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Canada’s Good Guy With A Gun

Canada’s Good Guy With A Gun

Photo credit: Adrian Wyld AP Photo/The Canadian Press

First appeared in America’s 1st Freedom magazine, January 2015.

On Oct. 22, 2014, an unarmed security guard in Canada’s Parliament screamed, “Gun! Gun! Gun!” and grabbed the barrel of the terrorist’s rifle. The gun went off and blew a hole in the guard’s foot. As the rifle report echoed down the marble halls, 58-year-old Kevin Vickers, a man hired to ceremonially keep order as the sergeant-at-arms during parliamentary meetings, took his pistol from a locked case.

When Vickers popped out of his office seconds later, he could see the barrel of the terrorist’s lever-action carbine sticking out from behind a column just in front of him. 

Vickers dove around a marble pillar and began firing his semi-automatic pistol before he even hit the ground. It’s not hard to imagine what Hollywood would do with this scene. You don’t even have to close your eyes to see the slow-motion videography of a gray-haired Vickers leaping sideways as spent brass ejects and the pistol’s action slams back and forward as red flashes flare out of the muzzle and bullets strike the terrorist’s body. Like a Hollywood hero, Vickers didn’t miss. He hit the terrorist point blank and kept shooting as he hit the ground and rolled. His team ran forward and continued to fire on the bad guy. When Vickers popped out of his office seconds later, he could see the barrel of the terrorist’s lever-action carbine sticking out from behind a column just in front of him. 

With the terrorist dead, and after making certain this was a lone attacker, Vickers calmly made his way to a nearby room where members of Parliament (MPs) were barricading doors with wood furniture and grabbing flagpoles to use as rudimentary spears. 

Vickers stepped up to a podium. While his exact words were recalled differently by eyewitnesses, he assured the MPs the suspect had been killed. Vickers then left the members of Parliament and put his pistol back in his office. 

Vickers quickly declined to speak to the media. This wasn’t about him. He just did his job. A real hero doesn’t seek applause. Sure, the ancient Romans would have had him ride a chariot through cheering crowds, but today the real heroes we have left know a heroic act isn’t about them. They are heroic because they are willing to sacrifice themselves for something greater than themselves. 

Nevertheless, the media needed sound bites. The narrative had to be turned into a story for the nightly news. Everyone wanted the details and to applaud the hero. He wouldn’t speak, so the story fell from the headlines. But let’s look a little deeper, as what this event says about guns and freedom and the character of a nation needs a moment of reflection. We must understand what happened and how the violence was stopped. 

What Does The Ottawa Attack Say About Us?

Will the terrorists find sheep, as jihadists did in London on May 22, 2013, when they murdered a British soldier in daylight as people watched, or will they find individuals ready to defend themselves and their rights? To answer this question, consider the narrative many want us to believe. 

We are often told that democratic nations, by their very nature, are more open to attack. Those who want us to come to this conclusion then want us to deduce that we must give up our freedom in exchange for safety. Of course, this thinking overlooks all the suicide attacks that have and still are taking place in the world’s most authoritarian regimes. And it ignores the basic fact that a free and, therefore, armed people are more able to stop bad guys. 

Consider the facts in the Ottawa attack: The terrorist’s name was Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. He was a 32-year-old Canadian from Montreal. He had a criminal record and was a drug addict. Zehaf-Bibeau’s mother is French-Canadian and his father is Libyan. He had converted to Islam in 2004 and visited Libya in 2007. Before his attack, Zehaf-Bibeau decided he wanted to leave Canada for the Middle East. While he was waiting for his passport to clear, he was living in a homeless shelter in Ottawa. 

