The Castle

If there’s an upperclassman in the Legislature that seems ready to pick up Pat Pariseau and Linda Boudreau’s mantel as the champion of the Second Amendment in Minnesota, it’d seem to be Representative Tony Cornish.  Cornish – from Good Thunder, and a police chief in his non-legislative life – has been the Second Amendment movement’s legislative point man in the post-Personal-Protection-Act era.

And as a Second Amendment point man, he’s been busy this past week.

Sally Jo Sorenson at leftyblog Bluestem Prairie has a  critique.   To an extent, it’s one I expected; to another…:

Bluestem readers know that I favor gun rights, and my position might not be the most popular one in America right now, especially among my friends on the left. So be it.

…less so.  We in the Second Amendment Civil Rights movement are always well-advised to give our props to the outstate Democrats who supported the Minnesota Personal Protection Act, the Pre-Emption statute, and so many other of the bits of legislation that have made Minnesota suck less than it could have as re the human right to self-defense.

So: Props.

That being said, an article in the Mankato Free Press has left me scratching my head. What is state representative Tony Cornish, who chairs the Public safety committee in the Minnesota House, really asking for in Cornish: What if somebody had been at shooting and returned fire?

It’s not as academic a question as some on the left – maybe including Sorensen, maybe not, we’ll see later – think it is.

Cornish is suggesting no major changes in the way security is provided for state lawmakers. But his take on the Arizona assassination attempt of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, which killed six people and wounded 13, matches previous opinions he’s offered after shooting sprees: He wishes someone in the crowd had a weapon and had been ready to respond.

I can see the grandstanding on guns. I can see the pandering to those of us who support gun rights. It’s politically astute, and Cornish is as polished a politician as ever had a Good Thunder post office box as a mailing address.

What I can’t see is the logic, given the set of facts at the scene of the spree murder in Arizona. Slate reports in Gabrielle Giffords and the perils of guns: How an armed hero nearly shot the wrong man:


The article – by the generally not loathsome Will Saletan – notes that Zamudio very nearly shot the wrong person:


But before we embrace Zamudio’s brave intervention as proof of the value of being armed, let’s hear the whole story. “I came out of that store, I clicked the safety off, and I was ready,” he explained on Fox and Friends. “I had my hand on my gun. I had it in my jacket pocket here. And I came around the corner like this.” Zamudio demonstrated how his shooting hand was wrapped around the weapon, poised to draw and fire. As he rounded the corner, he saw a man holding a gun. “And that’s who I at first thought was the shooter,” Zamudio recalled. “I told him to ‘Drop it, drop it!’ “

But the man with the gun wasn’t the shooter. He had wrested the gun away from the shooter. “Had you shot that guy, it would have been a big, fat mess,” the interviewer pointed out.

And it would have.   It illustrates one of the major travails of self-defense – it’s full of risks.  There are thousands of self-defense shootings a year in the United States.  The shooter kills the wrong person about 1-2% of the time.  The rate for cops, by the way, is about three times higher; not because cops are irresponsible shooters (usually), but because they arrive on the scene of an incident later, when the situation gets more fraught and confusing.  A classic example: in Saint Paul a few years ago, the police got into a gun battle with a couple of armed robbers.  One of the robbers, hit by police gunfire, dropped a shotgun.  A passerby – a twenty-something guy – picked up the shotgun, perhaps hoping to get a piece of the robbers.  The cops, not knowing who was who, shot and killed him; in the confusion of the situation, there was no way to know he wasn’t one of the robbers.

Sort of like Mr. Zamudio almost did.  Only not being a cop, Zamudio is not legally indemnified against such mistakes.


One thing Zamudio didn’t have was the training required of every carry permit holder in Minnesota, and under Arizona’s laws, there’s no telling how effective a random good citizen can have been in the situation.

Which cuts both ways; Minnesota’s concealed carry training focuses on legalities, not tactics.  The record nationwide among law-abiding citizens, with or without training, is generally very good.

Certainly, Loughner, who had purchased his Glock legally, was aware of the fact that anyone in the crowd or nearby (like Zamudio) could be carrying. He was not deterred.

Insanity, like drugs and booze, both make their victims a little dodgy on consequences.

Cornish suggests that more people start carrying at the Capitol; it’s legal, and there’s nothing stopping a law-abiding citizen who follows the rule for the premises to do so. But his concerns about the state capitol’s design and the nature of the foot traffic inside make me wonder whether counting on an attacker being a “coward” in the face of returned fire is much defense at all.

I’ve noticed that among the left when they’re talking about guns and citizens’ right to self-defense; criminals turn into infantry.  The sound of 230 grains of steel-jacketed hurt sailing by at 750 feet a second is enough to make just about anyone turn and high-tail away; the military works long and hard to train people to go about their business with bullets whizzing past.  Most criminals won’t.  Oh, some will; the odd veteran (like the ex-Marine who shot the two Saint Paul cops in 1994), the very high, the extremely dissociative.  But most people, criminal or otherwise, have a pretty finely-tuned self-preservation instinct.

But here’s where Rep. Cornish is important; situations like Mr. Zamudio’s are also full of legal pitfalls.

Imagine this.  You’re in Saint Paul.  Betty McCollum has decided to come out from under her rock, and in a moment of not being distracted by shiny objects, she decides to do a public appearance (this requires some suspension of disbelief).  You attend.  Being a law-abiding citizen with a carry permit, you bring your piece, tastefully hidden in your pocket.

