The lie of the good-guy-with-a-gun

I got mugged one night. It was nearing 3 a.m. and I was walking from my office to my apartment, a distance of probably 15 blocks. The entire trip lay within an urban downtown and, of course, a number of watering holes sat between my office and home. I had visited several after work.

The streets were nearly deserted but I saw a few pedestrians. Ordinarily, I’d have called a cab but it was a balmy night with no rain or snow so I’d decided to walk. Undoubtedly, I had been drinking.

I caught sight of a group of seven males who looked to be late teenagers. The group was walking toward me on the opposite side of the street. As they got closer, they crossed to my side. They were laughing and swearing and they made remarks denigrating my skin color as they passed me.

I turned a corner on my way home, glad I only had about three blocks to go. As I neared the next corner, I heard running footsteps behind me and I tensed, quickening my step, hoping I was wrong about what I thought was seconds from happening.

I was not wrong.

Now, I am six-foot-two and I learned to swear in the military. If you’re unfamiliar with that type of cursing, the U.S. military has a unique way of teaching its members to string together impossible combinations of curses and then to release them in astonishingly vulgar streams. My ability to bellow like an enraged moose while unleashing U.S. Navy obscenities had saved me from more than one risky situation. I had come to rely on this skill.

This time it failed me.

The seven thugs surrounded me and wasted no time beating the crap out of me while they disparaged my white skin. In a weird out-of-body-like experience, I listened to them bickering among themselves as they beat me, arguing over who would get my coat and who would get my boots and be careful, don’t get his blood on them. It was my blood they were talking about. And while they hit me and bickered, they continued cursing me.

I fought back and I fought back hard. When I realized my military swearing was accomplishing nothing other than wasting breath I desperately needed, I went quiet, fighting silently. Strangely, I could see myself getting beaten but I didn’t feel anything. I’m pretty sure the whiskey I’d consumed earlier helped this effect.

But there were seven attackers so the outcome was very much predetermined.

Barefoot and bloodied, now coatless, my clothes hanging in shreds, they left me. They took my very nice leather coat, boots and wallet but they somehow missed my watch, which was probably worth more than the coat and boots combined. It remained on my wrist, unscathed — I believe my shirt cuff had hidden it.

A witness across the street had backed into the shadows and called the police, who arrived surprisingly quickly. But the two officers stayed less than 30 seconds because they didn’t care for my attitude. Seriously? I was battered and bleeding, I had just been mugged, I had a moderate blood-alcohol level and they expect me to be mellow and cordial?

They didn’t even get out of their patrol car — they just rolled up their window and drove off.

I borrowed a .38 revolver from a friend and packed that thing in a shoulder holster for the next month or so. I lived downtown and I was determined to avoid a repeat episode.

Carrying the gun was probably a stupid idea even though I had pretty broad experience with firearms.

I got my first gun — a .22 rifle — when I was in grade school. My father was a police officer in Southern California during the Watts Riots so I had a good teacher.

I suck at a lot of things but for some reason I am good at shooting — I could shoot straight early and I got to be a crack shot. Later, after I had kids, whenever we played laser tag, everyone wanted to be on my team because I can shoot quickly and accurately.

I know laser tag isn’t real life but that’s kind of my point. I learned to shoot early and I am comfortable with my ability to do so accurately. I am familiar with firearms. But I do not have the skills to be the hero who drops a mass shooter with one quick shot.

And therein lies the problem.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard intelligent people make decidedly ignorant statements about mass shootings. These well-meaning people firmly believe the lie they’re telling. Talking about the problem of mass shootings is a good thing but fantasizing is not.

“If only there had been a concealed-carrier in Buffalo, there wouldn’t have been a massacre!” I heard this one dozens of times.

“If only there was an armed teacher in Uvalde, there wouldn’t be all those dead kids!” Ditto this one, dozens of times. These 2A supporters are deadly serious when they say this. They believe what they are saying.

This clearly false narrative is being used to justify doing nothing meaningful to combat the scourge of daily mass shootings. With 239 mass shootings so far in 2022, we are well above one mass shooting per day this year.

The Gun Violence Archive (GVA) defines a mass shooting as an incident having “…a minimum of four victims shot, either injured or killed, not including any shooter who may also have been killed or injured in the incident.” The GVA is a non-profit organization that tracks and tabulates shooting “…incidents collected from over 7,500 law enforcement, media, government and commercial sources daily in an effort to provide near-real time data about the results of gun violence.” The organization is an independent research group with no link to any advocacy organization.

The lie being presented essentially boils down to “if only there had been a good-guy-with-a-gun at [insert mass shooting location here], there wouldn’t have been a mass shooting!”

They say the only thing that takes out a bad-guy-with-a-gun is a good-guy-with-a-gun.

