How Many Lives Did The Concealed-Carry Licensee Save?

Jeanne Assam carried her pistol with her to church on Sunday. She did so legally, having received a license to carry a concealed weapon. If a weapon in church seems incongruous, it also became providential on this particular Sunday, as Assam stopped an assault that may have killed many more people than it did (via Memeorandum and many CapQ readers):

Assam said she believes God gave her the strength to confront Murray, keeping her calm and focused even though he appeared to be twice her size and was more heavily armed.
Murray was carrying two handguns, an assault rifle and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition, said Sgt. Jeff Johnson of the Colorado Springs Police Department.
“It seemed like it was me, the gunman and God,” she said.
Assam worked as a police officer in downtown Minneapolis during the 1990s and is licensed to carry a weapon. She attends one of the morning services and then volunteers as a guard during another service.
Boyd said Assam was the one who suggested the church beef up its security Sunday following the Arvada shooting, which it did. The pastor credited the security plan and the extra security for preventing further bloodshed.

Murray didn’t show up to shoot a couple of people and call it a day. Two handguns, an assault rifle, and over a thousand rounds of ammunition would have equaled a church full of corpses had Assam and others not been able to defend themselves and their fellow parishioners. Before Murray had a chance to really open up on what he assumed was a defenseless congregation, Assam used her training and preparation to save dozens of lives, at the least.
Over the weekend, Mitch and I discussed the Omaha mall shooting, where eight people died in a “gun-free zone” when a lunatic started sniping shoppers. Some questioned whether a CCL holder with a pistol could outmatch a lunatic with a rifle. This shows exactly what one trained shooter can do to defend against someone who randomly selects unarmed targets for slaughter.
And this is the folly of “gun-free zones”. Lunatics looking to kill people either will attack at places for which they have some animus (as in the case of the church) or where they can find a lot of unarmed people (as in Omaha). They don’t stop because someone puts up a sign designating a site as gun-free, any more than people stop taking drugs because a city puts up a sign that designates a neighborhood as a “drug-free zone”, as in my own neighborhood.
All that sign does is prevent the Jeanne Assams from being able to defend the defenseless. That’s all it does. It doesn’t make anyone more secure or safe, and it has the potential to make a lot of people into victims.
After the Virginia Tech shooting, people asked whether a CCL holder could have made a difference once the shooting started. Jeanne Assam answered that question on Sunday.

Do Gun Free Zones Create A Legal Liability?

Not being a lawyer, this question will exist more as a philosophical one, much as we treated it on Saturday’s Northern Alliance broadcast. Mitch Berg and I debated the efficacy of gun-free zones in the wake of the Omaha mall shooting that left nine people dead, but before the two shootings at New Life church facilities that left eight dead. In at least the first shooting, the perpetrator conducted his murder spree in a commercial facility whose owners had marked it as a gun-free zone, a designation that keeps concealed-carry licensees from bringing their weapons into the building. We both wondered if that decision opened the owners to legal liability for forcing people to disarm themselves without having enough security to protect them.
D.J. Tice, one of the more thoughtful columnists at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, listened to our show and found the argument intriguing. He wondered, though, why we don’t believe in liability for not banning smoking, a rather strange argument:

Granting, for the sake of argument, the Lottian view that gun-free status makes a place of business more dangerous for its patrons, this lawsuit theory seems a surprising position for conservatives to take, since they presumably are defenders of private property rights.
Doesn’t a property owner have a right to ban guns from his property, even if it is unwise to do so? And aren’t those who believe such a ban puts them at risk free not to enter his property? Aren’t customers assuming any risk, and waiving any right to recompense, when they knowingly and voluntarily enter a gun-free zone?
The situation seems roughly comparable to the debate over bar and restaurant smoking bans. Conservatives as a rule argue that smoking bans are improper because a property owner should be able to decide whether to allow smoking or not. People who fear secondhand smoke need not work there or take their leisure there — or so the conservative line usually goes.
By and large conservatives can be expected to respond with disdain to the idea of lawsuits based on harm from voluntary exposure to secondhand smoke.

