Guns are not Magic

I do want to say a little about guns, though.  And that is this–guns are not magic.  Even if you have a gun, it’s no guarantee that you’re more likely to survive the evil intentions of a mass murderer than anyone else.  There are lots of logistical reasons for this.  You might keep your gun in your car.  You might keep your gun in your purse locked in your desk and you are at the copier when a gunman bursts in.  He might shoot you before you have a chance to pull your gun.  You might be low on ammunition or out of ammunition that day.  Your gun might jam.  In a crisis, you might be a bad shot.

But the most important thing is that, even if you are armed to the gills, the gunman has an advantage over you–and that is that he has already decided to kill people that day.  It’s one thing for us to sit here and second-guess what might have happend or what the people who were shot could have done differently (in other words, victim blame) if only they, too, had been armed or what we would have done.  But the truth is that, in a crisis situation, your instincts kick in and you are not in complete control of yourself.  Most of us do not actually know what we would do.

You might think, “If I had a gun and someone pointed a gun at me, I would pull out my gun and shoot them,” but the truth is that you cannot know that.  When you are faced with a situation like that, you may find that you have completely forgotten that you have a gun and your ass is trying to find a way to break windows and jump for your life.

And, frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that.  People who carry weapons for a living–troops and police–have to go through extensive training in order to basically reprogram themselves so that, in a crisis, instead of their first instinct being to run and hide, it’s to point and shoot.  And they have to continue that training.

Why?  Because the government knows that handing a person a gun and teaching him how to shoot it doesn’t magically transform them into someone who can, when hearing gunshots in another part of a building, instinctively walk towards the sound of gunfire, not away from it.

There’s a reason we call people who risk their lives to take down killers “heroes” and that’s because they are unusual.

It doesn’t mean that the people who couldn’t do that are somehow responsible for their fates.  Guns or not.

33 thoughts on “Guns are not Magic

  1. One of the things that I’ve learned in my profession (which doesn’t require me to carry a weapon, unless a video camera is considered a weapon) is that 1 second is a VERY LONG TIME.

    Lots of things can happen in 1 second. A trigger can be pulled in less than a second, a gun cannot be pulled, aimed and fired in the same time.

    As you rightly note, the decision is the hard part, but if it’s already been made, then instinct will likely kick in, meaning any provocative action will end in suffering at the hands of the gunman.

    In 1998 I was held at gunpoint in a convenience store robbery. I was not armed. At no point did I think that being in possession of a firearm would have benefitted me in ANY WAY. The armed man came up behind me without warning, or any idea that something was amiss in the store.

    I think there’s a misconception by people who haven’t experienced anything like this that they could somehow stop these things from happening by having a gun on their person. The truth of the matter is that you cannot react fast enough in that 1 second to effect the outcome of such an event in any positive way.

    At best, your firearm will be taken from you. At worst, you will be shot and killed.

    And for what?

    I support the 2nd Amendment, but I agree that gun ownership, in and of itself, does not mean that you will magically not suffer at the hands of a determined “someone” who also has a gun. If anything, possessing a gun increases the risk that you will be shot, either by your or someone else’s firearm.

    People need to be realistic. If carrying a firearm makes you “feel” more safe, and you’re willing to carry it responsibly, then I have no problem with it. Just know that this “feeling” of safety is precisely that, a feeling.

  2. Sure, a gun might not save me. But it someone bursts through my door – through a deadbolt – I”m fairly certain they’re not going to be bringing me cookies. I’d rather shoot first and ask questions later – rather than be raped or worse.

    And for the record, I don’t carry my gun out of the house. You’re all safe ;-)

  3. I am a second amendment girl as well. Too many people eat deer here (and that’s their primary meat) so I have no problem. I am very uneasy when folks start showing off the Glocks and such to me just because they “have them.”
    I don’t own a gun, but my dad and grandfather did as did Steph’s. We were taught that every gun was loaded, there would be major hell to pay if we even looked at them funny. Her nephews skeet shoot all the time, and have been to every juvenile gun training offered here in west Tennessee.
    But three seconds is a long time. And you are right, B., guns aren’t magic. And, if someone doesn’t know what they are doing with them, they might get hurt or hurt someone else. A kid died here last fall dicking around with his gun. Another kid (teens) was just picking the gun up and it went off. These kids were trained with guns, but an accident, which was what it was, happened nonetheless.
    No, guns are not magic.
    Stephen is right on here especially in his last sentence.

