If we are to be protected, we must rely upon ourselves.
On September 7, 1876, three men rode into the bustling town of Northfield, Minnesota. Several townspeople thought they looked suspicious because their horses were of unusually high quality and they wore matching dusters (to cover their weapons).
These riders (who eventually grew to number eight men) were Jesse and Frank James, the Younger brothers (Cole, Jim and Bob), Charlie Pitts, Clell Miller and Bill Chadwell. They had come to rob the bank.
The towns folk had other ideas.
To this day, teller Joseph Lee Heywood is a local hero, shot dead by Frank James as Heywood repeatedly refused to open the bank safe after being beaten to the floor and threatened with death. James fled the bank with only $26.70.
Townsmen (many who were Civil War veterans) grabbed old but serviceable weapons and began firing at the outlaws on the street while yelling at townspeople to clear the area. The shocked robbers fled the town leaving two dead (Clell Miller and Bill Chadwell), with every member of the gang wounded except Jesse James. Two townspeople were also dead, the teller and a Swede who apparently became confused and couldn’t understand the shouts to get out of the street to avoid the shooting.
In describing the scene, Western story teller Louis L’Amour liked to say the gang was “shot to doll rags.” It took just seven minutes for the robbery to fail because of the swift actions of the men in the town in spotting the robbery and acting.
The citizens were relentless. As many as 2000 men from Northfield and neighboring towns chased the gang members for weeks, eventually capturing the Youngers (and killing Charlie Pitt). The James brothers escaped after splitting from the others a week after the robbery.
We can learn much from this historic narrative. It runs contrary to the fictional western movies where a band of outlaws come in and take over a town and terrorize the helpless citizens, a popular Hollywood theme. In reality an armed citizenry, leavened with battle-seasoned veterans, sized up the situation and took immediate action, sheltering their women and children and dealing swift and unrelenting justice to the barbarians who threatened their civilization.
Our fight against the global Islamic jihad has had a number of paradigm shifts. Prior to 9/11, pilots and flight crews were trained to go along with hijackers as the best way to protect passengers. The historic object of the hijackers was to safely get to a location with hostages or make demands for their release. After the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, that all changed. In real time, some passengers on Flight 93 learned on their cell phones what had happened in New York and Washington at the Pentagon and overwhelmed any terrorists in the passenger cabin and were assaulting the cockpit door when the terrorists decided to crash the plane in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The paradigm shifted in real time.
The Paris attacks gave us another paradigm shift (or should have). There was talk about the “hostages” at the Bataclan concert hall while the event was unfolding, but we should really know better by now. Islamic terrorists do not take hostages in the middle of such attacks; they massacre people. When they have the leisure to do so they may take women or girls to sell as sex slaves or men and children to behead at a later time for propaganda purposes, but in a terror operation where they are certain to be killed in the middle of a city like Paris if they stay put for very long, there is no recent history of hostage taking, just slaughter.
When journalists suggest that they are taking hostages, they are reporting the last war, a failure of imagination.
Northfield in 1876 teaches four lessons we must learn if we are to defend ourselves in this new reality.
- The government cannot protect us in our homes, work or leisure. No sheriff stopped the James-Younger gang. Even if we are willing to give up all of our civil liberties it is doubtful Big Brother could have averted the San Bernardino attack. Destroying IS, ISIL, ISIS, Daesh or whatever you want to call it in the Middle East might slow recruitment of jihadi wannabe attackers here and around the civilized world but will not eliminate them completely. We have entered a world of perpetual martyrdom, of lunatic Islamists who believe not only in their holy cause of jihad and their other-worldly reward but that their martyrdom will ignite further revolution. Even if we someday elect leaders at all levels with spine, it will take a long time to minimize the existential threat of random violence. These San Bernardino terrorists do not appear to have a large digital footprint that could have been detected. There was apparently an illegal straw man gun purchase of at least some of the weapons by a friend. It could not have been detected, and it could not have been responded to quickly enough. Even when police responded, they could not just charge in. They did not know how many terrorists there were. They did not know if doors were mined with IEDs that could kill or injure officers or civilians if breached (that apparently was the case; the bombs did not detonate). They did not know if quickly breaching could result in greater civilian casualties. Time was needed – even if they arrived instantly on the scene – to gather intelligence, assess the situation, formulate plans, and implement them. Time had to pass, and in such situations every minute means innocent lives lost as terrorists engage in their massacres.
