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Opinion: When a ‘Good Guy with a Gun’ Gets Shot

Two recent police shootings of ‘Good Guys with Guns’ in Alabama and Oregon are examples of the risks of friendly fire when armed citizens try to become first responders.

Opinion: When a ‘Good Guy with a Gun’ Gets Shot

When law enforcement arrives at an active crime scene, there is a good chance that the responding officers will mistake a "good guy with a gun" as a "bad guy with a gun" and shoot him. Photo: iStock

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” was what former NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said in response to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting. This was the rallying cry used by pro-gun activists to push for teachers to be allowed to carry guns in schools and the general public to carry guns on college campuses, as well as other areas in our communities.

What this quote fails to address, however, is the risk that a “good guy with a gun” takes when he uses his firearm or even just carries it in his hand during an incident. When law enforcement arrives on scene, there is a good chance that the responding officers will mistake him (or her) as the bad guy and shoot him.

Just ask the two Portland (Ore.) State University Police officers who, this June, shot and killed a man who was either carrying or reaching for a gun as he was trying to keep his friend from fighting. The victim, Jason Washington, 45, was a Navy veteran and had a valid license to carry a concealed weapon. (A grand jury cleared both PSU officers of any wrongdoing.)

And then there is the mall shooting that happened in Hoover, Ala., on Black Friday. A Hoover police officer fatally shot Emantic Bradford Jr., 21, who had a gun in his hand as he was trying to help people evacuate to safety. Bradford had a legal gun permit, had previously served in the military and had no criminal history.

Following these two tragedies, the communities of Portland and Hoover, as well as the media, have focused on the fact that Washington and Bradford were black. However, they are overlooking the much more obvious factor that led to Washington and Bradford’s deaths — both were carrying firearms. Both were good guys with guns.

Whether or not racial bias played a role in their deaths is very difficult to determine. What we do know, however, is that anyone who is holding a gun when law enforcement arrives at the scene of a crime is much more likely to be shot by responding officers than those who don’t carry firearms.

Law enforcement and various Campus Safety magazine contributors have been warning about the risks of friendly fire involving armed citizens for years. Friendly fire is just one of the many reasons why CS has — for years — been opposed  to arming teachers, non-law enforcement staff or students at schools or universities (as well as in hospitals).

To address the friendly fire risk associated with armed citizens, some have proposed issuing members of the public with concealed carry permits (CCP) arm bands that they would put on during an incident so responding police officers could identify them. This solution has two significant drawbacks, if not more:

  1. Shootings involving active shooters and other types of assailants usually happen very quickly. CCP holders probably wouldn’t have time to don their arm bands. Even if they did have time, the stress from the incident might cause them to forget this critical step.
  2. What if a bad guy with a gun gets an arm band?

The best option is for armed citizens to not produce their weapons during an incident. Of course, this defeats the supposed benefit of them carrying firearms in the first place.

The best option is for armed citizens to not produce their weapons during an incident. Of course, this defeats the supposed benefit of them carrying firearms in the first place.

The deaths of Washington and Bradford are just two examples of the risks of friendly fire and why we need strict laws prohibiting guns in places like schools, universities, hospitals and our communities in general. So why aren’t these deaths prompting us to re-evaluate our gun laws?

How many more CCP holders need to die from friendly fire before we take some action to limit the number of firearms in our society? How many more police officers must be needlessly traumatized for shooting a person with a gun who was just trying to help? How many more citizens not carrying any guns must be shot by police officers because the cops thought they were carrying weapons due to the prevalence of guns in America? How many more police officers must experience the tremendous guilt, shame, trauma and social isolation they experience when they accidentally shoot someone who wasn’t carrying a weapon?

The tragedies I just mentioned aren’t hypothetical situations. They have already happened, and some are occurring on a frequent basis.

Additionally, we need to talk about the tragedies that, as far as I know, haven’t happened yet but will:

  • The cops and members of the general public who will die because a responding officer hesitates to shoot the “bad guy with a gun” because the officer thought he might be a “good guy with a gun”
  • The additional civilians who will die in an active shooter attack because law enforcement is delayed getting to the shooter(s) because they are too busy checking to make sure the CCP holders with guns in their possession aren’t the actual bad guy(s)

These are just some of the very real problems associated with allowing citizens to carry guns. There are many, many more. It’s time for us to take a real look at gun control and adopt some reasonable limits.

