The Violence Trap Part 2: The Good Guys

It is a common argument: the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. If that’s true, who are the good guys?

Are the good guys law enforcement? We should hope so. Their duty is to serve and protect. They are the individuals who undergo extensive training on how to properly handle and fire a weapon. They routinely practice with targets in a firing range and in high stress environments so that they are better prepared to act in the pressures of their job – skills needed when any random citizen they stop in the streets could have murderous intents. More often than not, our movies and TV shows portray police as the good guys. It’s the cops and robbers trope: the criminals are up to no good and the cops must stop them from harming innocent civilians. Our police should be the good guys. Yet the news preys on stories of police brutality. Our headlines are filled with stories of unarmed African Americans being shot by white officers. Elsewhere they killed a six-year-old boy who had autism. Reports abound of evidence of misconduct being buried and reports falsified to protect the thin blue line. Even in the town where I live, an officer shot and killed a dog enclosed in a locked vehicle parked at a coffee shop then lied about the breed. Around the same time, a pair of deputies detained and harassed a couple of kids under suspicion of being drug dealers outside a gas station after the boys made a joke about the band Nickleback. These are the good guys?

image courtesy of NPR

Are the good guys the so-called patriot militias like the motley miscreants that invaded the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge this last winter? Their stated goals seem altruistic – standing up for the freedom of men they perceived to be persecuted, defending the rights of the average citizen, and something about the constitution. They called themselves peaceful protesters. But at the same time, they were armed as if they were prepared to go to war. They gained a reputation of being snide and threatening to local residents who complained of being followed and harassed by members of the Bundy Militia. They were disrespectful of the property they occupied and left a mess in their wake. They caused physical damages to the grounds and buildings; disrupted the lives those who were employed at the refuge, and financially burdened local, county, state, and federal officials sent to control and arrest the insurrectionists. These are the good guys?

image courtesy of Raw Story

Are the common open carry citizens the good guys? These are the people who believe everyone should have the right to carry any firearm of their choice in public without any training, background check, or permit. Studies have shown the average person is not able to draw a gun during an active shooter situation, let alone fire accurately. We want to believe that an armed bystander can save the day and stop the bad guy. There are news reports of that very scenario happening, even though police can mistake the good guy for the bad guy and the good Samaritan is treated as a hostile suspect. For every story where a good guy with a gun is able to stop a crime in progress, there are stories like that of Joseph Wilcox, who tried to stop a cop killer but was murdered by a second gunman. These are the good guys?

image courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

I do not believe we can ever objectively determine who is or is not a good guy. By all accounts, Micah Xavier Johnson was a good guy until July 6th. He spent six years in the Army Reserve and was deployed in Afghanistan. Fellow soldiers described him as goofy, nice, religious, and sociable. After discharge, he was providing care for his mentally disabled brother. His rifle and handgun were purchased legally. He wore body armor that was purchased legally. Then on July 7th, Micah Xavier Johnson became a bad guy with a gun when he fired into a crowd of what most people would describe as good guys with guns. Many in attendance at the protest were armed - both open and concealed carry. Johnson’s main targets were the armed police officers who were there to maintain peace. So many good guys with guns and none of them were able to stop the bad guy with guns.

If you want to have a productive conversation about ending gun violence in America, then don’t start with the claim that good guys with guns are the only method to stop bad guys with guns. It just isn’t true.

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