No self-defense allowed?


Kenneth D. Smith



     If organizers of the Million Mom March had their way, the wife of an Atlanta police officer might easily be dead now, the victim of a harrowing assault. She's still alive, fortunately, thanks to a gun. That's something for anti-firearms marchers and lawmakers to consider as they weigh proposals that would effectively restrict the access of women and others to a means of self-defense.
     According to terse press accounts out of Atlanta, the officer and his wife married earlier this year, and he got her a gun for protection at the couple's midtown apartment. In the early morning hours of March 30, an intruder armed with a knife broke into the apartment. In an ensuing struggle on the floor, he cut the woman's face with the knife, and might have done worse but for the fact that she got her gun and shot him four times.
     The suspect, who police say had a "lengthy" criminal record, died at the scene, and she went to the hospital to be treated for her injuries. Long after those injuries heal, the emotional scars and the horror of that night will certainly continue to haunt her. (The officer did not return calls requesting an interview, and it's not difficult to imagine why.)
     It's hard to believe that even the most vehement gun-control advocate would wish, in retrospect, that she had not had a weapon to defend herself. But there seems to be no room for self-defense in the agenda of march organizers. "While we acknowledge," they write on their Web site, "that guns may be necessary for hunting, law enforcement, and national security, the proliferation of firearms intended for one purpose only — killing another human being — has become untenable." Atlanta police did not charge the officer's wife in connection with the killing there. Would the marchers?
     Led by Clinton ally Donna Dees-Thomases, the marchers also call for what they say are "sensible 'cooling off' periods and background checks." The implication is that obtaining a gun is an inherently rash, impulsive act on the part of someone bent on violence. From the perspective of the officer, it might have been rash and impulsive not to enable his wife to protect herself. Moreover, if the intruder had arrived in the middle of the "cooling off" period, her life might have ended before this "sensible" waiting period did.
     The marchers say they want child-proof guns with gun-safety locks on them. That seems perfectly reasonable, even desirable. Outside of Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, who struggled haplessly in front of TV cameras to remove from a firearm one of the gun locks he was showcasing, probably any adult could do it. But say that one had to face a danger more serious than TV cameras. Say that the problem was being in the grasp of a hardened criminal armed with a knife. How difficult would it be to remove the gun lock then? Mr. Glendening, who can count on round-the-clock security, need never ponder that question. But ordinary Americans — wives of police officers — do.
     Interestingly, major media don't seem much interested in the question either. While network newscasts and print media dwell endlessly on the horrors of school shootings or, alternatively, the heartwarming motives of those who propose to do something about them by walking around in the nation's capital and other major cities, they rarely if ever devote much time to reporting on cases in which persons use firearms to defend themselves or others. Not one in 1,000 of the marchers probably knows, for example, that at least two school shootings ended when the perpetrators found themselves staring at the business end of firearms in the hands of private citizens. Another ended when a student, an avid hunter, recognized from experience the moment that the shooter had stopped to reload and that the time had arrived to charge and tackle him. He did. End of shooting.
     Last year, a 27-year-old Arizona man saw three drug suspects ambush and kill a Phoenix police officer. Coming to the officer's assistance, Rory Vertigan shot one of the perpetrators and tackled another. Police officials called Mr. Vertigan "one of the true heroes of our times." In an emotional ceremony, police gave him a $500 reward and a certificate for a gun to replace the weapon used in defending the officer. (Oh yes, he was sporting a National Rifle Association [NRA] decal on his front windshield at the time.)
     That Americans don't know more about these stories is not entirely the fault of the press. Far from being publicity-seeking gun "nuts," many of those using guns to defend themselves are anguished about what they've done. A Charlotte, N.C., woman who shot and killed a crowbar-wielding man who attacked her as she walked into her company in January was distraught, her husband explained, "because that man was somebody's child." People like that don't send out press releases or even return press phone calls, unlike, say, organizers of the Million Mom March, whose entire focus is to generate enough coverage to change minds and laws on Capitol Hill.
     Some of the skewed coverage doubtless results from anti-gun ideology. One reporter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told University of Michigan researcher Brian Patrick, "I've been a reporter for 25 years, and I'm familiar with the opinions of other people in the field. Elite reporters sympathize with gun-control positions, not the NRA." But it's important to understand that one-sided gun-control coverage results not just from how the press reports a story but from the stories it chooses not to cover. The result is that the public may be more inclined to let politicians make decisions about gun locks, waiting periods and more that might properly be the province of individual women, moms and parents.
     "Mommy," Ms. Dees-Thomases said her 4-year-old son asked her, "suppose there are still guns after the march?" For the sake of a terrified woman faced with knife-wielding intruder, in Atlanta or anywhere else, marching moms better hope there are.


Kenneth Smith is deputy editor of The Washington Times editorial page.




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