Guest opinion: Carrying a gun doesn’t make you part of the solution
Before I express the opinions that follow this opening paragraph, I would like readers to understand that I am not an anti-gun zealot. I am a gun owner, an avid skeet and trap shooter, and have hunted quail and pheasant much of my life. I also spent 28 years in the Army, where I learned a great deal about weapons, how to use them, the challenges of teaching others how to use them, and both the physical and psychological impact of pointing them at other people and pulling the trigger.
That said, I want to address an argument made by those pro-gun activists who assert that having more people carry weapons will better protect potential victims of mass shootings. In my opinion that assertion fails to address several critical considerations.
First is the fact that buying and carrying a weapon does not prepare anyone for the high-stress situation that is part of a confrontation with another human who has a gun and is willing to use it. If you don’t believe that, ask any military combat veteran or SWAT team member about their experiences. They will tell you that, even after weeks and months of tactical training, people experiencing real life-and-death situations for the first time frequently freeze or make bad decisions. In fact, injuring or killing an ally is so common in such situations we have a name for it — fratricide.
Second, shooting at tin cans, bottles or little pieces of paper is not tactical training. Reading a safety manual, listening to a lecture, watching a movie or spending a couple of hours on a paintball course doesn’t do it either. SWAT teams and members of military combat units practice frequently and under realistic conditions. Even longtime veterans of such organizations routinely engage in tactical training.
Third, armed “good guys” can become part of the problem even when they want to be part of the solution. Seeing one or more well-meaning citizens with a weapon can complicate things immensely for professional first responders (police, firemen, emergency medical teams) who arrive at the site of a threat or an actual mass shooting.
Ask a policeman or SWAT team member how safe you’re going to be if you are a well-meaning gun-carrying person who comes through a door or walks around a corner while they’re looking for a shooter. And, even if they don’t kill or injure you by mistake, consider how much time will be wasted while they try to make certain that you shouldn’t be shot.
If you want to strap on a gun and engage with people who are intent on killing you and others, I encourage you to volunteer for military service, a police academy, the FBI, Secret Service, etc. If you have what it takes to get through that training successfully, it is likely that you will have an opportunity to use your weapon in a high-stress situation.
On the other hand, if you are convinced that you are an exception to the three considerations described above, and you find your untrained self and your gun in the middle of a mass-shooting situation, I recommend that you draw and use the weapon only as a last resort. You may get lucky and save some lives, but keep in mind that once you have a loaded gun in your hand and have moved the safety mechanism to its off position, it is likely that someone will be seriously injured or killed. If you are not properly trained, you will need a lot of luck to avoid wounding or killing innocent people.
Indeed, when the shooting is over and you realize that you fired your weapon, you might do well to avoid looking at those who are bleeding, dying or already dead. People who have wounded or killed others with a gun will tell you what it is like when you have to live with the images and echoes that are likely to visit you in the months and years ahead. It’s called post-traumatic stress disorder for a reason.
Finally, trained or untrained, if you use your weapon on someone else, you need to be prepared for litigation. Even under the best circumstances, the legal consequences of wounding or killing others take time, the monetary cost is often significant, and your involvement is likely to become a part of police records.
John Palmer is a retired Army colonel living in No Name.
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