Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Kenosha Explodes the Myth of the "Good Guy With A Gun"




I am a gun owner, and have participated in gun-related activities since I was a kid. I have taken a number of gun safety and concealed carry classes, am a life member at a local shooting range, and have worked with my father-in-law (also an attorney) on a number of gun law related cases over the years. Much of what I write in this post was discussed extensively in the concealed carry classes - so it is definitely not some sort of anti-gun propaganda. Rather, it is how responsible gun owners are taught to think. 




So, you are a “Good Guy With A Gun.” Let’s call you Mr. (or Ms, if you prefer) G. G. Wag. You have been through the classes. You know gun safety. You know better than to point a gun at anything (or anybody) you do not intend to destroy. You know to keep your finger straight and off the trigger until you are ready to pull it. You certainly wouldn’t get caught on film violating these key safety rules


No, you use your gun in a safe manner. You have a legal license to carry a concealed weapon, and often do so.


So, you are out one evening in, let’s just say a place in Wisconsin, although it could be anywhere and there seems to be a disturbance. Yeah, you heard about protests, but haven’t seen anything on this block. Someone says shots were fired, so you look around to see what you can do. After all, you are G. G. Wag, potential hero. 


Then you see him: a young white guy carrying an AR-15. OMG, it’s one of those mass shooter dudes! Here is your chance. You pull your gun, and fire a carefully placed shot. He goes down. 


But wait! He is there with some buddies dressed in black or camo. And they have guns too. They come running, having heard the shots. One of their own is down! Must be those Antifa people that the Orange Messiah keeps talking about! So Bubba squeezes off a dozen rounds with his AR. You are hit, but not fatally, and you get down. Next to you, a woman and her child are struck with rounds from Bubba, who has more enthusiasm than practice aiming. 


Suddenly, it’s on. Several other legal carriers realize these yahoos with military-style weapons are shooting into the crowd. They all draw, and exchange fire. But sometimes with each other. After all, there are a bunch of people with guns. Which are the “Good Guys”? 


The cops come running with guns drawn. 


They see...well what do they see? Multiple bodies down. And a bunch of guys with guns drawn. And they do what they can to neutralize ALL of the shooters they see. 


By the time the smoke clears, we have several dead, more wounded (including you, Mr. G.G. Wag), and nobody can figure out what happened.


And most importantly:




None of these G. G. Wags actually helped things. Rather, all of the violence was committed by these supposed good guys.  




While this scenario might resemble a certain series of murders in Kenosha, Wisconsin, it actually is drawn from a scenario that we discussed in our concealed carry class. And the lesson was that a gun is to defend yourself, not play hero. 


Now, this very well could have happened in Kenosha, and almost certainly will happen somewhere unless some changes are made. 


What did happen was this: a person in illegal possession of a military-style weapon crossed state lines, walked right by the police, got into a series of altercations with protesters, shot three (two died), and was allowed to drive back without being arrested. 


However, my scenario will probably happen because people are now on edge about idiot young men carrying weapons where they have no business doing so. 


If we lived in a functional society rather than a failed state, we could put a stop to this. Unfortunately, we live in a highly dysfunctional society, with one segment (right wing white people) eager to start a bloody war against everyone else, the cops on their side, and many local officials unwilling or unable to take common sense steps to prevent this kind of violence. 


Here is the bottom line:


In a functional society, it is easy to identify who the Good Guys With The Guns are. They are wearing a uniform and a badge.


We have two problems with this already. First, the guys with the uniform and badge are not, generally speaking, the Good Guys. At least for African Americans and other minorities (and the poor, often), they are instead a likely reason that Daddy isn’t coming home tonight. Or perhaps ever. 


This is WHY we are having the protests in the first place. Until our policing (and our prison-industrial complex) are reformed in a significant and substantial way, we will continue to have protests. 


But it goes deeper than that. Police are, it is becoming increasingly clear, deeply in bed with White Supremacist groups, including terrorist groups. Sure, not all cops. But the “bad apples” spoil the bunch - and they are not being removed as they need to be. 


I am related to a lot of cops, and I just don’t get the lack of concern on their part about maintaining public legitimacy. You can’t just increase violence against a population indefinitely. You either descend into a pure police state (and those eventually collapse under their own weight) or you end up losing the confidence of the citizens and get defunded or replaced. Truly effective law enforcement requires that element of legitimacy - and that requires working for everyone, not just wealthy white people. 


