Thirty years ago today the inviolate right to self-defense and the battle over firearm civil liberties were joined in one of the unlikeliest of battle zones -- New York City. Riding a southbound express train in lower Manhattan, a slight of build navy contractor rode that subway car into gun lore history -- his name was Bernard Goetz dubbed -- "the subway gunman" -- defending himself and every other scared New Yorker to ride the underground. (Ironically, at the time Mr. Goetz's naval contract was to protect all of humanity by creating a safeguard against terrorists stealing nuclear weapons.)
In a scene eerily reminiscent of Charles Bronson in the Hollywood hit "Death Wish" four punks threatened and attempted to rob their victim, but enclosed within that graffiti encrusted rail car the "hare turned around and bit the hound" he fired his Smith and Wesson 5 shot 38-caliber revolver into his would-be muggers. The bumper stickers were everywhere in NYC - "Ride with Bernie -- he Goetz 'em"! The crime rate in the dangerous subways plunged dramatically -- so much so the authorities even held back the numbers -- the truth hurt too much.
Bernie Goetz wasn't caught immediately. It was a brief hiatus allowing the incident to grow into an international media sensation. During a White House press conference in early January Sam Donaldson asked President Reagan his position on the "Goetz shooting." The next day a young NRA political director held a news conference at the Park Terrace Hotel on 7th Avenue with Roy Innis, National Chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and State Senator Chris Mega from Brooklyn declaring, "A government which cannot protect its citizens has no right denying them the means to protect themselves"! The famed journalist Murray Kempton asked if he was urging vigilantism? His retort, "when will Mayor Koch provide the same level of protection to the citizens who ride the subways and pay their taxes that he enjoys surrounded by a phalanx of New York's finest, oh with guns at the ready"? It was a good question then and an even better one today - thirty years later!