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When Order Breaks Down

by Robert A. Waters

October 22, 2001

After September 11, many Americans rushed into gun shops to arm themselves. According to a recent Associated Press article, for example, the state of Florida Division of Licensing saw "a three-fold increase in gun permit applications in September." Other state licensing boards reported similar buying patterns.


Are citizens arming themselves for an invasion? Or is it something more basic, like being prepared in case the social order disintegrates?

A real-life scenario of a breakdown in the fabric of society occurred nearly ten years ago.

The Los Angeles riots began on April 29, 1992, almost immediately after four police officers were acquitted of numerous charges in the Rodney King beating. When National Guard troops finally moved in three days later, fifty-three people had died, thousands had been injured, and one billion dollars in damages had been reported.

But one of the under-reported stories was of a group of citizens who were not injured or killed.

As the city burned, movie stars fled and politicians buried their heads in the sand, hoping the crisis would go away. Many middle-class citizens, watching the carnage on their television sets, rushed to gun shops to purchase firearms. (They quickly learned that because of a 15-day waiting period, their own government had made it impossible for them to protect themselves.) The law-abiding poor had little hope--as the riots became more widespread and violent, Chief Daryl Gates ordered the cops to retreat.

Calls for help came in to 911 by the hundreds. But citizens were informed that no assistance was available. Order had broken down. People were on their own.

On the streets, law-abiding citizens were being beaten, robbed, and murdered in an orgy of rage. Much of the violence was racially motivated, as exemplified by the brutal attack on Reginald Denny. While cameras rolled, the white truck driver was dragged from the cab of his big-rig and beaten senseless. He was saved only after a small group of courageous blacks defied the mob and rushed him to a hospital.

Meanwhile, the fury of the black rioters turned on Korean business owners. Only a few days before, a Korean shopkeeper had shot and killed a black woman whom he claimed was shoplifting. The anger of the black community was still smoldering when the officers were acquitted.

The Koreans, known to be hard-working entrepreneurs, were caught in the middle. Now that the cops were no longer around, their businesses were being systematically looted. Anyone who dared stand up to the mob was killed.

During the second day of the riots, many Koreans armed themselves and stood guard over their stores. They quickly formed teams to patrol "Korea-town" and used semi-automatic weapons (now banned) to protect themselves and their businesses.

On March 31, 1995, David Joo, owner of a gun shop in LA, testified before the House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime. He'd been on the front lines of the war against order. "That night," he said, "I stood on the roof of the Lucky Electronics [store] across the street from our gun shop, along with several other neighbors. I had a 12-guage riot shotgun and a Beretta 92F pistol. Another employee had a Colt AR-15 Sporter rifle. We called the police for help, but they never came. Some looters tried to break down the door of the gun store, but we fired warning shots that drove them away. This happened many times, and before it was over, we fired 200 rounds of ammunition."

After stark testimony about the terrors of the two nights he stood guard over his shop, Joo summed it up. "The police couldn't protect us," he said. "For whatever reason, they weren't there when we needed them the most. The gun control laws couldn't protect us either. All the gun control laws did was keep other law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves...[But] when law and order breaks down, citizens have a right to protect themselves."

In the end, there were sections of Los Angeles where only Korean businesses survived the looting and burning. And many Koreans were still alive because they had the fire-power needed to stop the mob.

Back to September 11, 2001.

Americans quickly sensed that something had changed. They understood that the security they thought they'd bought with outrageous taxes was only a mirage. Even those who had never thought of owning a gun began to rethink their positions. As the owner of a Florida gun shop said, "People who were against guns or were against keeping guns in their homes, those are the people coming in..."

Like those who used firearms to guard the tent cities after Hurricane Andrew, many liberals now saw a need for the guns they would have banned a few days before.

Like the Korean business owners in Los Angeles, they looked toward a primitive instinct, self-protection, and found the shallow, jingoistic phrases of political correctness wanting.

All of a sudden, after seeing America on fire and helpless politicians running for cover, liberals took a hit from a dose of reality.

Their need for self-protection just became up close and personal.

Robert Waters is a Featured Writer with and the author of the book The Best Defense: True Stories of Intended Victims Who Defended Themselves.  Read other articles from Mr. Waters in his archives here: