Gun Control and Good Guys Stopping Bad Guys

Gun Control and Good Guys Stopping Bad Guys June 18, 2016

Gun control is back on the agenda. As it always is after one of the seemingly endless procession of massacres in the US. Yes, I could bang on about stats and the US being a huge outlier on so many areas concerning gun ownership and deaths. But that has been done…to death.

I was interested in a comment I saw on a thread elsewhere:

In so many years of discussions about gun regulation, I haven’t heard of a single event when the guns owned by american citizens stopped some bad action. I’ve heard, however, of countless crimes committed with legally owned guns. I am still laughing at the case of Tatiana Duva-Rodriguez – I can bet that she still doesn’t understand or accepts her mistake. I also do not understand why a sane person would like to own an assault rifle. What is the advantage for so many american citizens to own guns? From Canada with amazement.

There are a couple of things here. Firstly, that people haven’t to any significant degree intervened; and secondly, that there is the ubiquitous claim that if people were armed, good people, then they could put an end to the armed bad guy(s). You know, like the Wild West, with people shooting all over the shop. There are some interesting pieces looking at the advice from gun experts and the statistics and research looking at the behaviour of “good guys” when under stress, and shooting their weapons. Essentially, you really wouldn’t want good guys with guns and bad guys, shooting it out. There would be a blood bath. There have been very rare occasions when the good guys do help. But, ostensibly, it seems to be a bad idea. People trying to discern good from bad and reacting sensibly is just a recipe for disaster. A decent article in the Pacific Standard states:

Even if armed civilians were to come to the rescue more often, there are questions as to how effective they’d be. Many instances where a “good guy with a gun” has put an end to a violent crime involve a good guy who’s actually a former law enforcement or security specialist, someone with a significant amount of training and discipline when it comes to moving thoughtfully and with purpose with a firearm. Not, in other words, an everyday civilian. In Ohio, for example, police are required to undergo 60 hours of training and additional coursework; New York City police officers go through a 13-day basic and tactical firearm training. But if, despite these training, incidents like the shooting death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a hot-headed officer in Cleveland persist, how can we expect that a responsible gun owner (without any mandatory training or rules of engagement) will perform like John Wayne under pressure?…

But if the data above is any indication, Condition Red is more of a red herring, awareness of one’s surroundings and readiness pushed to a logical extreme. Even police officers, who are ostensibly taught to de-escalate and avoid violent confrontation at their own costs, are now trained to react with extreme force regardless of the threat they’re faced with. This is the instinct, the “first rule of law enforcement” as University of South Carolina Professor Seth Stoughton puts it, that makes wearing blue a license to live in Condition Red: “Officers are trained to shoot before a threat is fully realized, to not wait until the last minute because the last minute may be too late…. American police officers are among the best-trained in the world, but what they’re trained to do is part of the problem.”

Underpinning the call by country sheriffs for an armed and vigilant citizenry (the latter of which is far from troubling) is the logic of the Second Amendment: that it’s every citizen’s right to bear arms in the context of a “well-regulated militia.” Perhaps it’s worth considering that what once passed for a well-regulated militia in the aftermath of the American Revolution — guerilla soldiers with inaccurate firearms — makes little sense in an era of the assault rifle, despite the existential threat of terrorism or crime. Calling on Americans to live in Condition Yellow rather than the complacency of Condition White, to say something when they see something, is important and valid, as is further educating “responsible” gun owners as we would police officers so they can truly be responsible. But in the end, the average citizen with a Glock and 10 hours on a shooting range can be more of a danger to himself and the community he set out to protect than any terrorist, foreign or domestic.

Jordan Klepper, of The Daily Show, ran through the training to get a concealed carry permit. As the Fiscal Times reports:

Klepper ran through four different shooting scenarios in his training, and in each one he was “killed” without successfully shooting the bad guy. In the full “school shooting” scenario, Klepper was shot over 20 times by both the bad guys and the police who saw him waving a gun. He also shot an unarmed, innocent teen twice in the chest. So, Klepper’s “good guy with a gun” caused two additional deaths.

For those who would write this off as a comedian for an openly liberal show simply failing on purpose to prove a point, the weary resignation on the faces of his trainers told a different story. The problem wasn’t Klepper’s clowning, but his belief, founded on a lifetime of action movies and video games, that in the right scenario, he could be a hero. The truth was, he just made things worse.

In the original quote, “Tatiana Duva-Rodriguez” refers to the case of a good gal with a gun firing off at some shoplifters. I will leave you to work out whether shooting down shoplifters is the right way to go… The Washington Post reported:

On Wednesday, a Michigan judge sentenced Duva-Rodriguez to 18 months of probation and stripped the 46-year-old of her concealed gun permit.

Duva-Rodriguez didn’t manage to stop the shoplifters when she rattled off several rounds outside an Auburn Hills Home Depot on Oct. 6, although she did flatten one of their tires.

What she did do, however, was spark a nationwide debate — or at least add fuel to an already raging fire.

The shooting came just days after a massacre at a community college in Oregon, an event that led GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson to call for “more guns” to help fight crime.

But Duva-Rodriguez’s attempt at being a good Samaritan badly backfired.