If only it was that simple.

I am an odds-figuring kind of guy which is probably why the only vice I never had was gambling. When the odds are heavily against me, I don’t bet. The odds of a well-intentioned good-guy-with-a-gun dropping a mass shooter with a clean shot are so small as to be laughable, if the situation wasn’t so deadly serious.

When I ask 2A supporters to explain how a guy in jeans and a t-shirt, armed with a single sidearm, could take out an armor-clad, heavily armed mass shooter with one quick shot when a professional law enforcement officer could not, they repeat the good-guy-with-a-gun mantra and do not answer my question. Or they call me a liberal gun-grabber and block me.

I am neither a liberal nor a gun-grabber but I do pride myself on having disciplined critical thinking skills.

I take issue when firearms enthusiasts make outrageous statements like a good-guy/gal-with-a-gun will quickly take out a heavily armed mass shooter clad in body armor. They say it like it’s a certainty, if only the anti-gun folks would let them carry.

When a nutcase with an armory of semiautomatic rifles and handguns, thousands of rounds, body armor and some weird grudge carries out a planned attack at a church or school or from the 32nd floor of a hotel, the most earnest and courageous good-guy-with-a-gun stands almost no chance of taking out the shooter.

Without tactical or military training, practicing at a range might make good guys and gals fluent with their weapons and teach them steady aim but taking down a madman who’s got evil intentions, body armor, multiple weapons and nothing to lose generally takes something more than handgun competency and a good eye. In the second-to-second violent chaos that makes up a mass shooting, even professional law enforcement officers with tactical training have lost their lives when trying to stop the bad guy. These dead professional officers should be evidence that an average John Doe with a concealed-carry stands a less-than-ideal chance of dropping a mass shooter.

Having endured the mugging described above, among other incidents, I know a good-guy/gal-with-a-gun might very well stop a street attack, albeit with some risk. The good-guy/gal-with-a-gun could also intervene if he or she encountered something like a mall disturbance among a horde of angry teens where one pulls out a pistol. Or with luck, even stop a liquor store robbery. Yes, a good-guy-with-a-gun can end certain shootings — I fully agree with my 2A friends on this. But mass shooters like the ones in Buffalo, Uvalde, Las Vegas and so many other places? Not a chance.

In my case, I was taught to never draw a weapon unless I intended to use it and never use it unless I intended to kill. I know some will disagree with me, but brandishing a revolver in close quarters with seven angry thugs could’ve made my situation worse because, even with exceptional aim, there is no way I could’ve taken out seven thugs with six rounds. If I had been determined to defend myself at all costs, I would’ve had to have extraordinary luck to brandish my .38 and scare my attackers away — one or more of them could easily have been armed.

As it was, I lost a coat, boots and a bit of my pride and none of that is worth even a single human life, let alone seven. And it certainly wasn’t worth my life — the risk to me would’ve increased exponentially if I had drawn a sidearm.

But when it comes to a madman clad in body armor with multiple weapons, ammo and a plan, the average John Doe good-guy-with-a-gun doesn’t stand a chance. When they tell you otherwise, that’s the lie.

I am not opposed to Americans exercising their Second Amendment right to defend themselves. Indeed, when I packed that .38 around after I was mugged, that’s pretty much what I was doing.

But I am opposed to people who delude themselves into thinking a gun can make them do the impossible. I am opposed to arming people who do not take firearms ownership deadly seriously. I am opposed to arming people who cannot demonstrate competency, maturity, stability and accountability. I am opposed to arming people who see no value in training.

I am opposed to arming people who believe fantasies. I am opposed to arming morons.

Photograph © Andrey Zvyagintsev via Unsplash

10 Replies to “The lie of the good-guy-with-a-gun”

  1. Please don’t use the terms nutcase or madman. There’s no correlation, let alone causation, between mass shootings and mental illness.
    I understand that it’s hard to look at a shooter and not think there’s something wrong with them. I’m sure there is, but it’s not mental illness.
    By continuing that narrative, you continue the stigma attached to mental illness. How is a person supposed to get help if being diagnosed with mental illness puts you on watch as a potential mass shooter?
    If you look at the records of mass shootings since 2004 (the year the assault rifle restrictions were lifted) you will see that there are 5 characteristics of most mass shooters:
    1. White
    2. Male
    3. Angry
    4. A belief that violence can solve problems
    5. Own or have access to a gun.
    Mental illness isn’t a significant factor in mass shootings.
    People listen to you and I know you realize that words matter. Please don’t use words that reference mental when discussing mass shootings. It’s both inaccurate and damaging.

