Self-Defense and God

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credit: commons.wikimedia.org

credit: commons.wikimedia.org

At The Truth About Guns, my latest article is up. Titled “Why It’s So Hard To Discuss Guns Rationally With Some People,” it seems to have taken on something of a life of its own.

In offering an explanation of the mindset of anti-gun/freedom believers, I raised the issue of the role of God in establishing the natural, unalienable right of self-defense and how such people, generally disbelieving in God–and in anyone or anything more powerful than the state–can therefore ignore even the concept of self-defense.  I also noted that such people tend to adopt progressivism/statism as a religion, or at least a belief system with the same qualities as a religion, which allows the same dismissal of self-defense.

Goodness gracious! One might think I’d been politically incorrect or something! If you have a few minutes, read the article, but by all means, read the comments. One of the things I’m most proud of at this scruffy little blog is that readers actually read and understand the arguments, not only mine, but those who kindly take the time to comment. I’m learning that’s not always the case everywhere on the Net.

Of Cows, Tortoises and The Rule Of Law

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CowsIt appears to be over–for the moment:

The Bureau of Land Management announced Saturday that it has ended its mission to remove illegal cattle from a rural Nevada range after a tense week-long standoff with a rancher and militia supporters, citing a ‘serious concern’ for the safety of employees and the public.

‘Based on information about conditions on the ground, and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public,’ the statement read.

Bureau officials had dismantled designated protest areas supporting rancher Cliven Bundy, who they say refuses to comply with the ‘same laws that 16,000 public land ranchers do every year.’

‘After 20 years and multiple court orders to remove the trespass cattle, Mr. Bundy owes the American taxpayers in excess of $1 million. The BLM will continue to work to resolve the matter administratively and judicially,’ the statement said. ‘We ask that all parties in the area remain peaceful and law-abiding as the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service work to end the operation in an orderly manner.’

A group of about 1,000 supporting Bundy cheered and sang ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ when BLM made its announcement.

And there, gentle readers, is a significant clue to why the Obama Administration backed down: 1000 people traveled from across the nation, not only to offer moral support, but to serve on the front line of the battle against tyranny if necessary.

As regular readers know, I’ve recently written about the situation in Connecticut, which has the very real potential to become a second shot heard ‘round the world. The location of that potential shot shifted to Nevada last week, and depending upon which account one credits most, the shot was closer to being fired than in Connecticut.

I’ve no doubt that some of the armed federal officers present were hoping for a fight. Some people in law enforcement, particularly federal law enforcement, get the idea that they are above the law, the masters of the people. They take anyone asserting their rights under the Constitution as a personal insult, a stain on their honor they are obligated to avenge. But more probably, as the BLM’s official statement said, enough of them came to understand, when tens, and then hundreds of unremarkable Americans directly challenged them, they were badly outnumbered and without the willing support of the people, if things turned ugly, they would be in the kind of trouble no badge, uniform or bluster could overcome.

Such is the reality of policing in America. The police can do their jobs and survive only because most Americans are willing to obey the law most of the time, and if they don’t actively support the police, they are usually not willing to actively oppose them, particularly not physically. There are few things more frightening to rational police officers than being surrounded by a crowd of hundreds that might turn hostile at any moment. At those times, their authority, their uniform, and their handgun with a handful of rounds, are reduced to their real effect and power which is primarily symbolic.

Participation in Democracy must be voluntary. If it’s not, it’s tyranny.

It is surprising that the Obamites backed down. They are normally so arrogant and imperious that an uprising by the peasants would have to be ruthlessly suppressed. Could it be that the men on the front line refused to act as shock troops in sufficient numbers to give them pause? I would surely hope so, but it would be foolish to bet on their honor, patriotism and good will. There will always be enough willing to turn against their fellow Americans, at least at first.

It would be interesting to see what their internal polling on this issue looked like. They are indeed responsive to their base, including radical environmentalists for whom a few turtles are far more important than human lives. On the other hand, if they pushed this badly-chosen confrontation into violence, it would surely not be the kind of headline they’d like to have to distract the public from Obamacare and the myriad other Obama scandals. “I’m going to run proudly on murdering elderly ranchers and their families and stealing and killing their cattle,” might even be a dumber move for Congressional Democrats than running on the glory of Obamacare.