Canadian authorities haven’t said how Zehaf-Bibeau obtained the .30-30 caliber Winchester Model 94 lever-action rifle he used in the attack. What we do know is that shortly before 10 a.m. on Oct. 22, 2014, witnesses saw Zehaf-Bibeau arrive at the National War Memorial in Ottawa carrying the rifle. A tourist used a cell phone to take a photograph of Zehaf-Bibeau at the War Memorial. It shows Zehaf-Bibeau holding the rifle and wearing a keffiyeh-style scarf over part of his face.

Zehaf-Bibeau approached Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a 24-year-old Canadian soldier who was a ceremonial guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Cirillo had a gun, but no ammunition. Two days before, a terrorist in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, had purposely driven his vehicle into two Canadian soldiers. One soldier had been killed. Still, Cirillo and the other ceremonial guards weren’t allowed to have ammunition.

Zehaf-Bibeau shot Cirillo twice in the back. Cirillo died of his wounds as people tried to stop the bleeding. Another soldier, also on ceremonial guard duty, briefly chased Zehaf-Bibeau. He was forced to retreat when Zehaf-Bibeau shot at him. Without ammunition, this soldier also wasn’t able to stop the terrorist. According to Vickers’ niece, “This is the first time in his career that he’s shot anyone.”

Zehaf-Bibeau ran back to his vehicle and drove west along Wellington Street to Parliament Hill. He abandoned his car and ran past scattering bystanders with his lever-action rifle. He ran through a gate in the fence that surrounds the Parliament Hill precinct. He then carjacked a parliamentary vehicle and drove to the Centre Block parliament building. Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) saw the carjacking and pursued Zehaf-Bibeau.

The terrorist leapt out of the car and ran into the Centre Block building where MPs were in conference. He ran through the main entrance under the Peace Tower. A security guard, Samearn Son, saw the rifle in Zehaf-Bibeau’s hands and grabbed it while yelling, “Gun! Gun! Gun!” In the struggle, Son was shot in the foot and went down. Son and another guard watching the door also didn’t have guns or ammunition.

Zehaf-Bibeau ran down the building’s main hall (the Hall of Honor). Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the leader of the opposition, Thomas Mulcair, were holding caucus meetings in rooms on either side of the hall. As Zehaf-Bibeau ran, RCMP officers were in pursuit and members of the parliament’s security team were responding. When Zehaf-Bibeau passed the rooms where MPs were meeting he shot at both wood doors, which are located down corridors under arches like those in a church. These shots didn’t kill anyone.

With officers close behind, the shooter reached an alcove by the entrance to the Library of Parliament, which is near Vickers’ office. Vickers, who had been a policeman with the RCMP before he joined the staff of the House of Commons in 2005, heard the shots and grabbed a 9 mm handgun from a lock-box in his office. When Vickers came out he was behind the attacker. Vickers’ office is roughly 25 feet from where Vickers’ security team pinned down Zehaf-Bibeau. The other officers yelled to Vickers that the terrorist was hiding in front of him. Vickers could see the barrel of Zehaf-Bibeau’s rifle sticking out from behind a pillar. 

Vickers ran behind the other side of a nearby column and then dove around the column as he fired upward into Zehaf-Bibeau. 

According to Vickers’ niece, “This is the first time in his career that he’s shot anyone.”

What Makes A Hero?

Now we must ask, is a hero like Vickers simply made by circumstance, or are there heroes in waiting? Vickers was a distinguished policeman with the RCMP before he joined the staff of the House of Commons in 2005. Vickers’ brother, John, told Global News that Vickers “started out as a constable at 20 years of age and rose across the country in  the force before becoming a sergeant-at-arms.”

A statement from Vickers said, “Yesterday, during extraordinary circumstances, security personnel demonstrated professionalism and courage … . On behalf of all members of the House of Commons Security Services team, I would like to extend our deepest condolences to the family of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. Our prayers are with you.”

As a lifelong law-enforcement professional, Vickers had trained with his firearm and had likely gone through worst-case scenarios. As Vickers is understandably reluctant to make this good-guy-with-a-gun story about himself, I asked a few law-enforcement officers and former members of the military who have had to use their guns in the line of duty how Vickers was able to seem so calm as he took out the terrorist. 

