We’re going through an era when the lead news-story, nearly every evening, features a wretched mass-killing done by some deranged fool at a shopping mall, a school, a church, or some other public place. Any video-footage, if it exists, usually shows people ducking for cover, running and screaming, while helpless people are shot down. Rarely is resistance given, since strict gun-laws mean that few people in public places will be armed.
That customary scenario was interrupted this week at the Greenwood Park Mall in Greenwood, Indiana, after 20-year-old Jonathan Douglas Sapirman opened fire in the mall’s food-court – killing three people and wounding two others. But Sapirman was prevented from doing further harm by customer Elisjsha Dicken, age 22, who was carrying a pistol under Indiana’s constitutional carry law. Police say that seconds after the shooting began Dicken pushed his girlfriend and her grandmother out of harm’s way and took out the gunman – steadying himself against a pole and firing 10 rounds. Sapirman died from his injuries. Police hailed Dicken’s actions as “heroic” for opposing the gunman so quickly.
“Many would have died last night if not for a responsible, armed citizen that took action very quickly within the first two minutes of this shooting,” said Greenwood Police Chief Jim Ison.
Dicken had no police training or military background, but he had learned to shoot via instruction from his grandfather. Under Indiana’s constitutional carry law, any citizen eligible to legally possess a weapon may carry it in public without an additional permit. Dicken faces no charges for his actions.
At this writing, little is known about Jonathan Sapirman. When he planned his crime, he had no inkling that he would face armed resistance. He probably believed he would be safe (and famous) because the mall was a “gun-free zone.”
Several years ago an ex-marine named Thomas Autry fought off muggers who cornered him at night on an Atlanta street. Autry was walking home from his table-waiting job around 11 PM, when five people emerged from a car and chased him. The attackers – armed with a shotgun, a pistol, and brass knuckles – clearly intended to rob and possibly harm the former marine cook, who was a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War.
“My first instinct was to run, but they cornered me, so I had no other choice than to defend myself,” said Mr. Autry, who evidently wasn’t aware that police advise surrendering to armed thieves. He kicked the shotgun away from one teenager and stabbed two with his pocketknife when they jumped on him. The attackers fled, but police found them at a nearby hospital. Amy Martin, 17, had died of her wounds and Christopher Daniel, 17, was in critical condition. Daniel and three others – a 16-year-old (name withheld) and 17-year-olds Kendall Barksdale and Christopher Hayes – were charged with aggravated assault and armed robbery. Police did not charge Mr. Autry, who “had acted in fear for his life.”
The ex-Marine, who sustained minor injuries, is not culpable. He was not the one who waylaid a stranger on a dark street, with evil intent. But he didn’t claim to be a hero. “Heroes are the ones fighting over there every day for our country and not getting any respect,” he said, adding that the incident “…wasn’t admirable. It was either fight or flight. I tried the flight, but they caught me. If I could rewind it back and not have it come out the way it did, I would. But I can’t.”
A late-night call announcing your child’s death is what every parent fears but can’t really prepare for. Amy Martin’s family will never be the same. I’m sorry for the loss of a young person’s life, but she undertook a wrongful action that had fatal consequences. She shouldn’t have done that. If there’s a more useless way to die than in an attempt to mug someone, I’d like to know what it is.
Those foolish Atlanta teens sought an easy mark in the dark of night. Instead they found a marine who could look down the barrel of a gun and give hand-to-hand combat. They became statistics instead of creating one.
In 1984, Bernard Goetz shot four young blacks who accosted him on a New York subway train. The youths claimed they had merely “asked” Mr. Goetz for $5, but he said he fired defensively after one boy brandished a sharpened screwdriver. No one died, but Darrell Cabey was paralyzed when one of Goetz’s bullets struck him in the spine. (The “panhandlers” said Mr. Goetz shot Cabey again after he had wounded all of them.)
“The Subway Vigilante” – as reporters quickly dubbed him – surrendered several days later. He beat the attempted murder charge, but got 8&1/2 months in prison for gun-possession. In 1996 Cabey sued Mr. Goetz and won a $43 million judgment. The jury – academically interpreting events of twelve years earlier in the safety of a courtroom – found that the defendant had acted recklessly and deliberately inflicted emotional distress on the plaintiff. As Mr. Goetz had limited means, the court attached 10% of his wages for twenty years. The face-amount of the award was largely symbolic.
