The mass shootings of the Virginia Tech, the Navy Yard, Fort Hood (again!), and last week, Federal Express in Kennesaw, GA brought to my mind an encounter I had with the day manager of a Home Depot store near my home. I had recently moved to Virginia and was intrigued by the open carry laws. In legal theory, Virginians have the right to carry a handgun on their person, in plain sight, without any permits required. I tried it a few times and was never troubled by our law enforcement. There was one instance where the manager I mentioned above asked me to leave his store. Below is a letter I wrote him following that experience. I remain very frustrated on these stupid "gun free" zones which turn into killing zones. Each of those cited shootings happened after I wrote this letter.
July 14, 2003
Last week I was shopping in your store when you approached me and asked me two questions in quick succession. “Why do you have a gun strapped to the back of your belt?” “Are you a law enforcement officer?” I realized that the first question was rhetorical, meant as an opening for the second; the question you really wanted answered. So when I replied “No” you directed me to leave the store immediately. This I did, without making an issue. Now, with your patience I would like to answer that first question for you.
We would think a man a fool if after being given a late model, expensive luxury car which dearly cost his benefactor, he simply parked it in the street and never used it. He is content in the knowledge that the car is his. As the years go by the motor rusts, the tires sag, the battery dies, the paint fades and the interior cracks. Only when the city tries to tow the obviously unused, old, and unwanted car away does he defend his right to keep the car with fervor and righteous anger. Such is the situation with our American right to keep and bear arms. Our citizens have become so complacent and apathetic concerning this precious right that in spite of our vigorous defense in the state and national legislatures to preserve it on paper, in reality, it has faded away. And like our poor fool, when we need the right, in a moment of severe crisis, it no longer works for us. We learn the hard way that rights are perishable. What our forebears paid for in blood and suffering, we forfeit through disuse.
Your second question illustrates this point very well. Our people no longer understand the principle under which this country was founded, that we are the masters and the government the servants. The founding fathers knew that abuses were inevitable if the situation were ever allowed to reverse. However, today, we are happy to allow the authorities a total monopoly on all the firearms in the public arena. In our minds we all fall into three possible categories when it comes to weapons; a law enforcement officer with a gun, an honest citizen without a gun and finally, a thug or madman with a gun. Missing from our consciousness is the honest, responsible, armed citizen; the kind of person who refuses to allow criminals and petty thugs to control his world; the kind of citizen a republic needs to maintain order and peace while preserving liberty. The only other two possibilities are chaos and a police state. Today, we are quickly achieving both. In more and more locations metal detectors are springing up for the sole purpose of disarming our people, not to catch criminals. If this were not the case, why the draconian punishments when a weapon is found on a man with a clean record?
As the on duty manager what is your established procedure should a madman begin to indiscriminately shoot people in your store? I can guess. You will call 911 and run like hell leaving everyone else to fend for themselves. I seriously doubt that you or your employees will come to our aid with any means to do so since I am sure that The Home Depot’s policies also prevent you from carrying arms. In a flash everyone in the building become victims or potential victims. And the sickest part of it all is each person who remains alive will be hiding and praying that the other guy gets it while they do nothing. Equally reprehensible is our expectation that the police risk their lives to save us while we do nothing to help ourselves. The police are not our personal body guards. They will help if they can, but do not expect them to take a bullet for you. Only the Secret Service does that and only for one man. In fact, as Reginald Denny learned the hard way during the Los Angeles riots, the police could watch the crime on television with the intent to capture the criminal, not to save the victims. Their job is solely to capture the bad guy and gather evidence. And remember this, if it takes five minutes for them to arrive and subdue, that is five more dead customers if the murderer paused a full minute between shots. This demonstrates rank cowardice on our part to allow this to happen in our midst.
Each person has an inalienable right to defend his life at all times. In addition to that, we also have the solemn duty to defend those around us from loss of life. Death is permanent. Most of us keep a weapon in our bedroom for just that reason. However, through naïve apathy we go out into the world armed with only a cell phone. Thugs are universally uncooperative with our polite request to return home for our weapon or to use the phone to call for help. They also have shown adeptness at playing the lag time between calling 911 and the arrival of the police. In other words, when you need your weapon, you need it here, now! The Los Angeles police have determined through the gruesome evidence that Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson were murdered by one man with a knife on a public sidewalk in front of Nicole’s home. Whether Nicole had a gun in her bedroom or not, we do not know. We do know that she was unable to use one. They failed to convict anyone for this crime. In another crime, in New Hampshire, two college professors, Half and his wife Suzanne Zantop, were murdered by two teenagers with knives, in their home. They too were unable to utilize a weapon in self defense. How much more vulnerable are we when we are miles away from our weapons. They are no use in our homes and cars when we are not near them. Shandra Levy was murdered in broad daylight on a jogging trail in Washington, D.C. The police do not know how she was killed since it took them the better part of a year to come to her aid. We are confident that there was no firearm involved since Shandra was prevented by D.C. law to carry one and her attacker did not need one. The really perverse thing in this situation is that we are all certain that many more young women will be brutally murdered in the near future while we continue to proscribe their ability to carry a handgun in self defense.
It is my sincere, profound and reverent prayer that I will never be faced with a deadly situation requiring the use of my handgun and that the trouble I go through in carrying one will be for naught. However, it is also my profound prayer that if I am threatened, that I will be decisive and efficient in the defense of my life and those around me. I hope this sufficiently answers your first question. Now that I am thinking about it, I would like to change my answer to your second question. Yes, I am in law enforcement.
William C. Howe
cc: Home Depot Headquarters, Atlanta, GA.
Robert C. Scott, Congressman
3rd District U.S. House of Representatives