It would be calming to imagine that the Obamites realize that while enviro-radicals talk a big game and are capable of torching multi-residential dwellings under construction, and similar acts of brave, eco-revolutionary derring-do, they tend to be rather squishy when armed confrontation with people that know how to shoot back and aren’t afraid to do it in the light of day is in the offing. There is a difference in kind, determination and ability between leftist coffee-shop revolutionaries and enraged patriots. I doubt the Obamites–as brilliant as they imagine themselves to be–are bright enough to truly understand that.  What’s the point of being one of the elite if you have to live under the same rules and laws you impose on everyone else?

Support for the rule of law is absolutely necessary. However, when Americans see a federal government led by a man who ignores the rule of law, that changes the calculation.

It is not necessary to understand all of the specific legal issues involved in this case. From media accounts, it would seem that Mr. Bundy might be a stubborn, hard-bitten rancher, a difficult man with whom to negotiate. But the federal response has been out of all proportion to reality. For example, the FAA established a no-fly zone over the Bundy Ranch. 

No Fly

The Federal Government is conducting a cattle round up operation, and they don’t want anyone overflying the rounding up of cattle? There is no possible way that this does not look like the government trying to avoid observation of insupportable actions. If they claim it was done to avoid deconfliction with drones, they have to explain why they felt it necessary to use what is a very expensive, limited, and military or CIA asset against a Nevada rancher. If that’s not the case, what’s left? The only other possible explanation is they did not want anyone, particularly news sources, to be able to film their actions.

Did they intend to organize and carry out an armed, pseudo-military assault on the Bundys? On the hundreds of citizens determined to deter and keep an eye on them, determined there never be another Waco or Ruby Ridge? Did they truly intend to go to war against fellow Americans? They had helicopters, armored personnel carriers and snipers. They were mobilizing, and–thank God–they blinked.

The only rational possibility is that the Obamites decided the political costs–for the moment–exceeded the benefits of sending a message to the peasants about who is really in charge. For Barack Obama, politics–and personal aggrandizement–trump everything. It may be nothing more than President Obama deciding that doing what he really wanted to do would energize the Republican base too much for comfort in advance of the next election.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of priorities and values. Family farms and ranches have been decreasing in number for decades, yet never have they been so productive and never have they fed so many. Americans appreciate farmers and ranchers. They are, after all, what most of us used to be. They embody self-reliance, the American work ethic, deals sealed with a handshake, determination and honor. What better use of desert BLM land–land that would otherwise do nothing but soaking up sunlight–is there than feeding cattle that in turn feed America? Is the federal government in business to amass lands that will do nothing to benefit Americans, to destroy family farms and ranches, or to ensure the survival of the nation and the support of the values that build and maintain America?

The issue of the Desert Tortoise in this situation is relatively recent. One might be allowed a healthy dose of cynicism when turtles that have lived in the desert for millennia are suddenly discovered and become a vital environmental concern such that they can be used to bankrupt a rancher. The tortoises seemed to coexist with cattle and other creatures quite well and for a very long time before the BLM found it expedient to discover a sudden and legally pressing concern for their welfare.

Priorities and values. Should the federal government use desert land unsuitable for virtually any other use for the grazing of cattle that will directly benefit the American people, or should they, with force and violence, kill those cattle and fellow Americans to establish the supremacy and majesty of the Bureau of Land Management lest another uppity rancher think he can put one over on federal bureaucrats?

We’ve dodged the bullet yet again, but I fear the relationship between Americans and the federal government has changed, drastically and dangerously, and it will take a very long time to reestablish the trust Mr. Obama has so callously thrown away.

It is now a virtual certainty that Obamite acts of tyranny will be resisted, by hundreds, even thousands, and if necessary, by force. That sufficient Americans see their government as an enemy of liberty is a very disturbing and dangerous development.

I pity honorable federal officers. They can no longer count on Americans to willingly obey a rule of law they not unreasonably see as illegitimate. These are very dangerous times, just as Barack Obama and his fellow travelers have always wanted.

I would like to believe, above all, that wiser, cooler heads prevailed in this, and will do the same in Connecticut. Unfortunately, it’s more likely that the decision to stand down was made by more cravenly political and cowardly heads.

UPDATE, 04-13-14, 1700 CT:  John Hinderaker at Powerline has this:

As time went by, more and more allies showed up at the Bundy Ranch, pretty much all of them armed. The arrivals included some who described themselves as militias. Today there was an extraordinary scene that gave rise to this photograph. Hundreds of Bundy supporters, on horseback and, I assume, armed, told the federal agents that they were surrounded and had better give back the cattle they had confiscated:

credit: Reuters

credit: Reuters

Coleen Ritzer: A Legacy To Leave Behind 3

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Philip Chism: The FAce Of Evil

Philip Chism: The FAce Of Evil

The prosecution of 15 year-old Philip Chism for the brutal rape and murder of math teacher Colleen Ritzer continues.I reported on that case in “Coleen Ritzer: A Legacy To Leave Behind” and “Coleen Ritzer: A Legacy To Leave Behind 2. Now comes new information, not from the American press, but from The Daily Mail, which has been covering the story very effectively:  

The teen who allegedly raped and murdered his high school maths teacher in a crime that shocked the nation tortured cats before he went on to kill, investigators believe.

