Gun-rights advocates know that the only reliable way to stop an active attack is with effective return fire. We know that some level of resistance — even marginal resistance — can slow or stop an attack, pin an assailant or buy time for others to escape or for law enforcement to intervene. We know this because it has happened.
The U.S. government knows this to be true too. The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States, published by the Secret Service and Department of Education in 2004, states that, “Despite prompt law enforcement responses, most shooting incidents were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention.” There it is.
The “good guy with a gun” statement was famously part of the NRA’s effective response to the gun-control blitz in the wake of the Sandy Hook mass murder. Gun-control advocates have sneered and scoffed at it ever since. Is a “good guy with a gun” effective counter-strategy to a mass murder? How about is it a useful talking point in the gun debate? The answer to both is an unequivocal “yes.” So how do you explain that to others, especially the gun-control crowd?
An Undeniable Fact
It is important to support and illustrate this slogan to help people understand it. In an attack, time is critical, and rapid armed intervention is a vital element of saving lives. That armed intervention could be a uniformed, sworn law enforcement officer, a private armed security guard or an armed citizen. And we don’t care which form it takes.
The trouble with law enforcement and private security is that they are not always immediately present. The time it takes for them to arrive may be more than we have to save our lives or the lives of others. As an armed citizen, I want a choice and a chance to intervene when professional help is unavailable.
The time it takes for [law enforcement] to arrive may be more than we have to save our lives or the lives of others.
Despite an array of restrictions on concealed carry throughout the U.S. and absurd “gun-free zone” signs in both public and private spaces, lawful gun carriers have successfully intervened in several mass violence attacks. In 2019, 71-year-old Jack Wilson dispatched a gunman in Texas, immediately ending a church attack in progress. In 2007, Jeanne Assam shot an attacker at the New Life Church in Colorado. Mark Vaughan shot and wounded a murderer who was in the process of beheading a coworker in Oklahoma. These are just a few examples. We in the gun-rights community believe there could be more if not for overly restrictive “gun-free” zoning, which hasn’t stopped many attackers.
A Tool, Not A Talisman
We can acknowledge that armed citizens are not a cure-all to criminal violence without losing the intellectual high ground. There are some scenarios where a concealed carrier cannot effectively intervene.
For example, if professional responders are already engaging the assailant, there is no need to interfere. He or she could cause more harm than good or be mistaken for the attacker by responding law enforcement officers. It also might not be practical for the good guy to intervene because he or she doesn’t have the opportunity to fight based on distance, geometry or number of assailants. This may lead the armed citizen to make a very reasonable decision to shelter in place with his or her children rather than engage the assailant.
These are not concessions but rather stipulations that we advocates intuitively understand because we know violent encounters better than the gun-control crowd.
There are too many variables in a violent encounter, particularly a mass violence attack, to try to make some sort of guarantee that a good guy with a gun will always save the day. But that is not the test. A gun is not a talisman. A firearm is one tool in the defensive kit that a prepared citizen can use. It offers a choice and a chance. What we can guarantee is that rendering law-abiding citizens defenseless will never make criminals harmless.
A firearm is one tool in the defensive kit that a prepared citizen can use. It offers a choice and a chance.
Emphasize that you’ve thought seriously about mass murders as a problem and that you want to be part of the solution. Sympathize with an anti-gunner’s frustration, but channel his or her emotions by grounding the discussion in reality.
Ask, “Given that guns aren’t going away anytime soon and that bad people get them and perpetrate horrible shootings even in countries with more gun control than is constitutional in the U.S., what would you do today to stop a shooting from happening at a school in America?”
You then have an opportunity to walk him or her through what we already know. Even if you can’t convince him or her to join a pro-2A group, you can guide the discussion by challenging the individual to learn real, practical first-aid skills so that he or she can be part of the solution rather than another person waiting for help.
Understanding the “good guy with a gun” argument can help you frame the policy discussion on mass murder. This argument can also help you respond when you’re asked, “What’s your solution?” Reasonable minds differ about arming teachers, but we know that someone needs to be trained, equipped and, perhaps most importantly, present to intervene when a murderer attacks a school. That gun-free zone sign is even less effective than thoughts and prayers from the politicians.
 Bryan Vossekuil, Robert A. Fein, Marisa Reddy, Randy Borum, William Modzeleski. The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States (Washington, D.C.: United States Secret Service and United States Department of Education, 2004), https://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/safety/preventingattacksreport.pdf.
Doyle is a concerned citizen and gun rights advocate. His opinions are his alone and do not reflect the official policy or position of his or any other agency. References and links to other gun advocacy sites do not imply endorsement of those organizations. He can be reached by email at [email protected].