The NRA is wrong: Real life is not an action movie

Opinion: The NRA says ‘the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.’ Research—and the Las Vegas shooting—proves otherwise.


 

Jooyoung Lee is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Toronto and the author of Blowin’ Up: Rap Dreams in South Central (University of Chicago Press).

The NRA has been lying to you. For years, they’ve promoted the same bumper-sticker motto: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” These were the exact words spoken by National Rifle Association (NRA) executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre after the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre killed 26, including 20 children. Since then, this saying has taken on a life of its own. It fuels a frontier attitude toward the second amendment and creates unrealistic beliefs amongst gun owners who think they’ll become Dirty Harry when things hit the fan. And, of course, it encourages people to buy more guns.

Trouble is, a close examination of mass shootings—including the recent Las Vegas shooting, which has killed at least 59 people and injured more than 500 others—pokes holes in this logic. The video footage seen thus far reveals an ugly truth: Mass shootings are chaotic, scary, and fleeting, and they rarely conform to our dominant cultural images of active-shooter situations—much less the action-hero prospects promised by LaPierre. While shootouts look cool, stylish, and effortless in movies like John Wick or The Tower, reality is a different animal.

Just watch the video. You’ll hear the rat-a-tat of automatic gunfire spraying into a crowd of concertgoers across the street from the Mandalay Bay hotel. You’ll see people ducking for cover and running. You’ll hear people screaming out of fear, while others carry on, unaware that people around them are being gunned down.

And here are the cold hard facts. The shooter—a 64-year old white man named Stephen Paddock—had an arsenal of at least 10 guns at his disposal. Many of these were AR-15s or AK-47s, machine guns designed to deal maximum carnage in a blink of an eye. Paddock was also positioned in a 32nd-floor room atop the Mandalay Bay Casino and Hotel. This gave him a strategic vantage point over the Route 91 Harvest country-music festival below, allowing him to see into a crowd of 22,000 concertgoers who could not see him. They never stood a chance.

MORE: How Las Vegas shooting victim Jordan McIldoon didn’t die alone

I’ve studied gun violence for almost a decade now—in South Central Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Toronto—and even though the Mandalay Bay shooting is the deadliest in modern U.S. history, it shares many things in common with other mass shootings that I’ve researched. Like drive-bys that smoke an entire block party or school massacres that kill an entire classroom, mass shootings are chaotic and confusing. People don’t always know that they’re being shot at. Like victims at the Mandalay Bay, some believe that they’re hearing fireworks. Most people run for cover once they realize they’re being shot at. And it’s rare to see people fight back competently; most are just trying to survive.

These ideas are also supported by Randall Collins’s important 2009 book, Violence: A Micro-sociological Theory. In it, Collins dispels many of our oldest myths about violence. He shows us that very few people are cool and competent during violent atrocities. Most are overcome by fear, which clouds their judgment and ability to rise to the occasion. This holds true for the average person and the trained soldier alike. “Some soldiers attempt to burrow into the ground, covering their faces and heads…” he writes. “It is a paralysis of terror, and sometimes troops in this condition are unable even to surrender, much less fight back, and are killed where they lie.”

Tragically, some Americans only learn the true limits of their guns when they’re caught in active-shooter situations. “I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life.  Until the events of last night,” tweeted country singer Caleb Keeter, who was at the Route 91 Harvest festival when the shooting started. “I cannot express how wrong I was. We actually have members of our crew with CHL licenses, and legal firearms on the bus. They were useless.”

Of course, the NRA doesn’t want you to know these things. These facts challenge the image that they’ve curated over the years. Sure, there are occasionally anecdotal stories of heroes who save the day, but these are rare exceptions. Far more common are stories of people who couldn’t fire their guns competently, or who froze in the heat of the moment.

MORE: Shooting holes in the self-perpetuated myth of the NRA

Additionally, our best social science casts more doubt on the NRA’s romantic-hero image. A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, “Investigating the Link Between Gun Possession and Gun Assault,” shows that carrying a gun doesn’t make you safer. Quite the opposite: carrying a gun makes you more likely to get shot. The same can be said of storing a gun at home. For instance, a 2003 study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, “Homicide and suicide risks associated with firearms in the home: A national case-control study,” finds that having a gun in the home increases a person’s risks of being shot and committing suicide.

