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Stopping Power — Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns
A Book by J. Neil Schulman

Sorties into Enemy Territory:
the LA Times Op-Eds

Southern California has only one newspaper that is widely distributed throughout the state: the Los Angeles Times. Its editors like to compare themselves only to The New York Times.

In January, 1992, when the Op-Ed page of the Los Angeles Times published the first of four opinion pieces of mine putting forth a defense of civilian firearms, it had probably been over a decade since the last time they had published an article with this viewpoint. The editor of the editorial pages, Thomas Plate, doesn’t believe in the Second Amendment – he has referred to it in a letter to the NRA’s Sacramento lobbyist as a “blip on the Constitution” – but when a subscriber pointed out to him the Times‘s lack of balance on this subject, he felt chastened and promised the subscriber to do something about it.

The Times subscriber was Dafydd ab Hugh, a fellow novelist and firearms-rights activist. I had unsuccessfully submitted three articles to the Times at that point. When Dafydd told me of Mr. Plate’s promise to him, I decided to submit again.

An incident at a Shoney’s Restaurant in Alabama gave me the opportunity to update one of my articles, and I made my first sale to the Times Op-Ed page.

That article got me on two major Los Angeles radio talk shows, and started a friendship with the most-respected talk show host in Los Angeles, KABC’s Dennis Prager. My article was the final straw that convinced Dennis to abandon his opposition to civilian arms, and to embrace a philosophy of citizen self-defense that includes both widespread gun ownership and what he sees as necessary gun regulations.

During the almost-two-years that I was selling articles to the Times Op-Ed page, the Times Editorial Page was calling for what it self-described as only modest gun-control measures.

But on Friday, October 15, 1993, only three weeks after the Second Amendment Foundation gave me their James Madison Award for my fourth Times Op-Ed piece, published on September 20th, the Los Angeles Times Editorial Page began a series of weekly half-page editorials called “Taming the Gun Monster.”

In these editorials, the Times editors called for a national ban on handguns and any semi-automatic firearm that could be lumped into the undefined category of “assault weapons,” and denied that there were any insuperable legal or constitutional barriers to doing so.

I probably didn’t do my career any good when I organized a demonstration against the Los Angeles Times which took place the Monday morning following the first of the editorials. A dozen other firearms-rights activists and I, dressed in business suits, handed out copies of articles in front of the Times offices to anyone going in or out who would take one. The hand-outs included several of my articles – both from the Times Op-Ed page and the Times‘s nearest rival, the conservative Orange County Register – and additional articles refuting the Times editorial contention such as a Times news article from May 20, 1992, titled “Assault Rifles Are Not Heavily Used in Crimes.”

Thomas Plate “balanced” these editorials by running several excellent pieces by pro-firearms criminologists and Second-Amendment scholars on the Op-Ed page.

But I wasn’t invited to be one of the balancers, and my one submission to the Times since the demonstration was rejected. I believe that the Times‘s editor of the Op-Ed page, Bob Berger, likes my articles. I suspect his boss, Mr. Plate, has overruled him.

I can’t say I blame Mr. Plate. I had bit the hand that was feeding me.

But Thomas Plate’s hand was attempting to destroy the most important of the Bill of Rights.

It deserved to be bit. -JNS

The following article appeared in the January 1, 1992 Los Angeles Times.

A Massacre We Didn’t Hear About

This is the story you saw on the evening news:

At lunch hour on Wednesday, Oct. 16, George Jo Hennard of Belton, Tex. smashed his Ford pickup through the plate glass doors of Luby’s cafeteria in Killeen, injuring some patrons immediately. While other patrons rushed toward the truck believing the driver was a heart-attack victim, Hennard calmly climbed out of his pickup, took out two 9-millimeter semi-automatic pistols, and started shooting people in the cafeteria’s serving line.

Hennard continued shooting for 10 minutes, reloading five times. One of his pistols jammed repeatedly, causing him to discard it. There would have been plenty of opportunity for any of the cafeteria’s customers or employees to return fire. None did because none of them were armed. Texas law forbids private citizens from carrying firearms out of their home or business. Luby’s employee’s manual forbids employees from carrying firearms.

Police officers were inside Luby’s within minutes. But before they were able to corner Hennard in the cafeteria’s restroom, where he turned his gun fatally on himself, Hennard had killed 15 women and 8 men, wounded 19 and caused at least five more to be injured attempting to flee.

The Killeen massacre was ready-made excitement for the media: a madman with a gun, lots of gruesome pictures. CBS News devoted an entire “48 Hours” Dan Rather report to it. Sarah Brady of Handgun Control Inc. capitalized on it in a nationally published column to call Congress cowardly for voting down more stringent gun laws the next day.