As Rep. McCollum stands on the platform surrounded by Teachers Union goons, you see someone next to you raising a gun.  With nightmarish slowness as the adrenaline warps your perception, the woman – wearing a “Public Option NOW” T-Shirt – fires three shots.  Thankfully, she shanks the shot high and away, and misses the Representative and everyone else – but she’s firing a Glock, so you know there’s more where that came from.  You draw (as you responsibly note that your “backstop” is a cement-block wall, and that there are no innocent parties in the line of fire), and fire two shots at center mass, just like Joel Rosenberg taught you.  The target drops to the ground.  You call 911 first, and then your lawyer – again just like Joel taught you – perhaps saving as many as a dozen lives (one for each bullet the woman’s Glock still had in the magazine).

Were you right?

In terms of overriding moral principles?  Hell yeah.

Under Minnesota law?  You’re only as safe as your County Attorney’s relative level of anti-gun zealotry will let you be.  Since someone’s dead, the police would pretty much have to arrest you.  Ramco Attorney John Choi and his minions could note that Minnesota law requires four elements for you to claim self-defense; you can not be a willing participant, you have to reasonably fear death or great bodily harm, you have to make a reasonable effort to disengage, and lethal force has to be reasonably appropriate – where “Reasonable” means, in every case, “would convince a jury”.   And if they wanted to (and it is entirely a matter of their discretion) they could point out that while, yes, it’s nice that you saved all those lives, you didn’t try to retreat, and the woman wasn’t actually shooting at you, so your fear of death or mutilation wasn’t reasonable.  And if you get a jury full of Merriam Park harpies with “You Can’t Hug A Child With Nuclear Arms” stickers on their Volvos and Subarus and Prii, then it’s off to jail with you.

Perhaps Rep. McCollum will send you a Christmas card in jail?

Rep. Cornish has tried in successive sessions to introduce bills that’d take some of the ambiguity out of Minnesota’s self-defense law; to remove the very ambiguous requirement to try to retreat, and also to stop requiring people to assess the motives of someone who breaks into their home.  The DFL legislature gundecked…er, sorry, scuppered those very sensible bills (with a leg up from a compliant media).

And whether you call it “grandstanding” or “being a great American”, now is Rep. Cornish’s time.  There’s a conservative majority, and a Governor who bragged on the campaign trail about having twin .357s in a gun locker in  his house.

And that’s why Cornish is important.

7 thoughts on “The Castle

  1. Insanity, like drugs and booze, both make their victims a little dodgy on consequences.

    I think Loughner was suicidal; he intended to die. He knew that he was in a carry state. He took out the target, Giffords. That done he could have tried to run, or shoot his way to freedom. Instead he started shooting random people. It was just chance that he was disarmed and taken down instead of being shot and killed.

  2. Situations like this are also why, if you’re not personally involved (i.e. have all the facts), it’s smart to not get involved. Like my instructor is found of saying, it’s better to be a good witness.

    For someone that wasn’t there to see everything play out, it would have been very risky for Zamudio to get involved. Now had he been standing there in the crowd and watched it play out (like the scenario you present) that’s a bit different. The legal ramifications, to say nothing of the health of potentially innocent bystanders, makes it risky.

    That said, if there is about to be a mass-shooting and there is a person in the crowd with the ability to stop it from starting or continuing, I’d really prefer if the last thing on that person’s mind is wondering if they’ll end up in prison for saving the lives of a dozen people.

  3. This is an interesting conundrum. The Rules of Engagement in a both of our current combat zones is clear-if you feel your life is in danger, you can engage a target with little real fear of the lawyers after the fact. But you can also engage a target if you feel a civilian is in danger of death or great bodily harm.

    Its tempting to say that the law should be similar for carry permit holders, but I’m not sure the state can or should be delegating that authority to anyone beyond licensed peace officers.

  4. The critical point is that he DID NOT shoot the wrong guy. The system worked.

    Under Minn. Stat. 626.76, to be a licensed peace officer you must be employed by a government (Cop, Sheriff, Game Warden, etc).

    A laid-off cop has no more legal power or rights than any other Concealed Carry Holder, no matter how much training she has.

    Why not? Remember the woman who saved the church out West? Why not let well-trained people augment law enforcement’s efforts?

  5. Cornish suggests that more people start carrying at the Capitol; it’s legal, and there’s nothing stopping a law-abiding citizen who follows the rule for the premises to do so.

    Legal to carry at the Capitol?? The security there wouldn’t even let us hold miniature Tibetan flags on Human Rights Day back on Dec. 10th. Yeah, I suppose I coulda poked somebody’s eye out . . .

  6. It is legal to carry a state capitol given compliance with:
    609.66 Subd. 1g (2)

    (2) persons who carry pistols according to the terms of a permit issued under section 624.714 and who so notify the sheriff or the commissioner of public safety, as appropriate;

    While I certainly don’t agree with Tony Cornish on every subject I can say I’ve met him and in my opinion he’s a very good person.

  7. Tony’s a nice a guy, and a good guy, but he needs a lot of help getting the bill through — and signed — this year.

    Be sure to help, whether it’s Tony carrying the ball, or somebody else.

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