About the Author

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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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27 responses to “Opinion: When a ‘Good Guy with a Gun’ Gets Shot”

  1. Robert Blevins says:

    Using this forum to promote gun control is inappropriate. US Citizens do have the court proven constitutional right to legally carry a weapon to protect their family and themselves. Perhaps a little less “shoot first” mentality would help. A properly trained CCP carrier would not “draw down” on LE, would not pose a threat, and should not get shot. Shooting first, just because a weapon is visible is NOT the answer. No more than preventing citizens the ability to protect family and self.

  2. James Bolling says:

    There was information on the incident in Hoover, AL that the man shot was “involved” in the incident. He was mistaken as the shooter, and it was first reported that way. Later investigation showed he was not the “shooter”, but was “involved”. You characterized him as if he was a good guy just trying to help, and that may be far from accurate when the full investigation is complete. He also never completed his AIT or advanced Individual training, so saying he “served” in the military is questionable because they were not sure what type of discharge he received. It may have been below honorable.

    I agree with the previous statement made by Robert Blevins. Please do not use this forum to promote a “gun control” agenda. You are questioning a constitutional right citizens have to defend themselves.

  3. Shan Burnette says:

    Thank you, I had just finished posting the same thoughts when I saw your post. Glad to see others are paying attention to the real issues that need to be addressed.

  4. James McMullin says:

    James Bolling, yes a full investigation must be completed. Yet at the same time, wasn’t it the police that rushed to judgement in their reporting to media and afterwards had to backtrack after discovering their information wasn’t accurate. From what’s being reported it’s going to take two months to a year before this investigation will be completed. I agree with you, disarming citizens shouldn’t be the jump to answer to situations like this.

  5. Rick N says:

    In these cases and many others, officers shoot someone with a gun although it was not held in a threatening manner. I realize situations are fluid and can change quickly but officers must be trained to better discern between person-with-a-gun and person-threatening-with-a-gun. Increasing the number of good-guys-with-a-gun would make officers think twice before shooting a non-threatening subject.

  6. Kirk says:

    Very disappointed that CS chose to go down the gun control avenue. In both cases, those who were shot were inappropriately and irresponsibly using their weapons. You don’t break up a fight with a gun, and you don’t pull your weapon when trying to help people evacuate. How about highlighting those issues instead of saying a total ban of guns in any public place is the answer. I always come back to the very basic premise…BAD GUYS WITH GUNS DON’T GIVE A FLIP ABOUT YOUR LAWS and would be the only ones armed in public places if you had your way…chew on that for a while. While you are, I’ll keep carrying responsibly.

  7. Terry Delmonaco says:

    The real problem is the No Gun Zones leave students and faculty sitting ducks. I have been closely involved with LE surveillance on campuses in South Florida for over 30 years. Along with Access Control and a number of other procedures the shooting at MSD could have been greatly mitigated if not prevented had trained personnel been allowed to carry in those halls. This article immediately hit me as another one sided anti 2nd Amendment article detached from reality . Campus Safety has become a forum for left leaning views.

  8. Dr. Zach Campbell says:

    My first comment was apparently not approved. Therefore, I’ll restate it:

    To the author: You yourself stated there have not been any reported incidents where an armed civilian has shot an innocent person during an incident. Why? Legally armed citizens only act if their life is in immediate danger and there is no other way to avoid or evade the confrontation. They completely understand the risks they take when they draw their firearm. Amazingly, so far they have a 100% better shots fired vs innocent people hit than all police agencies in the US. Speaks volumes. I’m not criticizing police in any way either. Engaging a threat is not something that citizens are paid to do, or even want to do. It’s simply because they truly have no other options left.

    There have been instances where those same citizens who are legally carrying a firearm have been shot. They know the risks. It’s not up to you to tell them they could be shot so they shouldn’t be allowed to protect themselves. Police response time is the issue. It absolutely can NOT be zero seconds. It’s physically impossible. That’s why people fight to legally carry firearms everywhere. Ask Parkland FL residents. Time matters.

