Bernie Goetz ‘The Subway Gunman’ 30 Years Later

By Richard Feldman
President, Independent Firearm Owners Association, Inc

Bernard Goetz
Bernie Goetz ‘The Subway Gunman' 30 Years Later
Independent Firearm Owners Association
Independent Firearm Owners Association

New York – -( Thirty years ago 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!

New York City leaders have maintained that same hypocritical, elitist, racist, and demonstrably counter-productive licensing posture then extant under Ed Koch. Mayors Dinkins, Giuliani, Bloomberg and now DiBlasio enforce indignity upon outrage sacrificing the essential human right of self-defense, even life and property. The mealy mouthed subterfuge that the police will protect you — (tragically they can't always protect themselves witness the assassinations of two cops in Brooklyn on a recent Saturday), is an excuse that costs lives, civilian lives as those of us in the rest of America know all too well. The issue is never the gun (despite politicians blather) but really, “In whose hands are the guns“?

Bernard Goetz New York Post Headlines
Bernard Goetz New York Post Headlines

Looking back, it was a defining moment for the emerging gun rights movement led by the National Rifle Association — and I know because I was that young NRA spokesman. The era prior had been about eliminating the right to even own a handgun; now the debate would be transformed into the lawful ability to carry one.

The following year Florida passed the first modern “shall issue” statute mandating the issuance of a carry license if the applicant met certain basic standards. No longer could Palm Beach, Broward and Dade Counties Florida prevent their citizens from having the same self-defense rights as other Floridians.

Forty-two states in this country with 72% of the population are now “shall issue” states the inverse of 1984! New York is not one of them. [New Jersey is even less.]

Thirty years is too long to be “allowed” to enforce ones legal and unalienable human rights. It's time for Congress to enact an intelligent, well designed, National Carry Law so none of us has to fear being in the wrong place at the wrong time without the means to lawfully protect ourselves as Bernie Goetz discovered thirty years ago today.

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The Independent Firearm Owners Association believes that defending the constitutional and statutory right of firearms ownership will be most successful when based upon a broad understanding of attitudes different Americans hold toward the role of firearms in a free

  • 12 thoughts on “Bernie Goetz ‘The Subway Gunman’ 30 Years Later

    1. @ Chuck, I do the same as you regards Carry. However your diatribe against Police Officers is out of place and wrong! Cops as you describe are them few and far between. Plus I have never seen a 400 lb. Cop! I also happen to like doughnuts but that doesn’t make me bad. As far as your comment about them not doing their jobs, they can’t be everywhere, then there is the fact that perhaps their “leaders” wont let them do their “jobs” because of various political pressures.

    2. I always ride and walk locked and cocked my friend and we all should. When danger strikes us or others respond Bronson style. No, cops don’t like it when citizens take care of themselves and others. Their fat do nothing jobs are threatened and 400 lb. cops love doughnuts! It they won’t do their jobs, do it for them!!!

    3. NYC, under de Blasio, is bound and determined to return to the 70’s-80’s and the conditions that gave us Bernie Goetz in the first place.
      As to National Carry, what Congress needs to do is to tell the States that the Constitution’s Art-IV/Sec-1 mandates that they must observe the CCW’s of any and all states, in the same manner as they do Driver’s Licenses and other acts.
      That doesn’t mean that they can force a state to issue CCW’s (I think SCOTUS will do that under the 14th-A’s Equal Protection Clause), but they do have to honor the ones issued by sister states.

    4. Ritchie wrote a GREAT book about his tenure at the NRA. It is called, “Ricochet: Confessions of a Gun Lobbyist.” It confirmed suspicions that I had held for some time, and brought some enlightening revelations as well. Anyone who puts their faith in the NRA, MUST READ!

      I doubt that the Michael Douglas pic was Ritchie’s idea, but it WAS a goof. Not an apt comparison.

      In all fairness, the title of this article is not, “What happened to Bernard Goetz?”, it is, “Bernard Goetz (perhaps as in, ‘the incident involving’) ‘The Subway Gunman’ Thirty Years Later.” I took it the same way that some of you did. I was thinking, “where are they now?” What he meant was, “the event in review.” Not necessarily a deceptive title, but definitely a confusing one.

      1. I have my own quibbles with the NRA but before you go heralding Feldman’s book as some end all to be all understand that he had an axe to grind and that was his way of doing it. Not exactly clean hands.

        1. I had a story to tell. I told it as I saw it. Ultra sensitive gun owners worry me. I expect tearful hand wringing from our opponents over at MSNBC. NRA is big enough (thankfully) and the membership (I’m one) strong enough to handle some criticism. It is sad that both supporters and detractors of gun rights always focus on cue on any disagreement rather than the 95% ++ of the policies we agree upon.

    5. The leftist governors and legislatures of gun control states rightly see their primary constituency as the urban grifters, racial hucksters, leftist ideologues and corrupt media who keep them in office. Obama knows that he can ultimately prevail by exploding that constituency with illegal aliens. This is the war against America that Mike Savage has revealed. Read the book.

    6. Using the Falling Down character to represent Bernard Goetz is insulting to him and other gun carriers. The character is mentally unstable and commits several felonies. That representation makes sense?

    7. The gun control loving NRA strikes again. By advocating a national carry law you endorse the states’ gun control. The answer isn’t to expand federal power over the states but to get the states to stop infringing on our right to bear arms.

    8. Interesting they would take a photo of Michael Douglas in Falling Down and label it as Goetz. So what did happen to Goetz? The author asks the question and doesn’t answer it.

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