And just as fear shapes our collective responses to live shooters, so too does it shape our behaviours in the aftermath of such tragedies. The NRA is banking on the fact that you are scared and that you’ll go out and buy guns, or you’ll support their agenda by voting for politicians who want to weaken gun control. Just this week, House Republicans have moved to roll back restrictions on silencers and are looking to pass bills that would make concealed carrying easier across state lines. They are counting on the fact that voters will believe that more guns make us safer.

This is a perverse logic, one that ignores practically everything we know about violent situations with guns. Fear motivates people to get guns. It’s also what makes us incompetent at violence. Don’t be fooled by the NRA’s attempts at leveraging another mass tragedy. Life is not an action movie, and the evidence doesn’t support the NRA’s goals to arm more citizens.

MORE ABOUT LAS VEGAS SHOOTING:


 

The NRA is wrong: Real life is not an action movie

  1. Americans live in a fantasy world……they always have.

    For some reason they call this being ‘free’.

  2. The second amendment was included in the US constitution to ensure that citizens could protect themselves and form militias to oppose corrupt governance.

    At the time, the government had muskets and cannon. Today they have drones, killer robots and spy on every aspect of our lives.

    We have never been more vulnerable than we are today. The second amendment has never been more necessary.

    We are still divided between those duped by the propaganda, complacent and afraid to speak out, and those who have seen past the curtain of propaganda and reject the organized misinformation that undermines our democracy and oppresses us.

    Do you have a bone to pick or do you want to save lives?

    100 people die every day in the US in motor vehicle accidents. That’s 36000 per year.

    Where’s your outrage? Your lobby group? Why aren’t you telling people they shouldn’t drive?

    • The second amendment was to provide a national military without having to pay for a standing army…..not to take out govts.

      Americans can’t read

    • There are endless laws and govt. regulations to make cars and roads safer, with new laws (and new tech) added pretty much constantly. And there are plenty of road safety advocacy groups.

      The ‘whatabout’ argument could be used to with anything — why don’t we ban bees? — but it’s just a deflection. You can be concerned about those other things and still be concerned about guns.

      Canada has a lot of guns, but reasonable limits (essentially, you’re allowed rifles or shotguns — no auto or semi auto weapons and almost no handguns — and there’s a license, background check and safety course. Gun death rates are 1/7th what they are in U.S. They should be lower. And they’ve been increasing the last couple of years (thanks to the end of the gun registry?).

      How do we protect ourselves against crooks with guns? Generally, we don’t have to — in the vast majority of the homicides in Canada (there were 611 total in 2016) the victim knew the killer.

      Show me just one logical, evidence-based argument (without distorted or entirely-invented statistics) against sane gun limits, and, heck, I’ll make a hefty donation to the NRA.

      • You obviously are uninformed about Canadian firearm regulations. But I will address your uninformed opinion.

        Had a trained and equipped civilian or officer immediately put suppressive fire onto the window exhibiting muzzle flashes, there would have been far fewer casualties.

        That’s how it’s done.

        The ONLY thing that will protect a lone 90 lb woman facing a 300 lb attacker is the use of a handgun.

        I am in favour of regulations that improve both our safety and freedom.

        I agree that gun owners should both be trained and tested in situational operation and that violent criminal convictions prevent gun ownership. Here I disagree with the NRA.

        But I would take it one step further. That demonstrated proficiency of training and absence of criminal convictions should entitle people to own, carry and use firearms in the situations they have been checked out for.

        Once trained and confirmed, nobody needs to know what firearms I own.

        • No reason for it.

        • Please tell me where was incorrect about Canadian gun laws in that comment.

          “The only thing that will protect a 90lb woman facing a 300lb attacker is a handgun”

          I don’t even know where to start there…

          • “Once trained and confirmed, nobody needs to know what firearms I own.”

            The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police disagrees.

          • Semi automatic rifles are as available as shotguns to hunters and target shooters in Canada.

            Handgun ownership requires only an additional 4 hours of training.

            You mean you don’t know where to start that results in any other conclusion.

          • “Had a trained and equipped civilian or officer immediately put suppressive fire onto the window exhibiting muzzle flashes, there would have been far fewer casualties.”

            Misek is merely outlining the next logical step in the NRA’s guns for everybody campaign. Like the article correctly stated, virtually everyone involved in a shooting situation is going to panic, freeze or otherwise be the opposite of Dirty Harry. Even if they could get their guns out, they’d be more likely to be shot, shoot the wrong person, confuse law enforcement and make a chaotic situation worse.

