Who Are the Good Guys with Guns?

On a Saturday afternoon last November, my wife Kim and I pulled into the parking lot of the Woodland Park Wal-Mart. Usually, she drives around looking for a parking spot that is far away and less likely to get our new car dinged. But this time, she swung quickly into an empty space. As she did so, I saw why. A young man, bearded, late twenties, and wearing a green kilt walked toward us. He had an AR-15 loaded with a banana clip, and it was slung across his chest at the ready. Kim and I ducked down in our seats. I pulled out my 9mm and chambered a round. We watched the young man walk past our car. I got out and carefully observed as he got into his vehicle. I glanced toward the entrance of the store and saw four police cars with as many policemen standing at the entrance alongside the store manager.

Later, after I had secured my weapon, we pieced together what had just transpired. The man was part of an NRA fueled group that pushes the boundaries of open carry laws. The Wal-Mart staff called the police, and they had talked the young man into leaving. To this kilt-wearing crusader and his ilk, I have this to say, “Are you out of your m****r f*****g minds? Are you some kind of a gun jihadi with a martyrdom wish?”

A little context here might help. This incident occurred just two weeks after a citizen called 911 to report a young man carrying a rifle in downtown Colorado Springs. The dispatcher told her that it was legal to walk around carrying a gun. Minutes after her report, the man began shooting at and killing bystanders on the street. To say that people in the Pikes Peak region were on edge is an understatement. I could easily have shot the young man in the Wal-Mart parking lot. And a total firestorm of controversy would have ensued. After all, he was a good guy with a gun. But so was I. Normally, a shootout between a pistol and a rifle is a mismatch. But we were close enough, and I had cars for cover. I could have taken him out easily.

I’m not the only one who could have shot him either. It is hard to go into the Woodland Park Wal-Mart without seeing someone with a holstered pistol. There are even more guns that you don’t see. But fortunately for this young man, I am a veteran who has been in combat situations. My training is to duck, cover, and retreat since I was not in the infantry. And that training coincides with what law enforcement recommends in active shooter situations. In other words, that young man survived because I have no desire to be a hero. But there are a lot of George Zimmermans in the world who desperately want to be a hero. And some of them might have been in the store.

I don’t understand this desire to strut around with a gun. Okay, I lie. Carrying a gun while hunting in my youth gave me a feeling of power. But now guns scare me. That might seem weird for someone who owns, shoots, and sometimes carries a gun. But I’ve seen up close and personal what guns can do. And I’ve been through rehab alongside those who have survived bullets that ripped through their flesh and bones. I have known a lot of veterans, ranging from WWII through Afghanistan. I can usually tell the ones who have seen real combat. They tend to not talk casually about guns, their use, or their own experiences with shooting at people. Exhibit A is that I have also known several snipers. One has been a friend for years and not once have any of these professional killers talked to me about their experiences. They do not brag, they do not reminisce, and they do not take the act of killing lightly.

These men are the very definition of good guys with guns. But they do not strut, nor do they fantasize about killing bad guys. They will shoot if forced to, but they prefer to never have to draw a bead on another human being again. What people who mindlessly repeat the NRA trope “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” fail to realize is that good intentions are worthless in violent situations. The first human reaction when confronted with violence is to either freeze or run. Or start shooting without knowing who is the bad guy. It takes constant practice and training to overcome basic biological instincts and use a gun properly in real life.

Last year, a bunch of “good guys” took it upon themselves to patrol and protect recruiting offices after the attack on a recruiting station. Two of these individuals managed to shoot themselves, further scaring a nervous populace. The military thanked the vigilantes and then asked them to leave. Guns give many people a false sense of power and invincibility. It is false because most of the people who are properly trained in carrying and using weapons, i.e., police and military, feel the burden of carrying a gun rather than a sense of power. Maybe guns don’t kill people, but the bullets they fire do. Guns were invented for killing, and that is still their primary use. It is disingenuous to say otherwise. Highly trained professionals understand this principle.

The idea that more guns in the hands of untrained citizens will make us safer is absurd and demonstrably wrong. Places that have more guns experience more shootings. Places with fewer guns have fewer shootings. Duh! We cannot keep guns out of the hands of ”bad guys” by making guns easier to obtain. While I hold my Second Amendment rights dear, they do not allow me to scare the crap out of other people by waving an AR-15 around in a public place. Other people have rights, too. And one of them is not having to try to figure out if every person they see with a gun is a “good guy” or a “bad guy.”

Of course, we could always go back to old school Hollywood and make good guys wear white hats and bad guys wear black hats. Yeah, that’s it. That’ll work just fine. Problem solved.