    1. This is an excellent point, Lori. We have come to recognize certain terms that once enjoyed broad use are hurtful, so we stopped using them. Words invoking mental illness should be no different.
      The irony is that I wasn’t using words like nutcase and madman to denote mental illness, specifically.
      But there’s an even deeper irony that someone capable of brutally gunning down a bunch of kids is clearly not “normal,” if we can even define that. I have a theory that mental illness may be expanded in future years to include conditions of deviant malevolence resulting in homicidal rampages. Clearly, something’s wrong there.
      But, yes, I shouldn’t inappropriately condemn those suffering from mental illness by lumping them in with mass murderers. I’ll be mindful of that in future. Thank you for pointing it out, Lori.

  2. Well Matt,

    Using your logic, we need to re-evaluate every Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross recipient.
    We need to make sure they didn’t use their guns when faced with overwhelming odds.
    And today we have WWII vets visiting Normandy on the 78th anniversary of D-Day.
    The good guy/gal with a gun argument is hardly a lie.
    It’s just that some problems have no solutions and that’s just reality.

    I consider myself to be a critical thinker as well.


    1. No need to reevaluate MOH or DSC awards, Graham. Recipients of MOH or DSC decorations have military training, every one of them. I am 100 percent cool with firearms owners who have military or law enforcement tactical training.
      I keep trying to make the point that meaningful training is crucially important when someone wants to carry a concealed sidearm in public. There is a gulf of difference between a concealed-carrier with military or law enforcement training and one who has none. In a threatening situation, having the former nearby is highly desirable but I can’t say the same for the latter — I get visions of Barney Fife and Roscoe P. Coltrane. An untrained guy with a Glock does not make me feel safer.
      If I am bluntly honest, I am surprised that 2A supporters don’t agree with me. It seems like firearms owners would have the most to gain from making a firm distinction between those with training and those without. A gun is a tool designed for one purpose: to kill quickly and efficiently. I don’t believe it’s unreasonable to make sure those who wish to carry them in public are able to use them with discipline and competence.

  3. Hello Matt,
    Would you care to reevaluate your 4 part editorial about Kyle Rittenhouse?
    Because that young man was trained in all of the above, and you where extremally critical of his actions.
    Asking for a friend…

    1. Graham, my main criticism of Kyle Rittenhouse was that he simply shouldn’t have been there. More broadly, teenage boys with no tactical law enforcement training have no business inserting themselves as de facto police officers into riots or mob scenes. This is another area where Americans seem to see the gun magically bestowing special skills or talents on its bearer. Emphatically, no! Having a gun doesn’t make someone a de facto cop. In short, it’s a bad idea for amateurs to try to assume professional positions in situations where human life could be at risk. Rittenhouse himself proved this, to wit: two people would be alive today if Rittenhouse had just stayed home.
      As I stated then, I didn’t really care whether or not Rittenhouse was convicted. My point was that maybe teenage boys do not have the maturity, discipline or experience to act as armed (police) officers at racial protests or riots. I stand by this.
      As for training, Rittenhouse had some basic first aid training from working as a lifeguard at his community swimming pool and he was a member of a cadet program for wannabe firefighters. The reason he bought his AR-15 rifle was because it “looked cool,” to which he testified at trial. He lied at the protests, falsely identifying himself as a paramedic, which is a crime in most jurisdictions. It also is indicative of a teenage boy desperately trying to be a man. While his motivation may have been noble, I stand behind my assertion that teenage boys have no business arming themselves with semiautomatic weapons and acting as de facto law enforcement at race riots. Absolutely nothing good can come from this — again, Rittenhouse himself proved this by killing two unarmed people. Whether anyone likes or approves of the actions of Rittenhouse’s victims is irrelevant. We have a robust legal system to dispense justice and no court in this land would’ve sentenced either victim to death. The whole thing is just sad.
      As for training, I’m not sure what you mean when you say Rittenhouse was trained in “all of the above.” Rittenhouse was 17 years old when he inserted himself into a situation way over his head. He had not completed law enforcement training. He had no military training, not even boot camp. He had nothing beyond a little basic first aid training and maybe a firearms safety course. He was a teenage boy who had no business going to a neighboring state and, armed with a semi-automatic weapon, assuming a role that should only be performed by an adult with professional military or law enforcement training. I stand by everything I said relating to the Rittenhouse incident.
      Just this last weekend, Rittenhouse appeared on “The Charlie Kirk Show” and announced he will attend Texas A&M University. Rittenhouse made a big deal of dramatically sweeping off his baseball cap and replacing it with a Texas A&M hat. Then yesterday, after Texas A&M said, no, Rittenhouse is not enrolled and not accepted at the school, Rittenhouse admitted he was actually going to attend Blinn College, a public two-year school. Today, Blinn College said, no, Rittenhouse had not enrolled for a current or upcoming term there, either. Even if Rittenhouse one day would like to attend Texas A&M, the customary practice is to apply and be accepted before making a dramatic public announcement like he did. Kyle Rittenhouse is an immature boy, prone to hyperbole, still a teenager, too young to drink alcohol. He’s neither an Aggie nor a paramedic. And he’s definitely not qualified to bring semi-automatic weapons into public demonstrations that are way over his head.
      I am not anti-gun, Graham. But the Second Amendment is not a free-for-all where anyone can do whatever they want with any firearm(s) of their choice. We have to have some common-sense limits.
      We also need to be honest about our risks and chances if we intend to attempt to perform public, armed intervention when needed. To me, this should be automatic — a part of basic gun safety training. Do we stand a chance of preventing a mugging or robbery? Yes, maybe. Do we stand a chance of taking out a mass shooter who’s heavily armed and clad in body armor? No, almost certainly not.