Officers in 15-year-old Philip Chism’s home state of Tennessee are following up a lead that the soccer star – who is accused of slashing beloved Colleen Ritzer’s throat and brutalizing her body – got a twisted thrill from setting pet cats on fire.

The revelation is the first suggestion that the shy and seemingly well-behaved freshman may have had violent tendencies prior to October’s horrific killing in Danvers, Massachusetts.

But if he did have any sort of fascination with torturing animals, as officers believe, it would give investigators an insight into the depraved mind of a deeply disturbed teenager.

It is not thought he was ever arrested for the abuse, but police in Tennessee and Danvers are treating it as a serious line of inquiry and feel it may go some way to establishing a motive.

Known as the “Homicidal Triad,” cruelty to animals, pyromania and bedwetting past adolescence are often seen in serial killers and homicidal personalities. They are not present in every case, but crop up often enough to be significant. I’m not aware that investigators in this case are following that angle, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it eventually crop up, just as I was not surprised to discover the rape allegations against Chism.

 According to reports at the time of his arrest, Chism admitted the murder yet he has never given a reason as to why he might have committed the crime. [skip]

He had previously pleaded not guilty to charges of rape, robbery and murder. [skip]

Chism, who had been asked to stay late by Ritzer to help after school, allegedly followed her into a bathroom shortly before 3 pm on October 22 and attacked her, sexually assaulted her twice, stripped her and then stole her cellphone, credit cars and her driver’s licenses.

In court documents released last month, state police said Chism confessed to killing Ritzer, but denied sexually assaulting her.

It is also not at all unusual for murderous personalities to delight in playing word games with the police, making partial admissions, but holding back pertinent details.

As I’ve previously noted, I follow this case because attacks from deranged shooters are not the only dangers teachers and students face. Had Ritzer been armed–an impossibility in Massachusetts–she might be alive today.  At least she could have chosen to be prepared to protect herself. I’ll continue to update the case as more information becomes available.

The Literature Corner: That’s When The Tears Came

Police officers have to be stoic, in control of their emotions.  I didn’t realize how hard I worked at this–and how successful I was–until I left police work.  Since then, I’ve been far more emotional that I can ever remember being.  Music, for example, moves me to tears, and I can’t always predict when or how.  I routinely perform some of the most beautiful and inspiring music composed, but now I find I must I must work very hard to think of it technically, not emotionally, while still performing with emotion and beauty.  It’s not always easy.

This is a story of one of the losses I, like all cops, endured on a regular basis.  It happened when I was a young officer, only a few years into my first civilian police job.

That’s When The Tears Came


The old juvenile officer left town.  A decent chap, he made a life-changing mistake.  Hunting elk in a nearby mountain range, he succumbed to that most unforgivable of tenderfoot failings: buck fever–a bit of temporary blindness that overtakes some hunters.

Most of us no longer need to hunt for survival.  There is, to be sure, value in the hunt and in its intimate connection with a natural world now foreign to so many.  But once in the field, trying to recapture a racial memory of the hunter, some men–buck fever is a primarily male affliction–lose their way.  Perhaps it’s a matter of pride.  Failing to bring home the bacon reflects on manhood, doesn’t it?  Isn’t freshly slain game indisputable proof of woodsman-like accomplishment?  Isn’t the failed hunter smaller, somehow less virile?

To forestall failure, some shoot at movement.  They don’t wait to absolutely identify their target, to ensure a safe backstop for their bullets, or even for a clear sight picture.  It moves; they shoot: buck fever.  Thank goodness many miss.  Bill didn’t.  He saw an “elk” and fired, nearly severing the arm of a very stunned female hunter who, according to reliable accounts, looked nothing like an elk.

Bill told me, over and over, his voice tinged with embarrassment and horror, “I thought she was an elk.”  I didn’t have to tell him that his explanation wouldn’t hold water in the civil trial that was sure to come.  Cops can’t afford to make mistakes with firearms.  He left town.  I never heard from him again.

