Wayne LaPierre: The NRA’s Cost for Good Guys Shooting Bad Guys
January 10, 2016
Over the last 15 years or so there are at least 12 to 15 incidents in which armed citizens were able to stop gunmen and save innocent lives. Over the same period, however, incidents in which innocent people are the victims of guns are not reported in the media favored by gun owners. For example, in 2015 265 people were accidentally shot by kids who improperly accessed guns. Eighty-three people died as a result of improper access, usually occurring when a child accessed an unsecured gun. In another incident a mother mistaking her daughter, who was home for the holidays, shot and killed her as an intruder. And, an armed the woman at Home Depot saw a shoplifter running from a security guard,
pulled her gun and tried to inflict a death sentence on that shoplifter. Fortunately, her aim was not as steady as her intent.
A study by the Vigilance Policy Center found that in the US between 2007 through 2011, excluding suicides and accidental deaths, for every justifiable homicide involving a gun there were 44 criminal homicides. In addition, an FBI study between 2000 through 2012 found that there was an average of 10,400 gun homicides per year. Of these homicides about one-fifth or 2200 involve domestic violence, rather than stranger perpetrated crime. About another three-fifths or 6100 homicides involve people
who knew each other and were a part of the same social network.
Apart from the hard-core militia-minded gun owners who expect to use their guns against the government, most people who own guns believe gun ownership has some value that outweighs any associated costs. These costs include accidents or thefts or misappropriations of their guns that lead to unanticipated negative consequences. On the other hand, the value of owning a gun that is most often cited by gun owners is protection from criminals and terrorists who might otherwise pray on them. The cognitive dissonance created by the costs on the one hand and the value of gun ownership on the other hand could be resolved by owners changing their beliefs about gun ownership. For example, gun owners might stop owning guns or obtain more information about the costs and values of ownership in hopes of reducing the effects of the dissonance.
Unfortunately, objective and systematically gathered information on gun violence that could illuminate the costs and values of gun ownership, is lacking. Until 1993, gun violence data was collected either directly by or through the sponsorship of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). A study funded by CDC was attacked by the National Rifle Association for advocating gun-control. Because of their opposition CDC stopped funding gun violence research, even though President Barack Obama issued an executive order calling for such research in 2012. Other government agencies, such as the national Institute on alcohol abuse and alcoholism, have also been reluctant to either conduct or sponsor gun violence research.
In the absence of objective and systematic information on gun violence, gun owners have relied on information about gun violence that has enabled confirmation bias or, more colloquially, information cherry picking. Confirmation bias refers to the tendency to selectively search for and consider information that confirm one’s belief. Gun owners who are impaired by confirmation bias are able to recall the information supporting their beliefs better than information countering their beliefs. Additionally, confirmation biased gun owners are more likely to erroneously predict consequences that are consistent with their beliefs gun owners who are not biased.
One way in which cherry picked information is more likely to afflict gun owners is through the repeated use in gun magazines and online forums of the same examples that show the life-saving value of gun ownership. In one oft repeated example, a gunman shot and killed two people in a recreational vehicle park and then turned his gun on the first police officer to arrive on the scene, wounding the officer. A good guy grabbed his own handgun and began firing at the suspect along with the police officer, killing the gunman. While some reports of this incident end at this point, the rest of the story is that other policeman arriving on the scene threw the good Samaritan into hand cuffs until the wounded police officer was able to vouch for him. One must wonder what would have happened to the good Samaritan if the arriving police officers had not shown some restraint or if the first officer had died from his wounds.
NRA President Wayne LaPierre’s dictum that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a bad guy with a gun is an inherently flawed approach to reducing gun violence. Armed “good guys with guns” present a problem for police who arrive on the scene of a crime. The police have no way of knowing who is a good guy and who is the lawbreaker. One veteran who had a concealed weapon but chose not to use it at Umpqua Community College explicitly said his decision was based on the possibility of police shooting him when they arrived on the scene. Advocates of armed citizens intervening and shooting incidents consistently fail to consider the possibility that police will mistakenly shoot these good guys.
Good guys with guns are not a reasonable or effective method of reducing gun violence. First, police responding to a shooting incident cannot tell the good guys from the bad guys. Good guys start waving their guns around and shooting it is almost a certainty that some of these good guys will be killed by the police. Second, good guys only have the opportunity of intervening in one-fifth of the homicide involving other crimes. Unless good guys are going to be involved in domestic incidents or family or friendship viewed they will not have the opportunity of using their concealed carry weapons to do good deeds. A more reliable method of reducing gun violence is to provide objective and systematically collected information about the patterns and consequences of gun violence.