  4. I echo Coma’s comment – and should add this: I was reared in MS where everybody has a gun. I don’t ever remember not knowing about guns and what they do, as my Dad had tons of them, as he hunted. And here is the very important part of my gun education – Daddy took my brother and I at a very early age and showed us what they did. There was no curiosity. We knew that a gun would put a very large hole in something – including people. Therefore, by educating us very young the curiosity was gone. We were told to not touch them. They were also locked in a gun cabinet. But even if they weren’t – we had been instructed and that was that.

  5. growing up in NJ where gun laws (the permit carrying type) are next to impossible to obtain (when i was a firefighter i knew of police officers who couldn’t carry off duty) the gun culture just isn’t there. i never had a problem with that non-culture. coming down south and having people come into my house pulling out their guns and putting them on my coffee table or even coming to my wedding ‘strapped’ cause downtown nashville something ‘might’ happen just doesn’t jive with me.. i don’t get it.

    with that, not getting it, claimed. i just don’t see how it gives one a ‘safe’ feeling.

    when i worked in emergency services we trained ourselves on how to act in hi-stress situations. in times of fight or flight you need to move away from a reactionary self and think & i can only imagine that someone who is armed presented with a heightened situation of making a ‘bad move’ that gets them or others more hurt than what would have been the case without a gun present.

  6. True enough, however, every time the word “might” appears (eight), the opposite result is possible, but only if you are armed.

    I might have enough ammunition, I might make the shot.

    Here’s another might – the person trying to break down your door might learn you have a gun and leave. Actually, that has happened (to me).

    The bottom line is, if I have a gun, I “might” be able to defend myself. If I don’t, then I can’t. No mights about it.

  7. did i mention that i was on scene at a 2 year old who did shoot itself with grandma’s gun. thought it was something to teethe on. in the nose, out the back of the head, yet strangely & thankfully he recovered.

    no ‘mights’ about that rustmeister

  8. in times of fight or flight you need to move away from a reactionary self and think & i can only imagine that someone who is armed presented with a heightened situation of making a ‘bad move’ that gets them or others more hurt than what would have been the case without a gun present.

    I have the feeling *a lot* of people are going to have to be injured/killed over this ‘right to carry into bars’ legislation – before we as Tennesseans decide that idea was a bad move and repeal the damned thing.

  9. hey beth, the story as was investigated. grandma found the two grandchildren playing with the gun, went and hid it in her bedroom and about 15 minutes later heard a shot. we found the boy on the bed when we arrived.

    you can’t blame a kid, certainly, blame the grandmother (whom i believe was pretty much ostracized for the immediate future of the family after the incident)..

    i share that as 1. there is no threat except that you have a weapon in possession that can kill. 2. its part of my perspective, which is not the only gun incident (but the one that sticks out the most). did have a 6yr old who was in respiratory arrest from choking on a snowball once too. those things are dangerous as well.

    shit happens. arm yourself or not, its still going to happen to you. i feel its going to be worse if you get all ‘strapped.’ thanks, i’m done now

  10. Gavin, I agree it’s tragic.

    I’ll relate a similar story – a kid I grew up with was “cleaning” his gun.The gun went off, the bullet hit and killed his grandmother and she was killed instantly. Tragic. And the kid grew up to be an adult that drank himself to death before he was 30.

    But the fact remains, all the gun laws in the world will not replace common sense. The world can’t legislate people using their brains.

  11. and for the record, this whole idea to allow guns in bars — stupidest thing I’ve heard in a long time. STUPID STUPID STUPID.

  12. I grew up in the same non-gun-culture sorts of places as Gavin. I have the same not getting it response about guns making a person feel safer as he does. But more than that, I’m puzzled that people aren’t able to feel safe without a gun. I fought off a would-be rapist without one, by thinking fast and acting on what I figured out. I feel safer not depending on a gun, frankly. There are fewer things to go wrong.

  13. Even a pro gun nut like me knows that bars and guns don’t mix. Unless, of course, you are the bartender. Alcohol makes me stupid, and stupid people do stupid things.

  14. I wrote a post about guns the other day, just asking questions, and have since gotten slammed. Some thoughtful comments, but some so disturbing that I’ve actually turned off commenting on my blog (which I NEVER do) for the time being. I think some really do think of gun rights as a strictly conservative issue, and as such feel threatened by the idea that a liberal could support gun rights, since in their worldview liberals can only either be weak or terrorists.

    It’s hilarious to me to hear conservatives claiming about how liberals just want to control everything in regards to guns, when they’re the ones who want to control everyone’s morality, sexuality, education, everything. But with guns, just like everything else, I really don’t care what you do as long as it doesn’t infringe on my own rights.

  15. I don’t want to derail this conversation, because it’s interesting. But I want to be sure that we don’t forget that talking about having a gun to protect you in your own house, where you have the advantages of knowing the layout, knowing who should or shouldn’t be there and knowing that your intruder probably wants to get out of the situation alive.

    That’s a much different situation than what I’m talking about, what happened yesterday, and for which people are now arguing for more places where people can carry guns.

    I find that there’s something about THAT discussion that borders of victim blaming.

  16. I second that point, B. I’m reading this thread and thinking the same thing you are. I would feel pretty confident in defending my home without a gun. As you say, I know the layout and– assuming that the imaginary intruder doesn’t sneak in undetected, in which case a safely secured and locked gun is useless anyway– that gives me a big advantage.

    Most of these headline killing sprees are carried out in reasonably public places with no warning at all, and the killers usually do a certain amount of planning. If such a nihilistic or otherwise defective individual decides to plan such a killing spree, I sincerely doubt that he will refrain from doing so just because he knows that all his potential victims might be packing. On the contrary, such a would-be mass killer would likely adjust his approach (i.e. shooting from a distant and/or concealed location; using explosives instead of firearms, etc.).

    I don’t think the answer to this problem is more guns or even less guns (though the latter might help if it were feasible). The problem can only be approached proactively by addressing the pathology of violence and how it manifests itself in such mass killings. I daresay the 24-hour news cycle with its flashy graphics and incessant, hyper-dramatic coverage might be a factor, as might be our societal urge to solve social and political problems with violence and brutality (see ‘war’ on crime, ‘war’ on drugs, ‘war’ on brown people, etc.).

  17. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had this conversation:

    “You bought a gun, eh? Why?”
    “For self-defense.. I have a kid now, so in the case of home invasion, etc. I want to be prepared.”
    “I see.. where is it?”
    “Unloaded in my locked gun safe”
    “I see.. ah.. but .. nevermind.”

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  20. You know, blogs are not magic. There is no guarantee that having a blog will make you in anyway competent to debate a topic. You still have to do research.

    For example, what do you really know about police training? Have you researched the statistics on armed confrontation of mass murderers by armed citizens? Have you taken a self-defense course yourself?

  21. It is interesting that in those historical instances where an armed civilian had a legally carried firearm at hand when a mass murder event started, the armed civilians have been able to stop, or at least deter, the attacking madman. I can list at least half a dozen instances off the top of my head, from ASU to Tyler, TX, to Jean Assam at the church, to many more from Israel than those few cases here in the US.

    However, in only one instance of a school shooting (that I know of) has an unarmed person been able to talk a gunman out of shooting more people – and that was an extraordinary situation, and an extraordinary person, confronting a nitwit kid.

    So historically, armed interventions by legally-carrying civilians in mass shootings work to benefit society.

    What this historical record does to affect your feelings is up to you. Rationally speaking, legal armed civilians are a benefit to us all.

  22. The bottom line is, if I have a gun, I “might” be able to defend myself. If I don’t, then I can’t. No mights about it.

    This line of thought is always troublesome to me. You want your gun, fine, take your gun, I couldn’t really care less, but don’t push this idea that you’re helpless without one. Well ok, maybe YOU are helpless without a gun. But just be clear that you’re speaking for yourself and yourself alone.

  23. “Rationally speaking, legal armed civilians are a benefit to us all.”

    Except when they use their legally acquired guns to blow big-ass holes in people. Then not so much. Or, as our host says, guns are not magic.

