The NRA's "Good Guy/Bad Guy" Argument Is Fatal Stupidity

Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile of St. Paul, cries outside the governor's residence in St. Paul, Minn.,
Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile of St. Paul, cries outside the governor's residence in St. Paul, Minn., on Thursday, July 7, 2016. Castile was shot and killed after a traffic stop by police in Falcon Heights, Wednesday night. A video shot by Reynolds of the shooting went viral. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

After the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Wayne LaPierre, NRA's Executive Vice President, told the press he believed the massacre could have been stopped if school teachers and others had been armed. "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun," LaPierre said.

Outside of the entertainment industry, who, since the age of 12, has continued to think of life in terms of "good guys" and "bad guys"? Unfortunately, a lot of people, including one of my intellectual heroes, Sam Harris. But you only have to look at the recent killings of black men by cops and cops by a black man to see the absurdity of such designations.

Philando Castile, the man whose girlfriend live streamed him dying after he was shot in his car by a cop, worked at a school cafeteria, memorized the names of all the kids and their food allergies, and was much loved. Perhaps he was such a "good guy" that he took Wayne LaPierre seriously and intended to defend his school, hence the gun. But was he a good guy? It's still not clear if he actually did have a permit to carry a gun and there was weed in the car. The man who shot him at point blank range was a cop operating under the motto of the Minnesota police force: "To protect with courage, to serve with compassion". Admirable. So will this turn out to be a "good guy" with a gun or a "bad guy" with a gun? From what we know, it seems he was, at best, a hyper-vigilant terrified guy with a gun.

Alton Sterling, the black man shot dead by cops in Baton Rouge, clearly seems more on the "bad guy" side of things. According to several sources, Sterling was a convicted sex offender (carnal knowledge of a juvenile) and had a long criminal history including aggravated battery and domestic abuse battery, and "was sentenced to five years for possessing marijuana with the intent to distribute and illegally carrying a weapon with a controlled dangerous substance." Having said all that, watching his son burst into tears as his mother spoke of his father's death showed he was loved and perhaps needed. And watching the video of him getting shot by a "good guy" looked about as close to an execution as you could get without actually standing someone against a wall and firing your gun into their head. Sterling's gun was "found in his pocket" after he was dead. Perhaps, like Philando, it will turn out he told the cops he was armed. (Relatives said he had the gun because he'd been attacked and feared it would happen again. For self-defense, in other words.)

Now we come to the shooting of police during a Black Lives Matter march in Dallas. According to Police Chief David Brown, 20 to 30 of the marchers were openly carrying AR-15 rifles over their shoulders as is allowed in Texas. (As an amusing aside of the "chickens come home to roost" variety, the Republican convention is being held in Ohio, which has open carry laws, and law enforcement and politicians are already afraid. What politician wants to walk through a crowd of protestors who hate them -- and are fully armed? From the cops' perspective, if rioting breaks out, or if just one person starts shooting, how do you know who the "bad guy" is when so many "good guys" are armed? If someone just lets off a firecracker, open carry could prove fatal for these law-abiding "good guys". Didn't anyone think of this before passing the law?)

When the shooting started in Dallas, those carrying guns wisely ran like everyone else did (so much for "good guys" with guns stopping "bad guys" with guns), but the police were not sure if they were "good guys with guns" or "bad guys with guns". It is to their great credit that they didn't just shoot them all, good or bad. And what about the "bad guy with a gun", the sniper who killed five police officers? Not so long ago, Micah Johnson was "one of our brave men and women in uniform" serving in Afghanistan. Clearly a "good guy". But then he had to leave after an incident with a "brave woman in uniform". So Johnson went home, further honed his military skills in his back yard and attended a "self-defense and personal protection" gym in the Dallas area, presumably in the company of other seemingly "good guys".

You don't have to be a genius to see that none of the people who killed or died, cops or civilians, were "good guys" or "bad guys". They were just people: complicated, stressed, mentally ill, cursed by their genes, terrified, stupid, suffering from PTSD, or who knows what else?

Who knows what else? None of us will know, or absorb and act on the facts, if we continue to revert to the language of Westerns and the schoolyard. To describe people as "good guys" or "bad guys" is to suggest that human beings are immutable, as if a "good guy" could not become "a bad guy" after the loss of a job, or a couple of drinks, or in reaction to a spouse's infidelity, or because of unpredictable mental illness, or, if he's a cop, because of years of working in an environment so infested with guns that every single person you encounter (many of whom hate you) might shoot you.

Perhaps, like Trump's simplistic categorization of people by race, this "good guy/bad guy" nonsense is a way to avoid thinking about the complexities of modern life and the changes that are actually needed to make it safe -- in other words, to protect the status quo. Of the many things that make good people do bad things, the truth is that war, poverty and religion are chief among them, and the people responsible for these maladies are generally considered "good guys".

There is really only one simple thing you can say about these three tragic incidents and that is that in all probability no one would have died if guns hadn't been involved. Lovers of the Second Amendment should go on the internet and check out how countries that strictly regulate guns have (surprise, surprise) far fewer gun deaths of all kinds, and therefore far fewer bereaved friends and relatives. And while on the internet, they might also want to take a look at the US constitution, something else that seems to have become immutably "good" despite the founders clearly articulated intention in Article V that it should be changed when needed. The truth is that the Second Amendment is not "good". It may have been once, however poorly written, but now it is not. Things change. We either change in response or stubbornly watch as more people die unnecessarily.