A Show of Courage in Detroit

posted on May 20, 2015
David Lewinski

“I have a gun, get out!”

That’s the warning a Detroit mother gave the three hoodlums attempting to kick down her door on the night of Feb. 17, 2014. Armed with only a replica handgun, the intruders thought she was bluffing—until she opened fire. The mother of two was armed with a Hi-Point TS4 Carbine (what some would call an “assault rifle”) her husband gave her after a break-in just two weeks prior.

The crooks literally fell over themselves and quickly fled the area. Caught on surveillance cameras, the video went viral and illustrated what appears to be a growing trend in Detroit—citizens fighting back.

Detroit’s woes are no secret. Joblessness, poverty, gangs, illiteracy and crime now plague the once-thriving hub of the automotive industry. In July 2013, the city became the largest municipal government ever to file for bankruptcy. Studies estimate 25 percent of Detroit’s population have departed, reducing the city to numbers predating the Industrial Revolution.

Those who remain have watched Detroit decay into one of the most dangerous cities in the United States. In 2012, the Detroit Free Press reported 386 criminal homicides—the highest in two decades, and nearly as many as New York City, whose population is more than three times larger. The same year saw 1,263 non-fatal shootings, more than 400 rapes and nearly 5,000 robberies.

In 2013, a New York Times report found average police response times to Level One priority calls in Detroit were a staggering 58 minutes. The rate of cases solved stood at a mere 8.7 percent. Some police officials even took to warning visitors that if they came to the city, they should “enter at their own risk.”

Despite rampant crime and slow response, Detroit cut the police department’s 2012-2013 budget by $75 million, forcing 380 officers to either quit or retire early. The latest estimates indicate only about 3,000 sworn officers remain to protect 700,000 residents. Unable to rely on an overburdened police force, Motor City residents realized they had no choice: If they wanted to survive, they would have to fight back.

Officials say concealed carry permit applications have been on the rise, with about 80,000 permits now held in Wayne County alone. And Detroit is leading the state in justifiable homicide. The FBI estimated 15 justifiable homicides in Detroit for all of 2012, but nearly a dozen have been recorded in the first quarter of 2014. (The numbers should be taken with a grain of salt; the same records show only five defensive shootings in 2008 for Detroit, which then-chief Ralph Godbee disputed, saying their department recorded 35.)

According to MichiganLive, Detroit accounted for 81 percent of the state’s 212 justifiable homicides from 2000 to 2010. (Of note, law enforcement accounted for only 44 percent of statewide justifiable homicides.) The publication further stated many more shootings are left out because of improper reporting. And, of course, the numbers don’t reflect instances of armed self-defense where the criminal is not killed.

Many incredible stories of armed defense are cropping up all over Detroit already this year: 

  • In February, a woman returning home was ambushed in her garage by an armed robber. Dropping her keys to distract the man, she drew her .38-cal. handgun and fired several shots to end the threat to her life.
  • The same month, a brazen daytime intrusion was thwarted when the homeowner heard the sound of glass breaking and retrieved a firearm in time to fire two shots at the intruders.
  • Armed with a tire iron, two intruders broke into a southwest Detroit home, only to be shot by the homeowner.
  • A woman in her 50s warned another daytime invader to get out before firing her handgun in self-defense.
  • And in April, a retired Detroit nurse armed herself with a handgun before intervening in a gang-style beating of a man who had stopped to help a boy he accidentally hit with his car when the youngster darted across the street in front of him.


Earlier this year, James Craig, Detroit’s new police chief, commented to the media that criminals would think twice about attacking if more responsible citizens were armed.

“We’re not advocating violence,” Craig said. “We’re advocates of not being victims. We’re advocates of self-protection. We want people to be safe.”

Of course, many in the media and other gun-ban proponents cried foul. Yet average citizens in harm’s way seem to have taken the advice to heart, as illustrated by the numerous instances of armed self-defense the past few months.

“It does appear more and more Detroiters are becoming empowered,” Craig told reporters during a recent press conference. “More and more Detroiters are getting sick of the violence. I know of no other place where I’ve seen this number of justifiable homicides.”

America’s 1st Freedom
 recently caught up with Craig to find out more about his perspective on curbing violent crime.

