Making the Decision to Defend Others

by Keith Coniglio

On September 24th, 2017 a man bent on murder opened fire in an Antioch, Tennessee, church, killing one and wounding six before being stopped by an incredibly brave private citizen, armed with a pistol of his own.

As the attack opened, 22-year-old Robert Caleb Engle charged the gunman unarmed, his licensed handgun left in his vehicle. He escaped with only a pistol-whipping, and was then able to reach the parking lot, retrieve his firearm, and end the violence. The church pastor noted that the killer had been reloading outside a room conducting a youth Bible study class when he was intercepted and held at gunpoint by Engle, almost certainly preventing harm to the children therein.

The tale can be summarized easily enough, but it contains details worth honest consideration by every concealed carrier as we contemplate the question, "What if it were me?" There are no concrete "right answers" to the questions such contemplation may engender – they are the definition of personal and subjective – but the exploration shouldn't be avoided out of discomfort.

As concealed-carriers, we are armed (and hopefully skilled) to defend ourselves and our loved ones – but what of others? Does your personal definition of "loved ones" extend to your neighbors? To fellow members of your community or church? To anyone in harm's way? We have no legal obligation to come to another's aid but, by potentially being the only person on-scene able to make a difference, is there a moral obligation?

What do you accept as your personal responsibility in the face of evil, and what price tag would deter you? In many jurisdictions, the act of arming oneself and returning to engage a would-be killer removes the shield of claiming "imminent danger to self." In fact, it may actually qualify as "premeditation."

If you examined your local statutes (and I strongly encourage you to do so) and found this to be the case, would it influence your moral compass? With such knowledge in mind, what would you do if you could escape to a parking lot and your waiting pistol? Would you return to the fight? Call the police and wait? Drive to safety?

Less weighty but equally important is the question of balancing our right of defense against another's property rights. In places of business, places of worship, any place that is considered private property, the owner has every legal right to say, "No guns allowed on the premises." In some cases, such a statement is enough to negate the validity of concealed carry permits.

Do you care? Does your respect for others' rights, the law, and local mores obligate you to leave yourself defenseless? Does the sanctity of a place of worship deter you from being armed there, despite the knowledge that murderers do not share your respectful restraint? Or do you carry in such places anyway, regardless of the risk of legal jeopardy or community condemnation if you are discovered?

Again, there is no "right answer" that will suit us all. We each have our personal limits and liabilities; our unique priorities, prejudices, and responsibilities. The price of action could be death or arrest, inflicting anguish and financial hardship on our loved ones, all for the sake of strangers who may not even support our right to be armed.

The price of inaction could be haunting emotions and thoughts that would endure for a lifetime, as we read the body count and see the caskets, knowing we had been right there and armed. The debate over which is more tolerable can only be an internal one, requiring the most honest of introspection.

Robert Engle made his courageous split-second decisions under the utmost duress, but we have the luxury of contemplating it in safety, and with time on our side. We should not pass up this opportunity to do so.

Keith Coniglio is a father, software tester, NRA-certified pistol instructor, and devoted Second Amendment advocate. He is also the editor-in-chief of Descendants of Liberty Press, a site dedicated to rekindling Americans' passion for - and defense of - their Constitutional rights and personal liberty.