The Dangerous Myth of Good Guys With Guns

The Dangerous Myth of Good Guys With Guns November 8, 2018

good guys with guns aren’t bullet-proof
they just die first
because the gun
lets the bad guy with a gun
know where to start

Another morning in America, filled with typically American things: a cup of coffee in hand; the sounds of kids chattering over breakfast while they get ready for school; a check of the weather outside to see if you need your winter coat today (yes); and news of another mass shooting on the TV in the background.

It really is just in the background now, isn’t it?

And we say we don’t accept it, that we cannot let this become commonplace; and yet, we all stick to our same narratives of what will and won’t work, who is and isn’t to blame, what sacrifices are and aren’t worth the cost of freedom, and life itself… and here we are again.

The story of last night’s shooting at a California nightclub is still unfolding, but we know this: before entering the building, the gunman shot a security guard, who appears to have been unarmed. And then he went inside, where Sgt. Ron Helus– a 29-year law enforcement veteran and the first to respond to the call– was the next to die.

He was going to retire this year.

As with many shootings in which guards, officers or armed bystanders are injured or even killed, the “good guy with a gun” fairytale is just that: a fairytale. It is another way of defending the guns instead of taking steps that would save actual lives. In reality, the “good guy with the gun” is often just the first to die. Because in the end, having the gun just makes you a target.

I agree with the NRA set on one count: a bad guy who wants to kill people will “find a way.” I don’t mean that someone can enact the same kind of terror with a steak knife that they can with an AR-15. But I do mean that a “bad guy with a gun” will have a plan. He’ll know what obstacles might need to be taken down first—whether that is an unarmed security guard, an armed officer, or a teacher who’s ready to protect her students or die trying.

In this instance, the armed officer and the unarmed guard were killed the same way. The “good guy with the gun” is always going to be the first target. And most times, an armed person is not able to stop a mass shooting anyway. A 2012 study by Mother Jones found that none of the 62 mass shootings from the preceding three decades were stopped by an armed citizen with a gun.

I’m not saying Sgt. Helus’ sacrifice was not admirable. It was indeed courageous, a rare truly selfless act that should be admired. But it should not be necessary. While his life and service should be celebrated, his death should not. To somehow fetishize this type of bodily sacrifice is to perpetuate a dangerous myth—that more armed people will somehow stop the carnage. In fact, that narrative just adds their bodies to the toll.

A trained officer with nearly three decades of experience could not stop an armed madman; and yet, we somehow believe that Bubba with his conceal-carry permit is going to come in with guns a-blazin’ and save the day? That is not just delusional, it is unspeakably ignorant; and insanely dangerous.

I’m not going to stump for the need for common-sense gun reform. I’ve said it. You’ve heard it. You either agree (which you probably do, because an overwhelming majority of free-thinking Americans do); or you don’t, in which case I won’t change your mind. But I am going to repeat the mantra that nobody is trying to abolish the 2nd Amendment: we want meaningful safety measures like enforcing the laws we already have; closing loopholes; barring violent criminals and those with a history of domestic abuse from legally obtaining firearms; and regulating weapons AT LEAST as well as we regulate the operation of motor vehicles.

If we truly wanted to honor the everyday sacrifices of police officers, military and others who put their bodies on the line for our safety everyday, we would do everything within our power to take weapons out of the hands of those who would do them harm. We would reduce our need for dead heroes.

Maybe our new blue Congress can make some of these things happen. Maybe not. But either way, we have to stop telling ourselves fairytales about what a hero with a gun can do. More likely than not—the hero is dead before the story even begins.

An hour ago, when I turned on the news, the story of the shooting was literally the only thing on TV.  I tried to quickly change channels so the kids wouldn’t hear too much … but I couldn’t escape it. On every channel, it was all there was. Now, an hour later: Good Morning America has moved on to segments about what to do with your Thanksgiving leftovers; amazing Black Friday deals to expect at Walmart, and an adorable schtick with some guys who do a podcast about Hallmark Christmas movies. Like the violence itself, the quick change of topic is not surprising. It reflects the attention span of a nation so in love with its own story, we don’t really care if it is fact or fantasy.

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