Gun dialogue beyond good guys with guns
In 2012, National Rifle Association (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said, in light of the Sandy Hook school shooting, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun." In the numerous shootings since — and the overall dialogue on gun regulation — this quote has been used as an argument time and time again for opponents of gun control.
Taking out the word "only," LaPierre's quote isn't illogical. There have most certainly been times in which a "good guy with a gun" stopped "a bad guy with a gun," or at least mitigated potential damage. Stories about people successfully using their legally-owned arms to defend themselves may not be on the front pages, but a quick search can show you a good array of examples. For instance, in Oklahoma, an armed bystander of a bar shooting intervened and reduced the number of deaths to just one: the shooter. Of course, in such stories, the involvement of the bystanders should be applauded. However, such stories remain just that: individual stories. They alone cannot be extrapolated to show causal relationships or definitive statements.
Unfortunately, too many of these stories don’t have happy endings. This November, in the suburbs of Chicago, black security guard Jemel Roberson was reportedly detaining a man shooting in a bar. Authorities were told to look out for an armed suspect. With this in mind, Roberson — despite wearing his security guard uniform — having a gun was the cause for him to be killed by an unnamed officer. More recently, in Hoover, Alabama, 21-year-old Emantic "EJ" Bradford was the latest "good guy with a gun" who was mistakenly identified as a gunman who injured two teenagers when, in reality, he was a man with a legally-owned gun who was allegedly "trying to wave people away from the shooting" just moments before he was shot by police. Although a "good guy with a gun" did stop a "bad guy with a gun" in these cases, the intervener's reward was death at the hands of trigger-happy police.
Again, these unfortunate incidents alone cannot confirm nor deny LaPierre's core argument. Case studies lack the substantiality to draw causal relationships. However, the search for data to find overall trends that could help us find the answer is discouraging. In the mid-90s, economist John Lott co-authored a study that argued that concealed carry deters crime. However, the statistics provided are shallow, only displaying the number of observations, mean, and standard deviation. Since then, opponents have deemed a 2004 National Academies National Research Council report a rebuttal, although the latter research does not provide such a conclusive argument as Lott's. A report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2014 showed that in terms of sheer number of instances, unarmed citizens restraining shooters were far more common than armed citizens. Obviously, this statistic alone is inconclusive; the number of unarmed citizens walking around on a daily basis is more than likely greater than the number of armed citizens. However, this comes to show a crack in LaPierre's logic; perhaps it is not the gun that empowers the good guy but rather the good guy himself taking initiative to intervene.
So how much weight does LaPierre's argument carry? It's extremely difficult to say. However, I have a hard time believing it is the only way, and the majority of this nation agrees. Statements with such definite terms are hardly ever completely true, and this is no exception. Looking into policies like maintaining background checks, or improving our mental health system to ensure guns don't fall into the wrong hands, doesn't stop the "good guy" from getting his gun. Does it eliminate the chance of the "bad guy" getting his gun? Of course not. But neither does the status quo, and solely relying on a strawman "good guy" hasn't gotten us anywhere in terms of the dialogue on gun violence. Just because a good guy with a gun is one deterrent of gun-related violence, being competent with placing the burden on the "good guy" is not enough, especially when the fate for their deed may be a bullet in their head.