Nikki Goeser was a late addition to the speakers at the 20th anniversary dinner of Grass Roots North Carolina (GRNC) last weekend in Charlotte. I vaguely recalled her name being mention in Kathy Jackson’s The Cornered Cat, but I could not remember the specifics of her story. Having heard her story first hand, it is one I won’t soon forget. In a remarkably composed presentation, Goeser told the story of her husband, Ben, being murdered by a man who was stalking her.
Ben and Nikki Goeser owned a mobile karaoke business that contracted with various clubs in the Nashville, Tennessee area. At some point, a patron named Hank Wise began to attend their shows and occasionally participate. At first Wise seemed, in her words, “normal,” but over time he began to behave more oddly, and then even inappropriately in messages sent to Nikki through their MySpace page.
The Goesers deleted Wise from the MySpace page and Ben subsequently spoke to him and asked him to respect his wife and their marriage. A couple more shows passed without incident, but then in April 2009 Wise showed up at a venue that was far enough away from the downtown shows Wise usually attended that Nikki sensed something was wrong. (See Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear.)
Nikki told the manager she felt uncomfortable with Wise being there and the manager asked him to leave. At that point Wise drew a handgun from under his jacket and shot Ben once in the head and then stood over him and shot several more times until three bar patrons tackled and disarmed him. Ben Goeser, 49 years-old, died at the scene.
Nikki Goeser subsequently became an advocate for the expansion of concealed carry to bars and restaurants that serve alcohol in Tennessee. It turns out that Nikki was licensed in the state of Tennessee to carry a concealed firearm, but due to Tennessee law she had to lock her gun in her car that night. This is “how gun control helped a stalker murder my husband,” to quote her book’s subtitle.
(There is a strong parallel here to Suzanna Gatria Hupp who campaigned for concealed carry in Texas back in the 1990s after surviving, but losing her two parents in, the 1991 Luby’s Cafeteria shooting in Killeen. Hupp, author of From Luby’s to the Legislature: One Woman’s Fight Against Gun Control, wrote the forward to Goeser’s book.)
Goeser freely admits that having her handgun with her that night may not have made any difference. In fact, the speed with which Wise drew and shot Ben Goeser suggests that it probably would not have made a difference. But, as the book’s title suggests, she was “denied a chance” to make a difference by Tennessee law.
Tennessee has since amended its law to allow restaurant carry, as did Ohio and my home state of North Carolina (as of October 1, 2013). Goeser provided testimony to all three state legislatures. For her efforts, she was awarded the NRA’s Sybil Ludington Women’s Freedom Award in 2012.
Goeser also spoke at the GRNC dinner more generally about the need to carry firearms. In her words, spoken from the worst possible direct experience:
“It is not paranoid but prepared, because you never know when you are going to be visited by evil.”
When Nikki Goeser spoke this haunting line, I flashed immediately back to Taya Kyle speaking at the 2013 NRA meeting just three months after her husband, Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, was murdered at a gun range by a military veteran he was trying to help. Taya Kyle began her speech by declaring,
“I challenge anyone to tell me that there isn’t evil in this world. From the days of Cain and Abel we know all too well there will always be evil. But that evil shouldn’t take away our freedoms. In fact, the only way to defeat evil is by taking advantage of our freedoms.”
Beginning from the reality of evil leads to a different attribution of blame by both Nikki Goeser and Taya Kyle. As Goeser succinctly put it, “The issue is violence, not gun violence.” Taking guns out of the equation does not remove the potential for or reality of violence perpetrated by evil people. It only denies good people the chance to defend themselves and their loved ones.
Concluding Aside: Given Nikki Goeser’s perspective about the ubiquity and unpredictability of evil, I was surprised to see that in 2010 she filed a civil lawsuit against the owners of the bar where Ben Goeser was murdered (as well as Hank Wise). In her suit, Nikki argued that the bar owners failed to protect Ben from the foreseeable criminal act of Wise. The suit maintained that the bar should have had a trained security guard working and adequately trained its staff to protect its patrons.
The bar owners requested and were granted summary judgment to dismiss the suit prior to trial in the Circuit Court for Davidson County on the grounds that the bar owners had no way of foreseeing the outcome. The bar was not in a dangerous area and did not have any issue with serious violence previously. Indeed, it seems clear that the Goeser’s (unintentionally, of course) brought the violence to the bar in the form of Nikki’s stalker Hank Wise.
In any event, Nikki Goeser appealed and in September 2013, the Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld the decision in Nicole Goeser, et al. v. Live Holdings Corporation, et al.
I cannot find any information on-line that explains Goeser’s rationale for this lawsuit against the bar owners. It seems unfortunate that Goeser should take this action because if she herself had foreseen the problem Hank Wise represented, she could have taken a different line of action herself, perhaps calling the police for help rather than asking the management to remove Wise. Apparently a major point in the original dismissal in the lower court was that in Nikki Goeser’s own deposition she affirmed that she was not frightened but “irritated” by Wise when she asked management to intervene.
More generally, to hold the bar owners responsible for something no one can control — an unexpected visit by evil — seems contradictory to one of the main points of Goeser’s speech.