December 18, 2014: Sydney Tragedy, Lessons for Americans

Tori Johnson and Katrina Dawson died in a coffee shop after a 16 hour hostage ordeal in downtown Sydney.  The man who took 17 people hostage with a shotgun was described by Prime Minister Tony Abbott as having “a long history of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability” and was “well known” to state and federal authorities. 

As we have seen with tragedies in our own country, the question most asked after the facts about the perpetrator come out, is “why was this person on the street?”  The supposition is that someone with this kind of background should not be allowed to walk freely in society.  They should either be locked up in a prison or a mental health institution. 

In 1996 a gunman killed 35 people and wounded 18 others in Port Arthur Australia.  Then Prime Minister John Howard announced 12 days later that the Australian States had agreed to ban automatic and semiautomatic weapons.  Australia instigated a gun buyback and a third of the guns were turned in to the Australian government.  Interestingly it is around this time that the man who would be responsible for the deaths of Dawson and Johnson came to Australia.

Australians do not have a Bill of Rights or a constitutional right to keep and bear arms.    When the freed states of the American colonies framed a new governing body (after an armed revolution), they ensured that they would not be replacing one oppressive tyranny (the British Crown) with another (an American Emperor).   

It is the American Constitution and Bill of Rights that enable American citizens to hold those who govern, responsible for ensuring the citizens liberty.  It is for this purpose that the God given right to self-defense is enshrined in the Second Amendment.  The other activities that follow, like hunting and sport, are byproducts of the citizens individual right to defend themselves. 

For most of the first two centuries of our existence this was understood as the truth of the intent and purpose of the Second Amendment.  Then guns themselves began to be viewed as the evil that led to crime and murder.  The disconnect between an inanimate object and the societal problems leading to crime among its citizens began to be treated as cause and effect.  Legislations began infringing law-abiding citizens’ rights.  

Constitutionality is not a prerequisite for any law to be passed and to come into effect.  After laws are passed, the recourse to have them removed is to file a suit and have a ruling by a court of law.  In regards to the Second Amendment there are two Supreme Court cases that provide some relief from overreaching laws.  The majority Heller v DC decision opinion decided that gun ownership was an individual right.  McDonald v Chicago decided that the individual right also applied at the State level. 

Most states are now “shall issue” where permitting for conceal carry is concerned.  I do think it is incongruous that the city, in which our seat of Federal Government resides, has the most restrictive laws imposed on its resident’s rights of self-defense.  (They have to register pepper spray!) 

So while the Australians decided to disarm after a civilian massacre, Americans go out and purchase more guns and ammunition.  Fundamental differences exist such that the American citizens feel threatened by their own government using a tragedy as an excuse to infringe on their liberties.  Connecticut demonstrated that there are definite limits to the infringements citizens will still respond to in order to still be considered law-abiding.  Gun-Control laws passed in 2013 are causing citizens to move out, transfer their guns out, retrofit their guns, or wait and see if enforcement is going to make them felons.

The reaction in America is to legislate the inanimate objects, and defer action to identify and institutionalize the radicalized or mentally ill. It is easier to pass laws that impede the law-abiding than to develop and carry out action against the evil that murders the innocent. 

Correlation between Sydney and any school in America that has seen a mass shooting: they are all “gun free zones”.  The perpetrators seek targets that they believe will provide no resistance.  Most perpetrators in the shootings in American end their own life once confronted with someone capable of returning fire.

Correlation:  It is reasonable to think, and supported by some of the evidence that the hostages in Sydney tried to flee, hide, and fight back.  Paraphrasing a line from the movie Broken Arrow:  I don’t know what scares me more, the fact that we have active shooter situations or it happens so often, we have corporate training for it. 

Conjecture:  Based on the numbers provided by the Census Bureau and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, there is approximately 1 concealed carry permit holder in Florida for every 12 Floridians.   Given those statistics it is reasonable to extrapolate that in a similar hostage situation in a coffee shop in Florida, there might have been one or two people armed with concealed handguns. Whether they would have, or take an opportunity to stop the threat is conjecture.  But the possibility seems to be a factor in target selection by the cowardly, mentally defective, or ideological radicals who commit these types of attacks.

The first lesson from Sydney:  Disarming the populace will not prevent a criminal from using firearms against the populace. It just makes it easier to use the threat of force to get people to do what they don’t want to do. 

The second lesson from Sydney: If you have decided to carry, then you have decided you are willing to do what you can to stop threats to yourself and other innocent citizens. This means you may become “a good guy with a gun” who stops “a bad guy with a gun (or a knife, or a club, or any other weapon).

If you carry concealed, then take the time to train and then carry all the time.  Carry in all the places you are allowed.  Train with your carry gun.  Train with target ammunition and self-defense hollow-point ammunition.  Practice presentation and first shot from concealment.  This should be done as a dry-fire exercise until you are proficient and can find a range that allows holstered draw.  Also dry-fire train drawing from concealment and  from unconventional positions such as; laying on the ground, sitting, kneeling, and  hands on your head. 

Prepare for the aftermath.   There will be emotional and potentially financial repercussions.  A justified shooting may shield you from criminal prosecution but it doesn’t guarantee you will not have a civil suit brought against you.   Document the classes you take and the range time you put in to become and maintain proficiency with your gun.  Review the gun laws in your home state, county and city, but also in localities you travel through.  At least yearly, after the legislative session in your state, review the laws related to: use of force, use of deadly force, stand your ground, duty to retreat, and the castle doctrine.


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