Now here’s a story you probably didn’t see:

Late at night on Tuesday, December 17, two men armed with recently-stolen pistols herded 20 customers and employees of a Shoney’s restaurant in Anniston, Ala., into the walk-in refrigerator, and locked it. Continuing to hold the manager at gunpoint, the men began robbing the restaurant.

Then one of the robbers found a customer who had hidden under a table and pulled a gun on him. The customer, Thomas Glenn Terry, legally armed with a .45 semi-automatic pistol, fired five shots into that robber’s chest and abdomen, killing him instantly.

The other robber, who was holding the manager at gunpoint, opened fire on Terry and grazed him. Terry returned fire, hitting the second robber several times and wounding him critically.

The robbery attempt was over. The Shoney’s customers and employees were freed. No one else was hurt.

Because Terry was armed, and used his gun to stop two armed robbers who had taken a restaurant full of people hostage, there was no drawn-out crisis, no massacre, no victims’ families for Dan Rather to interview. Consequently, the story hasn’t received much coverage.

Among those who rely on national news media for their view of the country, the bloody image of Luby’s Cafeteria is available to lend the unchallenged impression that guns in private hands serve only to kill innocent people. The picture of 20 hostages walking out of Shoney’s refrigerator unharmed, because a private citizen was armed that night, is not.

As we celebrate the bicentennial of the Bill of Rights, it’s worth noting that the Framers wrote the Second Amendment so the people’s defense would be in our own hands, and we wouldn’t have to rely on a “standing army” or “select militia” for our security. Though no police departments existed in America then, there’s no historical doubt that the Framers had considered centralized public defense, and considered it not merely ineffective, but itself dangerous to public safety. Recent vigilante-type police attacks, such as the beating of Rodney King, lend credence.

Yet, it’s fashionable to relegate constitutional protections to the dustbin of history. Judges sworn to defend the Constitution ignore its clear provisions, as do legislators. Virtually every major organ of society – both political parties, the media, the American Bar Assn., the ACLU – urges them to do so.

Today’s “consensus reality” asserts that private firearms play no effective role in the civic defense, and that firearms must be restricted to reduce crime. The media repeat these assertions as a catechism, and treat those who challenge them as heretics.

Yet, we have before us an experiment showing us alternative outcomes. In one case, we have a restaurant full of unarmed people who rely on the police to save them. The result is 23 innocent lives lost, and an equivalent number wounded. In the second case, we have one armed citizen on the scene and not one innocent life lost.

How can the choice our society needs to make be any clearer?

It’s time to rid ourselves of the misbegotten idea that public safety can be achieved by unilateral disarmament of the honest citizen, and realize that the price of public safety is, like liberty, eternal vigilance. We can tire ourselves in futile debates on how to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Or we can decide that innocent lives deserve better than to be cut short, if only we, as a society, will take upon ourselves the civic responsibility of defending our fellow citizens, as Thomas Glenn Terry did in Alabama.

My account of Thomas Glenn Terry’s actions in this article was based on an Alabama newspaper account. I later interviewed Terry for a weekly radio program I was hosting and discovered that the account was mistaken on several points.

Postal clerk Terry was finishing a late-night dinner with his wife when the robbers came in and took over the restaurant. Terry hid his .45 Colt Government Model under his sweater, not seeing any immediate opportunity to use it. Terry’s wife was captured with the other customers and herded off to the cooler, where one of the robbers proceeded to collect wallets and jewelry.

Terry did not hide under a table; he had separated himself from the other customers and managed to get to a back door in the Shoney’s to see if it was open so he could escape and call the police. The door was chained shut. At that point one of the robbers discovered him and when the robber drew on him, Terry pulled his own handgun from under his sweater and returned fire, incapacitating this robber, who ultimately survived. The second robber heard the exchange of gunfire and also drew on Terry; it was the gun fight between Terry and this second robber which resulted in the robber running out to the parking lot, where he died from his wounds. It was at this point that Terry told the store manager to phone the police, informing them that an armed customer was present; Terry then proceeded to the cooler and released his wife and the other customers.

Both robbers whom Terry shot had previous armed robberies on their record, and one had murdered a motel clerk just a few days earlier. A third robber escaped as soon as Terry exchanged gunfire with the first robber.

The only national media outlet to cover this incident as news, just two months after the Killeen restaurant massacre, was the Christian Science Monitor. -JNS


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Copyright © 1994, 1999 J. Neil Schulman &
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