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Adrenaline can kill innocents

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Midst all the media coverage of the student massacre at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College in the last month – some good – some over-the-top – some just plain wrong – there was a short interview you may have missed. Too bad, because it offered some very good support for those of us who argue against concealed carry weapons. On campus or anywhere else.

In the first hours of reporting, when accurate information was hard to come by, one young Oregon reporter got hold of a 30-something student who’d been in the building while the shooter was doing his killing. The interviewee didn’t see the shooting but heard it and it was close. Like most on campus, when he realized what was happening, he thought for a moment – then took off running away.

The 30-something interviewee was an average fella – baseball cap, windbreaker, some facial hair and a quiet manner of speaking. An average looking guy. What set him apart – and what the interviewer never quite figured out how to handle – was the fact that the guy had a loaded pistol in his belt. Along with his carry permit. Took ‘em when he got out of his truck to go to his first class.

So, here’s the scene. A 20-something with four weapons is killing students in one part of the building and a 30-something with a pistol in his belt is hearing the shots fired and – after thinking for a minute – he splits without going toward the classroom where the murders are being committed. At that very minute. If what it takes to stop bad guys is “a good guy with a gun,” why did the “good guy” leave?

The pistol-packing guy’s answer was spot on!

“If I had opened fire,” he said, “when the cops got there, they might have thought I was the shooter and killed me.” In all the gun debate, no truer words were ever spoken.

In my younger days, I did a lot of “ride alongs” with cops. Some authorized. Some not. Here are some of things I picked up that make me a believer in the words spoken by that young Roseburg fella. Police patrolling is most often lots of quiet, punctuated at times by a sudden emergency. Might be a wreck, a break-in, a domestic battle, a bank alarm. Or a “shooting in progress.” When the dispatcher says “Code Three,” that means “get there now” with lights and siren. The quiet ends immediately.

The flashing lights and the noise begin. Immediately. Study after study has shown an officer’s adrenaline goes straight up. Doesn’t make any difference if it’s a veteran or a rookie. The body’s response to that call to immediate action is the same. And that’s not a bad thing because that’s when the training is supposed to kick in and cops – and other emergency responders – do what they’re supposed to do.

That adrenaline rush continues at the scene. It will likely be above normal until whatever prompted the emergency is resolved. Which is why you see lots of firemen and police officers sitting or leaning against their equipment after things are settled. The adrenaline has stopped pumping and the body is returning to normal. It’s “coming down.”

But go back to what the 30-something said. An armed officer – possibly a heavily-armed SWAT team member – enters a classroom full of people where he’s been told to expect a civilian shooter who’s firing shots in all directions and who’s known to have already killed one or more. The cop comes through the door ready to fire. Certain he must fire.

But, before he pulls the trigger, he has to determine – in a split second – who’s “the bad guy with a gun.” And “who’s the good guy with a gun.” He has that split second to decide and take a shot. Just that fast! And suppose what he sees is the “good guy” taking a shot at the “bad guy.” But how does the officer know? Which one appears – in that split second – to be the bad guy? Maybe the “good guy?”

And that’s what stopped the 30-something with a gun from getting involved in an “active shooter” situation hat day on the UCC campus. You might say – in very long hindsight – he should have tried anyhow. He might have saved one or more lives. I say – he did the right thing. And, truth be known, I’d bet those armed officers would say the same.

Despite what the loonies at the NRA and their gun-hugging followers say, teachers, frightened school children, movie goers huddled under seats and people in department store aisles don’t wear tags saying “GOOD GUY.” In split seconds, lawmen have to read a situation, make a shooting decision and take action. Shoot! Don’t shoot! Often, they have no idea which civilian may be a shooter. Or, which may be an innocent trying to run away.

Arming people – allowing concealed carry in bars, stores and campuses large and small – is not the answer. We already have guns going off at the check stands killing people (Idaho) and bar arguments ending in sudden death (Arizona and Texas).

For my money, the armed 30-something on the Oregon campus that day made the right decision. Took his concealed gun and got out of the way of officers with shooting of their own to do.

For my money, he had better presence of mind than the whole NRA.

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