In what has become a headline recycled so many times it has become a cliche, a gunman walked into a church in Texas on December 29 and opened fire, killing two people. But this church massacre had a much more favorable outcome than most of the others. This time, the assailant himself was shot dead before he could kill any more people. And that’s a good thing, right? Well, it’s certainly good that he was prevented from causing further damage. But there are repercussions that are not so good.
Because what happened, quite predictably, was that the gun culture touted it as vindication of their “good guy with a gun” narrative. And the media compliantly carried the NRA’s water, pushing the story that a GoodGuyWithAGun was a hero — as opposed to, say, the story that a BadGuyWithAGun never should have had a gun in the first place. And even the common myth that most shootings take place in gun-free zones.
Another thing that got glossed over in a lot of the headline sensationalism is that the two armed members of the congregation who responded to the threat were not just armed members of the congregation. They were a security detail specifically designated to be on the lookout for such threats. (What does it say about the society we live in that armed security guards are needed for churches?) Their actions really do nothing to advance the premise that it’s a good idea for citizens in general to be armed. Still, the inevitable moral the gun culture extracted from the incident was not that it’s too easy to get guns in America — but that, on the contrary, there should be even more of them — that everyone should be armed.
The truth is that there was a great deal of luck involved in the outcome of the latest church bloodbath. It was lucky that there were armed guards on hand. They were lucky (even in consideration of their skill) that they were able to bring down the gunman so quickly and efficiently. And it was lucky that there weren’t many more armed churchgoers who opened fire willy-nilly.
The gunsters, as always, say “more guns, less crime”. But reality does not bear out this mantra. In fact, the evidence distinctly indicates just the opposite. More guns and looser gun laws correlate with higher crime. One study found that for every one percent increase in gun ownership, there was an almost identical rise in gun crime. Indeed, Texas itself is a pretty good example. It has one of the higher gun ownership rates in the nation. Texans really love their hardware. And coincidentally, the state also has a loooooong history of bloody shootouts.
Despite the wild claims of the gun culture, there are no more than about 2000 confirmed cases of apparent defensive gun use in the U.S. per year. We say “apparent”, because it turns out that on closer inspection, the majority of these “defensive” gun uses are not so defensive after all. Meanwhile, there are at least 400,000 crimes committed with a gun in the nation annually. And about 200,000 to 400,000 guns are stolen to commit more crimes with. And about 30,000 Americans are killed with a firearm. The cold arithmetic alone tells us that the idea of adding even more guns to the mix is beyond insane; and yet it’s the only “solution” that some people are even willing to consider.
When I mentioned on Twitter that it was counterproductive to put more guns into circulation, I got the predictable flak from reactionary gunsters. And their comments provided some rather disturbing insights into the gun culture mentality. For example, in response to my suggesting that readers try to imagine what would have happened if the entire congregation had been armed, someone posted this:
Well, the gunman would be *really* dead. Any other dumb questions?
And when I asked this person how many other people would also be dead, she said:
Lol. I’m a damn good shot. Please stop with the chicken little crap. No none cares anymore.
I’m not sure which is more troublesome: this individual’s arrogant presumption of her own infallibility, or her naive presumption that every other gun owner is equally a “damn good shot, Lol”. But this egocentric air of invincibility is all too common a component of the gun culture. People are being sold on the idea that a gun is a quick and sure panacea for whatever ails them — that all they have to do is metal up and they can take out the bad guys just like in the movies with no fuss or muss.
In the real world, however, things aren’t quite so pat. Most attempts at defensive gun use don’t turn out as expected. For one thing, people discover that shooting at a paper target is vastly different from shooting at a living and rapidly moving human being who is firing back. They also discover that we just don’t behave in a crisis the way we expect we would. And they discover that very often, the attacker has the element of surprise on his side. Furthermore, being armed tends to make people feel overly confident — this Twitter troll is the rule rather than the exception. And that overconfidence apparently causes them to expose themselves to unnecessary risk, and even to behave in a more aggressive manner.
You always hear a great deal of media fanfare when there is a successful attempt at defense like this one in Texas. But you seldom hear about the unsuccessful attempts, many of which result in the would-be hero getting killed. And you seldom hear that research indicates carrying a gun actually makes you far more likely to be shot.
Another gunster responded to my tweeting thus:
What’s your point? Just let the shooter kill as many as he can till law enforcement finally shows up!
For what it’s worth, I do have my ideas about ways to tackle America’s addiction to the almighty gun. I’ve even discussed some of them on this blog. But in general, I rarely bring them up; I know damn well they’ll never be implemented, and they’re usually just not germane to anything I’m writing about. They certainly weren’t relevant to my post on Twitter; consequently, I said nothing about my personal convictions or what I would like to see happen. This fellow, however, is apparently one of the psychic psychoanalysts who just know anyway; and what he “just knows” is that I have only the worst of intentions. Which is another telling thing about the gun culture — actually, two things: an eagerness to leap to conclusions with both feet and a rocket pack; and the tendency to think in the most extreme tones of black and white.
To many of these people, you’re either in favor of a citizenry armed to the teeth, or else you want everyone to be totally helpless; you’re either one of the modern militia, or you’re “anti-gun”; you either are passionate about so-called “Second Amendment Rights”, or you want a tyrannical government to round up your family and neighbors and herd them off to a gulag; you either want to be totally without “gun control” or you want guns totally outlawed; and people are neatly divided into either “good guys” or “bad guys”. (The tautology that “criminals don’t obey the law” which has become a major workhorse of a talking point for the gun culture, is neither particularly relevant nor very accurate.)
All of these character traits — egocentricity, presumption of invincibility, jumping to conclusions, thinking in black and white — are dangerous traits even singly. Taken in combination they are far more so. And when you add the element of a large number of deadly weapons, it’s a very toxic brew indeed. We’ve been seeing the evidence of that in the past few years with the extreme escalation in the number of mass shootings — which reached 394 in 2019, up from a norm of about 20 only a few years ago. Coincidentally, this dramatic rise has coincided with the election of America’s first black president — and his bigoted white nationalist successor who panders to fanatics and openly encourages violence.
So the upshot is that, while it certainly is a good thing the gunman was stopped, the way in which he was stopped — or more precisely, the fusillade of spin that has ensued in the aftermath — is likely in the long run to cost far more lives than were saved that day. None of this would be true in a sane society. But it’s all too much a reality in a society that elects a deranged, infantile game show host as president; and where the NRA is a de facto branch of the federal government, and lead is one of the basic food groups.