    Rationally speaking, guns by themselves don’t confer special virtue, unfailing bravery, or anything much except the ability to blow a big hole in something or someone. A well-trained, well-conditioned, emotionally healthy civilian with sufficient firepower and opportunity might be a benefit in what is admittedly an exceptionally rare situation. (Because, let’s remember, for every loon that shoots his way through a McDonalds, there are millions of customers a year that do not. Hard to believe.)

    I’m completely fine with gun ownership and have gotten increasingly persuaded that it’s acquired the status of an evolved right in US society. From my p.o.v, however, I see a minority of super-responsible people with the training and temper to be reliable conceal carriers (usually not the ones doing all the carrying-on) and a whole hell of a lot of hot-head yahoos who would be an active menace carrying a hogleg. You can legislate the training but you can’t legislate the nerve and self-control, y’know?

  24. Personally ::prepares to duck::

    I think that arguing about who has a better right to carry a gun, whose gun is necessary and whose isn’t and whether or not that right should even exist is


    Exactly like arguing which abortions are “ok” versus which ones aren’t, who deserves an abortion and who doesn’t and whether or not the right should even exist.

    The way I see it….They both happen. You may not like it but it’s all part of sharing a planet with other human beings.

  25. Not to get too off topic, but I’ve noticed a few people have said that allowing concealed carry in bars is a terrible idea. I live in Virginia, and we have similar legislation to allow “bar carry” that just got vetoed for the 2nd or third time in a row by our Governor. I think a LOT of people have the wrong idea about what this legislation does.

    It’d probably be more accurate to say that the bill would allow concealed carry in restaurants- here in VA we don’t really have “bars”, just restaurants that serve alcohol. Some are set up to sell mostly alcohol (they have a dedicated bar etc.) but they also have to serve food. So that means that if I want to go to TGIF, Ruby Tuesdays, [insert any restaurant that serves alcohol- which is like 95% of restaurants], I have to leave my firearm in my car.

    To people that don’t carry, that doesn’t sound like a big deal. However, to abide by the current law, I have to remove my loaded handgun from my concealed holster (the safest place it could probably be), unload it, and then discretely secure it somewhere in my car. Not only is it a silly hassle, the current law requires me to unnecessarily handle a loaded firearm in public, and then leave it in my car where it could then be stolen.

    If you ask me, the current law forbidding permit holders from carrying into restaurants that happen to serve alcohol is the stupid law. There is already a law against carrying a handgun while having even one drink in VA, so banning concealed guns in restaurants is unneeded. Also, keep in mind I can carry an openly carried gun in a restaurant that serves alcohol in VA- so its not like this law is preventing “guns and alcohol” from mixing (I don’t open carry b/c it can lead to harassment from the police). Furthermore, restaurant managers that don’t want legal firearms in their establishment can still post a sign saying so (good luck keeping the illegally carried guns out with just a sign) even if the law is changed.

    If you’re still predicting gloom and doom, check out the other states that allow concealed guns in restaurants/bars: FL, PA, and WY, just to name a few. I haven’t heard of *a lot* (or really any) of people being killed/injured in bars in those states.

  26. Read the post, then all the comments. Question: Do people in Tennessee ever talk about mental health as an issue in use of firearms– as in the need for more services for a great range of citizens?

    I live in New York City, in Harlem. No one allowed to carry concealed weapons. That would really scare me if it were ALLOWED since there are plenty of illegal ones around here in the possession of unstable citizens. Most of us acknowledge that reality and wish for even more gun control.

    We also have many public programs for feeding low income families so they do not have to kill squirrels in Central Park. What we have in common with Tennessee is that both states have NOT made gay marriage legal. Old ideas die hard.

  27. Do people in Tennessee ever talk about mental health as an issue in use of firearms

    Only all the damned time.

    Guns continue to have this stigma as being a fallback position for the crazed.

  28. It’s an earned rep, unfortunately. Some people take the rhetoric of the 6-chamber equalizer all too literally.

  29. Naomi, we, in general, do a terrible job of providing any kind of health services for the people in our state, so you will be unsurprised to find that people do not get the mental health services they need, often.

    I think that another problem that we have, as a State, is that we have a culture of blustery bravado that usually leads to nothing. If you want to get on your radio show and talk about how all Liberals are traitors to the country or get on your blog and talk about how dangerous liberals are and how you’d like to see them all gone, most people in the state understand that you’re a jackass who’s just blowing off steam.