    There have also been multiple documented reports of armed citizens stopping violent attacks and even preventing mass shootings. https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/active-shooter-incidents-us-2016-2017.pdf/view?fbclid=IwAR0YPSCvcQxBZqnswKZN4NWmjBNxmhxGBlQSIJJOpQr6B3hzCStQc3Xzuf8

    One would think that instead of creating places where a shooter could act unopposed, Campus Safety would at least consider evaluating alternatives to embracing such reckless policy decisions and more “gun free zones”.

  9. J. Curtis says:

    These are just some of the very real problems associated with allowing citizens to carry guns. There are many, many more. It’s time for us to take a real look at gun control and adopt some reasonable limits.

    This statement fails to recognize the countless people who have been saved by citizens who have stopped an active shooter. While the two deaths you have mentioned are a very real concern for us involved in campus safety/security, your final statement seems to be more politically motivated rather than safety motivated. In my trainings and discussions I tend to look at behaviors of citizens when law enforcement arrives and how to keep everyone safe in the presence, or potential presence, of responding law enforcement officers.

  10. Matt W says:

    Most of the “carry-guard” type of insurance programs strongly suggest if you’re the first armed responder, then by all means (after the threat has been controlled) either re-holster or lay down your weapon ASAP so that you’re not seen carrying when LE arrives. Hands over or on your head may also be a very smart action to take, to ID you as not-a-threat. I’m a PD Chaplain, and I ride along with a lot of our local officers whom I know do not want to have to worry about the “good guys” mistakenly becoming collateral damage. I am certain of that from first-hand experience. Police are trained to neutralize the threat, and you do not want to appear to be one.

  11. Robin,
    As a law Enforcement Officer for 45 Years and a read of campus safety. This surprised me! You sound just like all the rest of the anti gun lobby when I would think that you would keep your personal opinion out of this magazine. Shame on you! Please get the facts straight, where you start claiming just that.
    Fact, Police officers do not shoot randomly at people who are running alway. Even if you are armed they will order you to haut and then slowly out done the gun. Naturalize the threat if you will. If you run or in any way fail to do so they will consider you an active threat and do whatever it takes to stop you. If a citizen is trained properly, they will show no threat to approaching officers. Put the weapon down first and put their open hands up. They will live to tell about it. Hopefully you keep your biased thinking and opinions out of reporting and take a national Rifle Association Gun Safety class and learn the proper way to handle a gun and protect yourself.

  12. Shan Burnette says:

    Apparently the party responsible for screening the posts for this article didn’t approve of my post either. I suppose because like most everyone else I expressed that the author’s opinion seemed to have no quantifiable merit. Oh well, she doesn’t support the 2nd Amendment might as well go ahead and throw the 1st Amendment out as well.

  13. Chris B. says:

    Robin,

    Very disappointed that you used this forum which I find professionally very helpful to advocate a poorly nuanced gun control position. Both of your cited examples are poor, the AL incident in particular is still very much in question. The Oregon incident had several other factors including alcohol use by your “good guy with a gun victim”.

    Should campus security professionals train and educate their staff on the possibility of constitutionally protected armed citizens being on scene of violence? Absolutely! We should also be educating our communities as to how we will, and they should, respond to an event or issue like this. Our department has twice trained on an active threat incident that involved a legally armed citizen also on site. It is a training and education point, not yet another argument against constitutionally protected activity by law abiding citizens.

  14. Mark H. says:

    Dr. Campbell, spot on with your comments.
    I am going to treat this “blog” as just that and allow the author the latitude to express her own bias related to firearms. However, it would be to her credit to educate herself just a bit on the training concealed permit holders receive (or damn well should be educating themselves on) regarding how to respond when the police arrive. If an individual chooses to ignore the possible consequences of a “good guy with a gun” then they haven’t done the due diligence necessary to be a responsible CCW holder. If Ms. Hattersley-Grey chooses to abdicate her right to carry a weapon to protect herself or family in those excruciatingly long minutes (most active shooter events are 6 minutes) before the police arrive (and potentially stage instead of intervening) that is up to her however naïve it may be. However, don’t restrict my right to accept the responsibility and consequence that comes with carrying a firearm. I would strongly suggest you attend a quality CCW course and legal consequences of concealed carry before writing your next blog. You argument might be better served from a position of knowledge rather than emotion and what you have read in other gun control blogs.
    For now, I certainly hope the attacks on law-abiding citizens to protect themselves does not become a regular feature of CS and is relegated to the blogs and op-ed pages.

