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.
Published: December 5, 2018

“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.

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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.

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