Crime and constitutionality
By Lady Liberty
I'm a strong proponent of the Second Amendment. One reason for that (there are others) is that I believe that you have an absolute right to self defense. A firearm is, for many, the best and most effective method of self defense. You'll often hear me lamenting the fact that one person at a crime scene—a passenger, a customer, a teacher, a student, a security guard, a clerk—could have saved many more if only they'd had a gun to use against the bad guy. And it's not bragging to tell you that I'm right in 100% of those cases because it's a plain and simple fact.
In recent days, there have been a couple of incidents involving guns that aren't quite as clear cut. In one instance, a Pennsylvania man walked into an aerobics class and started shooting. In another, a New Hampshire man showed up at a presidential town hall meeting openly carrying a handgun strapped to his leg. In both cases, most reporters and many Americans were horrified.
When 48 year-old George Sodini shot three women to death and then turned his gun on himself, people were afraid and outraged. These emotions are understandable. But the blame game that immediately followed, even while unsurprising, was typically irrational. Sodini himself blamed an area minister for, as he noted in his personal blog, convincing him he could be forgiven for mass murder. He also disliked and blamed women for rejecting him. But those dissecting the murders after they occurred aren't any more logical in their thought processes.
According to reports, Sodini happened to have purchased some gun accessories from the same gun dealer that sold a firearm to the infamous Virginia Tech shooter. Is this a coincidence? Maybe, or maybe not. Sodini, who clearly wasn't the most stable of individuals, could have read any of the numerous reports featuring the heinous deeds of Seung-Hui Cho. Perhaps he admired Cho's accomplishment and aspired to imitate him. It does seem odd that a man who lived in Pittsburgh would buy from a Wisconsin dealer, but that's what he apparently did. The dealer says he's being entirely cooperative with the authorities, but that hasn't stopped some for speculating a far more nefarious connection between this particular gun dealer and gun crime.
More blatant and to the point are those who say Sodini shouldn't have had a gun at all. The fact that they're right, at least in the most general terms, makes that particular argument a persuasive one. But it's also a fact that Sodini didn't have a criminal history. Those who knew him say he was a quiet man. Though somewhat reclusive, it wasn't obvious to those who knew him that he was mentally unbalanced. And so Sodini passed his background check—and the honest truth is that he should have. Nobody did anything wrong here, not even Sodini at that juncture.
Then, on a Tuesday evening in August, Sodini packed up his firearms and went to an area gym. He carried his weapons into the facility in a duffle bag, something many who frequent gyms carry. The gym didn't have metal detectors, nor did it employ armed security guards checking IDs and conducting strip searches of everyone who walked through the doors. As a result, Sodini wandered into an aerobics class where it would have been easy to assume he was either lost or late to class. And then he turned out the lights and opened fire.
Two weeks later, as President Obama conducted a town hall meeting in the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, an entirely different gun scenario came to light. Outside the venue and in the midst of a crowd of protestors stood William Kostnic, a 38 year-old member of the Free State Project, a political activist, and a Second Amendment advocate. Strapped to one leg was a loaded handgun.
The police spoke briefly to Kostnic and suggested he move a few feet in one direction so that he stood on private property (this apparently negates the "1,000 feet from a school" caveat in New Hampshire law). When reporters reacted in horror, the police were even honorable enough to explain New Hampshire law to them. Of course, the fact that Kostnic hadn't broken a single statute didn't have much of an impact on their reactions. A report in a British paper was righteously indignant, but it reflected quite accurately the mood of many American news personnel—and sadly, American citizens—as well.
Everything I've heard has supported the fact that Kostnic didn't bring a gun to the protest to make a specific point at a particular time and place. Kostnic carried the gun for the simple and straightforward reason that he always carries a gun. Neither protests nor presidents had a thing to do with it. If he was, indeed, making a point, it's the point he makes every day: Exercise your rights, or lose your rights.
William Kostnic was interviewed in print and on television where, in most instances, he was roundly criticized by reporters who pretended open minds where the Second Amendment is concerned. Virtually all of them suggested that his decision to have and carry a gun was up to him, but that he shouldn't have done so in that setting. Not even all members of the Free State Project seem to support Kostnic's choices. Some emails I've received have grown heated at times with those on both sides of the issue. Summing up the argument rather nicely, one media report featuring a supportive representative of the pro-freedom group ended with the words: "...he seems to have sparked uproar about the responsibilities and the manners that come with gun rights." This is said as if it's irresponsible or poor manners to have a gun sometimes if not necessarily at all times.
These two scenarios occurring two weeks apart couldn't be much more different. In the first, a man with a gun committed murder. In the second, a man with a gun did...nothing. And yet both have engendered horror from anti-gun advocates. To me, this proves that some people are far more fearful of firearms than they are of the person wielding them. Given the end result of both these incidents, I think there's ample evidence instead that they might want to place blame where it goes rather than on a tool that can be used, misused, or, most often, not used at all.
In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh shootings, there will doubtless be more calls to strengthen background checks. But to have prohibited Sodini from purchasing a gun would have required substantial mental health checks, and even then only clairvoyance could have ascertained what he'd do with that gun once he had it. The fact is that without mind reading powers, there's no background check however intrusive that will catch 100% of the criminals before the crime has been committed. Sodini allegedly told his mother what he was going to do before he did it. Would you seriously support a law that said we all have to report to the authorities anything remotely untoward anybody says to us, no matter how outlandish or how exaggerated? (For the record, I have no idea why Sodini's mother didn't report her son's threats and am not inclined to judge her without knowing a whole lot more about the situation.)
The best we can do is prevent crime immediately before it happens, or in some cases, during the criminal event. Should the gym have had tighter security? I don't believe so. Short of the measures I mentioned earlier (and you'll note they'd be very expensive to maintain and extreme violations of privacy to execute), the gym couldn't have prevented such an unexpected attack. As far as stopping the gunman as the shooting commenced, well, I have no idea whether or not any of the women in that class owned or carried firearms. Even if they had, they certainly wouldn't have had a six-shooter tucked into their leotard!
The bottom line here is that Sodini picked an excellent target from his point of view, one that was highly unlikely to be able to defend itself even if some had been ready and willing to do so. But to say a gun can't save lives in every instance in which there's a bad guy attacking the defenseless is like saying there's no point in having defibrillators available since they can't save every life in the event of a heart attack. It's like suggesting that smoke alarms are worthless in all homes just because people in some homes forget to change the batteries or foolishly disarm them. It's like refusing to get in a car at all because there's a chance we'll be in an accident.
Actually, here's what it's really like: It's like saying if gun control saves even one life, it's worth it, and expecting that argument to hold when the fact is that gun control is worthless where criminals are concerned. It's like ignoring the simple truth that, even though guns can be and are used for evil, guns save more lives than they cost. Like defibrillators and smoke detectors, cars or electricity, we ought to be grateful for the greater good that these tools do rather than the uselessness or outright harm some can represent under certain circumstances.
Let me give you a third gun scenario: George Sodini walks into a gym carrying a duffle bag filled with firearms. He turns into a room, sets the bag down, and starts to unpack his guns. And that's when he runs into William Kostnic who, despite only dropping into the gym to renew his membership and check out the free weights area, is carrying a loaded handgun on one hip because he always does, just in case. I'm pretty sure things would have ended differently for both men under those conditions!
Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at firstname.lastname@example.org.