We Need Guns Before the Cops Arrive

Members of Congress were lucky the Capitol Police were on hand.


U.S. Capitol Police special agent David Bailey receives a ball at the 56th Annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity in Washington, D.C., June 15.

U.S. Capitol Police special agent David Bailey receives a ball at the 56th Annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity in Washington, D.C., June 15. PHOTO: ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES

The attack on congressmen last week illustrates the realities of sudden violence. There’s a saying among gun-carry permit advocates: “When seconds count, police are minutes away.”

That was not the case last week but only because Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s Capitol Police detail was on hand and courageously engaged the shooter. Had Rep. Scalise and his security team not been present, congressmen and their aides would have been easy pickings until local police arrived. That took three minutes—but that’s a long time to spend taking cover in a baseball dugout under armed assault. “It would have been a bloodbath,” said Texas Republican Joe Barton.

In largely rural states like Indiana, where I live, response times can be 30 minutes or more. Maybe that’s why nearly a million Hoosiers hold active gun permits, as per state records, out of an adult population of 4.5 million. 

I’ve been one of them for decades. I’ve gone Christmas shopping armed, carried at family outings, sporting events and movie theaters. I was fired from a job with the gun tucked in an ankle holster. Aside from the indignity of being fired, the only person in danger was me, when I broke the news to my wife.

Indiana assumes—in the absence of evidence to the contrary—that people will protect themselves without reflexive, wanton violence. It works. A gun-use Venn diagram would show a mere sliver of overlap between those who lawfully carry weapons and those who use guns in the commission of crimes. You don’t find National Rifle Association stickers on getaway cars.

The inconvenient fact that laws aimed at restraining criminals are only obeyed by non-criminals was vividly demonstrated in this case. Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R., Ga.) reported that his aide “back in Georgia, carries a 9mm (pistol) in his car. . . . He had a clear shot at him, but here we’re not allowed to carry any weapons.”

Bad news for New York Republican Chris Collins, who said, “I can assure you from this day forth—I have a carry permit—I will be carrying when out and about.” Well, when he’s out and about on Capitol Hill he won’t be allowed to carry. He might be permitted to have a gun in his desk—unloaded. It will make a fine paperweight.

Mr. Collins’s New York state carry permit is recognized in Virginia, under expanding reciprocity laws that have extended permit rights beyond state lines. He could also carry in Indiana; our reciprocity rules are very liberal, in the least bossy sense of the term. But relying on his New York permit in Maryland or the District of Columbia would get Mr. Collins one phone call and a court date.

Mr. Scalise’s heroic security team, Capitol Police agents Crystal Griner and David Bailey, were armed with handguns and faced a man shooting a rifle. The situation wasn’t likely to offer a good outcome.

The truth is that armed citizens can never substitute for police, who train, practice, and re-train constantly. But officers can’t be everywhere. And ordinary citizens—even congressmen—can’t field full-time security teams. Local jurisdictions shouldn’t take away the tools we need to be our own first line of defense.

Mr. Lee is a writer in Indianapolis.

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