Second, we have an armed population with fantasies of vigilantism. That’s how you get underaged young men carrying illegal weapons driving across state lines to go mix it up with protesters. (I am trying to figure out the logic here. Is it really as simple as “Hey, let’s go bust some caps in some N----rs?”) I think Trevor Noah nails it here:


“Let me tell you something. Nobody drives into a city with guns because they love someone else’s business that much. That’s some bullshit. No one has ever thought, ‘Oh, it’s my solemn duty to pick up a rifle and protect that T.J. Maxx.’ They do it because they’re hoping to shoot someone. That’s the only reason people like him join these gangs in the first place. And yes, I said it, a ‘gang.’ Enough with this militia bullshit. This isn’t the Battle of Yorktown. It’s a bunch of dudes threatening people with guns.”


That this is leading to violence is completely unsurprising. People don’t bring guns to protests to be peaceable. They don’t run their trucks into protesters to be peaceable. They don’t shoot paintballs and pepper spray. They do this because they are violent and wish to commit violent acts against those they disagree with. 


(No surprise, by the way, that these are Trump supporters. He has encouraged violence since the start of his campaign in 2015.) 




Now, let’s talk about how a functional society would deal with this. And really, this is common sense. 


(1) Local officials should make clear that weapons will not be tolerated at protests. Period. Government has the right to establish “time place and manner” restrictions, and this seems to me to be a basic use of that power. No guns. No bats. No torches. No weapons. Period. There is no legitimate need to bring a weapon to a peaceful protest - on either side. 


(2) Enforce it! This is where the police have failed in their most basic job of protecting public safety. It seems as if they see themselves as in a war with half (or more) of the population, and that is a problem. If police were to confiscate weapons and arrest and prosecute those who carry them, they would both make things safer and increase their legitimacy.  


(3) Reform the police, which is why you have the protests in the first place. A significant majority of Americans believe that there is a problem with police bias and brutality. A functional democracy would listen to the people, and make changes. 


That’s how a functional society would address this. It is my hope that at least in the more progressive cities in our nation, local governments will take this step. Here in California, at least, you can’t open carry weapons around in public, and need a permit to carry a concealed weapon. That has made our protests safer for sure. 


Local governments can also use the threat of defunding the police to enact changes. Money talks. And funding cutbacks have a powerful voice. Perhaps with the threat of massive job losses, cops will agree to disarm right wing agitators - something they should have done from the start. 


On a more individual level, we need to recognize some truths about the myth of the Good Guy With A Gun. 


Even those of us who are trained and responsible with our guns are not going to be able to stop the Bad Guys With Guns. We probably won’t even be able to identify them in that split second. And neither will those who see us with our guns. This myth just serves to distract from the real issues we need to address, which include why it is absurdly easy for bad or irresponsible people to get guns in this country. (The Kenosha shooter was carrying illegally, but had he been older, he would have been legal despite clearly lacking judgment. Same goes for his parents, who have no business being permitted to own or carry weapons - they are straight up irresponsible.) 


We also need to acknowledge what is a pretty obvious truth: our guns haven’t made our society safer. They do not lower risk of injury. They do not lower crime rates. They increase the risk of accidental and intentional death. While I am not particularly anti-gun (and as I said, am a gun owner), they are far from some panacea, and our current laws do virtually nothing to keep guns out of the hands of either bad actors or irresponsible owners. Fixing our laws is beyond the scope of this post, unfortunately, but I think those of us who are responsible gun owners need to think carefully about what we can do to actually make things safer. 


(Hint: leave the gun at home rather than bring it to a protest.) 




One final unpleasant thought:


Kenosha has now given a blueprint to the next mass shooter. With schools, bars, and concerts mostly shut down or online due to Covid, people wishing to go out with a bang have limited options. How about murdering protesters? 


The plan is easy. Drive across state lines in a generic vehicle with your AR-15 and a few 50 round magazines. Walk to the protest. If you see any cops, wave at them. If they as, you are just there to protect some property. Wear a facemask to conceal your identity on camera - and also, avoid spreading Covid, right? Find a concentration of protesters - preferably people of color, so the cops won’t care if you kill them - and unload. 


Then, wave at the cops afterward, tell them you heard some shots and decided to bail before you got hurt. Drive back across state lines. Change your clothes and dispose of the others. And, well, disappear. Nobody stopped you. Nobody got your license plate. The cops assumed you were on “their side” and didn’t do anything about you. Probably nobody knew who you were, where you were from, or where you went. You might never even get caught. 


And even if you are caught or killed, you still got to carry a military-style weapon to the scene of your crime knowing the cops wouldn’t bother to stop you...


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