Many conservatives ludicrously continue to argue that the solution to gun violence is more guns. This perspective is best embodied by NRA chief Wayne LaPierre’s speech after the Sandy Hook shooting advocating arming teachers, in which he made the notorious statement, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” In the macho fantasies of conservatives who use their massive arsenals to augment their fragile masculinity, they would calmly and professionally take out the shooter in a potential mass shooting situation. As much as these gun fetishists may wish to be heroes, however, all factual evidence from people with actual experience suggests that the “good guy with a gun” notion is totally bogus.
While Republicans like to parrot romanticized NRA ideals of armed citizens shooting down would-be evildoers, the reality is that the unprecedented sea of guns in which we live causes exponentially more harm than good. A recent analysis of FBI data by the Washington Post found that for every lethal justified shooting – what could be called “good guy with a gun” incidents – guns are responsible for 34 murders, 78 suicides, and 2 accidental deaths. The vast majority of these 114 “bad guy” deaths for each “good guy” death could be prevented with gun control, so acting like “good guys with guns” are the main group to be protected is dangerously disingenuous. Moreover, as a recent case in Houston in which an armed passerby attempted to stop a carjacking and instead shot the victim shows, even in the few instances in which armed citizens could actually do something, the chaos, confusion, and fear of the situation makes it near-impossible.
There was a “good guy with a gun” on the campus of Umpqua Community College at the time of the shooting, as there has been on the scene of many recent mass shootings. And yet, the shooting still unfolded. In fact, an FBI analysis of 185 mass shootings over the past thirteen years found that a grand total of one was stopped by an armed civilian. The reason for this is that, despite what conservatives may wish to believe, not just anyone can take up arms in the midst of the chaos and confusion of an active violent situation.
The Nation recently conducted interviews with dozens of veterans and law enforcement professionals – people who, unlike the bureaucrats and politicians of the NRA and Washington, have actual experience in combat situations. All of them agreed that “the NRA’s heroic gunslinger mythology is a dangerous fantasy that bears little resemblence to reality.” Dr. Steve Blair, who trains law enforcement officers to respond to active-shooter situations, says that when bullets fly, a natural stress response kicks in and people “freeze up and or don’t know what to do, and have difficulty performing actions correctly.” Steve Benson, a Vietnam Veteran and former Navy SEAL who has trained elite troops, told The Nation:
“in chaotic situations the first thing you know is the sh*t has hit the fan and you don’t know where the fan is. And unless its constantly drilled into you, its very hard to maintain discipline in those situations. You’re immediately hit with a massive thump of adrenaline…. And the problem with that kind of state is that conscious thought shuts down because you’ve been taken over by your nervous system, and your nervous system is saying, ‘holy sh*t, things just got really bad”
Having a firearm makes a person twice as likely to be killed and three times as likely to commit suicide. Countries and states with higher rates of gun ownership have not only higher rates of gun death, but higher homicide and suicide rates overall. Citizens carrying weapons has no effect on crime. Studies like these have repeatedly showed that there is no situation in which guns make you safer – and that includes in mass shootings. The simple fact of the matter is that, despite Republicans simple-minded desire to divide the world into “bad guys” and “good guys” (their own macho, gunslinging, ammosexual selves) what matters in an actual violent situation is experience and control. And given the mind and body’s natural responses to the chaos and threat of an active-shooter situation, that is something that can only be achieved through years of professional training. If the average sexually frustrated suburban four-by-four-driving conservative attempts to stop a shooting with their Walmart-bought gun, they will almost inevitably do more harm than good.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.