Disasters have a way of making the case for gun rights plainly obvious. Gun-control advocates are quick to jab that we “don’t need” guns — especially not scary “assault weapons.” That declaration is so common that it is taken as accepted truth across social media. It is also powerful: It forces the burden onto us to justify why we need these tools during disasters. The burden in a debate should always fall on those trying to restrict a right, not on those who are in favor of it. We must be prepared to efficiently explain the need to own guns and then guide the conversation constructively from there.
Tools of Deterrence
Gun-rights advocates know the claim that we “don’t need” guns is patently wrong. We need guns as a matter of self-defense. It may be true that in most self-defense scenarios, a concealed handgun makes more sense than a rifle — but we care about more than only the most common scenarios. A gun is a risk-management measure and a tool to hedge against the spectrum of threats we might face. We know that police cannot be everywhere all the time. In fact, we know that we don’t want to live in a society in which police are omnipresent. That leaves us with a burden to protect ourselves and our loved ones until a competent police response can arrive. On the best days, police will take 5 to 10 minutes to arrive at a scene. But we have to prepare for the worst days too.
When disaster strikes, police response may be delayed for days. That isn’t some paranoid tin-foil-hat fantasy. We know it to be true from recent examples, such as during Hurricanes Andrew, Hugo and Katrina. In each case, emergency response mechanisms were overwhelmed. And if 911 call centers answered at all, citizens were left to wait for the police to show up. I interviewed Hurricane Katrina victims who patrolled their neighborhoods, keeping looters away to protect each other and their livelihoods.
The starkest example of the necessity for guns during a disaster was during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Asian-American store owners, isolated by police barricades, fought for their lives and livelihoods against armed looters for roughly three straight days. These so-called “Roof Koreans” were left to defend themselves when the Los Angeles Police Department and California National Guard could not or would not intervene to protect them.
Even HuffPost, not a traditional ally of the gun-rights movement, characterized the situation by quoting Edward T. Chang, a professor of ethnic studies and the founding director of the Young Oak Kim Center for Korean American Studies at the University of California at Riverside: “Without any political clout and power in the city, Koreatown was unprotected and left to burn since it was not a priority for city politicians and the LAPD.” The digital media news source went on to explain that store owners successfully repelled the rioters without having to kill any of them. They achieved deterrence.1
Asian-American store owners, isolated by police barricades, fought for their lives and livelihoods against armed looters for roughly three straight days.
We have a personal, natural right to self-defense, with an embedded and implied right to viable means to defend ourselves. And those rights certainly include the ability to stop attackers in the absence of law enforcement support during a disaster. That means we need more than a hunting rifle or shotgun; we need to be able to carry concealed weapons or rifles if the situation dictates their necessity. The goal is not to get into a gunfight but rather to prevent a fight from starting through deterrence. We know from criminology that we can achieve a sort of herd immunity from lawlessness by making it clear that lawlessness cannot and will not gain a foothold.
The Next Disaster
To be clear, a gun is not the first tool we want in a disaster scenario. We have to attend to food, water, shelter, first aid, and means of communication or even evacuation. But basic physical security also falls on us when local emergency services are in crisis. A gun doesn’t guarantee safety, but it gives the user a choice and a chance when things get ugly. The decision to arm up is ours to make, not for some misguided politician who has a personal security detail to decide for us. And this doesn’t mean vigilante justice — we merely want the ability to stop an imminent threat when help isn’t on the way.
A gun doesn’t guarantee safety, but it gives the user a choice and a chance when things get ugly.
There will be another disaster. California will have more earthquakes and wildfires. The East Coast will have more hurricanes. The Midwest will have more tornadoes. There will be floods and power outages. People will riot.
The trouble with disaster preparedness is that you may not know when or where the disaster will hit, but you know it will eventually make landfall — and once it has, it is too late to prepare. You may never need your seatbelt, but you don’t wait for the crash to fasten it. You may never need a fire extinguisher, but you don’t wait for the grease fire to go out and buy one. The same is true for guns. Owning a gun is reasonable risk management to hedge against a delayed police response during a disaster.
Doyle is a concerned citizen and gun-rights advocate. His opinions are his alone and do not reflect the official policy or position of his or any other agency. References and links to other gun advocacy sites do not imply endorsement of those organizations. He can be reached at [email protected].
(1) Brittany Wong, “The Real, Tragic Story Behind That ‘Roof Korean’ Meme You May Have Seen.” Huffington Post, June 11, 2020, Huffpost.com/entry/roof-koreans-meme-know-real-story_n_5ee110a1c5b6d5bafa5604f3.