In 1993 a Jamaican named Colin Ferguson shot twenty-five people (killing six) in a Long Island Railroad car before being subdued by passengers when he tried to reload. Ferguson admitted racial hatred. (All of his victims were white.) After refusing the insanity defense he was convicted for all six murders and sentenced to 200 years in prison.
Later, I reflected on the remarkable fact that no one in that crowded car could oppose the killer by being armed. Then a terrible thought came to me: suppose some passenger was armed, but had not acted for fear of legal repercussions, waiting until he was personally threatened to use his weapon. We’ll never know if that happened. New York doesn’t really approve of self-defense.
In 1995, an “enraged” young man at a Northern Virginia convenience store beat a diminutive female store clerk senseless while customers watched but did nothing. At the time, I wrote a piece in which I imagined a bystander’s thoughts:
“My god! This guy is nuts. He’s probably armed, too. I’ve got to get home for supper and my kid’s little league game. If I intervene I could get stabbed or even shot. That would mean a trip to the hospital, no ballgame, and no supper tonight – maybe never, if I end up dead. On the other hand, if I clobber him with a can of beans I might end up like Bernard Goetz. I’m sorry about this, but it’s not my problem…”
Commentators who raged about the apathetic bystanders must have missed the New York Vigilante case. The customers’ reticence was distasteful but understandable.
But the Indiana Mall incident, the Kyle Rittenhouse case last year, and other incidents suggest that the times might be a-changin’. In 2002 three students subdued a Nigerian student after he shot and killed two faculty members and a student (and wounded three others) at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia. A small but telling fact – included by only six of the 100+ papers reporting the story – was that two of the three students who “tackled” the gunman (the Washington Post’s vague wording) were armed. Hearing the shots, they ran to their cars for weapons, then returned to disarm the killer.
Police understood the facts, and Tracy Bridges – one of the students who stopped the gunman – represented the event correctly to over 100 newsmen. But most of the public never knew about the armed students. It was a “media conspiracy of silence.”
The 2.5 million crimes a year foiled by armed citizens are “an inconvenient truth” rarely uttered by the media. Research shows that criminals fear the “armed mark” far more than they fear police intervention. (As in the Appalachian incident, most foiled crimes involve no actual shooting.)
Seven states – California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware – issue limited numbers of weapon-permits to its citizens. All others will issue a permit to any citizen not disqualified by a criminal record or mental deficiency, or will let citizens carry a weapon without a permit (Alaska, Vermont, Arizona, Indiana and Wyoming). Prior to 2017, the District of Columbia required citizens to give a “good reason” to obtain permission to carry a concealed weapon. But a decision by the District Court for DC struck down that vague requirement and made DC a shall-issue city.
On June 23rd the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York law that required people to show a specific need to carry a firearm in public. The Court’s ruling expanded citizens’ right to carry firearms outside the home. It means that similar laws in all seven states listed above now appear unconstitutional. In recent days, New York has attempted an end-run around that SCOTUS ruling by labeling almost every venue a gun-free zone – a move that will undoubtedly generate numerous lawsuits. This throws the gun-control cards up in the air, but it’s hard for this man-on-the-street to see how New York’s newest anti-gun ploy will be OK with the Supremes.
Gun-opponents try to twist the data, but the stubborn fact is that right-to-carry laws reduce crime. Crooks want easy pickings, not the OK Corral. Ten states with the lowest crime rates all have right-to-carry laws. Hysterical predictions of Dodge City at every street-corner – long a media staple – have so obviously not occurred that anti-gun activists have stopped making them.
Over the last forty years – before the current, politically inspired mass-shooting epidemic – the national firearm death rate actually declined, while 22 states passed right-to-carry laws and gun-ownership more than doubled. Gun-related accidents have not increased in states that have passed right-to-carry laws.
Even the perverse milieu of mass shootings shows the salutary effect of right-to-carry laws. The choice for such events is often schools and shopping malls. Why? Because disturbed would-be killers see that “gun-free” places offer safety (for them) and a guaranteed pool of unarmed victims. But there are encouraging signs that school officials are finally recognizing that schools need more protection than “gun free zone” signs. And after Elisjsha Dicken’s instructive actions in Greenwood, maybe shopping malls will ditch the “gun-free zone” crusade, too.
Thomas Autry didn’t have a firearm, but he was armed with something more important – an attitude of resistance. He wouldn’t let himself be victimized. When push came to shove, his assailants got more than they bargained for. An aroused, resistant citizenry is the greatest defense against tyranny – including the tyranny of crime.