Sheriff Michael A. Lewis of Wicomico County, Md., once had to use his Model 1911 to shoot a drug runner who tried to run him down with a car. Lewis shot the bad guy through the windshield and then, as he dodged the car, shot the bad guy again through the driver’s side window. The drug runner died of two shots to the chest. Lewis spent 22 years with the Maryland State Police and helped start and run Maryland’s Pro Active Criminal Enforcement Team (PACE), a drug interdiction unit. He is still a certified instructor with the Maryland Police Training Commission.

When asked how a person—law enforcement or otherwise—can keep their head when all others are losing theirs, Lewis said, “I can tell you from first-hand experience that an officer will almost always resort to his training in the use of deadly force. Oftentimes, you don’t even think about what you should do, you just resort to your training. This is why we use scenario-based training. An officer needs to train in shoot-and-don’t-shoot situations. When the time comes to deploy deadly force, the officer knows exactly what to do.”“I suspect the Canadian sergeant-at-arms did not want to have to use lethal force to stop a murderer, but that he realized it was a possibility and therefore at least rehearsed how to deal with it in his head."

Lewis said that anyone interested in finding out more about how to learn the right skills to stop a killer should check out the Force Science Institute (forcescience.org) and enroll in courses taught by NRA-certified instructors. 

Steve Adelmann, a retired special forces operator who spent 22 years in the U.S. Army and who currently owns Citizen Arms, said: “I suspect the Canadian sergeant-at-arms did not want to have to use lethal force to stop a murderer, but that he realized it was a possibility and therefore at least rehearsed how to deal with it in his head. If he had instead spent each day with his head in the sand thinking, ‘It won’t happen here,’ the outcome would have been much different. Instead he was mentally and physically prepared, and he simply acted as his instincts and training led him to. And the world has one less terrorist to worry about as a result.

“My first real firefight consisted of being ambushed when I was 21 years old,” Adelmann added. “I reverted first to my training to return as much fire as possible to suppress the bad guys, then shifted gears to using both instinct and rational thought to transition to placing effective fire on them. It lasted no more than 30 or 45 seconds, but I learned things in that time that no amount of scenario training could have taught me. During many other engagements my training was so thorough and of such high quality that I ran in a sort of conscious autopilot mode where the brain is assessing all and making split-second decisions continually while the body is shooting, moving and communicating as if it is just another ordinary day. It sounds robotic, but it is not. It’s really just having the ability to dislodge your focus from the immediate when possible, and see the entire picture so that you can anticipate your enemy’s next move and counter before he actually moves, all the while being entirely conscious of everyone else around you. Much time and money is spent honing that capability in elite forces around the world, and not everyone succeeds.”

Adelmann says private citizens should also practice with their firearms in realistic ways. “Many do just that,” says Adelmann. “This is one reason why America is particularly difficult for terrorists to target.”

Vickers was hailed as a hero the day after the attack with an emotional standing ovation in Canada’s House of Commons. Cirillo was honored on the Highway of Heroes, where Canadians came together to pay their respects as his body was transported to his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario. 

This all leads to another fundamental question: Can average citizens be heroes, or can only police and soldiers be heroes? 

How you answer that question tells whether you trust the average American with true freedom. If you don’t, then you don’t believe in the democratic republic that is the United States, but instead in a system that must control individuals for the good of society. That is a pivotal question of our time.

After the attack in Ottawa, according to CBC News, “heavily armed security personnel” have now been added to watch over the ceremonial guards at Buckingham Palace in London. Meanwhile, the White House, which had a person jump its fence and make it through an unlocked door, has also had to rethink its security. 

In sum, whether we’re talking about Ottawa, London, Washington, D.C., or the American heartland, isn’t a free and potentially armed populace also a necessary part of the solution?

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