It really boils down to a simple question: If there is a terrorist on the loose, do you want a firearm to protect yourself, your family and your property?
This was the essential rhetorical argument behind National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre’s controversial remarks at the 2013 NRA Convention in Houston, Texas, when he linked gun ownership and the battle over gun control to the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings and the subsequent gunfight that ensued between Watertown police and the two terrorist suspects.
“Imagine living in a large metro area where lawful firearms ownership is heavily regulated and discouraged,” LaPierre began. “Imagine waking up to a phone call from the police, warning that a terrorist event is occurring outside and ordering you to stay inside your home.”
“I’m talking, of course, about Boston, where residents were imprisoned behind the locked doors of their homes, a terrorist with bombs and guns just outside,” he continued. “Frightened citizens, sheltered in place, with no means to defend themselves or their families from whatever may come crashing through the door.”
“How many Bostonians wished they had a gun two weeks ago?” he asked. “How many other Americans now ponder that life-or-death question?”
While many gun owners at the convention saw these as reasonable questions to ask in the wake of a terrible tragedy, at least one pundit in the mainstream media viewed it as “exploiting” the situation to pander to a “reality-challenged” audience.
“Yeah, Wayne LaPierre went there,” MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell said. “And the answer is: none of the Bostonians I talked to wished they had a gun … Guns would not have done anyone any good at any time in that story in Boston and we know it.”
“Wayne [LaPierre] doesn’t care about or even know the facts of the Boston case, so he probably doesn’t know that the first person that the bombers encountered after the bombing had a gun,” O’Donnell continued. “That was MIT police officer Sean Collier. He was assassinated by Tamerlan Tsarnaev. Officer Collier never had a chance to use his gun.”
As the Huffington Post noted, local police believed that Collier was killed because the Boston suspects wanted another gun. Investigators believed that they were unable to obtain the firearm because Collier’s holster had a lock.
Toward the end of the video, O’Donnell said, “We don’t know yet exactly how Tamerlan Tsarnaev got the gun used to assassinate Officer Sean Collier and to wound Officer Richard Donohue. But we do know that getting that gun was made easier — much, much easier — by the life’s work of Wayne LaPierre.”
So, were LaPierre’s comments fair or foul? Or was O’Donnell correct in his analysis of the situation?
Remove all the politics and the emotional association one may have with the Marathon bombings and one is left with a fundamental question: Is one ultimately responsible for his/her own safety?
How one answers this question likely depends upon how one sees the role of government in a free society. Folks like O’Donnell seem to believe that government should be the first and last line of defense against evildoers, whereas gun owners like LaPierre believe that the government cannot protect its people at all times in all places.
Sure, guns are not a panaca for criminals. Just because one owns or carries a firearm does not mean that he/she is impervious to a sudden assault or a violent attack. At the same time, if one finds himself or herself in a life-threatening situation against an armed assailant, would he/she be better off with or without a firearm?
In the vast majority of instances, the answer to this question seems to be quite obvious.