Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. regularly performs an indispensable public service by provoking his critics into exposing themselves.

He did it again last Friday, when his new PSA on guns and self-defense inspired a genuinely over-the-top and unusually clueless response by media/political opponents of gun rights.

By now we assume you have heard, or at least read about, the: 60 second spot, but if not; you can listen to it here. 

His message: Because of law enforcement cutbacks “simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option.”

"You could beg for mercy from a violent criminal, hide under the bed, or you can fight back."

Clarke urges residents to take a firearm safety course "so you can defend yourself until we get there."

"You have a duty to protect yourself and your family. We're partners now. Can I count on you?"

From the tone of the dead tree coverage, you can see the story was greeted with outrage and consternation in the newsroom. While public support for the message was strong, the paper chose to focus on those who purported to be alarmed and frightened by the message.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. set off alarm bells Friday with a radio spot some view as a call for citizens to arm themselves.

Mayor Barrett’s office was first to rush to display his shaky grasp of popular culture by issuing a statement that said:

"Apparently, Sheriff David Clarke is auditioning for the next Dirty Harry movie." (Actually Dirty Harry was a cop, not a private citizen.)

But Barrett’s faux outrage was trumped by Jeri Bonavia, executive director of Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort:

"What (Clarke's) talking about is this amped up version of vigilantism," Bonavia said.

The JS editorial board was quick to jump on the same claim. In a blog post by Editorial Editor David Haynes, the paper embraced the anti-gun spokesman’s charge with both hands:

About the last thing Milwaukee County – especially the city of Milwaukee – needs is more guns on the streets. More vigilante justice.

Because, make no mistake, that’s what our sheriff is advocating. Vigilantism.

Assuming that this was more than a knee-jerk reaction, the charge that Clarke is advocating vigilante action exposes a willful obtuseness about the concept of self-defense.

 Merriam-Webster defines a “vigilante” as “a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate); broadly: a self-appointed doer of justice.”

But this is very clearly not what Clarke is talking about. Vigilantism and self-defense are not at all the same thing: Clarke is not advocating that citizens arm themselves to hunt down criminals; he is calling on them to be able to defend themselves and their families.

This is a distinction lost on the great minds of the JS editorial board, which apparently cannot tell the difference between a man or woman defending their family from an intruder and a roving band of self-appointed vigilantes. Deep thinking this is not.

But Clarke has also helped raise another line of questions:

Do his critics – the mayor, the anti-gun advocates, the JS editorial board – even understand the concept of self-defense? If not, this is important to know.

It would be interesting to hear Clarke’s critics answer the question: Do citizens have a right to defend themselves?

Is it really a bad idea for someone to attempt to defend themselves and their families from a violent criminal?

If not, please explain why not?


Late Sunday, Sheriff Clarke released his own response to the JS editorial slam:

It is a shame that David Haynes of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper editorial board has resorted to name calling and doing everything he can to stifle views that differ from his own on crime and gun control in his latest "destroy the messenger" editorial, “Sheriff David Clarke: Grandstander first, lawman second,” (Jan.26 posting).

Never have I seen a local radio ad make a newspaper editorial board editor come so unglued. Instead of engaging in intelligent debate and encouraging discourse, Haynes resorts to tactics used in silencing dissent or views they disagree with by means characteristic of dictatorships and other oppressive fascist regimes. My, how far Haynes and his board have strayed from standards of journalistic integrity.

In fact, I find it sad commentary on the state of American journalism. Dissent is healthy in America's representative government. It is ok to disagree with my position on crime and violence, but my views still deserve an airing in our public discourse and are still worthy of debate and discussion by Haynes and anyone else interested. Haynes makes no intellectually-based argument. He apparently does not like the fact that I have found ways around his censoring of my opposing viewpoints. Mr. Haynes, is this what they now teach in journalism school?

Even conservative talk radio allows opposing views to get through. Talk radio has been a game changer in public discourse. Thank God. Mr. Haynes needs to realize quickly that no longer can he squelch views that run counter to his and those of his board. In today's e-world, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is no longer the only game in town, nor the only way that people can obtain news information. He no longer controls what people say or get to hear. He needs to get used to it. If the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wants to remain relevant in the public square, then Haynes better adapt, lest he suffer the same fate as the dinosaur.