She was widely pilloried for pulling out her piece when nothing but property was at stake. Gun experts slammed her, saying she was lucky not to have killed an innocent bystander. Prosecutors called her decision to fire her weapon in a busy parking lot “disturbing” and charged Duva-Rodriguez with misdemeanor reckless use of a handgun.

There is a further problem. Good guys and gals with guns can often use them inappropriately when arguments get out of control. As reported:

In light of the overwhelming evidence that guns are a public health threat, gun advocates often retreat to an “it could never happen to me” mentality. This worldview is tragically mistaken. Consider the case of Veronica Dunnachie. She was, by many gun advocates’ definition, a good gal with a gun. A strident voice for gun rights, she was an open carry advocate, dedicated to expanding the unlicensed open carrying of firearms. In Texas, open carry is currently restricted to long guns; she pushed to include handguns. She frequently attended rallies and protests organized by Open Carry Tarrant County (an offshoot of Open Carry Texas). In a domestic dispute on Dec. 10, she allegedly shot and killed her husband and stepdaughter.Horrified, Dunnachie called a friend, telling him she “had just done something bad” and, at his urging, checked herself into a nearby mental health clinic.

Everyone likes to pretend that he or she is more rational, more responsible, and more immune to the risks that gun ownership poses relative to the average American. Yet, we know from gun violence statistics that many are simply misjudging their own competency. Everyone thinks he or she is above average, but half are mistaken.

A further problem is lack of training for good guys with guns. As explains:

But new research from gun experts at Mount St. Mary’s University examined just how effective any average “good guy with a gun” can be. They found that when it comes to effective self-defense with a firearm, there’s a gap between certain gun rights rhetoric and the facts.

The study, commissioned by gun reform group National Gun Victims Action Council, placed people with varying levels of gun expertise in a firearms simulator and taped how they acted in self-defense when confronted by virtual armed criminals.

After 77 volunteers, including police officers, had passed through the test, the researchers concluded that the less training and familiarity with firearms each possessed, the more stressful they found the experience and the more likely they were to fail the scenarios….

just simply having a gun. “Those participants with less training and experience lack a realistic sense of what can and should be done in these stressful scenarios,” the authors wrote.

These concerns are elevated, according to the study, by the facts that “roughly 22 million Americans — 8.9% of the adult population — have impulsive anger issues and easy access to guns, 3.7 million of these angry gun owners routinely carry their guns in public, and very few of them are subject to current mental health-based gun ownership restrictions.”

The study also warned that expansive gun rights laws allow people with little training to carry firearms for which they simply don’t have the skills to use in self-defense.

Finally, let us look at what tactical weapons experts say on the matter. The Nation interviewed some experts, and the findings don’t support the good guys with gun hypothesis:

But The Nation spoke to several people who do—including combat veterans and former law enforcement officers—and who believe that the NRA’s heroic gunslinger mythology is a dangerous fantasy that bears little resemblance to reality. Retired Army Sergeant Rafael Noboa y Rivera, who led a combat team in Iraq, says that most soldiers only function effectively after they’ve been exposed to fire a number a times. “I think there’s this fantasy world of gunplay in the movies, but it doesn’t really happen that way,” he says. “When I heard gunfire [in Iraq], I didn’t immediately pick up my rifle and react. I first tried to ascertain where the shooting was coming from, where I was in relation to the gunfire and how far away it was. I think most untrained people are either going to freeze up, or just whip out their gun and start firing in that circumstance,” Noboa said. “I think they would absolutely panic.”…

A case in Texas two weeks ago highlights the risks of civilians intervening in chaotic situations. Police say that as two carjackers struggled with the owner of a car at a gas station in northeast Houston, a witness decided to take action into his own hands. He fired several shots, but missed the perpetrators and shot the owner of the car in the head. He then picked up his shell casings and fled the scene. Police are still looking for the shooter….

Last year, epidemiologists at the University of California, San Francisco, conducted an extensive analysis of data from 16 previous peer-reviewed studies, and found that having access to a firearm makes a person almost twice as likely to become the victim of a homicide and three times more likely to commit suicide. Previous research has shown that countries with higher rates of gun ownership also have higher rates of gun deaths andstates with more guns have higher homicide rates. (The gun lobby’s side of the scholarly debate rests largely on the discredited and allegedly fraudulent work of economist John Lott.)

Rafael Noboa y Rivera scoffed at the idea, adding that he’s personally wary of “untrained yahoos” who “think they’re Wyatt Earp.”

“Despite what we see on TV, the presence of a firearm is a greater risk, especially in the hands of an untrained person,” says David Chipman, the former ATF agent. “Someone can always say, ‘If your mother is being raped by 5 people, wouldn’t you want her to have a gun?’ Well, OK, if you put it that way, I’d say yes, but that’s not a likely scenario. The question is: If you see someone running out of a gas station with a gun in their hand, do you want an untrained person jumping out and opening fire. For me, the answer is clearly ‘no.’”

In reality, then, more guns is a problem, when we look at the correlation of more guns = more gun deaths. But pleading that good guys with guns is a good idea is…

a bad idea.

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