  4. LOL -I figured that the Rittenhouse question would provoke a rant.

    I never said, nor insinuated that you were “Anti-Gun”.
    You and I are allies when it comes to our 2nd Amendment rights.
    But to label “good guys /gals – with a gun” as a lie? We’ll have to part ways there.
    Right now in DC they are planning on sweeping regulation that will restrict LEGAL gun ownership.
    Your input and mine will not be requested or even considered on the matter.
    Just like they did the last time, the time before and the time before that. It will change NOTHING.
    Criminals will get any gun they want and due to “prison reform” and “defund the police” they are embolden.
    But what they will never do in DC is reflect on their own failings to make these schools “safer”.
    Because that’s all they can do is strive to make them safer, except the teachers unions want no part of it.

    Regan said it best in his “Time for Choosing” speech. “The more the plans fail the more the planners plan.”

    1. The problem with textual communication is a lack of physical nuance. No body language means no one can tell if we are writing with a wry smile, or writing with a tongue firmly in cheek, or writing with a raised eyebrow, or writing with rolling eyes, or, yes, even ranting. 🙂
      This one was less a rant than a lecture but, when you’re as wordy and lecture-y as I tend to be, everything looks like a rant. Plus, I’ve learned when I try to cover all my bases, I just sound like I’m lecturing anyway so I’ve given up that anyone will ever think I’m doing anything but — wait for it! — ranting or lecturing.
      One area, however, where I did find a little success was with insults.
      I tend toward a pedantic condescension if left to my own devices. If you couple that with my concern that we’re losing the art of the insult, then add my love of insulting people in general, I can come across as a real a-hole. (Please note: the art of the insult refers to the Algonquin-Churchillian-sharp-witted-style insult, not the lowly name-calling that’s all the rage these days. I mean, if you’re gonna insult someone, do it right! Anyone can call names.) But I decided if I was going to do this commentary thing seriously, I’d better tone down the insults.
      While part of me misses insulting people, it’s made me a better writer to drop it and, surprisingly, it’s made me a better thinker. I didn’t see that one coming! Dropping the insulting language really made me better able to center myself and see other people’s perspectives.
      Blah, blah, blah.
      Anyway, back to guns. Nothing they seriously propose in Congress ever changes anything. In fact, too many people are making too much money off of things as they are — this holds true with dang near everything, not just guns. The status quo earns too much money for people connected with power so I have little hope much will change any time soon.
      I will point out that most of the recent mass shooters met the textbook definition of “good-guy-with-a-gun” right up until they mowed down a bunch of [little kids / elderly Black people / worshippers / shoppers / concertgoers /pick anyone]. In other words, most recent mass shooters acquired their firearms legally and 2A supporters would’ve been up in arms if anyone had tried to take their guns from them. Then they went out and shot dead a lot of [little kids / elderly Black people / worshippers / shoppers / concertgoers /pick anyone].
      The lie is the confidence many 2A supporters promote when they say with much certainty that a good-guy-with-a-gun could’ve dropped a heavily armed mass shooter with a manifesto, a plan, plenty of ammo, body armor and nothing to lose. The odds overwhelmingly favor the bad guy in this scenario. In situations like muggings or robberies, sure, a good-guy-with-a-gun might put an end to things. No lie there.
      Ultimately, it’s very much a moral issue but we both know we can’t legislate morality. That leaves us with guns to legislate. It’s a losing proposition.

  5. You’re absolutely right. In the case of Uvalde, 19 “good guys” with guns ended up doing not very much. The “good-guy” people must imagine a scene from the 50s or 60s, where a “bad guy” with a pistol is threatening some individual and there’s a clear shot. Today’s gun rampager has an automatic weapon, body armor, doesn’t need to re-load for a very long time, and, most of all, has the element of surprise. No “good-guy-with-a-gun” has that.

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