Let’s explore the urban myth that the gun lobby and their followers bring up every time there is a mass shooting. The one that says the best answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Donald Trump is advocating this as his answer to the Orlando shooting. He pumps up his crowd by suggesting that things would have been different if someone in that crowd had a gun, and had used it on the shooter. Trump points his finger at his forehead and pulls the imaginary trigger. “Boom!” he suggests, “end of problem,” to the sound of loud cheers and applause from his crowd.
Balderdash. Anyone truly familiar with guns, with crowds, and with what happens when somebody starts shooting should be able to easily figure out with a few minutes logical concentration that the myth is just that and that Trump’s solution is utter nonsense.
Let’s suppose that out of the crowd of 300 or so that might have been in that nightclub that there were 10 individuals who were armed. What would have been the expected result? First of all, when the bad guy fired the first shot, there would have been pandemonium. A goodly number would dive for cover or head for the exit, a fair number would rear up and look around to see what was happening, and the rest would mill around in confusion. The point is that the entire room would be immediately filled with unpredictable movement in all directions.
Into this setting, we introduce the 10 vigilantes. They do not know one another, have never practiced or trained together, and are spread generally throughout the club. (In real life, the cops practice these scenarios repeatedly, but in our situation, the 10 vigilantes are on their own.) They all pull out their guns. Now there are 11 people in the club with guns out.
You and I know that only one of these is the bad guy and that all the rest are good guys, but no one else knows this. What is worse, the 10 do not know anything of each other. For all any one of them knows, anyone else with a gun is a potential bad guy. Somebody sees somebody across the room with a gun. People are milling around back and forth, and nobody knows what anyone else is doing. Finally, this is all happening in a bar where the booze has been flowing steadily all evening, including, probably, to our stalwart vigilantes. What could possibly go wrong?
Let’s make it worse; two or three of the good guys see the bad guy shooting, and they start returning fire. Now the other gunmen can see and hear gunfire from the three good guys, but they don’t know who’s who yet, because they don’t know where the bad guy is, and they can’t tell where all the shots are coming from. If one starts shooting now, there is a good chance it will be against one of the other good guys. And the clear chances are that if anybody else starts shooting in this melee, everybody is going to start shooting. Bullets are going to be flying everywhere, and the casualty count is going up, not down.
Yes but, someone might argue, one of the good guys might shoot the bad guy and that would take the assault rifle out – which would be a big improvement, right?
Wrong. Accuracy with a pistol is an inordinately difficult task. It takes a ton of training, hours of dry fire practice, and hours more of live fire practice on a range to become even moderately accurate with a pistol. Maybe on a well-lit shooting range, with plenty of time and no distractions, a person with some training could learn to put a round or two into the target killing zone. But in all likelihood, regardless of how accurate the vigilante is on the range, the probability of that accuracy carrying over to a crowded nightclub, or dark theater, or school gymnasium, or crowded shopping mall, with all the yelling and movement and commotion that would be going on in a real life situation, is very, very slim. Once the shooting starts, the odds of anyone being able to hit whoever is actually being aimed at – unless the shooter is right up on top of his target – is going to be very, very slim.
I recall a police shootout several years ago where the cops fired close to 100 rounds at the bad guy without hitting a thing. The perp finally threw his gun out and surrendered. When I was in the military 50 years ago, I qualified on every weapon available from the M-1 rifle through all manner of automatic fire machine guns to the 105 mm main tank gun – except for the standard issue Army 45 caliber pistol, with which I could not hit a barn door at anything over ten paces. Nor could anyone else who went through the orientation with me. The point here is that to pick off the gunman from any distance with any degree of predictability would take someone who is not only an expert shot with a pistol but also is accustomed to shooting in high stress and confusing situations, where the target is shooting back.
Then the cops show up. Doesn’t take long, and they show up in force with swat teams deployed. It is still pandemonium inside, of course, with everybody yelling, the shooter still blasting away from some corner somewhere, and 10 guys with guns milling around, firing off whenever they think they have a shot. It’s dark, the cops are in swat gear. Everybody starts yelling to drop their weapons and come out with hands up. How could this be expected to turn out? Are all 10 good guys going to immediately drop their guns, stand up and walk out with their hands up? Oh yeah? Who’s going to be first? The plain fact is that it will take the police much longer to get control of the situation with a room full of vigilantes as it would if the bad guy shooter was the only one with a weapon.
One last exercise: pretend you are one of those good guys with a gun. You have been looking for the bad guy and the cops are finally on the scene. You don’t know if they have the bad guy yet or not. You move down a hall and around a corner and run into this.
Take a look at the picture: Tell me fast, what do you do? (1) Shoot the guy with the gun; (2) drop your gun before the guy shoots you; or (3) run?
Doesn’t matter what you say – all answers have an equal probability of being wrong. If you pick (1) and shoot the guy with the gun, its wrong – he was a sheriff’s deputy in swat gear, and he had the real shooter under arrest. When you shoot him, the kid grabs the sheriff’s gun and shoots you.
If you pick (2) and drop your gun, it’s wrong – the guy is actually the shooter and the other guy was the deputy sheriff. As soon as you drop your gun, the bad guy shoots you.
And if you pick (3) and run, its wrong – the guy with the gun is one of the other “good” guys just helping some kid to safety, and when you run with your gun in hand, he spooks and shoots you.
How can anyone in their right mind think that setting up a situation where some number of complete strangers would be expected to pull out handguns in a room full of other complete strangers and, not knowing each other or anything of the shooter, and never having practiced an operation like this before, and without hours and hours of practice necessary to shoot straight under pressure, manage pull off the miracle by taking out the bad guy without injuring themselves or anyone else?
Does anyone still maintain that the best answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun?