While the exact numbers are in dispute, there have been no shortage of high profile public shootings this year. The fact that shootings have occurred at schools, holiday parties and a church has rattled Americans. If we are not safe at these places then where are we safe?
Following the latest shooting in Sand Bernardino, social media was filled with calls for Americans to arm themselves as an answer. Some went so far as to urge all Americans as their duty to carry firearms, implying those who aren’t packing are somehow less than true patriots.
While you’d better believe we rather have a gun handy than not if an Islamic terrorist is coming our way, this urge to arm everyone overlooks one very basic fact that gun proponents often ignore – just because we have a right to carry guns, it doesn’t mean we’re all equally capable. The lunatics, hot-heads, drug-abusers, hardcore alcoholics, the overly-nervous and just plain dumb are among the people whom we’d rather not see carrying weapons in crowded spots.
We may all envision ourselves as John Wayne riding a horse and shooting lever action rifles in each hand, picking off bad guys.
But for every John Wayne, there are probably many more Barney Fifes. Recall the comedic side-kick, played by Don Knotts, on the Andy Griffith show. Fans of the show may have noted that the fictional Mayberry Sheriff was an early implementer of gun control; he only allowed Barney to carry one bullet and he had to put it in his pocket. Most of the time when the jumpy deputy got it out comedy ensued.
Now imagine all the Barneys out there in crowded Walmarts, sports stadiums or bars and armed with a handgun holding nine rounds. Nothing comedic is likely to really happen.
The military and police train extensively and continue to train all the time on shooting protocols. Hunters are required to pass a safety test that includes firearm handling, while the general gun owner has no training requirement at all in Georgia.
The belief that an average citizen, who may not have shot a gun more than a couple of times with no supervision, would be able to confront a nut intent on killing everyone before being sent to meet Allah is not a high percentage bet.
Even for the target shooters, there is no practice for shooting in a public square when a crowd is panicked with some hiding, some jumping out windows and some plain freaking out and somebody somewhere is shooting, but you also have to make sure you are not gunning down another armed citizen or first responder rather than the lunatic/terrorist.
Finally for anyone entertaining thoughts that reacting in this situation might be similar to playing Call of Duty on your Xbox, recall that none of these real situations ended with the crowd subduing the gunmen. Though lives could have been saved if two or three people had overpowered a shooter or someone jumped him from behind, it hasn’t happened. In several instances, like the Charleston church shooting, the perpetrator looked a like a geeky teen who wouldn’t be that hard to take down. And certainly the Columbine High School shooters from many years ago were no physical threats.
The only case where it appears that physical force came into play was when two American servicemen (trained to handle themselves in combat) stopped an incident on a train in Europe.
Even at a concert for a “death metal” band, which would seem to attract a lot of aggressive young men, the gunmen were able to shoot and re-load without being tackled.
We may all want to see ourselves as the hero who shoots the bad guy, but encouraging untrained civilians to carry guns everywhere is a recipe for disaster. The calls are reminiscent of Deputy Fife’s begging Sheriff Andy to let him get his bullet out of his pocket.