From white-hatted cowboys in Westerns to fictional private detectives smoking cigarettes, gun-packing heroes have been celebrated in American popular culture as the ultimate weapon in the central battle between good and evil. In real life, the idea has been promoted as an answer to mass shootings: In 2012, after 20 children and six adults were shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre voiced the solution.
“The only thing that stops bad guys with guns is good guys with guns,” LaPierre said at the time. After the Uvalde, Texas massacre, in which a gunman killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers, calls came from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and other Republicans to arm teachers — an idea vehemently rejected by teachers’ unions — and add more. armed security in schools.
“We know from past experience that the most effective tool for keeping children safe is armed law enforcement on campus,” said Ted Cruz, a junior Texas senator from the Republican Party. Paxton, in an interview on Newsmax, said that because “first responders don’t usually get there in time to prevent a shooting … I think you should do more at school, because it usually involves a very short period of time. time, and you have to have people trained on campus to react.”
For those legislators, more guns are needed in America, where the number of firearms now beyond the number of people living in the United States. Just leave it to the right people – the “good” people – and the bad shooters will be stopped, they say.
It didn’t work in Texas, where armed law enforcement personnel on the scene after the shooter first shot his grandmother were unable to prevent the bloodshed. The school also has a school resources officer, although authorities said Thursday that the officer was not on site at the time (having previously said the officer was). Texas authorities this week filed allegations that people trained to respond to such incidents did not move fast enough, possibly resulting in fatalities.
It didn’t work on May 16 in Buffalo, where an off-duty armed security guard and former police officer were unable to stop a shooter on a racist rampage. The security guard, along with nine Black supermarket shoppers, were killed.
It’s also not a common outcome in previous active shooter episodes, according to the FBI. From 2000-2019, 119 of the 345 active shooters committed suicide, the bureau said in a statement long trend report. Another 119 were arrested by the police, 67 were killed by the police, and five are fugitives. In just four cases residents killed the shooters – and in none of those four cases occurred in an educational setting.
Photo: Grief over Texas School Shooting
That two years ago shows a sharp increase in active shooter incidents but a similar trend in the role of armed “good guys” citizens. Of the 103 shooters, 54 were arrested, 18 killed by law enforcement, 18 committed suicide and six killed by civilians, the FBI reported.
“Unless you’re going to put a SWAT team in every school, 24/7, what exactly are you proposing?” said Mike Lawlor, a University of New Haven criminal justice professor who previously served as undersecretary for Connecticut criminal justice policy. Even with trained law enforcement on the scene, “They were overpowered by a child wearing body armor and possessing an AR-15 assault weapon,” notes Lawlor, who as a state legislator wrote the state’s “red flag” gun laws that allow firearms to be rejected to people who are considered a danger to themselves or others.
When law enforcement immediately responded, the shooter managed to kill multiple people before being stopped. In August 2019, a gunman opened fire in downtown Dayton, Ohio, and police “neutralized” him 30 seconds after he opened fire, authorities said at the time. But because the shooter was armed with a high-capacity magazine, he was able to fire dozens of shots quickly, killing nine people and wounding 27.
The FBI report did not detail the shooting of the civilian who tried to save others but was mistaken for the real shooter. But there have been incidents when “good guys” died trying to defend themselves or others from active shooters. In Alabama in 2018, Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. – hailed as a hero by those who said he pulled out his gun to protect them after gunfire rang out in a shopping center – he himself was shot dead by police who believe Bradford was the culprit.
The romantic notion of a “good guy” avenger has its roots in pulp fiction and American crime fiction, says Georgetown University professor Susanna Lee, the book’s author. “Fiction Boiling Crime and Declining Moral Authority.” Characters like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe – always shooting the bad guys and never going missing – feed the myth that they are invulnerable and true to carrying guns, he said.
“This is something specific to American fiction, the romantic notion of a man who is alone and armed,” Lee said. “And that’s especially America on the second tier – that Americans are uniquely willing to not only want to but also want to mix fiction and reality.
“The fiction is that owning a gun is an extension of power, self-confidence, and self-possession. But gun ownership and gun use are actually about men who feel fearful, incapable, and vindictive,” Lee added.
“Unless you’re going to put a SWAT team in every school, 24/7, what exactly are you proposing?”
Arming teachers or other civilians may or may not stop more tragedies, said Pete Blair, executive director of the Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University.
“From a theoretical point of view, it could deter an attacker, knowing there might be someone there armed and maybe fighting back,” Blair said. But such people need to be properly trained for the task, he stressed.
“They need to be aware of how to behave, so they don’t stand there with a gun in their hand” and confuse police responding to the scene, and they “have to obey all officers’ orders,” Blair said.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed legislation in 2019 to allow more teachers to own guns in schools. The action was in response to the 2018 mass shooting at a school in New Mexico. At least 28 states allow staff or teachers to carry weapons on campus under certain circumstances, according to a report by Rand Corporation.
But “good guys” teachers with guns are opposed by the National Education Association and many educators themselves.
Aaron Phillips, a first-grade teacher in Amarillo, Texas, called the idea of arming teachers “ridiculous” and more traumatic.
“Every day, I have a responsibility to help children learn – and learn through the traumas and crises they experience in their daily lives. I should be lifting them up,” says Phillips.
“If something really terrible happened I would have to pick up a gun and take a life – a life that would probably be another child? It’s crazy to think that was any solution,” Phillips said.
“Our job is quite heavy,” he added. “We don’t need to teach like we’re in a war zone.”
For students and parents in Uvalde, the war zone has claimed their school.