The ‘good guy with a gun’ narrative doesn’t prevent violence

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After the most recent shooting at Oxford High School, I looked at numerous anecdotes and research which highlights the pitfalls of the “good guy with a gun” narrative.

Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana and Justin Shilling: these are the names of the four students killed in the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School.

Gun control faded from my mind in 2021, as COVID-19 forced education into online classes and school shootings faded from the news. Now that students across the nation are returning to “normal” in-person classes, these violent crimes have followed close behind.

After every mass shooting and school shooting – after innocent people die – the debate over gun control comes back to life.

I could go on and on about keeping guns stored safely at home, making background checks universal and banning semi-automatic or fully automatic weaponry. However, I feel like I’d only be preaching to the choir.

Instead, I decided to deconstruct an anti-gun control talking point: the good guy with the gun.

This phrase became prominent among pro-gun activists after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. After the tragic event, the National Rifle Association’s Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre stated, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Despite having countless statistics in favor of background checks or banning semi-automatic weaponry, I’ve always struggled with this phrase. How do you argue with a point that, at face value, seems so theoretical? A “good guy with a gun” could have stopped the shooting – if only they were allowed to bring their gun.

I’ve dug up numerous anecdotes and research which highlights the pitfalls of the “good guy with a gun” narrative.

On Feb. 14, 2018, 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by a school shooter. School resource officer Scot Peterson, a Broward County Deputy, was on the scene. Considering his title and resources, Peterson should’ve fit the “good guy with a gun” narrative perfectly – right?

Yet, an article by the South Florida Sun Sentinel read, “videos showed he took cover and did nothing to confront the gunman.”

In this instance, the “good guy with a gun” did not stop the bad guy.

In the same year, Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. was shot and killed by police, who were responding to a shooting at a mall in Alabama.

“Witnesses said Mr. Bradford, who was legally carrying a handgun, was directing shoppers to safety,” the New York Times wrote in an article after the shooting.

Bradford was a good guy with a gun. He was trying to help people to safety. But when authorities arrived, he was killed because of his heroism.

More recently, John Hurley was shot and killed by police after shooting a gunman who killed a police officer in Colorado on June 21. After Hurley disarmed the gunman, police arrived and mistook Hurley for the gunman.

Is this our expectation for “good guys with guns?” Someone acts heroically and puts themselves in harm’s way to save others, only to be mistaken by authorities for the shooter? Of course, this isn’t the case for every “good guy with a gun,” but it’s happened multiple times.

Let’s move away from personal anecdotes and turn our attention to the numbers.

“Good guys with guns” have stopped shootings before, according to a 2015 article in the Washington Post titled “People with concealed carry permits have committed at least 29 mass shootings since 2007.” Eugene Volokh, a professor at the UCLA School of Law, found eight shootings since 2007 that “good guys with guns” stopped.

However, the article also stated that “the Violence Policy Center has documented 29 mass shootings of three or more people since 2007 where the perpetrator was himself a concealed carry permit holder.”

I initially read about the Bradford shooting in a PBS article titled “How the ‘good guy with a gun’ became a deadly American fantasy.” I’d recommend this piece to anyone interested in examining the history and flaws of this narrative further.

This piece referenced a 2017 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research titled “RIGHT-TO-CARRY LAWS AND VIOLENT CRIME: A COMPREHENSIVE ASSESSMENT USING PANEL DATA AND A STATE-LEVEL SYNTHETIC CONTROL ANALYSIS.”

The study’s conclusion was blunt: not only would loosening gun regulations fail to stop shootings or inspire “good guys with guns,” it would do the opposite.

“There is not even the slightest hint in the data that RTC laws reduce violent crime,” the conclusion stated. “Indeed, the weight of the evidence from the panel data estimates as well as the synthetic control analysis best supports the view that the adoption of RTC laws substantially raises overall violent crime in the ten years after adoption.”

This is by no means an extensive list of the research surrounding this idea. However, I hope it’s enough to make people reconsider this common argument.

As long as these actionless political fights continue to live, innocent people will continue to die.

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Editor-in-Chief | + posts

Cas Waigand (she/her) is the editor-in-chief for the Journal. She is a major in journalism with minor in photography. Cas has covered COVID-19 and the 2020 general election, and enjoys writing, watching Netflix, crocheting and taking photos.