All across America you see this: ordinary citizens with guns -- good guys -- regularly fighting off bad guys with guns, in ways that are truly impressive. These are rousing stories. Fiction is like that.
Meanwhile, let me tell you a true story. About a good guy with a gun. A guy who was more than simply good in the sense of morally admirable: he was good with a gun. He'd fought in the Gulf War. He knew what he was doing -- he had been tested in battle, and was demonstrably courageous.
You won't find a more useful best-case scenario to demonstrate the efficacy of civilian weaponry.
District Attorney Mike McLelland from Kaufman County, Texas -- unlike most Americans -- had an impeccable reason for carrying a sidearm. His deputy had been shot two months before, and it made sense for McLelland to assume that he was very much a target himself. This was hardly paranoia. I expect that most people, on either side of the gun debate, would respect his decision to arm himself.
McLelland -- unlike, say, Ted Nugent -- was no chicken hawk. He was the opposite of a draft dodger -- he had enlisted. More than that: he had voluntarily put in 23 years in the service of his country. He refused to be intimidated, vowing "to put away the 'scum' who killed his deputy." And he issued a powerful public statement:
I hope that the people that did this are watching, because we're very confident that we're going to find you.... We're going to pull you out of whatever hole you're in, we're going to bring you back and let the people of Kaufman County prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.
This wasn't empty posturing. Most civilians who boast about their tactical prowess are macho blowhards, but McLelland was not the product of a brief NRA training course. We're talking about "a big bear of a guy" who had seen active combat.
When he discussed the threat that he faced, McLelland could legitimately say, "I'm ahead of everybody else because, basically, I'm a soldier." He did what you'd expect a trained soldier to do: after his deputy was assassinated, "he carried a gun everywhere he went and took extra care when answering the door at his home."
Last Saturday, in that very same home, this courageous man -- along with his wife -- were found shot to death.
After the slaughter of twenty children in Newtown, Wayne LaPierre, the vice president of the NRA, infamously reiterated this talking point: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." This is, in a nutshell, the NRA's argument for arming kindergarten teachers.
Well, America doesn't offer us that many examples of a man with a gun who was this unambiguously good. Here is testimony from a guy who had been McLelland's classmate and law partner:
They were the consummate good people.... We kidded Mike because he had no identifiable vices, and we all had vices. We either drank too much or smoked too much or chased women. But Mike had no identifiable vices...
Whatever you may think of Wayne LaPierre, McLelland was a good, good man. Also -- unlike your average kindergarten teacher (and Wayne LaPierre) -- he was an actual soldier, deeply familiar with weaponry.
And none of this was of any use when it came to thwarting a bad guy with a gun. Not even when McLelland was in his own house, armed, and hyperalert to a very real threat.
Now, you're welcome to argue that this was a unique situation. The shooting of Mike McLelland was an anomaly, when it comes to this archetypal scenario: decent citizens, well-armed. I would agree.
What was unusual was this: in general, good guys with guns are not aware of an impending threat. A more typical situation would be that of Chris Kyle, who was shot and killed at a shooting range, without any warning.
Okay, even this situation is not typical. Because Chris Kyle was a Navy SEAL. Most of us aren't. Moreover, he was a sniper. Moreover, he was the SEAL who had achieved the record number of sniper killings in Iraq. Finally, what makes Chris Kyle atypical is that he wrote a bestseller called American Sniper.
In short, Chris Kyle was one of the best shooters in the country. Perhaps the best shooter in the country. And he had lots of weapons at hand: this was a shooting range. And he did not manage to stop the bad guy.
Sorry, but despite the sincere bleating of the NRA's vice president, making guns effortlessly available to good guys is just not a very good idea. It does not make good guys any safer. It is of no benefit to America. What it does -- and this doesn't matter to Wayne Lapierre -- is make guns effortlessly available to bad guys.
What it also does -- and this matters profoundly to Wayne LaPierre -- is ensure that the people who make guns and ammunition remain fat and healthy, so that they can continue to pour millions into his obscene organization.
The nation will deeply miss the likes of Mike McLelland and Chris Kyle. Real heroes are thin on the ground. And when they are gone we tend to be left with the likes of Wayne LaPierre.