When two teams of cowardly, Muslim extremist terrorists stormed the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, last month, police and government forces were slow to respond, but local gun owners were not. Kenya has very strict gun laws, banning most semi-auto rifles and tightly restricting possession of handguns, but, like New York City, those with the right connections, enough money and who are persistent enough can own, and even carry, personal defense handguns. One such concealed carry license holder was standing in line at a bank in the mall when the shooting started. A New York Times story from Sept. 26 reported that the man, identified as Raju, immediately sent out an urgent text message to friends in his shooting club. The story then says that shooting club members, neighborhood watch volunteers (like George Zimmerman?) and “plainclothes police officers” rushed to the mall and gave the terrorists something to worry about while they helped people trying to get out of the besieged buildings.
While the Times story focused primarily on the delayed response of the police and military, the fact that it even mentioned armed civilians as first responders is pretty shocking to those of us in the rights movement who have suffered the slings and arrows of the Times’ anti-gun bias for decades. For them to even mention Raju and his friends from the gun club is pretty significant, though we assume it was an aberration and don’t expect any shift in the Times’ position on guns and the right to arms. Apparently the Times thinks private gun owners in Kenya are somehow more responsible than private gun owners in the U.S.
It should be noted that the Westgate mall in Nairobi is not a posted “no guns” zone. Few people in the country have the legal right to carry personal defense firearms, so the whole country is considered a “gun free zone” with exceptions made for those authorized by the government. Here in the U.S., where millions of people exercise their right to carry personal defense firearms, criminals and lunatics bent on killing as many people as possible almost always choose a location that forbids legal, civilian firearms. The deranged punk who attacked the audience of the Batman movie in Colorado, for instance, passed by two other, larger theaters to get to the theater where he carried out his attack. The difference was that the other theaters were not posted. Why would he do that unless he was hoping to reduce the chances of running into armed resistance inside the theater?
An exception to that rule was the attack at the Gabby Giffords meet-and-greet, which occurred in a grocery store parking lot in Tucson. In that atrocity, one of the civilian first responders who helped to subdue the attacker was carrying a gun, but he arrived a few seconds after the time when he would have needed to use it. Had one of the victims not interfered with the madman’s reload, that armed citizen – who, like the gun owners in Kenya had rushed to the sound of the gunfire – would have been the only thing standing between the people in that parking lot and at least another 15 rounds of 9mm.
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The Times didn’t include any photos of Raju and his gun club compatriots, but a Reuters photo from inside the mall caught the particular attention of the shooting fraternity. The photo shows several men in civilian clothes, carrying handguns, and moving tactically through the mall. What really caught our attention was that one of those men was wearing a vest that bore the familiar logo of the International Defensive Pistol Association, or IDPA.
IDPA is a competitive shooting organization similar to the U.S. Practical Shooting Association, or USPSA. My brother and I belong to USPSA and write a regular column for their magazine, Front Sight. Both organizations are focused on competitive, action-style shooting, what some used to call combat shooting, which involves engaging multiple targets with pistol, rifle, or shotgun in a timed course. Scenarios and courses vary from competition to competition and can be very challenging. The fast pace and excitement of the sport has made it one of the fastest-growing shooting sports in the country – rivaled only by Cowboy Action Shooting sanctioned by the Single Action Shooters Society (SASS). Cowboy Action is basically the same sport only using pre-1900-style firearms and having competitors dressed up in classic Western garb. Anyone not familiar with these sports should do a search on YouTube for IDPA, USPSA and SASS. You’ll be amazed.
The practical aspects of these types of competition can come into play in a situation like the assault on Westgate mall. Shooters who regularly compete in these sports know how to move safely with gun in hand, use cover, clear corners, and fire with speed and accuracy. More importantly, they have practiced distinguishing between targets and “No-Shoots” representing bystanders and hostages – the courses routinely include such distinctions. Action shooters have also practiced shooting from a variety of different positions and at targets of varying distances. At this point it is unclear whether any of the gun club members actively engaged any of the terrorists, nor do we expect to hear such details from the Times. What is clear is that these club shooters were willing to risk their own lives to help their fellow citizens – of every race and creed – and they did it with no reports of any of them accidentally shooting an innocent or being shot themselves by government troops or police.
Opponents of armed resistance say that “more guns in a situation like that is just a recipe for disaster,” but as has been repeatedly proven, it is not the presence of defensive firearms, but their absence that increases death tolls. This case again proves the point. The presence of these armed civilians during the Westgate mall attack undoubtedly saved many lives.