Gun Anecdotes and Pretzel Logic

They seem to be arriving in the Inbox more frequently these days, those reports of incidents in which a law-abiding citizen thwarts the intents of evildoers thanks to being armed. Passed on by one of the gun addicts we all know in an effort to rationalize their habit, these narratives are often accompanied by dubious statistics about how often this sort of thing occurs, and often by comments that defy all reason for anyone except a gun addict.

In the first place, many of these incidents are bogus. There is, for example, the popular story of the 11-year-old girl in Montana who fatally shoots two home invaders. For an added touch of realism, the names and ages of the offenders are also included, and their names are -whaddaya know- Hispanic. (Paranoia about THEM wanting to harm us dovetails neatly with paranoia about THEM invading our borders and taking over our country). Nonetheless, the story is a fabrication.

Occasionally, however, such a thing really does happen. Earlier this month in Philadelphia, a Temple University student named Rob Eells was accosted by three teenagers demanding money, one of whom pulled a gun and shot him. Whereupon Eels pulled out his own gun and fired back. This incident has been making the rounds along with the fake one. And both of them have prompted some very strange conclusions, like the following.

1.” This proves that we have a constitutional right to own a gun.”

Say what? It might establish the advisability of owning a gun in some circumstances, but that’s a different matter from constitutionality or legality. Reason, alas, does not always inform constitutional or legislative changes. Remember Prohibition?

2. “This proves that gun control doesn’t work.”

How so? Firearm regulation, more pejoratively known as “gun control”, is not a single measure but a wide variety of measures, some more effective than others. The fact that one teenage hoodlum was able to get his hands on a weapon hardly proves that nobody else has ever been prevented from doing so.

3. “This proves that it’s stupid to outlaw guns.”

It may make a strong case that it’s unwise to do so in some communities, but every community is different. However, the comment is mostly irrelevant. It’s not very common for a community to ban guns altogether (and it wasn’t common even before the “conservative” Supreme Court rewrote the Second Amendment). That’s not what “gun control” is all about: it’s about keeping guns away from people like the teen hoodlums rather than people like the Temple student. Many advocates of “gun control” are themselves gun owners.

4. “This proves that more people should have guns.”

Seriously? You honestly believe that the Philadelphia episode would have turned out better if all three of the teens had opened fire instead of just one?

5. “Okay, but it proves that at least more law-abiding citizen should own guns.”

Ah, the classic John Wayne wet dream. Bad guy pulls his gun, good guy pulls his gun, and bang! good guy gets the drop on him, and rides off into the sunset.  The real world, however, isn’t nearly so pat.

The day after the shootout in Philly, a man rushed into a Nevada restaurant blazing away with an AK47, killing 3 people before turning the gun on himself. Two of the dead were National Guard members – meaning that they themselves were trained in the use of weapons. They probably weren’t armed at the time, but suppose they had been. Do you really believe that they would have taken note of what was happening, and looked up from their waffles and chat in time to prevent the shooter from doing his damage? Possibly, but not bloody likely.

Still, let’s indulge the fantasy. Imagine that the gun addict’s vision of Utopia had come to pass, and EVERYONE in the IHOP was packing heat. Imagine 50 diners slapping leather and opening fire from 50 directions. Imagine a dozen or two dozen bodies on the floor instead of 4. Do you truly consider that a preferred alternative?

There is no quick and easy solution to the problem of gun violence, particularly after so many years of Americans falsely believing they have a constitutional right to be armed. Even gun addicts themselves have been known to point this out – you may have seen, for example, bumper stickers that say “Gun Control – A Simple Solution for Simple Minds”. But there is nothing simple or simpleminded about “gun control”, which does not profess to be a magic bullet, as it were. What IS simpleminded and naive is the assumption that the problem will just take care of itself if we do nothing.


  1. The NG troops were prohibited from carrying personal weapons by general order. I’m assuming their issue weapons were back on post. I’m appalled that US troops aren’t allowed to carry their weapons on or off post. The Ft Hood shooting disgusted me. Aside from the idea of a US soldier opening fire on his comrades-in-arms, the idea that they couldn’t shoot back – on a US military installation, no less – is simply dumbfounding.

    Most people who want to restrict guns tend to assume that anyone with a gun will start shooting any time there’s a a threat. Yet in the 24 years since Florida started concealed carry reform, that just hasn’t happened. Shouldn’t it have happened by now? I’m not a statistical or probability genius, but it seems like it should have, if it were going to. One incident doesn’t prove anything, but remember that a CCW permit holder arrived at the Giffords shooting just after the last round was fired….and didn’t shoot anyone. He had his weapon out, and surveyed the situation, and saw there was no need to shoot. So he didn’t.

    Given the people I’ve talked to on gun forums, I think the majority of permit holders are not going to go John Wayne in an active shooter situation. They’ll shoot if there’s a direct threat, or if they have a clear shot, like Gratia-Hupp had at the Luby’s massacre. But most are not going to do anything but cover their own butts and get out. Assuming they will all “slap leather and open fire” is insulting and short-sighted at best.

    All the Eells case proves to anyone is that violent crime can happen anywhere, and you are the only person who can protect you. The cops will never respond in time, and they don’t have a legal duty to protect you, anyway.

    • Can you personally guarantee that in a crowd of armed people who are packing heat, a bunch of them won’t “slap leather and open fire” when a crisis threatens? I certainly wouldn’t wager any money on that proposition. You seem to be acquainted with a group of gun owners who practice restraint. I’m glad they’re out there. But most of the ones I’ve talked to seemed to be just ITCHING for some opportunity to prove their prowess. In other words, many if not most gun owners are apparently the very kind of people who shouldn’t be anywhere near a loaded weapon. As long as that’s the case, we have a system that needs some attention.

  2. No, I don’t have to guarantee such a thing. No one does. It’s a risk we take, just like Americans are willing to risk that some people will drive while under the influence of alcohol.

    Before restricting my access to a self-defense tool, are you willing to personally guarantee that a police officer will always be there to protect me when I need one?

    As I pointed out, it’s been 24 years since Florida started concealed carry reform. In that time, there have been a number of mass shootings. At none of those incidents has anyone opened fire – except of course, the bad guy. I suppose to really test this out, we’d have to find out how many mass shootings have happened in places where people were still allowed to defend themselves with firearms. I’d suspect not many of them . But it should have happened by now if it was going to, shouldn’t it?

    • Unless you know beyond a doubt that gun-toters won’t open fire at random then you have no basis for saying that it’s “insulting” or “shortsighted” to assume that might happen. Far from insulting the gunners I’ve so often met, I’m acknowledging the very image they’ve worked so hard to create for themselves. There is also no reason to limit defense options to either carrying a gun or relying on police. And limiting your access to your tool isn’t really the point (assuming you’re a responsible citizen); it’s limiting access by those who show red flags.

      On a personal level I’ve never owned a gun, and I’ve fired one maybe half a dozen times in my life. But I daresay I’m extremely efficient at defending myself. I’m not invincible, but I’d hardly be more so if I were loaded down with a few pounds of metal. In fact, in my observation having to retrieve and operate a piece of machinery would drastically slow response time to a threat, wasting precious seconds when I’d be most vulnerable.

      But different strokes for different folks. It’s not a black and white world out there, as NRA-style rhetoric so often suggests.

    • Already been smoked. And used to fertilize my garden. I’ll deconstruct it in due course. More important matters to cover at the moment. Just keep your piece holstered a bit longer, podner.

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