Apparently “Thank goodness nobody was hurt” is no longer sufficient as a reaction to public events.
Following the infiltration of the White House this weekend by 42-year-old Omar Gonzalez, Americans are taking sides on a variety of issues ranging from inadequate care for veterans to the Secret Service’s seeming laxity to the use of lethal force against intruders at the presidential residence. The Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak accuses the men in black of trying to “Anschluss even more public space to expand The Perimeter around 1600 Pennsylvania, amping up the fear and paranoia that already pervade the heart of our nation.” Former Secret Service agent and Maryland congressional candidate Dan Bongino says the president’s guards need more non-lethal weapons. MSNBC host Joe Scarborough says intruders like Gonzalez, who jumped the Pennsylvania Avenue fence and managed to sprint across the lawn and get inside the open door of the White House before being subdued, need to be taken out either by dogs or guards. The Secret Service itself is worried about a human-wave attack on the compound. Gun-restriction advocates are irate that Gonzalez had 800 rounds of ammunition in a car parked blocks from the White House. I’m wondering how Gonzalez found a parking space in Washington.
Although there are many positions to be argued here, Scarborough’s contention, that the president’s security detail needs to put an emphasis on speed over non-violence in eliminating potential threats, seems clearly right. The president is the head of the executive branch of government, and his security is important to the functioning of the state. He stands in loco regis for purposes of political theater, and an attack on him is an attack on the nation’s honor. An unknown number of enemies, whose capacities are also unknown, want to kill him.
But there’s an even simpler justification: You have a house, with a fence around the house. Somebody who climbs that fence and makes a charge at the house is a trespasser on your property and, within a reasonable degree of certainty, a threat to you. You don’t have to kill that person, and if there are other ways to subdue him or her (almost certainly him), you should do so. But prior to the Second Amendment, prior to the discovery of America, prior to the Magna Carta, you have the right to use violence to defend yourself and your property. While the White House is theoretically the property of the “people” rather than the president, we agree to a legal fiction wherein the president acts as a temporary landlord of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. (That’s Pennsylvania Avenue NW, if you’re looking it up on Zillow.)
In elemental defense terms, we can see that the president’s position is in fact much stronger than that of ordinary Americans, who live in a world of never-sleeping thieves, violent ex-husbands, loiterers from local public housing, babbling street people who may choose today as the day to graduate from verbal to physical abuse (actually, the neighborhood of the White House has quite a few of that last type), and the occasional person who just feels like shooting a random piano teacher in her house. The president also doesn’t have to pull the trigger. But someday you might have to.