Tice misunderstands a couple of points. First, I’ve never said I oppose lawsuits over second-hand smoke; I oppose government mandates that ban smoking over the objections of private ownership. Second, as one of Tice’s commenters at the Strib notes, people have chosen not to shop in “gun-free zones”, including Mitch — which is why there are fewer of them in Minnesota now. I would heartily encourage people to make their choices for retail business contingent in part on whether the owner bans legal licensees from carrying their weapons inside the store while putting up signs that announce to people that everyone inside is disarmed.
Mostly, though, I wonder at Tice’s odd equation of second-hand smoke and gunshot wounds. I suppose a lawsuit over the former might make a lot of sense for someone who exposed themselves for thirty years to second-hand smoke through their job, but the first question I’d ask as a juror is why the plaintiff didn’t change jobs. One exposure to second-hand smoke doesn’t create health problems in any measure to anyone except asthmatics. One exposure to hot lead will kill a person, or at the least seriously wound them.
Private property owners should have the right to set the terms of entry to their property. Neither Mitch nor I demanded that Nebraska or Minnesota force property owners to allow guns on the premises when carried by license holders. Places like the Omaha Mall have the right to deny entry to people carrying weapons, even when completely legal and certified by the state. They should face the consequences of that decision, however.
For the record, I don’t have a concealed-carry license, nor do I own a pistol. Neither do I fear those who do. The “gun-free zone” signs only show the baseless fear and vapidity of the property owners, and do nothing to keep criminals from doing as they please. If anything, those signs alert those with malicious intent where they can find the least amount of effective resistance. I’d rather shop at places where the owners allow a little more ambiguity, even if I don’t carry a weapon myself.

The Irish Job

There’s nothing like a great heist movie. Whether you like it hip and ironic (Oceans Eleven), played for laughs (The Pink Panther), romantic (The Thomas Crown Affair), or gritty (Heist), they give us a vicarious thrill of the forbidden. And when people do try to make them a reality, it quickly loses its charm. For instance, it’s difficult to see how this would make good cinema:

Irish police were hunting for a beer bandit who stole 450 full kegs from the Guinness brewery — the largest heist ever at Ireland’s largest brewer.
National police said a lone man drove into the brewery — a Dublin landmark and top tourist attraction — on Wednesday and hitched his truck to a fully loaded trailer awaiting delivery to city pubs.
Diageo PLC, the beverage company that owns Guinness, said the brewery had never suffered such a large-scale theft before in its 248-year history.

Well, the joke’s on them. Only 180 kegs of it were Guinness stout. The rest of the kegs held Carlsberg and — the horror! — Budweiser. One can imagine the disappointment when the trailer gets unhitched and inspected.
Ireland has a history of hijackings and thefts in alcohol and cigarettes, although not usually from the brewery itself. The IRA used to finance its activities through such thefts, selling the beer cheaply and without the usual onerous Irish taxes to supporters and sympathizers among pub owners. Gangs continue this activity to this day, neither not unlike the Mafia in this country that ran similar activities.
Like I said, pretty charmless. Instead of Thomas Crown, it’s closer to Goodfellas. However, if you find yourself in Dublin, the brewery itself is anything but charmless. You can have a great pint of Guinness stout at a bar that provides one of the highest viewpoints of the entire city, after a great tour of the facility and the requisite souvenir shops.

China Has Another Present For Your Kids – Date-Rape Intoxication

As if the Chinese toy industry had not dug its own grave any deeper, the Consumer Product Safety Commission ordered another import recalled after determining that ingestion can cause chemicals to convert to GHB. That compound is commonly known as the date-rape drug, and both the US and Australia have scrambled to get Aqua-Dots and Bindeez out of the hands of children:

Millions of Chinese-made toys have been pulled from shelves in North America and Australia after scientists found they contain a chemical that converts into a powerful “date rape” drug when ingested. Two children in the U.S. and three in Australia were hospitalized after swallowing the beads.
With only seven weeks until Christmas, the recall is yet another blow to the toy industry — already bruised by a slew of recalls last summer.
In the United States, the toy goes by the name Aqua Dots, a highly popular holiday toy distributed by Toronto-based Spin Master Toys. It is called Bindeez in Australia, where it was named toy of the year at an industry function earlier this year.

