Defense of Others

by Gila Hayes

The May 25 intervention of two armed citizens in Oklahoma City after a deranged man shot a woman and children who were at a restaurant for a birthday party has spawned much discussion. Several months earlier, it seemed like everyone was talking about the Sutherland Springs, TX firearms instructor who shot the man who shot and killed over two dozen worshipers attending the First Baptist Church near his home. While we’re amazed that these positive gun uses made the news, we don’t find it surprising that American citizens stepped in to prevent the deaths of more innocent church goers or families attending a birthday party.

After gun use in defense of others, armed citizens use these stories as a lens through which to evaluate their own legal, ethical, spiritual and psychological boundaries. Some conclude that their preparation to use deadly force–bluntly defined, their willingness to kill another human being–is reserved for saving their loved ones or themselves from being killed. For others, a sense of responsibility for other human beings leads to assertions that they are willing to kill in defense of others they do not know. We mentally put ourselves in the shoes of another and ask if we would make the same decisions if faced with the same risk, and we ponder the likely outcomes. When accurate information provides a basis for our conclusions, that’s good.

One reality check is recognizing what happens after one citizen takes the life of another. A good example is the Oklahoma restaurant shooting. Police, responding to a large, chaotic scene, handcuffed the armed citizen intervenors as well as the attacker who was bleeding out on the ground. The father of one of the victims, not knowing who had injured his child, ran up and verbally assailed the rescuers according to news reports accusing them, “Which one of you did it…You f—ing shot my kid, didn’t you!”

That quote administers a particularly educational dose of reality to counter natural tendencies to envision being the righteous knight riding bravely to the rescue of the innocents who respond with gratitude. Not everyone will be appreciative!

Leading the list of other concerns that armed private citizens who have considered intervention must weigh is the danger attached to drawing a gun in public. Immediately after innocents have been attacked no one knows who or what you are and you have a gun in your hand. What is the likely reaction of others, some of whom may also be armed citizens? What do you look like to responding police?

Just as police may mistakenly think a citizen defending others is the spree killer, not being gifted with omniscience ourselves, if wielding deadly force without having seen the incident from the beginning, we may decide to only shoot if personally threatened unless the facts of the situation are crystal clear. That is the story of the Oklahoma armed citizen who challenged the deranged man and found himself looking down the muzzle of that man’s gun. Threatened, he shot him.

Eager to paint all gun use as criminal or irresponsible, gun-haters are quick to suggest that armed citizens callously risk shooting the wrong person. In talking with callers who are concerned about their legal position after defending strangers, exercising great care in correctly identifying the attacker is one concern we at the Network express. It is a legitimate topic of discussion, and sometimes we counter the machismo of a few who haven’t stopped to think through the burdens associated with using deadly force. Generally, as further questions clarify the overbroad question, “How about using a gun to defend someone else?” we find their concern focused on preventing harm to fellow church goers, coworkers, other associates or the neighbor’s wife and children.

Focusing the discussion specifically better portrays the burden responsible armed citizens shoulder and in discussing ethics governing our use of deadly force, we’ll find less resistance if we first, after much soul searching, take care to define when we are willing to kill in defense of innocent life and then include those personal moral restrictions into the discussion when we discuss our gun rights beliefs publicly.

To read more of this month's journal, please click here.