Ben Carson Under Fire

I cannot call what happened at UCC in Roseburg, Oregon a tragedy. Gun violence in general and mass shootings in particular have become too common place in America to call them tragedies. They are the natural consequences of allowing easy and unrestricted access to guns and ammunition. (Full disclosure: I own guns and a concealed carry permit and am a former member of the NRA.) It’s like parking your car under a tree full of starlings and calling it a tragedy that bird poop and sap ruined your paint job. Furthermore, I see nothing changing soon. If the slaughter of kindergartners and their teachers didn’t spur Americans to action, I can’t imagine what will. Perhaps when everybody in America carries a gun and we descend into the Wild West madness that exists in gun-rich Yemen or El Salvador, people will come to their senses. But I’m not holding my breath.

What I do want to do is push back against serious errors in statements made by those who want to be our leaders. First is the NRA-approved bromide that good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns. The argument that it is the gun-free zone that’s responsible for these mass shootings is ridiculous. The NRA itself operates in a gun-free zone. Politicians operate in gun-free zones. Both the Oregon and Aurora shooters wore body armor. That means only a head shot would have brought them down. A highly trained, well-practiced policeman would have a difficult time hitting a moving target of that size at any distance over ten feet. For an untrained civilian using a typical sized (meaning small and less accurate) concealed carry weapon, the shot is difficult to impossible. Exhibit A is the armed citizen who tried to stop a robbery at a Wal-Mart. He was shot and killed by the robber’s accomplice. It takes more than a good guy with a gun. It also takes training.

Don’t misunderstand me; I would rather have than not have a gun in such a situation. A lucky shot offers better survival chances than trying to outrun a bullet. But to think that allowing people to carry guns in school would have prevented this event is absurd. And it certainly doesn’t make for a reasonable public policy proposal. Maintaining a highly trained, well-armed group of security personnel on every school campus would have made the shooter’s mission more difficult and maybe saved lives. But the cost of creating such a force is enormous. And what about other public places? At what point does the cost in dollars and expanded government become too much? Do we want to look like a Third World country that has uniformed men on every street corner armed with assault rifles?

The NRA and their sycophants argue that giving every citizen the right to carry a gun everywhere would solve the cost of security forces and mass shooter problems. But that’s like saying that everyone should carry a doctor’s bag and be allowed to practice medicine on anyone who needs it. That would drive health care costs down and save lives right? Why do Dr. Ben Carson et al. understand that untrained people trying to practice medicine kill rather than save people? Guns are serious business. It takes constant training for professionals to use guns properly. And in the case of police, they still don’t get it right.

Dr. Carson said that the victims should have rushed the shooter. Easy for him to say. He’s never been under fire. Movies, television, and video games make it seem so simple. Everyone is so sure of what they would do in certain situations. As a doctor who has studied human anatomy, Carson should know better. Every situation is different, and when the bullets start flying, only people who have been trained can predict with any certainty what they will do. One man, an Afghan vet, did rush the shooter. And got shot seven times in the process. He is a hero. But he was also trained in both live fire exercises and real combat situations. Carson’s “follow me boys” fantasy is just that–a fantasy.

I have been under fire, so I think I know what I would do. But the reality is that my training was a long time ago and there is a reason police, fire, and military train so often in so many different scenarios. We fight as we have trained. So we must train as we will fight. Dr. Carson is trained in surgery, not hand-to-hand combat with an armed shooter. He knows the physiology of the flight-or-fight response. He should be ashamed of his comments. It denigrates those who were there as well as those who will be in the same situation over and over again. They will have enough problems with PTSD and survivor’s guilt without the added burden of thinking they should have done more.

As we increase the number of people who carry guns without the necessary training, we will have more and more Trayvon Martins. Every other week, there is a story about an armed citizen (always a guy) accidently shooting himself in the groin. I would be okay with the situation if the only people these Darwin Award candidates hurt are themselves. But these yahoos also shoot innocent people. You can’t operate a car or even barber shears in this country without a license. But guns, whose raison d’etre is killing, can be purchased and carried by anyone? Why is the Second Amendment sacrosanct while the First and Fourth are not? We accept limitations on religion (no Peyote or goat sacrifices), speech (no inciting riots), and freedom from search and seizure (NSA anyone?) Why is any attempt to study or control gun violence forbidden?

Obviously, I don’t have the answer to slowing down the increasing number of gun deaths in this country. What I do know is that it is bad public policy to let the NRA bully Congress into passing laws preventing research into the problem. It is bad public health policy to let the NRA prevent pediatricians from discussing gun safety with parents. And it is bad public policy to let a small industry and their mouthpiece prevent serious conversation about a serious topic. See the Koch brothers and Global Warming nondebate.

“Stuff happens” should not be an acceptable reaction to what is occurring in America, even if it does explain the Bush family’s Middle East policy. The fact that people aren’t jeering and booing these candidates off the stage for such trivial and willfully ignorant remarks is something all Americans should be ashamed of. The outrageous lie that the solution to gun violence is more guns is so egregious that even Goebbels and Stalin are laughing at us. Until we commit to serious conversations and actions, everyone should buy plenty of black clothes and keep them pressed and ready. Because this problem will be visiting a theater or school near you soon, if it hasn’t already.

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