Lately, I've been seeing a lot of use of the phrase, "A good guy with a gun." I don't know if this was one of those flumberjumming terms coined by Trump, or if it was put out into the world by the NRA, or if just popped up over time by osmosis. It's supposed to relate to when someone on the spot of a shooting has their own gun and heroically shoots the gunman. It's been used a lot these past few days because of the actions by Blaine Gaskill, the security guard at the Maryland high school who shot the intruder who had entered the school.
To be incredibly clear -- I think the actions of Mr. Gaskill were terrific, and he deserves the praise he has gotten. He is a trained guard, was on the spot, and did his job impressively. So, hat's off to him.
What's another matter entirely are the public extrapolations that have come from it.
For starters, just at its most basic, it is worlds different for a trained security guard to be armed and vigilantly protect a school as his specific, focused job, than for a teacher working in a classroom to have a gun. Not the same things. Not even close.
But beyond that, the whole "A good guy with a gun" conjures up false macho fantasy of hired gunslingers wandering the streets of Dodge City keeping the womenfolk and little ones safe from marauders. As someone wrote to me, "If that shooter at Virginia Tech had been confronted by a good guy with a gun, lives would’ve been saved."
As fist-pumping noble as that sounds to some, we have no idea if it's even remotely true. It might be. But it might have made the situation horrifyingly worse.
That's because "If only" is not how life works. We can fantasize "If only" about most everything in our lives, and some things might have changed for the better, and some things might have caused the Law of Unintended Consequences. We simply don't know.
That's why "A good guy with a gun" is meaningless with all the school mass shootings. Much as we might wish for it, because anything seems better than the reality of what happened, the truth is that "A good guy with a gun" in Parkland, Florida, might have missed and killed even more innocent kids. But take the thought to the next step -- the next, logical step. Because I've yet to hear any gun advocate argue that there should (or even possibly could ) be just one, official "Good guy with a gun" available on-the-the-spot when any mass shooting breaks out. So, what if there were more? Because that's the next logical step in the argument. And more guns is not inherently better and safer. It might be -- but it might be far more disastrous. Just having merely two "good guys" with guns inside the school, or in any enclosed space where there's a shooter, or anywhere a shooting takes place would likely have created cross-fire and worsened the situation significantly. And what if it was four "Good guys" with guns -- there's no reason to think it wouldn't be, as long as we're allowing ourselves to imagine two (or even just that one "Good guy with a gun") or seven, or 10 "Good guys" with guns -- all shooting back-and-forth at wherever they see gunfire, thinking maybe that's the gunman, spraying bullets all over, hitting innocent children, taking out innocent bystanders, killing themselves. Because not only is that a possible result, but I would suggest the likely one.
"If only there was a good guy with a gun" is an absolutely great fantasy. And sometimes there is a trained security guard like Blaine Gaskill on the spot, focused on doing his job that he's trained for, and the situation is not as deadly as it could have been. But the reality is that when we allow for "A good guy with a gun" as the policy, which means armed people all over with guns at the ready to begin firing, one thing we have tragically learned over time is that the more guns there are shooting, the more chance there is for far more bullets to to find targets, whether intended or otherwise.
(Side note: despite gun advocates pointing to the "Good guy with a gun" who shot the gunman at the Texas church -- what gets overlooked is that he was not inside the church, but rather shot the killer outside when he was leaving, after the killing spree. In a perfect world, perhaps the situation would have been better if that "Good guy with a gun" had been inside. But life is not perfect, which is why maybe it would have been worse if there there been more shooting in that small, enclosed space, most-especially if half the parishioners had guns and were shooting everywhere.)
And none of this even takes into consideration what if the "Good guy with a gun" isn't really all that good. But instead of our western hero Shane majestically patrolling the land and protecting the farmers from cattle rustlers, what if that guy with the gun is actually a nervous wreak. Or tightly-wound with an hair-trigger finger. Or exhausted, operating on four hours of sleep. Or had three beers for lunch. Or...what if a dozen of these guys with guns were a mixture of all that?! And all those scared, tired, slightly-tipsy, jittery, angry, high, agitated, fully inebriated people with guns -- let alone with semi-automatic pistols -- began firing at anything that moved. Or at anything, period.
Yeah, sure, right, "A good guy with a gun" is all we need to make gun violence go away. That's the answer.
The reality is that there is only one thing we know for absolute certain that creates less gun violence, and that is no guns. That won't happen in the United States as far as the eye can see. But the point is that while it may not be a realistic solution, it's the only honest answer. And "more guns" is not.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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