A1F: Your comments supporting citizen self-defense have generated a lot of controversy. Did you expect them to create this big of a stir?

Craig: You know, I really didn’t, because it’s a Second Amendment-protected right. Certainly going to Maine and having served as police chief in Portland for a couple of years, I remember vividly the state having a motto saying, “The way life should be.” The thing I remember most: It was a good life, a safe city. There were a lot of CCW [Concealed Carry Weapon] holders. And so I had to believe that played a role in deterring violence.

Fast forwarding to Detroit, I’ve oftentimes pointed out that Detroit has what I’ve described as a culture of violence, which has been indicated by it being referred to as the murder capital, the most violent city in America. Then as I began to look at the number of CPL [Concealed Pistol License] holders here in Detroit, it was very different than when I grew up here and even started my policing career in 1977. [Now] there were a lot of CPL holders, a lot of good Americans, good Detroiters that were fed up with being victims. And they responded. And they responded in such a way to suspects in Detroit that was somewhat unique. There were two things I saw coming in the door that were unique: It wasn’t always uncommon that suspects would be wearing body armor during the commission of a crime, and/or secondly suspects directing victims to disrobe. And the reason for both was to determine whether or not the victim was armed. I found it odd, having worked in other large cities where I didn’t see it, not at this level of frequency.

And so, of late as you know, there’ve been a number of incidents involving armed citizens responding to an immediate threat to their life or what they believe to be a threat to the life of someone else. What I have said, and continue to say, is I believe responsible, good Americans have a right to protect themselves from an immediate threat to their life or to the life of another.

A1F: There have been a number of self-defense shootings making the news lately. Is this an increase in armed defense, or is the media just now noticing?

Craig: I thought maybe it would have been a statistical spike seeing that I’ve only been the police chief here for nine months. That seemed odd for me—I haven’t seen that high a number of self-defense shootings anywhere I’ve worked before. And as it turned out, we’re only up by one shooting this year compared to last year. So this trend actually started before I arrived here.

So it refutes the notion that I’m inciting vigilantism. That’s far from the truth. When you look at Detroit, I’m happy to report we are driving crime down, and certainly the Detroit Police Department is doing a phenomenal job arresting the right people.

A1F: What do you say to people who suggest more civilian ownership of guns creates more problems?

Craig: Well, I say to them that every person has a right to protect themselves or their family from harm—from danger. Everyone has that right. This is not about inciting vigilantism, because in my view when you talk about vigilantism, you’re talking about someone who has made a decision to do law enforcement’s job—go out and enforce the law. This is not that at all. This is about self-defense, protection, an imminent threat to life, very different response. So I say, let’s talk about the victims; let’s talk about the number of violent criminals in possession of guns. Let’s focus on that.

A1F: Do you think the requirements to carry a handgun are too hard, too easy or just right?

Craig: I think it’s set up for responsible Americans. Many of our officers—and this is not something I’ve seen before—but probably 50 percent of our officers are also CPL holders. I find that interesting. But as police officers, they go through the same check as any other American who wants to purchase and carry a weapon. They’re not exempt from it. So I think that the current laws in Michigan are good. It makes a great effort to weed out those who should not possess a weapon.

A1F: Why don’t more police chiefs share your perspective?

Craig: I’m not certain of that. I’m sure there’s some who disagree. This is not about pushing more guns in the streets, therefore making our neighborhoods and communities unsafe. My view is we should keep the guns out of the hands of the criminal, period. We’re talking about good, responsible Americans, and they’re not the issue. They’re not out committing carjackings or burglaries or home invasions or street robberies. We’re talking about a small group, a minority. I believe our focus should be on how to keep guns out of hands of criminals and those who aren’t responsible.

I ask this question of my critics: “What do you think about criminals who possess firearms illegally?” Of course, the response generally is, “Well you should take them to jail.” Well that’s fine, but they (other criminals) still possess the guns, they’re still out committing robberies. In the meantime, what do you do for victims and potential victims? What do you do for the mother alone with her children? How do you protect her? That’s how I change the dialogue and focus on the real issue. The issue isn’t more guns; it’s more guns in the hands of criminals.

A1F: Officers are obviously limited in their ability to respond to a 9-1-1 call or rush to the scene. Should citizens always rely on the police for protection?