Nobody else wanted Bill’s job.  For most cops, juvenile work isn’t “real” police work, but I was glad to get it.  Where past juvenile officers waited for kids and cases to come to them, I went out and found them.  My caseload immediately jumped hundreds of percentage points.  It seemed obvious that the work with kids was out there among the kids.  I never could figure out why that concept seemed lost on so many people.  I spent most of every day in the schools, building relationships with administrators and teachers, and most importantly, with kids.

Kim and Susan were best friends.  They weren’t the most popular kids in high school, but they moved easily among all the cliques.   They were the kind of kids a national newsmagazine might use to illustrate a cover story on teenagers.  Fresh faced, cute, happy, average.  They were the kind of kids that everybody knew, and so I did.

I met them one Friday night when I was playing Batman and Robin in the parking spots on the main drag.  The fender lizards were out in force.  The kids would drive back and forth on the L-shaped main drag, yelling and laughing with abandon, and when they tired of that–the main drag was only about two miles long–they would park in one of several parking lots on the drag and sit on the fenders of their cars, watching their pals drive by, their heads turning lazily like lizards watching a passing meal.  Fender lizards.  Of course, they would drink, and occasionally, smoke a little weed.  The smarter lizards–relatively speaking–would pour their booze into plastic pop bottles thinking they were sooooo cool.  The cops would never figure that one out!

My partner, John, and I were having a great time.  John was one of the newer guys, and had never played Batman and Robin before.  He was primed and excited.  I explained the rules.

“First,” I said, “nobody ever looks up.”  He looked at me strangely, trying to make sense of what I was saying.  “Really.  Nobody ever looks up.  Just watch people walking down the street.  When someone approaches them, they look no higher than eye level.  They might glance up to see if the person approaching is a threat or if they need to greet them, but that’s about it.  All you have to do is be slightly above eye level and they’ll never see you.  Then you swoop down on them like Batman and Robin.  Easy.”

“Cool!  Where do we do it?”  he asked, practically drooling in anticipation.

“Watch and learn, Grasshopper; watch and learn,”  I replied.

Ten minutes later, we were sitting on the top of an abandoned motel.  In full uniform, our legs were hanging over the ledge, only about a foot over the heads of the fender lizards merrily boozing it up below.  John was giddy with delight.  He couldn’t believe that we were sitting there in plain sight and nobody was seeing us.  Of course, we couldn’t pull it off forever.  Eventually someone might spot us.  So we waited for a few more minutes, watching the beer being passed back and forth and guzzled.

When the group of five kids just below us moved into just the right position, beers in hand, I nodded to John–he was just about to fall off the roof suppressing laughter anyway–and we jumped down–WHAP!–landing right beside them.  Da da da da da da da da: BATMAN!

All of them screamed, two of them dropped their beers, and two more threw them all over everyone else.  It took another few  seconds before they realized that we were the Police, and then their fright turned to genuine panic.  They had that “It’s Godzirra!  Run for youl rife!” look that policemen everywhere know and love.

We quickly herded them against the wall of the motel and got ID.  As we worked, the rest of the fender lizards left the lot with unaccustomed, blinding speed.  We ended up taking the whole crew to the station and called their parents to pick them up.  Kim and Susan were genuinely scared, and very, very sorry.  We found out that the guys bought the beer with a bogus ID.  They met the girls out on the main drag, and the girls only had a few sips to be sociable when we arrived.  Kim and Susan thought that our Batman and Robin act was just about the slickest thing they ever saw.  The guys kept shaking their heads and muttering “that ain’t fair.”  We wrote citations for the guys and let the girls slide.  That was the start of, as Humphrey Bogart said at the end of Casa Blanca, a beautiful friendship.

For the next year, whenever I saw the girls out on the street, I always stopped and chatted with them.  They were really sweet kids and were always happy to see me.  They wouldn’t graduate at the top of their class, but they were the kind of kids who are our heart and soul.  I saw in them the kindness, optimism, and decency that make America what it is.  We became friends and always expected to see each other, if not today, then tomorrow or the next day.  When I became the juvenile officer, I saw them more often in school.  Their friendship translated to friendships with other kids and made my job easier.

One fall morning I was called to the hospital.  There had been a fatal accident on one of the county roads into town.  A light frosting of frozen dew had been enough to cause a full sized Wagoneer to lose control, clip an oncoming car and roll, ejecting the driver and passenger.  When it was obvious they wouldn’t make it, I got the call.

I was also the department’s crime scene photographer.  Wearing many hats is common in small law enforcement agencies.  I loaded my gear into my car.  It was slightly overcast and cool.  Not quite freezing, but the kind of gray, biting cold that makes people think of unpacking their winter coats.

