EDITOR’S NOTE: The original story identified a source as a combat veteran and former Navy SEAL. A records search has since revealed that he significantly exaggerated his military record. His comments have been removed from the article, and the headline has been changed. We apologize to our readers.
Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association (NRA), has famously claimed that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”
Much of today’s opposition to stronger gun safety regulations rests on the gun lobby’s Hobbesian vision of self-sufficient, heavily-armed citizens standing up to vicious thugs. This Die Hard argument is constantly parroted by politicians and conservative pundits. But the statistical reality is that for every justifiable homicide in the United States—for every lethal shooting in defense of life or property—guns are used to commit 34 murders and 78 suicides, and are the cause of two accidental deaths, according to an analysis of FBI data by The Washington Post.
LaPierre, a career lobbyist, has no clue what it’s like to use a firearm in anger. But The Nation spoke to several people who do—including combat veterans and former law enforcement officers—and who believe that the NRA’s heroic gunslinger mythology is a dangerous fantasy that bears little resemblance to reality. Retired Army Sergeant Rafael Noboa y Rivera, who led a combat team in Iraq, says that most soldiers only function effectively after they’ve been exposed to fire a number a times. “I think there’s this fantasy world of gunplay in the movies, but it doesn’t really happen that way,” he says. “When I heard gunfire [in Iraq], I didn’t immediately pick up my rifle and react. I first tried to ascertain where the shooting was coming from, where I was in relation to the gunfire and how far away it was. I think most untrained people are either going to freeze up, or just whip out their gun and start firing in that circumstance,” Noboa said. “I think they would absolutely panic.”
Those interviewed for this article agreed that the key distinction isn’t between “good guys” and “bad guys,” because intentions are less important than the rigorous—and continuous—training that it takes to effectively handle firearms in high-stress situations.
Dr. Pete Blair, an associate professor of criminal justice at Texas State University and director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center (ALERRT), has studied mass shooting incidents and trains law enforcement personnel to respond to active-shooter situations. The cops who go through his course conduct live-fire exercises using real firearms which are re-chambered to fire “soap rounds” that leave only welts when they hit.