Two bloody tragedies, just a few hours apart on December 28-29—the mass stabbings at a synagogue in Monsey, New York, and the thwarted mass shooting at a church in Forth Worth, Texas—have put questions about guns and public safety in a valuable new light. How do we stay safe? Especially in our houses of worship? And what should we do about the menace of marauders in our midst?
Yet at the same time, we could also say that the New York and Texas attacks put the public safety issue in a valuable old light. How so? Because we are seeing the right of each state to make its own decisions—for better or for worse, as the case might be—as enshrined in our founding document, the U.S. Constitution.
That is, the Founders fully intended for the states, not the central government, to take responsibility for many matters. As James Madison wrote in Federalist #45, published in 1788 as the Constitution was being ratified, “In the first place it is to be remembered that the general government is not to be charged with the whole power of making and administering laws. Its jurisdiction is limited to certain enumerated objects. … The [state] governments … will retain their due authority and activity.”
This is federalism. Federalism is the principle that the states should be sovereign, operating within our national federal system; as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in 1932, the individual states should each be “laboratories of democracy.” Hopefully, over the long run, these “laboratories” will all find their way to better results, although, of course, there can be no guarantee that every state will do the smart thing.
Sometimes, perhaps the best we can hope for is that the failures of some states will at least provide instruction to the others; as Army drill sergeants say to dud recruits, You can still serve a useful purpose—as a bad example!
So now, in the last few days, we’ve seen the results of two grisly “experiments” within our federal system. In New York, the assailant at the Netzach Yisroel congregation managed to stab five worshipers before he was subdued by the police. In Texas, the assailant at the West Freeway Church of Christ managed to shoot and kill two innocent victims before he himself was killed by an armed parishioner. The Fort Worth cops were rushing to the church, and yet, were it not for heroes already on the premises, the assailant might have killed many more in those precious seconds and minutes.
Indeed, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Joeff Williams paid tribute to West Freeway’s vigilant guardians on the afternoon of December 29: “The citizens who were inside that church undoubtedly saved 242 other parishioners. … It was miraculous. … [They were] true heroes.”
In fact, the state’s Republican leadership as a whole deserves credit for helping keep churchgoers safe. As The Forth Worth Star-Telegram reported, a 2017 legal ruling from the state’s attorney general clarified the legal right of churchgoers (with the church’s permission) to bear the arms needed to defend the congregation:
A Texas law went into effect in September 2017 that allows churches to hire armed guards. Attorney General Ken Paxton clarified months later that the law also allows licensed handgun owners to bring their firearms to church as long as the church does not oppose it. The clarification was released in an opinion by Paxton after a November 2017 shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. Twenty-six people were fatally shot, and another 20 were wounded.
We might note that at the time of this Texas ruling, national liberals were spluttering with outraged opposition. For instance, in 2017, Joe Biden sniffed about Paxton’s legal brief, “It’s just absolutely irrational. It’s totally irrational.”
Yet now, in 2019, we can see the life-and-death difference that robust self-defense can make: If an evil-minded gunman walks into an undefended church, he can kill or injure scores. But if an evil-doer walks into a defended church, he himself is dead within seconds. Sorry, Middle Class Joe: It’s totally rational for churches to be prepared for trouble.
As the West Freeway church’s senior minister, Britt Farmer, said on December 29, “I’m thankful our government has allowed us the opportunity to protect ourselves.”
Farmer’s words thus echo what National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre said back in 2012: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”
Ever since, the Main Stream Media has been scoffing at LaPierre’s words. For instance, here’s a 2018 headline from our friends at ABC News: “Breaking down the NRA-backed theory that a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun.” The MSM, in other words, seems to think that if a conservative issue is just “broken down” and “explained” better, then conservatives will see the error of their ways and become liberals.
Or maybe not. As Brad Palumbo recently wrote in the Washington Examiner:
Many Democrats and liberal media figures sneer at the “good guy with a gun” narrative when it comes to the debate over gun control, dismissing it as a myth clung to by Bible-thumping rednecks. Yet, if there was ever a single incident to remind us just how wrong they are, it’s the tragic church shooting that was thankfully stopped in its tracks on Sunday.
And yet, it’s not just Fort Worth. Studies show that good guys with guns thwart hundreds of thousands of crimes a year.
Still, not everyone agrees with Texas’s safety logic, and in our Madisonian federal system, states have the right to disagree with each other. For instance, New York is led by Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo; he’s one of those Wall Street-oriented progressives; that is, a Mike Bloomberg type. Indeed, Bloomberg must be pleased with Cuomo’s devotion to his cause, no matter what.
So we can see: Two different states—the Lone Star State, run by a Republican, and the Empire State, run by a Democrat—have chosen two different responses to horrible challenges. These states aren’t just laboratories of democracy; they are also laboratories of public safety.
In the meantime, as we watch this ongoing process of democratic experimentation unfold, we might reach a few conclusions, five, in fact:
First, it should be better understood that choices about guns can be a key issue in any state. For instance, when New York Post columnist Karol Markowicz first heard the news, she was terse and to the point: “We need guns.” A few minutes later, she added, “Every synagogue needs an armed guard. Every synagogue needs armed worshipers.”
Yet as we have seen, worshipers in Texas are already free to arm and to protect themselves—and so now, what sort of self-defense is legal in New York? Are New Yorkers happy with their liberal anti-gun governor? Are they happy with the status quo? We’ll know more in the next statewide election. In fact, we’re already seeing plenty of evidence–visual evidence, complete with the open carrying of self-defense weapons—that Jews in the New York region are taking seriously the threats they face from lowlifes; so now we’ll have to stay tuned as Cuomo/Bloomberg-type liberals evaluate this new challenge to their gun-control zeal.
Second, pro-Second Amendment forces, joined by others concerned about public safety, should draft up language replicating that of Texas Attorney General Paxton in clarifying gun rights in holy places. The idea would be to make sure that any congregation is guaranteed the right to be as safe as was the West Freeway church. Indeed, such language could be turned into a campaign pledge that candidates could be asked to make during election campaigns. We could call it the Church Protection Pledge.
Third, let’s ask: How quickly can President Trump bring together these heroes—the hero-defenders in Texas, at least one of whom, Jack Wilson, has been identified, and the hero-cops in New York, who have also been identified–to a televised ceremony at the White House? All these heroes certainly deserve honoring, both the volunteers and the police.
As Trump said of the good-guys-with-guns in a tweet on December 30, “Lives were saved by these heroes, and [by] Texas laws allowing them to carry arms!” So now, an in-person White House moment would send a valuable further signal to the nation—namely, that gun and self-defense rights are worth protecting, and that true heroes are worth truly honoring. If the Democrats don’t approve of such protecting and honoring, they are free, of course, to criticize.
Fourth, We need to take a hard look at policies that let active criminals run free; it’s one thing to show clemency to elderly prisoners who are clearly past the age of active criminality. It’s quite another thing to let young suspects loose, often with no bail, and even young convicts loose, often with no sentence. In the words of Liel Leibowitz, writing for the Jewish publication Tablet, “Letting violent, hate-filled bigots walk free to commit more violent hate crimes as a matter of public policy is the definition of insanity. It’s evil.” In fact, as of January 1, New York State has further loosened its laws. Note to New Yorkers and potential tourists: The bad old crime days of the 1970s are already making a comeback, and the problem will only get worse.
Fifth, we should find new and permanent ways to celebrate these heroes—the good guys with the guns, whether or not the guns actually had to be used. As we know, the left finds a way to celebrate its heroes; so we on the right should celebrate our heroes.
It would be cool for conservative activists to hail the courage of these stalwarts who confronted evil, looked it in the eye—and shot it dead. (Or otherwise brought the wicked to justice.) Indeed, such hailing could be regularized and systematized—on new media, social media, any kind of media—across the nation. There are, after all, such brave and resolute heroes in every state, and they all deserve to be valorized.
We might also note that these days, video cameras seem omnipresent—because of security cameras, as well as smart phones, drones, etc.—and so we find ourselves in an interesting situation, in which that many remarkable events are now digitally recorded. In other words, the deeds of heroes are likely to remembered forever, if, that is, we take the trouble to remember them. So the challenge to the right is to remember, with an eye toward replication: The more we lionize heroes, the more heroic lions we are likely to get. And we need them, now more than ever!
Once again, if the Democrats disagree as to who’s a hero, they are free to criticize. And that should be fine with Republicans, because under our Constitution, everyone is free to be right—or wrong.
In fact, it’s hard to think of better ground on which to fight the 2020 election—or any election.