I am a liberal, and I am a gun owner. I’m highly trained with semi-automatic handguns, the AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, and various shotguns. For handguns, that training includes drawing from a holster to fire accurately and swiftly, firing while in motion, and shooting with my non-dominant hand (in case of injury). For rifle, I shoot while standing, sitting, and laying prone. And with shotgun, there’s quite a bit of shooting clay pigeons which are thrown while my gun is at rest and I’m not looking at the trap to know what the trajectory will be before the bird is in the air. I’ve also shot a variety of other weapons, from revolvers to a trip to the only gun range in my area with 5 miles of empty space around it, in order to fire a friend’s .50 caliber rifle. I have my concealed carry permit, and I have hunting licenses. I’d really love it if my fellow gun owners could drop this idea that “good guys with guns” will keep us all safer.
Here’s the thing: you think of yourself as a “good guy” with your gun. I have no way of knowing if that’s an accurate evaluation. You may not have great self-awareness and in fact be less than heroic. You may have different values than I have. You may react badly under stress. Your skills may be seriously rusty. You may not be a particularly great guy.
When the National Rifle Association spokesperson said that “good guys with guns kept [the Congressional baseball practice shooting] from getting worse”, she was right. But every time that phrase is used, it simplifies to the point of absurdity. Not just “good guys”, extensively trained and tested professional men and women. In most Departments, law enforcement professionals have gun training, testing, mandated range time, and regular re-certification. There are escalation of force guidelines, psychological evaluations, and training in less-than-lethal options to de-escalate violent situations — and still people are regularly shot when unarmed and/or when following police instructions. Active-duty service personnel fire their weapons far more often than any police officer (the vast majority of whom will never be called upon to discharge a gun while on duty), they have months of pre-deployment training and evaluation, and yet we still have civilians killed by our military on a semi-regular basis. If the professionals can make mistakes that end in the death of innocents, what chaos would an armed politician let loose?
In an active-shooter situation, “active” is the key word. If Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), who has said he will now have a gun on him at all times, had been armed when the shots began at baseball practice, he would have had a lot to contend with in order to act. He would have had to find cover, prepare his weapon — and this is assuming that he decided to wear his gun on his body during a baseball practice — locate the shooter, determine that this was the actual threat and not a responding unit, and succeed at a good shot on a living human, while that person is moving and continuing to fire, without endangering any of his fellow Congressmen, assisting law enforcement, or civilians in the area. I have to suspect that he hasn’t had a lot of experience with these actions. And that would all be with just one target, in an open-air setting. Oftentimes there are multiple shooters, inside buildings, moving separately from each other. The sound of gunfire is misleading and it’s difficult to tell where it originates, and if you don’t have constant visual contact with the shooter, it’s harder to be certain that you’re not hearing the police response instead.
There is an emotional component to shooting a person, and it frankly scares me that so many politicians feel they could kill somebody no problem if only they themselves were armed. Police and military personnel get, as said above, psychological evaluations to ensure they are capable of performing the act, as well as dealing with it afterward. Yet many find in the aftermath of a shooting that they need more support than they get, and this has led repeatedly to substance abuse, domestic violence, and suicide. I’ve seen people freeze when they get a rabbit in their sights, and if you’ve ever seen someone have to pull over because they’ve hit an animal with their car and are too shaken up to keep driving you’ll know that most people react strongly against taking a life. That middle-aged men in suits think they can just fire off a few rounds to kill someone means they don’t really understand how it would feel in the moment. The tunnel vision they could get. The physical reactions of their body — heartrate, breathing, sweat, etc. — that would have to be compensated for before taking a shot. For a civilian to shoot a person is not the same experience as going down to the range with some buddies and firing at a paper silhouette. If they can’t talk about it with an acknowledgement of the gravity of the event, they can’t deal with it if it comes upon them.
Further, in an active-shooter scenario, once law enforcement arrives they have limited information, and they have to assess the threat they see based on whatever garbled details were gleaned from panicked 911 callers. When they are onscene and find multiple people with guns aiming and/or firing at each other, how do they determine which is the shooter, and which is the “good guy”? If these Congressmen think they can be recognized by any responding officer, anywhere they go, they’ve got an inflated sense of their own importance. I might not even recognize my neighbor in that situation, and there are a lot more politicians to keep track of. The politicians looking to carry everywhere, in order to heroically stop shootings should they occur, also seem to forget that they won’t be the lone armed “good guy” standing up against violence. It’s conceivable that we could end up with a situation where one person, in the heat of the moment, shoots someone firing a weapon only to realize too late that he’s just shot a fellow Congressman. Which could just as easily lead to responding law enforcement shooting him.
Let’s say that our hypothetical “good guy” politician is right on top of things. We have former military on the Hill, after all. So let’s imagine a Congressman who cleans his weapon weekly, takes regular range time to practice and keep his skills sharp, and who can shoot another person with a minimum of emotional upheaval. I still don’t trust him to make the right call on whether he needs to shoot the person. Firing on a human being should be a last resort, and too often these days it’s not. Police Departments with the funds to do so are working hard to train their officers in dealing with citizens with mental illness or developmental disability that might keep them from immediately and clearly responding to instructions. Negotiation techniques are being integrated into de-escalation practices. Less-than-lethal equipment is being deployed where appropriate. We’ve seen all these options break down, even with the fully trained, when the human element enters the equation. Racism and bigotry often lead to shooting first and defending themselves later. How many of our representatives are likely to respond with measured, calm, rational evaluation of whether it’s best to pull the trigger or to wait, if they’re faced with an armed suspect of a race, ethnicity, or apparent religious belief that differs from their own? How many would find a way to justify a shooting because there was a potential for violence? How many would take pride in killing someone, if they felt that someone “didn’t fit”?
How much do you trust your politician to truly be a “good guy” once he’s got a gun in his hand and an excuse to fire it?