Think more guns will make us safer? You’re wrong

By Robert Mann

It’s inevitable that after every gun massacre the gun lobby and its supporters lecture us about the need for more guns, not fewer.

Case O' Guns

Consider this commentary, “New Rule: All Teachers Should Be Allowed to Carry Guns,” posted Saturday on the website ClashDaily.com, by columnist Greg Giles:

 My heart is sick. I feel so sorry for the children that were murdered, as well as the parents and loved ones of the slain kids and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Connecticut—and all of us here in the U.S., who still have a soul, pray for those whose lives were just senselessly shattered.

But imagine if at least one teacher (with a concealed weapons permit) had their .40 caliber Glock with them, locked and loaded, when this weed Adam Lanza began his murderous mayhem today on the Sandy Hook Elementary School campus? What would have happened differently?

Would idiot boy have been able to slay 20 children and 6 teachers? I doubt it. But then again . . . who knows?

Giles is obviously of one mind with Arizona state Rep. Jack Harper, who spoke about the need for more citizens to arm themselves after the January 2011 mass shooting in Tucson that resulted in six dead, including a federal judge, and the wounding of U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords.

“When everyone is carrying a firearm, nobody is going to be a victim,” Harper said. “The socialists of today are only one gun confiscation away from being the communists of tomorrow.”

More practically stated were the sentiments of Ashlyn Lucero, a political science student at Arizona State University, who told the New York Times last year, “If I’m going out to eat somewhere, I usually have a gun with me always. It’s just one of those things that you never know what’s going to happen.”

Maybe Giles, Harper and Lucero are right. Perhaps a gun-packing elementary school teacher or theater full of armed moviegoers would deter almost everyone who might think about shooting up a classroom or a noon matinée. That’s the argument I’ve heard many times in the days since the tragic events in Aurora, Colorado, that resulted in 12 dead and 58 wounded.

You see, in the bizarre world of the death lobby – aka the NRA — more guns equal less violence.

Perhaps. But who honestly thinks that knowing a teacher, or everyone in the room, was packing heat would deter a violent, mentally ill person?

In truth, by arming ourselves, deterrence is really not what we’re expecting, is it?

It’s certainly not what Rep. Harper had in mind. He doesn’t think a violent person will change his mind before he shoots. He and those like him want a roomful of armed people so that when the shooting commences, everyone will spring into action, draw their guns and take out the shooter.

Unfortunately, as many law enforcement officers will tell you, it rarely works that way — and it might get you and others killed.

Consider no less an authority on this subject than a retired Chicago police officer, Michael B. Black, writing on July 25 in the New York Times.

Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, recently suggested that if this incident [in Aurora] had occurred in his state, where many citizens carry concealed weapons, the crazed shooter could have been quickly terminated. I wonder if the congressman considered the confusion and terror that occurs in a real-life firefight? . . .

I’ve faced people with guns many times and arrested violent, armed offenders for such crimes as robbery and homicide. Although my gun often left its holster on those occasions, I am grateful that I never had to shoot anyone. I never lost sight of the responsibility of carrying a weapon. Despite what many people think, it’s not something to be taken lightly. . . .

The last shooting incident I was involved in happened at 3 in the morning on Dec. 26, 2010, my last Christmas before I retired. We responded to a report of two men arguing, one threatening to shoot the other. My radio blared, “Shots fired! Man with a gun.” When I reached one man, running in the darkness between two houses, he had already been shot by another officer. When the officer had ordered the man to stop and identify himself, the man had pointed a pistol at him. The officer ducked behind his car door and fired half the bullets in his Glock 21 before finally hitting the offender once in the left buttock. We eventually found the shooter’s silver semiautomatic deep in a snowdrift.

The suddenness and confusion of that moment points out the folly of the politician’s belief that an armed civilian could have easily taken out James Holmes. Imagine the scene: speakers blasting, larger-than-life heroes and villains on the screen, and suddenly real gunshots, a man in a gas mask firing one of three weapons — a shotgun, handgun and rifle, with extended magazines for extra ammo capacity — into the panicking crowd. Even a highly trained, armed police officer would have been caught off guard. Try adding a bunch of untrained, armed civilians into the mix — this type of intervention could have made things much worse.