Gamma hydroxy butate can cause unconsciousness, drowsiness, seizures, and death — and that’s in adults. GHB has been used by rapists to instill lethargy, unconsciousness, and amnesia in their victims, usually in a dating situation or at bars and nightclubs. Ingestion by children carries even more health dangers; the children involved in the US and Australia are lucky to have survived it.
Unfortunately, it will take luck to save children in other countries. The Chinese manufacturer will not issue a worldwide recall of the product despite the demonstrated dangers. Beijing and the manufacturer have decided that the individual countries have to decide whether to recall the products, even though they know the toys present a clear danger to the children who play with them.
Consumers in these countries, including ours, should take matters into their own hands. We should make clear that this Christmas, Santa Claus will not deliver any Chinese imports — period. Until they clean up their act and take responsibility for potentially poisoning millions of children, several times over now, consumers should take close looks at manufacturing labels for their gifts. If it says “Made in China”, we should skip over that product, and tell the stores why.
I’m certainly not going to buy any presents for the Little Admiral that comes from a country that refuses to act when their product converts to a poison when ingested. Once parents, grandparents, and families think about the implications, I’m certain that most will follow that same path.

Indian Casinos A Bigger Gamble Than You Think

Gary Hoffman was a millionaire, and then he wasn’t. Hoffman hit a jackpot worth over $1.5 million in a New Mexico casino on an Indian reservation, and received all sorts of congratulatory salutations on the casino floor. Once he made it to the executive conference room of the Sandia Casino, however, the tone changed from celebration to intimidation:

Hoffman, a retired Albuquerque city employee, was playing a “Mystical Mermaid” slot machine on the morning of Aug. 16, 2006, when he thought he hit it big.
The nickel slot said he’d won $1,597,244.10. Patrons and casino employees came to congratulate him. He even got a marriage proposal, Hoffman said. But, soon he was asked to come to an executive conference room, where he says he was told the casino refused to pay.
A casino employee “became quite intimidating with me, pointed his finger in my face and said, ‘You didn’t win. We’re not paying you any money. Do you understand what I’m telling you? You’re not getting any money,'” Hoffman said.

The tribe claims the slot machine malfunctioned. It insists that the machine had a maximum payout of $2500, while Hoffman insists that it had a bonus play option which allowed for much higher winnings. The picture that Hoffman took shows a very precise number that the machine displayed of the jackpot, which indicates that the machine had routines that allowed for seven-digit jackpots — and the machine’s manufacturer insists that the machine cannot malfunction in the way the casino asserts.
Hoffman may have no recourse, however. New Mexico does not have the legal authority to give standing for a lawsuit against an Indian casino. Its sovereignty does not reach into the reservations, one reason why casinos can exist there in the first place. Even federal courts would be loathe to intrude on a contract dispute, which leaves Hoffman few choices to remedy his loss.
It’s a costly lesson for those who gamble. Sometimes a jackpot turns into an albatross, and in most American casinos, the house holds all the cards.

Why Not Go With Experience?

Those darn Puritans in New York just can’t let anyone have fun, even middle-school students. Can you imagine that people might have considered having strippers as volunteers at a Halloween celebration for Middle School 51 inappropriate? Why, they even volunteered for a task for which they have extensive experience:

The head of New York’s Puppetry Art Theatre uninvited a group of strippers from an upcoming school event in order to avoid any undue controversy.
Timothy Young said that he decided to retract the erotic dancers’ invitations to the Haunted Halloween Carnival Benefit due to worries that New York’s Middle School 51 would cancel the annual event, the New York Daily News reported Wednesday. …
The strippers had volunteered to participate in the special holiday event, that includes a costume giveaway and a pizza party.

Costume giveaways? Heck, that’s their specialty! (via Power Line)

What Is It About OJ?

The saga of OJ Simpson continued yesterday with a bizarre arrest for armed robbery and conspiracy charges that could put the celebrity in prison for decades. Almost immediately, the moribund OJ industry snapped back to life, with people like Geraldo Rivera calling Mark Geragos back into session for the freak show that will follow the case as it wends its way through Las Vegas courts. And the nation sits in rapt attention, watching the further decline of a man who had reached the pinnacle of public adulation, only to become a by-word for narcissism and power.
First, let’s look at the case, which almost seems designed by OJ to land him in prison:

Simpson, 60, was in custody at the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas on Sunday night after a judge ordered that he be held without bail, pending an arraignment set for Thursday. He was booked earlier in the day on suspicion of two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of robbery with a deadly weapon, conspiracy to commit burglary and burglary with a firearm.
Simpson has said he and his companions went to the room at the Palace Station Hotel & Casino on Thursday night to reclaim personal photos — some snapped by his slain ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson — and football souvenirs that he said had been stolen by a former agent. He said that no one in his group was armed; police said Sunday that they found two guns after the incident and that members of Simpson’s entourage had pointed weapons at people in the room.

