to find armed policemen trooping through their bedroom.” But if they awoke to find the intruders in their bedroom? What if the police had arrived to confront that situation?

Keller says nothing about that because there is nothing she can say. If you’re not planning to use a firearm to defend your home against invasion, what are you planning to do? The response of Keller, of any opponent of gun ownership, could be only: to run. If you can grab at least one child while “dash[ing] out the side door,” so much the better. (And what if, like Sarah McKinley, you can’t run?)

“Blessedly, the boys slept through it, and the would be intruders ran off without entering the house.” “Blessedly” is right, because it’s only by the grace of God that things turned out as they did. Without a gun, Keller could not protect her sons the way McKinley did her child.

“In the aftermath of what was for me a horribly traumatic experience, my husband and I considered and once again rejected the idea of buying a gun for protection.” So, Keller and her husband had rejected firearms for self-defense before her “personal introduction to terror”—and “once again” after it. She credits this decision in part to being told by some police officers that a gun is “not a particularly good defense strategy.” It’s unfortunate that she didn’t speak with more of them. Even two decades later, surveying police finds that they “overwhelmingly favor an armed citizenry, would like to see more guns in the hands of responsible people, and are skeptical of any greater restrictions placed on gun purchase, ownership, or accessibility."

Keller continues: “I do not propose to outlaw guns—only to make them more difficult to obtain.” Let’s get this straight once and for all: When guns become more difficult to obtain legally, they become more difficult to obtain for only the law-abiding. So, no: “[T]hose who would be most likely to use weapons detrimentally” will not have a “much harder time getting them.” More to the point, even when criminals don’t have firearms, that doesn’t mean that vulnerable citizens don’t need them—as the McKinley case attests. And to address liberal schizophrenia on the efficacy of prohibitionism: A government that cannot stop Buffy from getting her abortion is a government that cannot stop Bruno from getting his gun. (For the mirror-image conservative schizophrenia: A government that cannot stop Bruno from getting his gun is a government that cannot stop him from getting his drugs, porn, prostitute, etc.)

Keller insists that a gun should not be a means of “personal protection” yet concedes that she would’ve used it as such had she possessed one, albeit “probably to my own detriment.” Why?

I do not know if the young men who so thoroughly violated my sense of safety were armed. I do know that if I'd had a gun, and had actually confronted them, they would have been more likely to harm me, and my children. It would have been I who escalated the potential for violence. . . .

Being able to respond to—to halt—aggression with equal or greater force is likely to increase the danger to oneself? That’s no answer to our Why. The only apparent explanation is Keller’s opinion that her pointing a gun at the intruders (who would’ve been at a disadvantage if they, like McKinley’s assailants, didn’t have one) constitutes the “escalat[ion of] the potential for violence”—not her running away and leaving her sons alone in the house with the intruders (who wouldn’t need a gun to harm the children).

Keller also worries about how citizen gun-owners “can still fall victim to an officer's adrenaline surge.” For all of her worries, she never acknowledges what all too often happens when unarmed citizens are besieged by violent criminals (especially those who don’t feel constrained by gun laws). She presents her own sheer luck on that Friday night as proof that personally fleeing is all you ever need do to keep yourself and your family safe.

Consequently, rather than arm ourselves, we Americans “should rethink our cultural heritage . . . the historical gunslinger's mentality . . . the simplistic depictions of good guys versus bad guys.” It is “our entire love affair with guns” that “destroys innocent lives”—not the use of violence by criminals.

Those assertions reveal what many have always contended: Opposition to firearm ownership is aimed at the law-abiding. In its effect and intent, gun prohibition disarms not sociopaths, but civil society itself. Keller, in condemning this society, speeds past mere liberalism to commune with what (as I’ve explained previously in this magazine—scroll down to “Finale: Judgment”) is the essence of the Left’s vision (and self-image): a latter-day Inquisition launched by a moral elite against the immoral masses, “for whom freedom would be only the freedom to do evil.”

A snapshot of this viewpoint as it relates to the people’s right to keep arms is “Guns, Cowboys, Philadelphia Mayors, and Civic Republicanism,” a Yale Law Journal (YLJ) article by Wendy Brown. David C. Williams (“Civic Republicanism and the Citizen Militia,” YLJ) condenses her argument:

[R]epublicanism needs a virtuous citizenry, but Brown “cannot imagine a less appropriate appellation for the contemporary American citizenry, which bears a shared commitment to almost nothing, least of all a common good.” If the citizenry is not virtuous, we have no assurance that it will use its arms in virtuous ways. So Brown predicts pernicious results if we arm our present citizenry: gun owners are likely to use them to rape women and to murder young urban black men.

It’s an all-too-clear reflection of the Left’s indictment of America as the “rape culture” and a “white racist society.” Will only those oppressive “white males” have guns? Why won’t women use firearms to protect themselves? Why won’t blacks use them for self-defense? And if Brown doesn’t mean that the shooters will be always be whites (all of whom will have all of the wealth) and their victims will always be “young urban black men” (who’ll be the only ones forced by poverty to rob them), is she then suggesting that only “young urban black men” will be driven by legal gun ownership to start shooting each other—and which is crazier?

A government that seeks to tyrannize its citizens cannot allow them the means to resist that tyranny. Gun prohibition is inherently a facet of state despotism. As for conservative golden calf Robert Bork, who (in addition to gutting the Second Amendment) pooh-poohed the ability of armed citizens to fight such despotism, Samuel Francis retorted: “[T]ell that to the Afghan resistance, the Nicaraguan contras, and indeed the Vietcong, the Sandinistas, and a dozen other guerrilla groups that have laid their local leviathans low with weapons no more advanced than what we can keep in the carport.”

The great irony: The threat of gun prohibition is the argument against gun prohibition. In other words, it is precisely because a firearm in the hands of a conscientious citizen is so effective in protecting the inalienable rights of personal security and personal freedom that it is feared by sociopaths and socialists alike. That is the life-or-death issue that the gun debate will always be about.

Postscript: The comments about liberal vs. conservative schizophrenia were edited out in the published version.