In the same edition of the Times was another column, by Andrew Jensen, a former Army infantry officer in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After years of training and war, I’m left wondering: can you ever really protect people you care about?

As a veteran, should I register for a concealed-carry license and always be armed? Even then, would I, as a trained rifleman, really be able to shoot a single person through a cloud of tear gas in a movie theater full of people screaming and running? What if I started shooting and there was another person with a gun in the crowd? . . .

The reality, of course, is that we wouldn’t have tackled the shooters. Shooters aren’t tackled until their clips are empty, and by then it’s too late.

Serving in a combat zone means constant vigilance against unseen enemies. It means wearing heavy body armor, no matter what the weather is doing. It means taking weapons with you when you eat or use the restroom. It means, quite literally, never putting them down. The common argument made by gun-rights advocates is that they “don’t want to be in a one-way firefight,” which argues for not restricting the sale of things like semiautomatic weapons, high-capacity magazines and tear-gas grenades. Their contention is that the only real way to stop dedicated shooters is for there to be plenty of other shooters around.

Those who truly believe that need to be carrying a gun right now, wherever they are. They need to keep it closer than I kept my weapon in Iraq. In Iraq my fellow soldiers’ lives were on the line. Soldiers’ lives are important — but our families’ safety is even more precious.

Those who truly believe that anyone should be able to buy semiautomatic weapons will need a gun at soccer practice, at church, at “Batman” movies. That’s the only logical choice. And civilian life will feel almost like being in Iraq.

Those who believe that every adult citizen ought to be armed will likely point to Joe Zamudio, a citizen with a gun who was shopping at a Tucson, Arizona, drugstore when he heard the shootings where Rep. Giffords was meeting with constituents in January 2011. Zamudio rushed to the scene and helped tackle and hold the shooter until the police arrived. Heroic and effective, right?

There’s more to the story, as related by Slate.com writer William Saletan:

But before we embrace Zamudio’s brave intervention as proof of the value of being armed, let’s hear the whole story. “I came out of that store, I clicked the safety off, and I was ready,” he explained on Fox and Friends. “I had my hand on my gun. I had it in my jacket pocket here. And I came around the corner like this.” Zamudio demonstrated how his shooting hand was wrapped around the weapon, poised to draw and fire. As he rounded the corner, he saw a man holding a gun. “And that’s who I at first thought was the shooter,” Zamudio recalled. “I told him to ‘Drop it, drop it!’”

But the man with the gun wasn’t the shooter. He had wrested the gun away from the shooter. “Had you shot that guy, it would have been a big, fat mess,” the interviewer pointed out.

Zamudio agreed: “I was very lucky. Honestly, it was a matter of seconds. Two, maybe three seconds between when I came through the doorway and when I was laying on top of [the real shooter], holding him down. So, I mean, in that short amount of time I made a lot of really big decisions really fast. . . . I was really lucky.”

Saletan concludes:

That’s what happens when you run with a firearm to a scene of bloody havoc. In the chaos and pressure of the moment, you can shoot the wrong person. Or, by drawing your weapon, you can become the wrong person—a hero mistaken for a second gunman by another would-be hero with a gun. Bang, you’re dead. Or worse, bang bang bang bang bang: a firefight among several armed, confused, and innocent people in a crowd. It happens even among trained soldiers. Among civilians, the risk is that much greater.

We’re enormously lucky that Zamudio, without formal training, made the right split-second decisions. We can’t count on that the next time some nut job starts shooting. I hope Arizona does train lawmakers and their aides in the proper use of firearms. I hope they remember this training if they bring guns to constituent meetings. But mostly, I hope they don’t bring them.

Maybe, like me, you consider yourself a Christian and, yet, don’t fully embrace the teachings of Jesus, Martin Luther King and many others on the need for strict non-violence. Maybe, like me, you don’t walk about armed, but you have guns and believe you would use them in defense of your home or to protect your family.

That’s a debatable, but entirely defensible position.

But take it one step further and argue that we need more citizens with weapons, going about their business – in stores, coffee shops, movie theaters, schools – and that’s where you lose me.

It’s just much more difficult to argue that a well-armed citizenry will make for a safer public square. Of course, the NRA will protest and cite many examples of armed people who have used their weapons to resist and defeat their attackers. For example, the website, The Armed Citizen, catalogs nine incidents from 2011 in which armed citizens faced down or subdued attackers.

Curiously, however, there’s not one example on the website of a citizen, or group of armed citizens, who stopped a mass killer like the ones accused in the shootings in Aurora, Ft. Hood, and Virginia Tech.

Speaking of Ft. Hood, that shooting in 2009, which claimed the lives of 13 and wounded 29 more, occurred on a military base in Texas. The shooter was surrounded by soldiers trained to handle combat situations. Despite this, he shot 42 people before he was taken down by a civilian police officer, after fending off the unsuccessful attacks of four others who attempted to stop him.

If you want to fill your home with guns to protect you and your family, that’s your right (despite the appalling number of accidental shootings and suicides by guns each year). In many states, you have the right to a concealed weapons permit and can carry a gun to just about any venue.

That’s not likely to change any time soon.

But I wonder if the events in Connecticut and Colorado might not mark the beginning of a change in attitude toward guns – not about the need for more of them in more hands, but that they should be more difficult to obtain. (In many public opinion polls, Americans say they are willing to see laws passed making it harder to buy assault weapons.)

When someone proposes arming American citizens to the point that our cities begin to resemble the Wild West, I believe we can count on the good sense of the average American.

Most people aren’t about to pack a Glock everywhere they go. And they don’t like the idea of their childrens’ teachers and fellow diners or moviegoers packing heat.

It’s not simply because they don’t think we have that right; it’s because we instinctively know that life doesn’t unfold like some Saturday night police drama or a scene from “Gunsmoke.”

Most of us know we wouldn’t — and couldn’t — react to a violent situation like some action movie hero. (Most real-life cops can’t, either.) We know we don’t have the experience or the reflexes necessary to do what is necessary in a difficult situation.

At the end of the day, it’s not our religious beliefs that will keep us from making a bad situation worse; it’s our innate common sense and self-awareness.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Deep inside, we know we’re not Bruce Willis in “Die Hard.” On our very best day, we know we’d be lucky to be Jimmy Stewart in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” And, as everyone knows who has watched that movie, Jimmy Stewart didn’t shoot Valance. John Wayne did.

As much as we admire John Wayne, deep down we are a nation of Jimmy Stewarts.

* * *

Portions of this post were taken from a blog post I wrote in August.

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4 Responses to Think more guns will make us safer? You’re wrong

  1. Mary Kay says:

    Always well done, Bob. Will those who rush to argue in favor of arming all citiziens ever consider that this may also be a mental health care issue? With inadequate funding for mental health care for our returning troops and working poor, and with inadequate access to mental health care even for those who can afford it (Jindal’s extreme cuts resulting in deep reduction of available beds in mental health care facilities in our our own state) AND the inability (through HIPAA) to help adult family members manage mental health care, we have an unmanageable and high-risk group. Arm us all? Perhaps we should start with the chiildren and indoctrinate them in the historically contextual meaning of the 2nd Amendment, the way they learned about saving the earth and recycling, so that by the time we are in our nursing homes, our country will be living more peacefully without assault weapons and the NRA will be an embarrassing note in history.

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  2. German says:

    Really great piece. Thanks for writing it.

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  3. Pingback: Just a Question. | An Endless War

  4. trutherator says:

    “But who honestly thinks that knowing a teacher, or everyone in the room, was packing heat would deter a violent, mentally ill person?”

    The answer to that question is EVERY LOGICALLY THINKING PERSON would realize that YES it “would deter a violent, mentally ill person”.

    In fact it DID deter the shooter of Newtown.

    He did NOT go to the police station to shoot up anybody, did he? So it DID deter him from going where he knew they would shoot. This violent, mentally ill person went to the GUN-FREE zone as advertised.

    http://www.trutherator.wordpress.com

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