Simpson claimed that a former sports agent had stolen the items from him, and that he wanted to conduct a “sting” to get the material back. He openly admitted to conspiring to steal the items at least through intimidation, since he hadn’t bothered to notify the police, and he had a good reason not to do so. Simpson had moved these assets out of his possession to keep them from getting confiscated by the Goldman family to satisfy part of the $33 million judgment against him for Ron Goldman’s murder. An acknowledgment to police that these assets had been dispersed to keep them from the Goldmans would have amounted to an admission of fraud.
Instead, police say that Simpson started conspiring in August to track down the memorabilia, which he needs to provide some income. His co-conspirators pointed guns at the possessors of the memorabilia, and not only took back what Simpson claimed was his but also the cellphones of the victims so they could not call for help. That’s armed robbery, and the Vegas police have charged everyone involved with two separate counts of that and conspiracy. If convicted, Simpson could spend decades in prison, and legal experts figure he will get little leniency from a sentencing hearing if it comes to that.
That’s the case, at least for the moment. OJ has revealed himself to be almost uniquely self-destructive once again. Shaun Mullen at TMV has some thoughts in a good post on how his celebrity couldn’t cover the vulnerabilities that “bedevil us all,” but in fact, they don’t. Very few of us murder our wives and innocent bystanders, and far fewer of those who do get away with it. Having done that, almost none of them commit armed robbery. In fact, it’s very likely that no American celebrity has managed to dissipate his life so totally and completely, legally, financially, and morally, as Simpson has done over the last thirteen years.
And maybe that’s the fascination. The original trial provided Americans with an object lesson on the perils of pedestals for our celebrities, but it was more than that, too. It was a trainwreck in progress, both for OJ and our own sense of judgment about people based on superficialities. Perhaps with OJ’s second tour of self-destruction, the fascination will subside. Based on the breathless reporting we saw yesterday, that sounds a little optimistic.

Requiem For A Betrayed Hero

Richard Jewell died yesterday at 44, the victim of diabetes and kidney failure. Richard Jewell’s public reputation died eleven years ago, the victim of a mistake by law enforcement and a media blitz that did its best to paint him as a psychopathic bomber with absolutely no evidence — when all Richard Jewell had done was save lives. In this instance, the New York Times gets it right:

Richard A. Jewell, whose transformation from heroic security guard to Olympic bombing suspect and back again came to symbolize the excesses of law enforcement and the news media, died Wednesday at his home in Woodbury, Ga. He was 44. …
The heavy-set Mr. Jewell, with a country drawl and a deferential manner, became an instant celebrity after a bomb exploded in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta in the early hours of July 27, 1996, at the midpoint of the Summer Games. The explosion, which propelled hundreds of nails through the darkness, killed one woman, injured 111 people and changed the mood of the Olympiad.
Only minutes earlier, Mr. Jewell, who was working a temporary job as a guard, had spotted the abandoned green knapsack that contained the bomb, called it to the attention of the police, and started moving visitors away from the area. He was praised for the quick thinking that presumably saved lives.
But three days later, he found himself identified in an article in The Atlanta Journal as the focus of police attention, leading to several searches of his apartment and surveillance by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and by reporters who set upon him, he would later say, “like piranha on a bleeding cow.”

