In Missouri, a Good Guy With a Gun Stepped Up — So Can You

(Mike Blake/Reuters)
You can do something about mass shootings.

Yesterday, a terrifying scene played out in a Walmart in Springfield, Mo. A man pulled up to the store, donned body armor, and armed himself with a “tactical rifle,” a handgun, and more than 100 rounds of ammunition. He walked into the store and began recording himself on his phone as he pushed a shopping cart. The moment, complete with the the video, had echoes of mass shootings from Christchurch to El Paso to Dayton.

Panicked customers fled, and the police sped toward the store, but by the time they arrived, the crisis had passed. A private citizen described as a “former firefighter” had pulled his firearm and was holding the man at gunpoint. That thing that supposedly never happens just happened again. A good guy with a gun averted a potential crisis.

We don’t yet know the intentions of that heavily armed young man, but there are other recent incidents where we do know the criminal intent — where the shooting had already started — and men with guns intervened to save lives. But we tend to forget the attacks that are frustrated or foiled, and we always seem to forget the heroes who saved lives.

For example, you may be able to instantly recall the names of at least four or five mass shooters, in spite of your best efforts to forget them. But here are two men we should remember — Bryan Whittle and Juan Carlos Nazario. They heard the “popping of gun shots” at a popular Oklahoma City restaurant, they grabbed their weapons, moved toward the danger, engaged the shooter, and killed him.

Have we already forgotten the name of Jonathan Morales, the armed citizen who (along with an unarmed man named Oscar Stewart) engaged the synagogue shooter in Poway, Calif.? I’d imagine that not even  the most dedicated gun-rights supporter can remember the non-massacre at Schlenker Automotive in Rockledge, Fla. There, the shooter killed one man and wounded another before two employees of the store — Don Smith and Nathan Taylor — returned fire, wounded the shooter, and held him at gunpoint until the police arrived.

I could go on. The FBI has recorded no fewer than 19 times in a five-year span (and that estimate may be low) — from 2014 to 2018 — when active shooters were stopped or repelled by citizens. Seven times armed citizens stopped the shooting entirely. Twice an armed citizen engaged the shooter and caused him to flee the scene. Citizens stop active shooters less often than the police do, but it’s crystal clear that armed citizens have saved lives. They’ve stopped massacres that would have further plunged American families and American communities into deep grief. They’ve stopped massacres that would have further polarized American politics.

It’s easy to feel helpless in the face of the mass-shooting contagion, especially when the disease is spreading and legislative solutions appear so elusive. For example, the RAND Corporation examined studies of the effects of 13 popular gun-control proposals — including “bans on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines” — and “found no qualifying studies showing that any of the 13 policies we investigated decreased mass shootings.”

But feeling helpless is different from being helpless. When you purchase a weapon, train yourself to use it effectively, and obtain a carry permit, you are making an important declaration — the place where you are is instantly less vulnerable. An active shooter in your presence will face resistance.

Carrying a weapon is not a casual decision. Responsible gun owners don’t just do the minimum the law requires — buy the weapon, take the concealed-carry class, and then slide the gun into their holster and forget about it. Responsible gun owners train. They go to the range. They learn how to handle their weapon with a kind of prudent confidence, recognizing both the power of the gun and their mastery of a potent tool.

No person knows — until the fateful moment comes — if you’ll respond with the bravery of Don Smith, Nathan Taylor, Jonathan Morales, Bryan Whittle, or Juan Carlos Nazario. We find (or lose) our courage at times of ultimate testing. But one thing you can do — you can prepare to be brave.

Here’s the bottom line. Regardless of your frustration at national politics and regardless of your sense of frustration at social forces that feel are out of your control, you can do something about mass shootings. You can defend yourself. You can defend the people you love. And that’s exactly what you should train yourself to do.

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