 Well, first of all when I arrived here nine months ago, it’s no secret that when it came to response time, we were recognized as having a 50-minute response time to some emergency calls. That has changed. We set a goal for 2014 to respond to high-priority 9-1-1 calls in five minutes. We haven’t reached that as of yet, but we’re averaging between eight and 11 minutes.

That said, whether five minutes or seven minutes, the issue is simple. You know, if a citizen is in danger—an immediate threat to life—even if the officer can get there, and even if the community member has the opportunity to contact police, as we all know if there’s an imminent threat to life, it happens in an instant. At some point, are you going to ask this violent predator, “Can you wait a few minutes so I can make this 9-1-1 call?” It’s just like an officer confronted with an imminent threat to their life. Certainly we want our officers to notify dispatch and seek backup when confronted with a dangerous situation, but sometimes it happens in an instant and an officer has to respond. It’s certainly not saying we can’t do our job; it’s saying we can’t be on every block, every corner, every minute of the day to be able to respond in seconds when someone is confronted with a dangerous situation.

A1F: How do you get the message to citizens—or criminals—about civilian self-defense?

Craig: The message is out there [now]. The people of Detroit have come to me in droves to thank me for taking this stand. But you know, there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that. I don’t support vigilantism, but I do support good Americans and self-protection and self-defense. I promote that. I support that. I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t, and it’s a constitutionally protected right. This is not a James Craig law. It’s the law of the land.

 How has your stance toward guns and gun control evolved over the years?

Craig: I spent 28 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. I always tell this story because it’s kind of an interesting one, but it’s no secret that in Southern California it takes an act of Congress to get a concealed weapons permit. That was my orientation; that’s the way things were. I didn’t give much thought to it.

And then I go to Maine and am greeted within my first couple of days in office as police chief with a stack of CCW permits on my desk. Based on my orientation, I began to deny each and every one of them until my staff came in and said “Whoa Chief! This is Maine, and we love our guns. And if you haven’t noticed, it’s a safe city.” I started to reflect on that. I took the response of my staff seriously and really reflected and realized: “Great point.” That’s when my orientation really began to change. The Detroit Police Department is becoming one of the more premier law enforcement agencies in this country because it’s fighting against the challenges that most agencies don’t have to deal with. 

 Where do you see Detroit in 20 years?

Craig: I believe that Detroit, because of the resilience and the can-do attitude of people who live here, that Detroit will regain its luster. It will be one of these premier cities. The Detroit Police Department is becoming one of the more premier law enforcement agencies in this country because it’s fighting against the challenges that most agencies don’t have to deal with. The city is in bankruptcy—certainly our staffing levels are much lower than they’ve ever been—and despite the fact we’ve had fewer officers, we’re more effective at how we conduct our business, and that’s making the city safe. In terms of policing in Detroit, I think we’ll continue to move in that direction. I think the city will become economically viable once again. There’s a leadership in the team that’s committed to getting it done, so I’m excited personally about the future of Detroit.

When arguing about the Second Amendment, gun control advocates often insist police should be the only ones armed “to protect and serve.” Although a variety of case law exists to refute the doctrine of public duty, the fact remains that law enforcement is reactive, not proactive. Although their presence can deter some crime, they have to be summoned, and can only act once a law is broken.

This doesn’t demean the efforts of hard-working and overburdened law enforcement officers; it simply recognizes their limitations. Detroit residents have learned the hard way an expression common among gun owners: “When seconds count, police are just minutes away.”

If the Second Amendment works here, it can work anywhere. Despite record declines in police employment, budget woes and crime surges, Detroit saw 53 fewer homicides in 2013 than the year previous, and 23 fewer in the first quarter of 2014, as well as double-digit declines in robbery, sexual assault and burglaries. A streamlined and revitalized police force, Chief Craig said, is only part of that equation, attributing at least some of the success to criminals’ knowledge that many Detroiters won’t sit idly by and become victims.

Guns aren’t the only solution to Detroit’s problems. But when the glass is heard smashing in the middle of the night, guns are among the most effective means of surviving a bad situation. With the Second Amendment and a police chief like James Craig on their side, Detroit residents may well be on their way to resurrecting the indomitable spirit that once made their city great.


Randy Kozuch
Randy Kozuch

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