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Americans Run Towards the Fire

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

The smoke and flame had not even dissipated before it was crystal clear that the terrorists had lost again. There was the flash, the boom, then a few brief moments to get their bearings before, almost as one, Americans began running toward the fire.


It wasn’t just the cops and the soldiers. It was spectators, bystanders, even runners themselves who seconds before had been struggling to cross the finish line after 26 brutal miles. In one terrible moment that shredded bodies and lives, they went from being ordinary Americans to something extraordinary.

Scratch that – “extraordinary” is the natural condition of Americans. That is neither mere sentiment nor some wishful thinking about American exceptionalism. It is a fact, demonstrated again and again, in peace and in war. Americans don’t wait. They don’t hesitate. They act.

We’ve seen the footage of 9/11 where injured people are clearing the area while long lines of rescuers head into the carnage. But those folks departing are often helping the injured or the fearful, even as the grim firefighters trudge toward their fate, utterly unwilling to allow those trapped in the towers to be lost without a fight.

The Americans on Flight 93 didn’t wait for rescue. They knew what lay ahead and chose death on their feet fighting to save others on the ground over cowering in their seats.

The Americans who ran toward the wounded on Patriot’s Day in Boston showed courage not just because they willingly faced the bloody slaughter of an anti-personnel IED but because, as everyone knows, terrorists delight in planting follow-on devices to kill those coming to the aid of the original victims. Watching video of the Massachusetts Army National Guardsmen ripping through the metal barrier to use their combat lifesaver skills on the wounded, you could see the right shoulder insignia one wore. It was a “Screaming Eagle” 101st Airborne “combat patch,” earned in action in Iraq or Afghanistan – maybe both. That American warrior knew exactly what the risks were, and he didn’t hesitate.


You don’t see this kind of commitment in every other country. Certainly, other nations have their heroes and bravery is not uniquely American, but what is exceptional is our attitude, our individual, personal commitment – even at great risk – to act to protect our nation and our fellow citizens. We don’t wait for someone to come save us. To paraphrase the President, we are the ones we are waiting for.

In Boston, the first militia units formed almost 400 years ago – regular members of the community banding together in the defense of their people. Such groups fired the first shots of the Revolutionary War. Modern Massachusetts Guard units still carry the lineage of those ancient companies today; no doubt some of the camo-clad citizen-soldiers treating the injured were members.

But that sense of responsibility wasn’t limited to combat. Communities worked together to fight fires – and today in many places volunteer fire departments provide that lifesaving service. Many other citizens volunteer as reserve police officers. Millions get Red Cross lifesaver training every year.

It is our sense of ownership and personal commitment to our country and fellow citizens that make us act. We are unwilling to stand aside, to wait for someone else, to leave it solely to the professionals and thereby exempt ourselves from our own individual duty to our community.


That in no way belittles our heroic emergency personnel or somehow dismisses their vital contribution. With their equipment and advanced training, they are crucial for building on the initial foundation provided by the Americans at the scene. Basic first aid skills – stopping the bleeding, immobilizing the injury, treating for shock – are well within the ability of any healthy adult and are crucial to a badly wounded victim’s survival in the minutes before trained paramedics can take over. Yes, sometimes the best thing civilians can do is get the heck out of the way. But not always.

There are people who do not understand this American instinct, and some who even want to undercut the notion that ordinary Americans have anything to contribute to their own safety. These people believe that only the “experts” should do so, experts who inevitably come from the government, and therefore who inevitably work for these same people. They prefer Americans helpless, docile, and dependant. It makes them easier to control.

The push for gun control highlights this schism between Americans who wish to rely upon themselves first, and those who seek to require other Americans’ reliance. Americans don’t wish to retain their sacred right to keep and bear effective arms because they imagine themselves Rambos or because – if you listen to the clowns at MSNBC – they somehow wish to empower the killers of children. Just the opposite.


Americans refuse to part with their weapons because they wish to protect themselves, their families, their communities and their Constitution. They demand their right to be armed not to avoid risk but to accept it, to stand up and protect the defenseless, to draw the fire of lunatics and criminals upon themselves and, if need be, to die protecting their fellow citizens.

Americans are not asking for the favor of being allowed to do so. They are refusing to relinquish their fundamental right to do so. And to do so with the kind of effective, modern weaponry that allows them the ability to go toe-to-toe with the kind of sociopaths who shoot up school houses or blow up crowds.

Liberals laughed when gun freedom advocates suggested armed personnel in schools – and then stopped laughing when they realized that the American people saw the wisdom in it. All over the country, states are expanding concealed carry laws to allow individual citizens the ability to be armed and to protect themselves and others. Of course, Democrat-run localities are resisting this civil rights trend just as Democrat-run localities resisted other civil rights trends a half-century ago. The bloody battlefields of Washington, D.C., and Chicago bear witness to the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of their latest fight against basic freedoms.

It falls upon each of us to be ready when disaster strikes, whether it is a shopper collapsing with a heart attack in a mall or a psycho gunman opening fire in public or an earthquake that levels a city. Being an American citizen does not just mean you get to live here – no, you have a duty.


We must each assess what we are capable of, physically and emotionally, and be prepared to respond in time of need. Learn basic first aid skills and carry a medical kit in your car. You never know when you may be 20 minutes from a fire station on a country road and have to stop a crash victim’s arterial bleeding. Stockpile a few day’s food in case disaster hits so you can contribute to relief operations instead of being a burden.

You need to take the next step as well, and to be able to participate in the defense of your community. I recall a Twitter conversation with Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memorandum in which he dismissed my advocacy of universal gun ownership by asking when I had ever seen society collapse such that I’d need an “assault weapon.” He asked the wrong guy – the answer was April 1992, when I spent three weeks with the Army on the streets of Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots.

So, when it comes to your safety, you can listen to the fussy metrosexual blogger or the guy who packed a M16A1 during the chaos in L.A. The latter says that you need to own firearms. You need to be trained on their use, and you need to have ammunition. Without that capability you are unable to effectively defend yourself – much less others – when things go very, very bad.

You can be a sheep or a sheepdog when the wolves come out. I say no American worth the name should ever choose to be a sheep.


The courage and the personal commitment to the community that we saw on display in Boston is something to be encouraged, not discouraged. This is our country. We are the first responders.

And we will always run toward the fire.

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