Ngoc Le heard his wife’s screams and ran from the back of the wireless store he owns in Camden, New Jersey. His wife was behind the counter, as was a masked man wielding a knife. The man brandished the blade, herding the couple into a back room. Once there, he tied the 28-year old businessman to a chair, then proceeded to rape 22-year old Kelly Le. Once the brutal rape had finished, he slit the couple’s throats, then ran away. There was no 2nd Amendment, no right to own a gun, and Antonio Diaz Reyes got away with murder.
That isn’t actually how the events of December 31st, 2004 played out. We do have a 2nd Amendment in this country, after all. So when Antonio Reyes held Kelly Le at knifepoint, Ngoc Le was able to shoot and kill the attacker with his legally owned firearm. DNA tests later determined that Reyes was responsible for a string of rapes in downtown Camden that had terrorized the city for months. The Le’s were shaken by what happened, but there were no regrets.
I was reminded of this armed citizen story when I read Tom Derby’s recent piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Derby, an English and reading teacher in Camden, New Jersey, says it’s time for the 2nd Amendment to go away. In fact, he says, “The premise of the Second Amendment, the need for minutemen, no longer exists. In a free society we must rely on the police. We have more important rights to fight for than the right to bear arms.”
Mr. Derby is an English teacher, so perhaps he can be forgiven for not knowing that the U.S. government has said our individual security and safety is not guaranteed by the law enforcement in this country. There are several Supreme Court decisions that hold citizens have no constitutional guarantee of protection by police (South v. Maryland and Castle Rock v. Gonzalez come immediately to mind), and many more decisions have been made at lower levels (in the case of Warren v. District of Columbia, for example, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that “a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen.”). Despite what Mr. Derby says, we are responsible for our individual safety. The law enforcement community performs a valuable service each and every day, but any cop will tell you that they can’t be your personal bodyguard.
Tom Derby also says, “When wolves and human predators roamed freely Northeast, one was entitled to defend one’s family and property with firearms. Circumstances have changed; we need to reconsider that entitlement.” How have circumstances changed? Derby has taught in Camden, New Jersey for 18 years. He should be all too familiar with the human predators that still roam the streets. Camden, after all, was named the most dangerous city in America for the second year in a row last year, and has been in the top ten each of the past eight years, according to Morgan Quinto, the company that ranks cities on their crime rates. In 2004 the city’s murder rate was 60.8 per 100,000 residents, more than 11 times the national average. Its robbery rate was almost 8 times the national average, and its rate of aggravated assaults were more than 4 times the national average. Yet Derby says we should no longer be entitled to defend ourselves?
Derby seems to think that if we scrapped the 2nd Amendment, all the criminals in this country would lay down their weapons. Yet the criminal element doesn’t rely on the 2nd Amendment any more than child pornographers rely on the 1st Amendment. Get rid of the right to legally own firearms, and the gang members and street thugs plaguing Camden won’t even blink. But the legal gun owners, like Ngoc Le, will pay the price.
Tom Derby appears to be a teacher who cares a great deal about his students, and he should be commended for that. In his piece, he writes about several who have fallen victim to violence. One of the students he mentions, a boy named Len, was an “A” student who eventually joined a gang. Derby writes, “I lost track of Len, and a colleague brought me the bad news before the papers got it: He had become a professional assassin, and his own gang killed him and set his body on fire in a football field in North Camden.”
But Derby seems to be blaming Len’s death on an inanimate object, rather than the human beings who took Len’s life. Nothing is said about Len’s choices in life that placed him directly in the path of violence. In the end, Derby says it’s not a person responsible for Len’s death, but a thing.
It’s easy to take this approach. We don’t have to think ill of the dead, wondering why they chose a life of crime instead of a life inside the boundaries of the law. We don’t have to be angry with them for inflicting violence on others, because it’s not their fault. The devil didn’t make them do it, the gun did. But if we’re going to make excuses for the criminal behavior of those we love, we can’t expect them to change their ways.
My wife lived in Camden for nine years, and if she and I had never met, there’s a good chance that my 15-year old stepson would have been in Mr. Derby’s class. I know my wife would be glad that he had a teacher who cared about him, but she’d be livid knowing that his teacher thought she should be disarmed so she couldn’t protect her family from the wolves roaming the streets. I don’t think Mr. Derby is a bad man, just horribly misguided.