  15. Sahl Mort says:

    You ignore the tens of thousands of times each year that a good guy with a gun stops a crime and is NOT shot by police officers. Here are some examples:

    https://www.nraila.org/gun-laws/armed-citizen/?page=0&state=0&startDate=&endDate=&search=&contentBuckets=#latest-news

  16. Joe says:

    The issues brought up in this article are valid except the solution, posited by the magazine, which is to ban all civilian owned guns. I have another solution which is the one that I use which is simply not to run to the guns but to withdraw. I will only use my status as an armed citizen to protect myself, and my family. There, that solves that problem. In all public places I have the option to withdraw, unless I don’t, in which case I can choose to defend myself, and pay attention to all the rules about being armed during an active shooter situation. As a former LEO I can see both sides of this issue, but disarming myself and all other responsibly armed citizens does not seem a viable answer. Whatever the damage done by these two incidents we need to stack them up against the real possibility of an armed citizen ending a rampage which could, indeed has, resulted in a large number of deaths of adults and children.
    Another thing to consider is that “protection” industries benefit from disarming citizens. They, from lock suppliers, to armed guards, to tech companies, to law enforcement, all become more valuable commodities when they are the only game in town. Cold blooded, but true.

  17. Eric Smith says:

    I’m glad to see the comments being posted as my first reaction was that this article seemed bias. As security professionals, we need to focus on facts of a case and try to separate our political views or we do the very people we are trying to protect a disservice. As noted, many of these situations have been thwarted by armed citizens or security. Suspects are often looking for a high body count and that type of intervention does not fit with those goals. I personally would rather be armed if involved in a situation and be ready to drop my weapon and surrender as soon as the police get close then be unarmed due to worries about the police response.

  18. David Emswiler says:

    It’s apparent the writer and Campus Safety has a bias toward the 2nd Amendment. In reading the bio of the author I noticed no expertise in firearms or critical incident management. There’s no question that proper training for a CCP holder and law enforcement can greatly minimize “Good Guy” shootings, but taking the option to defend oneself away from the individual screams of socialism. Amazing that a well thought out capitalist endeavor like Campus Safety would go there.

  19. ken cooper says:

    Anecdotal incidents provided to prove a larger agenda fall flat when the audience for the article is comprised well informed professionals, concerned for the safety of their charges. Legally permitted individuals have stopped crime and criminals over 2 million times per year, usually with no shots being fired- please read Mr. Lotts peer reviewed study on this issue. It is critical that a lawful citizen realizes the many dangers of deploying a firearm outside the confines of a sanctioned range. Shooting a gun in a target rich environment under highly stressful circumstances, without a depth of tactical training may produce negative results.
    Training, education, intelligence, and most importantly, common sense can save innocent lives from the hands of homicidal maniacs.

  20. Robin,
    I just read your article on the friendly fire incidents in Alabama and Oregon. This also, is not just civilian “friendlies” being shot. When the school shooting in Alpine, Texas occurred a Border Patrol Agent and a Homeland Security Agent responded and traded gunfire because they were both in plain clothes. I understand that you are against arming school personnel and in many situations, I agree and recommend that to certain schools I consult. However, the other side of that coin is that for many schools it is a reasonable option. Such as schools in rural counties and parishes where there could be a 15 to 20 minute response time or perhaps there may only be 1 Deputy or 1 Trooper for a county that is 300 to 400 square miles. Factors such as these create a situation where arming a staff member is the best option.
    Our situation is different in that I am a Police Academy Classroom and Firearm Instructor and consult with schools and churches. It is a topic that we cover when training our own responders. We take many different measures to prevent friendly fire. Such as signs posted in the entrances to the school notifying of armed staff members. All our responders have a banner on their belt in a pouch that is bright yellow and says “Security”. Our armed responders are trained by Police Academy Classroom and Firearm Instructors, they have classroom lectures on the interaction with Law-Enforcement during a school shooting. We train on the range with our Police Resource Officer as well as other Police Officers who work the day shift at our local Police Department. We train together three times a year and have quarterly meetings with our Response Team and our Police partners. In addition to training with our local Police we have meetings with our State Police Troopers, Sheriff Deputies, and Game Wardens who patrol our area. Our main goal is to let our Law Enforcement Responders know that we have trained armed staff on our campuses. Our team member selection process includes 5 years of service within our school district, Criminal background check, FBI fingerprinting, Psychological Evaluation and Assessment, and 2 oral interviews before acceptance into the program.