What had Jewell done to attract suspicion? Ironically, he had performed too well in his role as a security guard. He noticed the backpack by the bench and quickly determined that it could be a threat. After inadvertently changing the position of the backpack — which thwarted the bomber, whose shaped charge went up and not out — he started clearing people from the area as fast as he could before the bomb exploded. The nail-packed charge killed one woman, but if it hadn’t been for Jewell, many more would have been killed or injured.
Investigators wondered whether Jewell had planted the bomb deliberately to make himself look heroic and started checking him out in the first few days after the bombing. The FBI tried to con Jewell into a confession without telling him he was a suspect by asking him to make a “training video”, a move which got some reprimanded when Jewell turned out to be innocent. Someone in the investigation leaked Jewell’s name to the press, which started a feeding frenzy that Jewell himself likened to piranhas on a bleeding cow.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution first reported him as a suspect, and the rest of the national media thundered to the wrong conclusions. News media ran stories that emphasized the fact that the 33-year-old Jewell shared a home with his mother, attempted psychological profiling, and followed him and his family constantly. It only ended when the FBI finally acknowledged three months later that they had screwed up in focusing on Jewell. Jewell sued most of them and won settlements from NBC and CNN, and he died before he could succeed against the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
It was an infuriating tragedy, and the lack of a clear suspect for months afterward meant that the stigma of the media’s insinuations stuck with Jewell for a long time. Only after it became clear that Eric Rudolph committed the bombing — fifteen months later — did people realize the extent of the harm done to Jewell, his reputation, and his family.
Richard Jewell should be remembered as a hero, a man who had the instinct and the courage to risk his own life to save others. Unfortunately, many will still remember him in part from all the innuendo and mud thrown at him in the aftermath.

Should Crack Cocaine Get Stiffer Sentencing?

One of the odder aspects of the war on drugs has been the disparate treatment that different drugs get. No drug shows this difference more than cocaine. Produced and distributed by violent cartels in South America, it arrives in the hands of its American customers in two forms, powder and crack. One gets an average of 50% longer jail term than the other even though the two forms have essentially the same affect on its users.
Jeralyn Merritt at TalkLeft has been actively working for equating drug sentencing for cocaine use, regardles of its form. She notes that a 2002 Sentencing Commission recommendation that would have achieved this never got implemented. This year, their new report to Congress — their fourth on this subject — recommends action again. They note that crack cocaine convictions get longer sentences than convictions for any other drug, regardless of quantities involved. The only one comparable to crack is meth, and for meth the quantities are calculated for only the pure chemical, while crack is measured including its impurities.
It’s an interesting issue, and one that calls into question the strategies of the federal government in fighting the war on drugs. No one seriously believes that crack sentencing was made tougher because its users are disproportionately black, but the sentencing disparity means more blacks get longer prison time for drug violations. The problem has been reactionary Congresses, which have responded to eruptions of drug variants by specifying prison times for specific substances, trying to look tough on drugs, without considering the consequences of those decisions.
Jeralyn has more on this topic and wants to get sentencing parity on cocaine in all its forms. It would be better for Congress to look at the oddities in the inconsistent ways in which drug violations get handled and retool federal laws to make the overall system more rational.

Vick Pleads Out

Michael Vick may have to get his exercise in a prison yard after agreeing to plead guilty to charges connected to a dog-fighting conspiracy. The defense team announced that the Falcons quarterback accepted a deal to plead guilty to felony conspiracy charges that could mean as much as three years in prison:

“After consulting with his family over the weekend, Michael Vick asks that I announce today that he has reached an agreement with federal prosecutors regarding the charges pending against him,” lead defense attorney Billy Martin said in a statement.
“Mr. Vick has agreed to enter a plea of guilty to those charges and to accept full responsibility for his action and the mistakes he has made. Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter,” Martin’s statement said.
Vick’s attorneys have been negotiating with federal prosecutors over terms of the deal, which must be approved by the judge. While prosecutors can recommend a sentence, the decision ultimately rests with the judge.

This decision frees the NFL to consider its options with Vick. The league has taken a dim view of dimwitted behavior of late, but dogfighting goes beyond what Commissioner Roger Goodell has had to handle thus far. Presumably, dog lovers among the NFL’s fans will want to see Vick pay a high price for the cruelty he sponsored, supported, and reportedly personally conducted.
Vick will likely miss this entire season just to handle the legal procedures from this case. Even if he got a three-year sentence, he would likely only serve a year, which could put him back on the field in 2009. The bigger question will be whether the NFL wants him back. His connection to gamblers in the dogfighting ring will worry the NFL, even if there is no evidence of a connection to gambling on NFL games.
No one doubts Vick’s talent. They may have a serious basis on which to question his integrity. Can the NFL afford to put Vick back on the field?