“More Guns” Does Not Equal “More Security”

I started writing a single BLog about Newtown and such, but it got really long. So it’s probably going to end up being two or three pieces instead.

Today, I want to talk about the idea — popular in many circles — that if only more people carried guns, there would be fewer gun deaths.

The logic goes like this: If the teachers at Newtown (for example) had been armed, one of them would have shot dead the killer1 and we would have a lot fewer (maybe no) dead kids on our hands.

I call this the “Arm Everyone” philosophy.

And believe me, I wish “Arm Everyone” would work. It has a certain frontier justice appeal to it, a romantic swagger that seems quite American. It’s a revenge scenario writ large and unmistakable: “You’re going to pull a gun on me? Well, surprise!” And boom.

It seems and feels heroic, doesn’t it? I won’t argue that.

My objections are purely pragmatic. It just won’t work, any more than strapping wings on an anvil will make it a plane.

What if you have a teacher who’s old and can’t reliably wield a weapon? Or one with poor eyesight? Or one with religious objections to taking a life? Or a muscular/skeletal ailment that makes it impossible to aim straight?

We have enough trouble hiring qualified teachers in this country. Now they have to be marksmen, too?

Hell, what if the armed teacher is out sick that day?

And consider this: On Friday, it was an elementary school. But a few days before that, it was a mall in Oregon.

So, I guess all mall employees (and shoppers?) now have to be trained in firearms, too. Meaning that the sixteen year-old kid working at the food court needs to be packing heat at all times.

Oh, but then right after Newtown, there was a shooting in a hospital in Alabama.

So… Teachers. Check.

Mall employees. Check.

Hospital employees. Check. (Let’s not discuss the irony of medical personnel being trained to kill.)

“Arm Everyone.”

But it doesn’t work.

See, here’s the thing: Rights are tricky. Rights are not commands. Rights are guaranteed to you and protected for you, but you are never required to exercise them.

You have the right to free speech, but there is nothing compelling you to speak your mind.

You have the right to remain silent when arrested, but you can always opt to testify.

You have the right to a trial by jury, but you can choose to have your case decided solely by a judge, if you like.

Similarly, you have right to bear arms, but you can’t be forced to do so.2

You can’t make owning a firearm and knowing how to use it mandatory for every citizen.

So, right there, the scheme falls apart.

“Well,” you say, “the flaw in your reasoning, Barry, is the ‘everyone’ in ‘Arm Everyone.’ Just arm a few people at each place. People who don’t have a problem being armed, people who are trained and able, etc.”

Ah. OK. How d’you think that’s gonna work out? Well, I’ll tell you.

Check out this story. I’ll wait.

Now, as you can see in that story, the NYPD (surely one of the world’s best trained police forces, if my city taxes are any indication) took down a shooter at the Empire State Building. In the process of doing so, they shot nine innocent bystanders. And then they said, “Oops. But that’s acceptable and normal.”

Fortunately, all nine lived. But trained cops, acting in concert, shot nine innocent people…and that is just the cost of doing business.

Do you really think a trained schoolteacher or mall employee will do any better?

Come on. Be honest with yourself.

Hell, a few years back, the Vice-President of the United States accidentally shot his hunting buddy. This shit happens.

20/20 ran an interesting experiment three years ago: They trained up a bunch of people in firearms — beyond the training most states require for a permit — and then put them in a surprise scenario where they were attacked by someone wielding a firearm. The results weren’t pretty. You can check them out here.

I have close friends who have served in the military, in combat, and one thing they agree on is this: People are, generally, bad shots. Even people who are trained. Shooting a moving target — especially one that is shooting back — is hard.

“More guns” makes us think of movie shoot-outs. It makes us think of ourselves as heroes: “That guy came in with a gun and I put him down like the dog he was.”

It’s not like that. I’m sorry. I truly am. I’m not saying this because I have some kind of political agenda. Believe me — I wish to the sky and above that the world worked that way, that you could put a few guns into schools in the hands of a few key people and the bad guys would reliably be blown away.

But history and sheer fact (and, if you’re willing to admit it, common sense) tell us otherwise.

Oh, and let me remind you of this: The killer’s mother was a gun enthusiast, who had many, many weapons at her disposal. And her own son killed her.

With her own gun.

If you believe “more guns” is the answer, then I’m sorry, but you’re just wrong. The facts are undeniably lined up against you.

Maybe in the past, you could say you just hadn’t thought it through to its logical conclusion.

Now that you’ve read this, you can’t say that any more.

Up Next: What the NRA Should Have Done



  1. I won’t add to his Google notoriety by using his name
  2. Obviously unless you’re a cop or in the military, etc.

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