    So, there’s this kind of disconnect between words and actions that is just a generally accepted state of affairs.

    So, you end up in our current situation where a guy walks into a Unitarian church and starts shooting people and says, as plain as day, “I am doing this because I am attempting to strike a blow against liberals” and the right-wing media in this very state still doesn’t have any realization that people might act on the things they’re saying.

    David Oatney, a popular conservative blogger, just the other day was talking about how conservatives will take back this country “by any means necessary.” People in this state are dead because of that sentiment and people are still spouting it.

    I don’t know. It’s kind of flabbergasting.

    I don’t know, when there’s a culture of blustery ridiculousness, you tell the people who are just talking out of their asses from the people who are genuinely a danger to themselves or others.

    I mean, I could be a bad judge of character and I strongly dislike David Oatney, but I don’t care if he has a gun or not. I don’t actually think he’s a danger to the people he’s always ranting against. But I wish with my whole heart someone who heard Atkisson’s rants had recognized them for the truth he believed they were and prevented him from arming himself.

    People here, frankly, do need guns in order to eat. It’s a hard thing to wrap your mind around if you’re not from here, but it’s the truth. We have counties with 25% unemployement and a repressive tax structure and people are desperate. If they can’t have squirrel or deer meat, they have nothing.

    I’m not going to begrudge those folks the right to eat. And talking about taking their guns out of their hands is talking about taking food out of their mouths. That’s the kind of grinding poverty we have here.

    The other thing is, and this is hard for me as a bleeding heart liberal to talk about, in this region, efforts to disarm the populace have been about efforts to disarm Black people, to keep them from being able to protect and defend themselves.

    I feel really uneasy with how gun control is often about removing guns from the hands of black people (specifically young black men) and poor people.

    And I’m not sure that putting every stricter restrictions on law-abiding people has any effect on the non-law-abiding people. It’s impossible for me to get medical marijuana in this state, and yet, who in this state couldn’t get marijuana in about 15 minutes if he put his mind to it? Legal and illegal markets are two different markets.

  30. Although I catch heat about this from certain Gun Rights persons, I firmly believe that if a person wants to carry a gun in public, they need to have training. Maybe not to the level of a SWAT team member, but certainly something more than “the bullet comes out this end”. Education about carry & use of force laws, range time to improve accuracy, and role playing so persons who want to carry can get an idea as to what a gun can realistically do (and hopefully show hotheads and Mall Ninjas that they really have no clue what they are doing). I think the role playing is the best tool for people, so they realize that they are not quick draws and dead shots and sometimes the bad guy gets the drop on you and you can’t play hero. Knowing your limits is a good thing.

    If a gun and training were guarantees, we’d never lose a cop who was on duty.

  31. Although I catch heat about this from certain Gun Rights persons, I firmly believe that if a person wants to carry a gun in public, they need to have training (mandatory to get the permit, unless you have an order of protection, that can serve as a temporary permit until you complete training). Maybe not to the level of a SWAT team member, but certainly something more than “the bullet comes out this end”.

    Education about carry & use of force laws, range time to improve accuracy, and role playing so persons who want to carry can get an idea as to what a gun can realistically do (and hopefully show hotheads and Mall Ninjas that they really have no clue what they are doing). I think the role playing is the best tool for people, so they realize that they are not quick draws and dead shots and sometimes the bad guy gets the drop on you and you can’t play hero. Knowing your limits is a good thing.

    If a gun and training were guarantees, we’d never lose a cop who was on duty.

  32. Oh, and for those who don’t “get” why some folks are comfortable with a gun on their person, I don’t “get” why some people seem to think that if they believe that some old carpenter was the son of god, or that some guy in Arabia is the prophet, they get to go to heaven.

    As a matter of fact, I don’t “get” religion at all. But as long as someone is not using their faith to justify physical abuse, or slavery, or some other violation of basic human rights, then I don’t care if they want to believe in the touch of a noodly appendage. You may not “get” why people want to carry a gun, you may not believe that a gun would ever make a difference, but THEY DO, and as long as they are not using it to threaten, harass, or commit assault, you shouldn’t worry about it.

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