Car accidents usually meant serious, bloody injuries.  Massive tissue damage and closed caskets were the rule.  But sometimes the injuries were mostly internal.  The victims looked like they were asleep.  Lacerated arteries and organs and pulped bones did the damage, but externally, they were peaceful and looked as though they could wake up and talk any second.

One of the E.R. nurses told me that the victims had already been moved to the funeral home.  They were DOA–never had a chance.  I pulled out my notebook to take down the bare bones of evidence and their names.  Susan and Kim?!

I wasn’t immune to feeling, but I had to compartmentalize it, put it aside so I could do my job.  No one is served–not the dead, not the living–if the police can’t function.  But this time was different.  My stomach immediately took a hit.  It was hollow, aching.  “Have the parents been told?  Officially?”  I asked.

“No.  They just got here.  They’re in waiting,”  the nurse told me, shaking her head sadly and nodding toward the waiting room down the hall.  “Dr. McCasker was going to let them know when he finished with the fracture in exam three.”

I sighed, trying to chase the emptiness away.  It didn’t work.  “I knew these kids.  I know their parents.  I’ll do it.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,”  she said.  “Are you sure?”

I nodded and headed down the hallway to the waiting room.  When I turned the corner, both sets of parents took one look at me and their faces–changed.  God knows what they saw in my face.  There really aren’t words to accurately describe what I saw.  It was a mixture of understanding, resignation, shock, horror, and utter, irreconcilable despair.  Both mothers immediately began to cry.  Both fathers sat, immobile, not knowing how to feel, how to respond.  Parents aren’t supposed to survive their children.  The kids drove to and from school every day, safely, but not today.  How could that be?

They knew–they always know–but I had to say the words.  No matter how many times you deliver death messages, it never becomes easier.  There is no way to soften the blow.  “Susan and Kim’s injuries were too severe; they died.  I’m so sorry.”

The mother’s wails of anguish expanded and filled every millimeter of the room, every millimeter of me.  Fathers, siblings, friends, everyone began to cry.  I thought about offering my assistance, but if they heard, they wouldn’t remember.  They were consumed in another, unimaginable world, and though we knew each other, I could do absolutely nothing to help; not then.  I still had a duty to perform.  I mumbled apologies and offers of help and withdrew.

I turned off the ignition and looked at the closed door of the preparation room through the open garage doors of the funeral parlor.  I thought about all the times I had been in that room and others like it, all of the bodies I had seen, all the results of stupidity, rage, negligence, and emotionless, unavoidable fate.  I’d never been so numb before.  It had never been so hard to compartmentalize my feelings.  I grabbed my camera bags.  The metallic clunk of the car door was loud, sharp, painful.  I went inside.

The mortician greeted me and we shook hands, as always.  Both girls were on their backs on tilted exam tables.  Their skin had the distinctive pallor of death:  Pale, bloodless, uniform, without variation, change or animation.  No glow.  From where I stood, there appeared to be no external damage.

I turned my back and put together the appropriate camera body, lens and flash.  This was the days before digital photography had sufficiently developed to replace film.  I began the slow, careful dance of evidence preservation, shooting every angle.  I looked closely at their bodies, at their injuries, but I didn’t look at them.  The girls I knew, the kids I cared about, just weren’t there anymore.  If there is such a thing as a spirit, an animating, vital force that makes us who and what we are, it was  absolutely, irrevocably gone.  They were empty, voiceless, elsewhere, their eyes closed.

Apart from some mild tissue damage on her forearms and lower legs, Susan looked like Susan.  The autopsy eventually revealed that she died from massive chest trauma that literally burst her heart.  Her blood stopped circulating–she died–before it could form bruises.  Kim had no apparent external damage, but I would not need an autopsy to tell me what caused her death.  The top of her skull had been sheared off; her brain wasn’t there.

As I finished shooting, I consoled myself with the thought that they died so quickly that they felt little, if any, pain.  I closed my camera bags and turned to look at them one last time.  They looked so small, somehow less than life size, less than they were.  The dead often look that way, particularly if you know them in life.  Anne Sexton’s poem, “The Truth the Dead Know” came to mind:

. . . And what of the dead?  They lie without shoes

in their stone boats.  They are more like stone

than the sea would be if it stopped.  They refuse

to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.

Two days later I pulled into the parking lot of the high school, I parked in my usual, reserved spot.  Something made me stop and stare at the front doors.  Susan and Kim wouldn’t be inside.  That’s when the tears came.

It was a long, long time before I allowed then to come again.