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Forget cops, should homeowners arm themselves?

Craig Medred

A Wisconsin sheriff has stated the obvious about crime and guns, and the story is exploding in the national media. Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke stars in a 30-second radio spot that warns the public:  

"With officers laid off and furloughed, simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option. You can beg for mercy from a violent criminal, hide under the bed, or you can fight back. But are you prepared? Consider taking a certified safety course in handling a firearm so you can defend yourself until we get there. You have a duty to protect yourself and your family. We're partners now."

This will come as no big news to Alaskans, many of whom live in places where a 911 call goes to a law enforcement officer far, far away.

Castle doctrine

Personally, I remember going to a Neighborhood Watch meeting in my Anchorage Hillside neighborhood many years ago where people were told that if an intruder shows up in your house in the middle of the night, shoot him. How many people could actually bring themselves to do this is questionable, which might make getting gun training the least of the problem. Most people simply don't want to kill a fellow human being, despite the circumstances.

But the only thing I remember being told by a law enforcement officer was to make sure the  criminal was in the house before shooting. He only half-jokingly, it seemed, added, "If he's outside, make sure you drag him inside before you call us."

Alaska, like Wisconsin, is among the 29 states with a "castle doctrine'' -- as in a man's home is his castle, according to Wikipedia. The castle doctrine dictates that you have no obligation to retreat from an encounter and can use whatever force necessary to protect your home. And Clarke has told Wisconsin residents that is what they should do, too.

'Extremely dangerous proposition'

As reported by the Christian Science Monitor, "What makes his actions so unusual is the fact that he -- as a sheriff -- is essentially telling his citizens not to depend on the police. It's highly irregular. Most law enforcement professionals will not encourage people to pick up their guns and engage in vigilante justice, says Randolph McLaughlin, a civil rights attorney in Manhattan and a professor at Pace University Law School. 'What [Clarke] is saying is that 'we in law enforcement are unable to protect you, so do what you need to.' It's an extremely  dangerous proposition to encourage citizens who have no law-enforcement training to use their weapons.'"

On what McLaughlin bases those conclusions is unclear. The police in general do not stop home intruders because in few communities can they get to a home fast enough. What the police usually do is investigate the crimes afterward, which is apparently why Vice President Biden is suggesting shotgun ownership for homeowners.

"A shotgun would keep you a lot safer -- a double barrel shotgun -- than the assault weapon in somebody's hand who doesn't know how to use it, even one who does know how to use it," he said several days ago. "It's harder to use an assault weapon to hit something than it is a shotgun. So, if you want to keep people away in an earthquake, buy some shotgun shells."

President Barack Obama has tasked Biden with developing a new federal policy to deal with U.S. gun violence. Why he prefers a double-barrel shotgun over the pump that former CBS News anchorman Dan Rather once used to drive intruders out of his home is unclear.

Dan Rather's shotgun 

In his autobiography, “Rather Outspoken,” Rather recounts being the victim of an attempted burglary prior to the infamous Watergate break-in. The incident is described this way on The Daily Beast website:

“The then-White House correspondent had been scheduled to go to Florida to cover the president, but instead stayed home. Late at night, his daughter heard an intruder. Rather immediately 'did what any Texan would do: I made sure the family was safe, then grabbed the shotgun.' Rather went downstairs and saw the intruder. He loudly chambered his shotgun and the burglar very quickly skedaddled."

Apparently unknown to Daily Beast reporter Ben Jacobs, a pump shotgun doesn't so much "loudly'' chamber a round as it "distinctly" chambers a round. There is a very obvious "ka-chunk shunk'' sound anyone familiar with firearms is likely to recognize as a clear warning to get the hell out of Dodge.

Stay tuned. America's latest gun-control debate just keeps getting stranger.

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com