Recent national news coverage of three dramatic uses of personal firearms to vanquish robbers and murderers has increased awareness of the ability, the necessity, and perhaps the inevitability of a citizenry that defends itself during the minutes it takes for law enforcement to arrive.
Simultaneously, two federal appellate courts prepare to answer whether federal officials may limit law-abiding citizens’ self-defense rights across the third of the nation and in the thousands of facilities owned by the federal government.
Earlier this month, two Pennsylvania state legislators walking to their apartment after an evening meal in Harrisburg were accosted by an armed assailant demanding their wallets. When the gunman put a 9mm handgun to the head of Representative Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie), Representative Marty Flynn (D-Scranton), a former county corrections officer with a concealed carry permit, drew his .380 Smith & Wesson and fired. The gunman, his accomplice, and two others — teenagers all — were arrested nearby. They later admitted committing a Capitol Hill robbery a day earlier that netted cash, cell phones, and computers.
Last summer, at a hospital in Darby, a Philadelphia suburb, caseworker Theresa Hunt brought a patient to psychiatrist Dr. Lee Silverman for his appointment. The patient extracted a hidden pistol, killed Hunt, and turned the gun on Silverman. Silverman, who has a concealed carry permit, ducked behind his desk, grabbed his weapon, and, though grazed in the temple and hand, returned fire. The wounded patient fled but was subdued and his pistol seized. Although hospital policy bars weapons by other than active-duty police officers, the local chief said, “[T]he doctor saved lives.”
Finally, in late September, in Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City, at the offices of Vaughan Foods, Mark Vaughan, the chief operating officer and a reserve county deputy, heard cries responding to the murder of Colleen Hufford by beheading and the stabbing of another female employee. Vaughan rushed to his car, retrieved his weapon secured there under Oklahoma’s bring your gun to work law, and returned. While an employee spoke with 911, Vaughan cornered and shot the perpetrator in the midst of his one-man jihad. Said a police sergeant, “This [killing] was not going to stop if [Vaughan] didn’t stop it.”
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Moore, a nurse in Lewiston, Idaho, two hundred miles north of Boise, seeks to exercise the Second Amendment rights employed so effectively by Flynn, Silverman, and Vaughan, not to protect herself on a city’s mean streets, in a psyche ward, or at work, but when recreating in the middle of nowhere on federal lands, specifically U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recreational areas. Morris has an emergency concealed carry license from the Nez Perce County Sheriff due to 2012 threats and physical attacks by a former neighbor and carries a handgun for self-defense, but she may not do so when she uses Corps-managed public lands near the Snake River in Lewiston, Idaho, to boat with friends, to hike with her dog, or to reach Hells Gate State Park.
In mid-October, ruling in a lawsuit brought by Morris, an Idaho federal district court struck down a 1973 Corps regulation, unchanged since the landmark 2008 decision of the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller. The case is headed for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals but the Idaho judge argues that Ninth Circuit precedent requires his holding (“banning the use of handguns on Corps’ property by law-abiding citizens for self-defense purposes violates the Second Amendment”) be upheld.
In early October, a Tenth Circuit Court in Denver heard an appeal by the U.S. Postal Service from a Colorado federal district court’s invalidation of its unconstitutional 1972 regulation that bars firearms in locked cars in its parking lots. The Colorado man who brought the case, Tab Bonidy of Avon, cross appealed for the right to enter, armed, his closed post office to retrieve or drop mail late at night. During oral argument in early October, one judge asked about the Obama administration’s concern that criminals could be using the building to transport drugs. All the more reason, answered Bonidy’s lawyer, for him to have his concealed weapon at hand.
With the nation watching and decisions at appeals courts pending, the Supreme Court waits.
William Perry Pendley, a lawyer, is president of Mountain States Legal Foundation in Denver and author of Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan’s Battle with Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today.