October 11, 2021

If One of the Churchgoers in Charleston Had Been Armed . . .

If One of the Churchgoers in Charleston Had Been Armed . . .While it may be weeks or months before we know the full details of Dylann Storm Roof’s alleged attack on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., the early reports are both heartbreaking and infuriating. Roof allegedly entered the church, attended a Bible study, sat next to its pastor — state senator ClementaPinckney — and then opened fire. It’s hard to imagine a more callous and profane act.


It appears that the shooting was quite deliberate. He’s said to have reloaded five times during the course of the attack, allegedly even taking the time to talk to his victims. According to the New York Times, he said: “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” If these reports are true (again, it’s early), Charleston, S.C., has just suffered a race-motivated terror attack.

As I read the news and watched the coverage, I felt stricken for the victims, fury at the attacker, and more than a little personal conviction. Not because of any silly notions of collective white guilt or other nonsense peddled by the radical Left — and certainly not because I’ve long opposed the Left’s gun-control efforts and supported the individual, inherent right of self-defense, including the right to keep and bear arms. No, I felt conviction because of the numerous times that I’ve walked out of my house unarmed and thus largely incapable of defending myself — and, more important, others — from violent acts.

Perhaps I chose not to wear the right kind of clothing — pants that allow me to conceal my carry pistol, for example. Perhaps it crossed my mind to carry, but I thought, “I’m not going anywhere dangerous.” The men and women at the Emanuel Bible study probably didn’t think they were in any danger, either. When we go to the movies, or a political rally, or show up for work — or go to any of the sites of recent mass shootings or other acts of violence — danger is generally the last thought on our minds.

Yes, I know the chances of violence on any given day or at any given location are vanishingly small. Yes, I know that even if I’m traveling in higher-crime sections of my community, the odds are overwhelmingly good that I’ll be fine. But I know this: If the unthinkable happens, and I watch as my family, my friends, or even members of my community I’ve never met are hurt or killed when I could have prevented it by carrying the weapon I’ve trained myself to use, I could never forgive myself.

Don’t just carry. Don’t just go to the state-mandated training, buy a weapon, and then forget about it. Unless you train yourself to use it, that weapon would probably be less useful to you in an emergency than a similarly weighted rock. At least you’d instinctively know to throw the rock. Practice with a handgun until you can take it from a position of safe carry to active engagement within seconds. Then practice that again until you’ve beaten your best time. Then practice again. And realize that practice isn’t a burden but a joy. Most people who go to shooting ranges enjoy the experience. Even gun-control activists often grudgingly admit how much they like the simple act of taking shots at paper targets.

None of this, of course, guarantees your personal safety. None of this guarantees that in a moment of maximum stress that you’ll make the right decision. There may come a day when an active shooter immediately guns down a concealed-carry permit holder and then continues with his rampage. Even though — as an Iraq vet — I’ve had far more training than the average American, I still don’t know how I’d respond to any given crisis until that crisis is upon me. Fight or flight is a call that has to be made in the moment, based on the totality of the circumstances. But a gun does give you options, and those options could well mean the difference between life and death, between one reload and five reloads, and between a clean conscience and a lifetime of guilt and pain.

— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.