- Vigilance cannot be trumped by political correctness. The San Bernardino massacre might have been averted had the neighbor(s) who noticed something suspicious actually reported it, but they said they did not because they were afraid of being accused of racial profiling. And that’s not an unreasonable fear. When the U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch makes a big deal about violence against Muslims in the wake of 9/11 (where there was an astounding lack of anti-Muslim backlash violence in the U.S.) and says her “greatest fear” is anti-Muslim rhetoric, then people have reason to fear reporting suspicious activities. When she pledges to prosecute people for discrimination against Muslims, this trickles down not only to civilians but all levels of law enforcement. That means that even had the neighbors reported their suspicions to local law enforcement or federal authorities, those reports might not have been effectively acted upon. Nonetheless we must report what we see without fear of reprisals from Social Justice Warriors like the Attorney General, and fight to support those who do make such reports. Making reports, even if they prove to be unfounded, should not be discouraged.
- Restricting gun ownership is the opposite of what is needed. That is like saying we should lock passengers into their seats in airplanes in response to the heroes in Shanksville, so only those terrorists with box cutters can cut their way out and roam the plane. First responders cannot arrive in time and gain enough situational awareness to know to storm a building as quickly as armed people inside can respond to the situation. Cops cannot be everywhere, and every event cannot have enough armed guards to make a difference. A few armed, trained civilians could have taken down the shooters and saved many lives before the police arrived on the scene both in San Bernardino and at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris. The terrorists’ bulletproof vests (if they had them; I’ve also seen them described as tactical vests for holding ammo clips) would not protect the legs or head or arms, or keep the shooter from being knocked down and being injured by the hydrostatic shock of impact. While many people would never consider carrying a gun at a holiday party, those folks wouldn’t have to; it would only have taken four or five armed citizens to insure these two were taken out, wounded, scared off, or sent out wounded to leave an easier trail for law enforcement. These terrorists had experience with target practice but expected a soft target; probably the shock of being shot back at would have disrupted their attack or even caused them to abandon their weapons. As Bruce Lee said, boards do not hit back.
- Open carry is not the answer; concealed carry is. The James-Younger crowd rode into a town they thought was filled with farmers and merchants. They had sized up a number of towns before deciding on this one and had chosen it as a “soft target.” The guns were out of sight. Open carry makes the armed person the terrorists’ first target. Concealed carry leaves the terrorist wondering who might be armed and who isn’t. This is why air marshals are in plain clothes. Would-be terrorists do not know who is armed or if there is one on a flight. A soft target becomes a potentially hard target. The San Bernardino terrorists apparently had another attack planned after this one, possibly a police station or military target; some theorize they chose this target first so they were guaranteed a soft target success in case they failed in the second. If they knew that there was a possibility that there were armed people at this party they would not have considered this a soft target. Open carry advertises what is a hard or soft target; wide-spread concealed carry makes ANY target potentially hard and may discourage attacks.
I’m sure my friends on the Left would say that we cannot go back to the wild west or vigilante justice. They are ignoring the fact that the Islamist terrorists have already brought us back to the seventh century with their jihadi assaults. Vigilante justice was often an organized community response to the barbarism of the outlaw when no law enforcement was available. Life is not always what it appears in a Hollywood western. For example, San Francisco citizens joined together several times in an organized Committee of Vigilance (vigilantes) when the existing civil government was not handling problems (or was part of the problem).
We have to arm ourselves and be prepared to defend ourselves. As it happens, I was born about four miles from where those two terrorists went on their rampage last week. I grew up in San Bernardino (none of us from there pronounce the second “r” either, so don’t feel bad). This kinda hits home and tells me it can happen anywhere. There are no safe places. But I cannot legally carry a concealed weapon in California (California is not big on reciprocity for CCPs). If I had had the misfortune to be at the Inland Regional Center December 2, I would have been as unable to defend myself and others as anyone in that hall because California politicians have determined to keep folks safe from gunslingers like me.
I’m only in California a few days a month these days. But I’m going to look into finding a sympathetic jurisdiction for a California CCP. I don’t want to be a mourned victim but a proactive defender – wherever I am.