  21. David S says:

    Imagine applying your anti-gun logic to 1st-aid by citizens/good Samaritans or by stander CPR by citizens/good Samaritans. How many lives have citizens/good Samaritans saved all across the country with their limited skills? Many. Yet they are hero’s, but a good guy with a gun is always demonized & there is always some excuse why it’s bad for good citizens to protect others until the police arrive. Maybe your next article could share examples of how good guys with guns save lives. I certainly can give examples of how good guys with guns have saved our citizens in my town.

  22. Bruno says:

    This article sounds like an opinion piece, which you are entitled to, but that is not what I believe the magazine’s intent is. I am a retired police commander with 13 years of swat experience. I wish your focus was in finding a solution instead of disarming law abiding citizens. Now, as a retired officer, I carry a don’t shoot me banner to help identify me. The decision to take action as a civilian comes with risks and that’s a decision you have to make when deciding to stop someone or to simply be a witness. Good guys have saved many others, which you failed to mention.

  23. Kip says:

    Your article leaves many unanswered questions. The questions start with what training did Washington and Bradford have relative to citizens carrying concealed weapons and how they respond when police arrive? The process for obtaining and carrying a concealed weapon permit should come with some knowledge of how to respond to police. Did Washington have a clear belief that his friend was in “mortal danger” to cause him to “reach for a gun” during a fight and police on the scene? That is the only reason he should have been “reaching for a gun”. That doesn’t quite make any sense at all. Why was Bradford even holding a gun when the police arrived if all he was doing was helping people to evacuate? That doesn’t make sense. If he was only helping people evacuate did he have a concern that they were in mortal danger and he needed to protect them? Were Bradford and Washington properly trained in the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How to shoot when completing their CCW training? I concur with not using your magazine as a forum for gun control. Armed citizens save many lives each year and by merely applying for, receiving and carrying a CCW permit, you are exposing yourself to possible mortal danger. This is a risk that all must accept if they are going to carry.

  24. Jose Suarez says:

    It’s been said numerous times and I agree, this forum is for Campus Safety tips, not political opinions. I am part of the new School Guardian Program (armed school security) in Florida, trained and certified by the local Sheriff’s office. We work closely with local LEO and have regular scenarios and continuing training. Well train civilian personnel, with ongoing training and re-certification, handling weapons responsibly in schools is the law in Florida. While we are still averaging 2 school related shootings per week nation-wide (https://everytownresearch.org/gunfire-in-school/), none have so far re-occurred in Florida since the inception of this program on August 2018.

  25. Rob Jennings says:

    Very disappointed in CS for this liberal leaning opinion piece. This isn’t the correct forum for that. This is a forum for educated professionals most interested in protecting those unable to protect themselves. You need to spend some time looking at the full scope of research instead of just replaying the same old tired party line on gun control. There are a lot more instances of armed civilians saving lives than losing them. A large part of both of these instances relates to training on both sides – civilian and law enforcement. It’s not about the gun, it’s about the user.

    If this is the new norm for CS articles, I will unsubscribe and spend my time on reading and research elsewhere.

  26. I agree with most of what you have said. But rather than simply not have any “good guys with guns”, a rather simple answer is to educate “good guys with guns” of the critical importance of dropping their weapon, if it is still in their hand, and raising their hands upon the arrival of law enforcement. Most active shooting situations are over by the time first uniformed responders arrive. The importance of the “good guy with a gun” is to neutralize the threat, stop the carnage; once that is done put the weapon away and wait to identify yourself; make absolutely sure that in stepping up to help you do not appear to pose/become a threat. Education, Education, Education. Add this to the CPL/CCW classes, utilize safety posters, discuss in safety and staff meetings; talk about it as openly as we do “Run Hide Fight” until it too becomes part of the training, get the word out.

  27. Randy Denney says:

    As this magazine has declined, I find the information imparted to be more and more biased. I am unsubscribing as I find the information to be tainted and opinionated, rather than informative.

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