The real world cases
Now let’s transition away from fantasy and get back to reality for a moment. There are of course brave tales of heroism of good guys with guns. Although…there is something weird about a lot of these stories.
You see the rhetoric of sheepdogs and good guys with guns is natural and essentialistic. The basic argument is that certain people in the world are naturally one sort of person or another, wolves, sheepdogs, and sheep are natural categories which all people must essentially fall into. Thus, so goes the logic, when the shooting starts the sheep will run, hide, and die. The wolf will hunt, seek, and kill. The sheepdog will heroically rise to the occasion without an ounce of fear or hesitation. The sheepdog will act like a hero because that is what he is, Grossman says as much. So then all a sheepdog really needs is his teeth, all he really needs is his weapon, because his heroic ability to kill wolves is natural.
If that doesn’t sound completely idiotic to you, then you are probably not a cop, security guard, or soldier. All of those people understand that the ability to shoot straight and kill your enemy depends on rigorous training, constant practice, and carefully focused desensitization to violence. Now that last part doesn’t mean that the kid who plays Call of Duty is a killer, after all shooting a virtual gun is rather unlike shooting a real one. What it does mean is that killing wolves is something that must be practiced and maintained, it is not some natural talent that rises up when the situation calls for it.
So let’s examine some actual case studies:
- May 3, 2015 – Culwell Event Center in Garland Texas: The story is almost legendary, and it hasn’t even been two months since it happened. Two men armed with assault rifles and wearing body armor opened fire on a security guard, who was wounded the only person wounded, and a traffic cop. The traffic cop, who has yet to be named in order to protect his identity, returned fire with his service pistol and killed both shooters in a matter of seconds. As more news was made public it became clear that the shooters were there as representatives of the militant Islamic group ISIS, which would make them bona-fide terrorists. As to why they were there and what they were targeting, you can read all about it here. If ever there was a moment where a sheepdog stood up and heroically shot the bad guys with guns, this was it.
But the problem with the story is quite simple, the sheepdog was not an ordinary citizen exercising his second amendment right to carry a licensed concealed handgun in the state of Texas. He was an armed police officer who was at the event center, along with about 40 total police officers, because they were ready. The event in question involved intentional sacrilege against Islam in the name of free speech, so the police were wary of potential trouble.
This is an example of scenario 4. The sheepdog opened fire as soon as it could, giving no warning since it was returning fire. The sheepdog was also against two wolves in body armor with much more powerful guns. The wolves in this scenario also opened fire first, and they managed to hit the other security officer, who was unarmed but survived the attack. The sheepdog was also a clearly visible target and immediately drew the attention of the wolves, and their fire. The only thing the sheepdog had going for it was its training, that it was armed, and that it was a professional. Otherwise, all things considered, the sheepdog got incredibly lucky here. Although under heavy duress this sheepdog proved that it was well-trained, highly-skilled, calm under fire, and with the help of God or some great luck, managed to win the day.
This sheepdog wasn’t born, it wasn’t natural. It was a trained professional killer who got very lucky. The combination of luck and police training undermine the political value this story would have. After all this was no ordinary sheepdog, this was a supercop.
- June 8, 2014 – Las Vegas Walmart, Las Vegas Nevada: Jerad and Amanda Miller were apparently robbing a Walmart on Sunday June 9, 2014. In reality they were white supremacists who wanted to start a revolution to overthrow the government, at least according their respective social media Joseph Robert Wilcox was an armed with a concealed carry licensed handgun, and was shopping at the Walmart when the Millers came in and started shooting. They were fresh from killing two police officers, though of course he did not know any of this. Instead he took out his gun and approached Jerad Miller, who up to that point had been the only one talking or shooting, from behind. Amanda Miller saw Wilcox approach and simply stepped up and shot him from behind. Amanda Miller went on to kill two more people that day, her husband and then finally herself.
The problem here should be obvious, this is a case of scenario 2. Wilcox was a good citizen and he was trying to follow the law. He snuck up on Jerad Miller, possibly intent on giving Miller a chance to surrender. He definitely thought of himself as a sheepdog and he was going to be the hero who stopped these wolves. Instead he ended up being their next victim.
- February 2005 – Smith County Courthouse in Tyler Texas: David Arroyo was at the courthouse in order to confront his estranged wife, Maribel Estrada. He came armed with a Mak 90, a gun very similar to an AK47. At that time, it was illegal to open carry a weapon in the state of Texas, and it was also illegal for a citizen to have a gun in the courthouse. Arroyo was also wearing body armor. Now apparently when the hearing did not go his way Arroyo shot and killed his ex-wife on the steps of the courthouse and then opened fire on some nearby police officers. The shootout lasted several minutes. During the shootout a concerned citizen named Mark Wilson, who had a concealed carry handgun on his person took aim and shot Arroyo at least twice, according to a bystander. According to the eye witness account of Rick Wilbanks, Wilson waited till Arroyo stopped to reload before shooting him in the back. Arroyo’s armor protected him and he turned and fired, killing Wilson. Arroyo was later shot and killed by police as he fled. Arroyo also wounded his adult son, and three police officers.
So this was an example of scenario 4. Wilson did not have to engage Arroyo, and had he not engaged Arroyo he would most likely still be alive, and Arroyo would still have met his fate at the hands of law enforcement officers. Still this might just be a case of bad luck, after all Wilson was apparently a firearms instructor and a skilled marksman. His target was wearing body armor and was armed with a vastly superior weapon. In any case this sheepdog did not get his wolf, and it took several sheepdogs to take the wolf down.
- November 20, 2005 – Shopping Mall Tacoma, Washington: Dominick Sergio Maldonado was armed, also with a Mak 90, and began randomly shooting at people as he walked down the mall corridor. Brendan “Dan” McKown reportedly took out his concealed carry handgun and brandished it. Some reports say that McKown confronted Maldonado and told him to drop his weapon. Maldonado responded by shooting McKown four times. Although McKown survived the shooting he suffered severe life-altering injuries to his spine. 5 other people were hit, but none as seriously as McKown and there were no fatalities.
This last case is another example of scenario 2, especially since McKown tried to threaten Maldonado and intimidate him into surrendering. McKown is clearly a good person, and he acted very much like a sheepdog should, but Maldonado didn’t act like a wolf was supposed to act. He was not intimidated, and instead simply removed the threat of McKown.
If we are doing more than simply dreaming about how heroes could have saved the day, what we are left with is some frustrating stuff. It would seem that armed citizens do rather little to prevent mass shootings. Although it would also appear that trained professionals, even when off duty, can be quite effective in stopping killers. As for sheepdogs, wolves, and sheep? It could be even easier.
Here is a great personal anecdote from a good guy with a gun, a sheepdog, who almost murdered a bunch of kids. You should read his story. I will end with his quote “Firearms are too easy to use especially when you give yourself license, when you tell yourself you’re justified you have it. It’s your right after all. You’re not like everyone else, and I’m sure that’s exactly what Curtis Reeves, a retired police officer and firearms instructor thought. He was a good guy with a gun until he wasn’t.”