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Wisconsin sheriff's warning: Arm yourself, we might not get there in time

A sheriff in Wisconsin has made a radio ad counseling residents to have a gun and know how to use it. He says it's a necessary warning, critics say it is irresponsible.

By Staff writer / January 28, 2013

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke talks during a budget hearing in Milwaukee in this 2011 photo. The Wisconsin sheriff released an ad calling on residents to defend themselves, because the old model of having a citizen call 911 and wait for help isn't always the best option.

Gary Porter/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel/AP/File



A top law-enforcement official in Wisconsin is telling gun owners that, when faced with a violent criminal in their home, they should no longer just rely on dialing 911, but should take matter into their own hands.

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Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke has attracted national attention by releasing a 30-second radio spot in which he tells the public they are needed “in the game” of personal protection.

“With officers laid-off and furloughed, simply calling 911 and waiting is no longer your best option. You can beg for mercy from a violent criminal, hide under the bed, or you can fight back; but are you prepared? Consider taking a certified safety course in handling a firearm so you can defend yourself until we get there. You have a duty to protect yourself and your family. We’re partners now,” he says.

Wisconsin has a “castle doctrine" law, which makes it legal for gun owners to kill or maim an intruder to their home. So Sheriff's Clarke plea has the force of law behind it. What makes his actions so unusual is the fact that he – as a sheriff – is essentially telling his citizens not to depend on the police.

“It’s highly irregular. Most law enforcement professionals will not encourage people to pick up their guns and engage in vigilante justice," says Randolph McLaughlin, a civil rights attorney in Manhattan and a professor at Pace University Law School. "What [Clarke] is saying is that ‘we in law enforcement are unable to protect you, so do what you need to do.’ It’s an extremely dangerous proposition to encourage citizens who have no law-enforcement training to use their weapons.”

The comments have resonance beyond Wisconsin. In all, 48 states have either a castle doctrine law or its variant – a "stand your ground" law that allows the use of deadly force outside one’s private property if a person feels threatened and cannot retreat – according to a 2012 study by Texas A&M University. Moreover, in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., Clarke's comments play into the national conversation about how involved a community should be in arming and protecting itself.

Clarke first agreed to talk to the Monitor for this story Monday but subsequently declined, citing a busy schedule.

Clarke defended the spot Monday morning, telling Fox News that “personal safety is a personal responsibility.… The police are not omnipresent. We can't be there all the time and sometimes we can't be there as fast as we'd like.”


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