I know nothing about guns.

Gun rights activists are constantly criticizing gun safety activists for not understanding the distinction between an "automatic" weapon, a "semi-automatic" weapon, a "machine gun", an "assault rifle" and so forth. I admit that I know very little about guns other than that their primary purpose...their only purpose, really...is to either kill or wound people or animals or, alternatively, to threaten to kill or wound.

Gun rights activists also constantly point out that you can kill/injure people with other items, such as knives, baseball bats, box cutters and so forth. This is true. However, unlike guns, those items actually have a useful primary purpose besides to kill or injure. If you remove baseball bats from someone's hands, they can't play baseball. If you remove knives from their hands, they can't slice bread.

If you remove a gun from their hands, the only thing they can't do is...shoot stuff.

One of the most common cases that gun rights activists always try to make whenever a mass shooting at a public place occurs is that "if only the victims had been armed, one of them would have shot the killer before he could shoot even more people!" The claim usually starts out with "If I had been there with my gun, here's what I would have done..." followed by a movie hero fantasy. This was exactly what a cousin of mine tried to claim after the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado a few years back.

In particular, I recall my cousin being upset when they learned that the Aurora movie theater was designed so that the exists were designed to push people out directly to the parking lot instead of back into the main lobby of the theater (James Holmes bought a ticket, sat down, then quietly left the theater, propped the door open behind him, went to his car parked right nearby and brought his artillary back in through the exit door).

I worked at various movie theaters for 12 years in my teens and twenties: 4 years as an usher, 8 as a manager. So while I may not know much at all about guns, but I know a lot about movie theaters. First, I patiently explained that the reason many movie theaters are designed that way is to prevent the current moviegoers (who had no intention of buying anything else after their film was over) from clogging up the lobby, crowding out those waiting for the next screening (who are shelling out money at the concession stand).

In any event, movie theaters, especially on a Saturday night in the summer, are loud, crowded, noisy, confusing places. The auditoriums are, of course, large dark rooms with blaring music and flashing video projected onto an entire 50 foot-plus screen. If it's an action/sci-fi movie, it will probably include long, loud gunfights, explosions, spaceship battles and so forth. Oh, yeah...and you have hundreds of people sitting down in chairs that are bolted to the floor, with armrests in the way. Assuming it's a stadium-style theater, there's also stairways to contend with. Now, a nightclub is slightly different--much of the space is open (the dance floor), and oftentimes the tables/chairs can be moved aside. Other than that, however, it's pretty similar: Hundreds of people gathered in close proximity in an enclosed room, in the dark, with loud music and lights blaring.

So. Some asshole wanders in, pulls out his AR-15 (or whatever) and opens fire on the crowd.

This is the point when NRA Fantasy Hero supposedly would "take out" the Bad Guy, saving dozens of other potential victims and being hero of the day. Presumably he'll receive a big gold medal for being so brave and awesome from the Mayor or whatever.

Except that the odds of this happening are virtually nil.

EVEN IF Mr./Mrs. NRA Hero really is properly trained with his/her weapon (which, as David Waldman is constantly documenting via Twitter, is almost never the case), here's what's far, far more likely to happen in a situation where an unknown number of moviegoers/club patrons are also armed:

  • First, let's assume they actually have the emotional control and presence of mind to actually pull out their own weapon (the odds of which are already slim, since most people are understandably scared shitless when confronted with a murderous asshole with an assault rifle).

For instance, here's a scene from the classic Civil War movie "Glory" which demonstrates the massive distinction between being a "good shot" or an "expert marksman" under calm, controlled circumstances...versus under high pressure with confusion and gunfire all around you. YES, I'm well aware that this scene depicts trying to reload and discharge a Civil War-era rifle, not a modern weapon with dozens of rounds, but the point remains the same: There's a hell of a difference between shooting targets at the range and trying to shoot a moving, living person in the middle of noise and chaos:

  • If so, them pulling out their own weapon is more likely to make them a target of the gunman, making it more likely that they'll be the next victim.
  • Assuming they aren't shot by the gunman right then, they're very likely to be shot by another "good guy with a gun" mistaking them for a 2nd "bad guy with a gun" (how is anyone gonna know whether they're the "good guy" or the "bad guy" once the gunfire starts?)
  • In addition, now NRA Hero sees a 2nd "bad guy with a gun" him/herself. Perhaps they'll shoot the other "good guy" thinking that they're a "bad guy".
  • Now you have 2, 3, perhaps a dozen "good guys" with guns shooting the "bad guys" with guns, while all the time the original bad guy is mowing people down left and right.
  • Perhaps none of the "good guys" with guns will actually hit any other "good guys" with guns...but where are their bullets going instead?
  • Well, those bullets which miss their target (whether the target is a "good" or "bad" one) will most likely end up in the backs, heads, stomachs, arms, legs or pelvis of one of the other hundreds of people desperately scrambling to get the hell out of the room. Or perhaps it'll go right through a table, chair or counter that they're huddling behind.
  • What if some panicky customer jostles his arm? What if he trips over a chair? What if he trips over an unseen shooting victim lying on the floor?
  • What if some unarmed patron decides to be heroic and tackles the original shooter, and NRA Hero shoots them by mistake? Or thinks NRA Hero is the Bad Guy and tackles him, causing one or both of them to be shot?

So now, in addition to one asshole murdering a couple dozen people, you have another half-dozen or so wannabe heroes accidentally shooting/killing perhaps a dozen more people. No one's gonna know who actually shot who until the police arrive and the dust settles. Of course, if you die from gunfire, it doesn't really matter to you whether you were shot by a "bad guy" or a "good guy"; you're just as dead either way.

Oh, yeah, and speaking of the police, let's suppose they show up while gunfire is still going on. How the hell are they supposed to know who's who? How do they know who's a "good guy" or a "bad guy" in the midst of the noise, confusion, smoke, screams of panic and agony, trampling crowds, blaring music and flashing lights? What if the police shoot one of the "good guys" with a gun by mistake? What if the original asshole decides to stop firing, quietly drops his weapon and pretends to be a normal movie/clubgoer, while the police shoot/arrest one of the "good guys" instead? Sure, once the dust settled the cops will certainly realize that the guy they arrested/shot didn't have the type of firepower to kill that many people...but that assumes that the heat they're packing is a simple handgun. Given how many Open Carry idiots are running around waving their own assault rifles in people's faces at Starbucks and Chipotle these days to taunt the world with how powerful their 2nd Amendment rights are, it's entirely possible that there will be several "good guys" carrying their own AR-15's in the theater/club as well.

Here's a more realistic depiction of how the "Good Guy with a Gun" scenario is likely to play out:

Anyway, I'm not trying to say I know all the answers about gun rights. 3-D printers now allow people to create their own guns, although obviously not the high-capacity assault rifles (yet), so the issue has become more complex than ever. Additional regulations may or may not be effective at reducing gun violence...but at this point, if you'll pardon the terrible pun, they certainly seems to be worth a shot.

UPDATE: Thanks to a commenter over at the Daily Kos crosspost of this for providing the link to this ABC 20/20 segment which underscores how delusional the "NRA Hero" claim really is: