To the foreign or uninitiated visitor, it must appear somewhat peculiar that the most prominent, recognizable, and provocative public figures in all of these United States spend the majority of their time in cities that are indifferent toward their security. Taken together, Washington, D.C., New York City, and Los Angeles host almost all of the more controversial media personalities in America; and, taken together, these cities have some of the worst self-defense laws in the country. Had Charlie Hebdo been an American publication, it would most likely have been located in Brooklyn or in Silver Lake or in Columbia Heights — positioned, in other words, in precisely the sort of place in which attacks on its employees would have been most likely to succeed. This, as the French might say, is “absurde.”
The team that took out a good portion of Hebdo’s staff was alarmingly well-trained, and, if the videos that we have seen are any indication, was determined to the point of psychosis. Indeed, so thoroughly prepared and so ruthlessly efficient were the assailants that they managed without a great deal of effort to overcome even an elite security guard who had been sent to protect the paper by the Ministry of the Interior. Certainly, things might have been different if the events had unfolded in heavily armed states such as Oklahoma or Texas — or, for that matter, if someone in an adjacent office had been possessed of a rifle of his own. But this is by no means guaranteed. Could an average group of dispersed concealed carriers have taken on a couple of guys with automatic weapons and rocket launchers? Maybe. Maybe not. Every situation is different.
Either way, it seems obvious that there is a material difference between advising somebody that he would not necessarily prevail if he were targeted and passing laws that do not give that person any chance to defend himself whatsoever. Last year, the FBI suggested not only that media types are likely “targets” of Islamic extremism, but that the nature of “lone wolf” attacks is such that “law enforcement [has] limited opportunities to detect and disrupt plots, which frequently involve simple plotting against targets of opportunity.” The secretary general of Interpol, meanwhile, has wondered aloud how best societies should “approach the problem.” One way, Gerald Ronald Noble suggested, “is to say we want an armed citizenry; you can see the reason for that. Another is to say the enclaves are so secure that in order to get into the soft target you’re going to have to pass through extraordinary security.” Given that such “extraordinary” security is unlikely to exist everywhere, Noble suggests, “you have to ask yourself, ‘Is an armed citizenry more necessary now than it was in the past with an evolving threat of terrorism?’”
This question is one that the authorities in Paris have thus far answered with a shrugging “Non.” Likewise, in New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, it is now so extraordinarily unlikely that ordinary citizens will be granted permission to carry a firearm that most of them will never so much as try.
Bluntly, I consider this to be immoral. As we are told in the Declaration of Independence, governments exist not to render as helpless victims those whose liberty and security they are there to protect, but to ensure that all those that they represent fall heir to their basic, unalienable rights. Among those rights — without question — is self-defense. Where are thou, John Locke?
Not, evidently, in America’s cultural centers, which remain stubborn and stupid. Despite having invited a stern rebuke from the courts, Washington, D.C.,’s newly liberalized concealed-carry regime requires citizens to prove that they are in “special danger” — no easy feat, it seems. Despite its status as the premier target in the country, New York City will not give permits to anybody who does not reside in the city (even if they work there), and boasts an application process that is so byzantine, so time-consuming, and so extraordinarily expensive that, per the New York Times, it is effectively reserved for the rich and the well-connected. (Under New York City’s disgraceful rules, the most destructive weapon available to me at work is a stapler.) And, despite having been instructed by the Ninth Circuit to begin respecting its residents’ basic constitutional rights, Los Angeles continues to play for time, authorities in that city having elected to ignore the courts until their decision becomes “final.” For now, Los Angelenos are required to meet an almost unreachable “good cause” provision that, in effect, puts their safety at the whim of capricious law-enforcement officials.
It is customarily noted that the challenges in the United States are considerably different from those in a country such as France. Because there are so many firearms in circulation here, this argument goes, attempts to reduce crime by restricting the law-abiding are more futile here than they are abroad. There is certainly some truth to this. And yet gun control does not seem to be working especially well in France, either. In a post that asked why France’s “strict gun laws” didn’t “save Charlie Hebdo victims,” the Washington Post’s Adam Taylor noted that there were “7.5 million guns legally in circulation” in France, but that “the number of illegal guns is thought to be at least twice the number of legal guns in the country.” Weapons such as the “Kalashnikov AK series,” Taylor adds, “have been illegally flooding France over the past few years, with state bodies recording double digit increases.” The Sydney School of Public Health’s anti-firearm “GunPolicy” project paints an even bleaker picture, its authors contending that “the estimated total number of guns (both licit and illicit) held by civilians in France is 19,000,000,” while “the number of registered guns in France is reported to be 2,802,057.” The possession of handguns, meanwhile, “is prohibited with only narrow exceptions.”
France and the United States are culturally dissimilar, and, by choice, the French enjoy a different relationship with the state than do Americans. The rights involved here, however, are universal — ripe to be claimed by all. In consequence, we have to ask in sorrow whether it is really too much to suggest that it should have been as easy for the targets at Charlie Hebdo to get hold of a firearm and a means of carrying it as it was for the barbarians that killed them. We have to ask, too, whether it is really too much to ask that our provocateurs here at home be permitted to give themselves a fighting chance without having to get down on one knee and beg their employees in City Hall for access to a right that they never agreed to relinquish in the first instance. Should I tomorrow elect to trade my stapler for a Sig Sauer, in violation of the city’s laws, I would end up in Rikers Island. If I do not, I will be left at the mercy of barbarians who believe that it is appropriate to execute people who are rude on the Internet. Like so many people in America, I ask little of the government. But I do ask this: For goodness sake, get out of the way, and give us all a fighting chance.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer for National Review.