Two stories in the past few days have highlighted the need for self-defense preparation, one in South Carolina and the other in the Twin Cities, where I live. In the latter case, a man with a carry permit followed a robber who had allegedly beaten a woman in her 50s outside of a grocery store. The Samaritan demanded the return of the woman's purse. The alleged perpetrator, an ex-convict named Darren Evanovich, reportedly responded by pulling his gun, which prompted the permit holder to draw his own weapon and fire, fatally wounding Evanovich.
Minnesota has had a "shall-issue" permit law for several years. What exactly does that mean? There are "may issue" and "shall issue" laws. Under a "may issue" system, the local county sheriff has unlimited discretion to deny carry-permit applications. "Shall issue" laws mandate that sheriffs must issue permits to anyone who meets the requirements (including education and weapons certification from licensed instructors). Prior to the passage of the shall-issue law, Minnesotans received widely disparate treatment based on the county in which they lived — and the political outlook of each county sheriff. Some sheriffs issued permits readily to those who qualified, while a few refused to issue permits in almost any case.
A properly prepared citizen presents no special danger to his community, and an argument can be made that each law-abiding permit holder enhances security.
In 2003, at the time of the current law's passage, opponents predicted dire consequences, including a rapid increase in murders, duels in the street, and more fights that ended in shootings than in fisticuffs. Critics warned about vigilantes roaming the streets to deal rough justice to anyone who looked out of place.
None of this materialized. Crime rates did not rise; in fact, they fell over an eight-year period, as the index of violent crime in 2002 went from 267.2 per 100,000 people to 236.0 in 2010. Murders dropped from 2.5 to 1.8, forcible rapes from 45.2 to 33.9, robberies from 78.4 to 63.9, and aggravated assaults from 141.4 to 136.4. Carry permits may or may not have impacted these declines, but they certainly did not push the crime rate upward.
But to critics of Minnesota's gun law, the Evanovich case provided the example of an out-of-control citizenry that they had long predicted — and the local media leaped to exploit it. Television news stations interviewed family members who attested to Evanovich's commitment to the community, while the local Star Tribune newspaper twice provided this misleading description of the events: "A man nearby saw the attack. He had a state permit to carry a pistol, and he had one with him. He chased the robber behind a restaurant and shot him dead." The man did not "chase" Evanovich, and the newspaper failed to acknowledge that Evanovich drew his own weapon first. The Star Tribune's reporter went on to relate how Evanovich's sister Octavia Marberry was "with Evanovich the night he died," and "held him in her arms as he took his last breath."
The prose strains toward poetry, but it also fails to inform readers that Marberry was with Evanovich because she had been his accomplice in the alleged robbery and beating that had just taken place. In fact, police arrested her a few days later as a suspect in a string of armed robberies and assaults allegedly committed by Evanovich in the nine days before his demise. Marberry herself allegedly told one victim that she would "cut" her if the victim screamed and said, "We know where you live" to another. That was no idle threat, apparently, as Marberry faces fraud charges, likely linked to the use of credit cards that allegedly stolen in the robberies.
It's safe to assume that Evanovich and his sister weren't going to stop victimizing middle-aged women shopping alone in south Minneapolis, at least as long as they could presume that their intended victims couldn't defend themselves. One might imagine the media's surprise when the Hennepin County Attorney — a Democrat (DFL in Minnesota) — not only cleared the shooting as justifiable self-defense, but also commended the permit holder for trying to come to the aid of the real victim in this case. The decision reaffirmed the legal right to self-defense, and managed to undercut the notion that the man who allegedly pistol-whipped a defenseless woman and pulled a gun on another man was somehow the victim that needed lamenting.
Similarly, the sheriff in Spartanburg County, S.C., warned citizens that they have to defend themselves after a man with a long criminal record allegedly attacked a woman in a public park. After arresting Walter Lance on charges of aggravated assault and attempted rape in Milliken Park, Sheriff Chuck Wright vented his frustration with having to deal with Lance again, saying that Lance had been in the county jail more often than the sheriff. Wright told a press conference that although law enforcement officials regularly patrol the park because of rising complaints of crime, police cannot guarantee anyone's safety.
The solution? "I want you to get a concealed weapons permit," Wright said repeatedly. "Don't get Mace. Get a firearm. ... I'm tired of looking at victims saying, 'There's life after this' … I'm tired of saying, 'We're sorry, we can't keep them in jail.'"
This gets to the heart of the right to self-defense and the wisdom of the Second Amendment. The role of law enforcement is to keep the peace where possible, and to investigate crimes when they occur. The police could not possibly keep all citizens safe at all times. Law-abiding citizens need to prepare for self-defense, not because the police can't enforce the law in general, but because the police can't prevent crime from occurring in every situation and keep each individual safe in every situation.
Over a year ago, I received training and certification to carry a handgun. The training teaches citizens a few very memorable truths. First, a carry permit does not equate to a Junior G-man badge; it provides for your personal safety but does not commission you to wreak personal justice on the community. Second, the permit in no way changes the law regarding the use of lethal force. To use lethal force, the citizen has to reasonably fear for his life, or worry about grave bodily harm. In the Evanovich case, the permit holder could not use lethal force until Evanovich drew his pistol.
The final truth, and the one that really stays with permit holders? Shooting anyone is the second-worst possible outcome, short only of getting killed yourself. The better outcome is getting an assailant to flee. The best outcome is to not be put in a position where drawing the gun is necessary at all. Training includes review of de-escalation techniques and situational self-awareness, subjects designed to reduce conflicts and confrontation, not turn communities into Wild West shootout zones.
As we have seen in Minnesota, a properly prepared citizen presents no special danger to his community, and an argument can be made that each law-abiding permit holder enhances security. The same cannot be said for the properly prepared violent offender in the midst of a disarmed populace. When a sheriff tells citizens that the solution to violent crime is self-defense, perhaps people should pay attention. Perhaps the media should take note as well.