A Tale of Two States and the Duty to Protect

By Matt Daley

Few would argue with the view that there is a universal duty to protect the innocent and a correlative duty for private citizens to do so when government is incapable. This duty was dramatically illustrated on Sunday last in the West Freeway Church of Christ in Texas when parishioner Jack Wilson fired his legally carried, concealed handgun and stopped Keith Kinnunen who had opened fire on the congregation with a shotgun, killing two before he himself was shot. Unsurprisingly, Kinnunen had an extensive criminal record. There is little room for doubt that had he not been stopped, Kinnunen would have killed others.

Our police and military dedicate themselves to our protection, but they can seldom respond in the first critical seconds of an emergency.  Sadly, at a time when people of faith feel under attack culturally, socially and politically, congregants in Maryland would not have been able to protect the innocent as did the worshipers in Texas. Therein lies the tale of two States. Maryland has among the strictest gun control laws in the US. Although a privileged few are granted conceal carry permits in Maryland, the state requires the applicant to demonstrate “a good and sufficient reason” to enjoy that privilege.  Desiring to protect oneself and others outside of one’s home, say in a church, mosque, or synagogue is not deemed “a good and sufficient reason.”

Few would argue that such permits should be issued on demand. Felons should not have them, nor should drug addicts or the mentally ill. Demonstrated competence such as that required by the District of Columbia which includes knowledge of the law and performance at the range is fine. But denying law abiding citizens, especially those who are more vulnerable, the ability to defend themselves and others is not. In Maryland, some, perhaps many of us like to think of ourselves as culturally superior to the denizens of the Lone Star State. Perhaps we need to take a closer look. According to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, the per capita homicide in 2017 in Maryland was 10.2. In Texas, it was 5.8. Significantly, 2017 was the year in which a deranged man killed 26 parishioners in another Texas town. That attack was also stopped by a private citizen who engaged the shooter with what the media calls “an assault rifle.” In response to that incident, Texas changed its legislation to allow those with concealed permits to bring their weapons into a place of worship. The result could be seen at the West Freeway Church of Christ. In Maryland, effective self-defense outside the home is simply not allowed for the vast majority of law-abiding citizens. Instead, we pass laws that do nothing to reduce the criminal use of firearms while indulging repeat offenders whose contribution to society can be seen almost each day when another murder is reported. But at least, we are culturally superior.

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