            So, to continue this line of thinking, in addition to maximum firepower (and a bulletproof vest), everyone needs tactical training to deal with every possible situation. And not just once, but constantly, like police and soldiers. Maybe more often. And constant vigilance (and paranoia), because everyone is a potential shooter, especially when they’re all doing the same thing. And if you don’t believe me, check out the covers of the various gun/survival magazines that you’ll find at any well-stocked bookstore.

            What kind of society or life is that?

            And going back to the original quote I pasted above – it’s insane. The situation those concertgoers found themselves in would be a horrible one for a squad of trained soldiers. Despite that, I have no doubt that there are legions of gun fans posting everywhere that if only there was a regular guy with an RPG blasting holes in the side of the hotel, everyone would be saved. Oh, and there are flash suppressors, so the arms & gadgets race just continues.

            You can keep your tactical readiness survivalist mentality, dude. Or maybe I just should have stopped at “they have drones, killer robots and spy on every aspect of our lives” and saved my time. Maybe it’s just safer for you to stay in your bunker.

          • You seem pretty complacent in your velvet chains sniping at the free.

            Apparently independence terrifies you.

            Wouldn’t it be ironic if I were there to observe you wishing you had a gun too.

          • Yeah, so I made the mistake of not reading your comments on other articles before replying. I’ll just stay over here and graze and you keep being awesome.

          • You’re just one sorry pile of mistakes.

  3. As of this afternoon there have been 1600 abortions in the US today.

    Free American mothers choosing to kill their living babies.

    We are all just old fetuses.

    • Who put YOU in charge?

    • At least they’re not killing anyone else

      • Sounds like you’d have more trouble with them killing a litter of kittens.

        People like you are why we need human rights and fight to protect them.

        • Again I ask……who died and made you God?

    • What does this have to do with guns?

      You have to resort to tricks and distraction because there’s no rational argument against sane gun laws.

      And this absurd national myth (The U.S. Is the only free country on Earth and it’s only free because of guns!) is getting innocent people killed every day.

      • Its no distraction to point out that if your motive is to save lives you can achieve far more by controlling access to automobiles and the means of abortion.

        • We have over 6000 known genetic diseases.

          And if you want to return to the ehorse and buggy….feel free.

        • It’s absolutely distraction, period.

          I still zero actual evidence in any of your arguments.

          • Denial isn’t just a river in Africa.

  4. Sorry to disappoint the anti-NRAers, but American statistics show that as the number of guns in public hands increases, the number of gun-shot homicides deceases.

    • Link to the (legitimate) stats that show this; otherwise, you’re just pulling stuff out of your ass.

  5. There seems to be a lot of failure on both sides in the comments here so lets analyze how Canadian Firearms Laws would have changed the Las Vegas incident to see how much gun control would affect a situation like this.

    1- Firearms License
    In Canada you have to take a course on firearms with a longer course for those wanted restricted firearms. A criminal record check, references, and spousal (if you have or have had) sign off.

    The Las Vegas shooter could have easily obtained a license here as he had no criminal record, his wife and brother said he was a good guy before this.

    So no affect

    2- Firearms in a hotel
    In Canada you have an Authorization to transport a restricted attached to your license that will allow you to transport a certain firearm registered to you to a limited amount of places if restricted, if non-restricted no ATT required.

    The Las Vegas shooter had what appear to be both restricted and non-restricted firearms and as the second you decide to break the law you ATT does not matter to you.

    No affect

    3 – Types of firearms
    In Canada firearms are broken up to 3 categories for various reasons non restricted, restricted, and prohibited. Only a few people were ever given the Prohib license. Firearms are classified this way for various reasons (prohib – full auto or it looks scary (Franchi Spas-12 because of Terminator 2), restricted – Handgun or it looks scary (AR-15), or non-restricted the RCMP cant figure out how to get it restricted of Prohib so they have to say its good.

    The US bans all full autos made after 1986 and a few other things from private ownership. Otherwise state laws dictate stuff with some states more restrictive than Canada (California)

    All the firearms I have seen in pictures could be purchased in Canada, modifying to full auto through any means is illegal, but making a slide fire stock or a Gatling device would not be that hard.

    So little to no affect

    4- Mag Capacities Limit
    In Canada semi auto rifles are restricted to 5 round mags (with some little exceptions) Handguns to 10. This is done by modifying mags to make them only hold 5, common method a rivet is placed in the mag.

    US state level has restrictions in some places.

    A rivet may be removed and a competent and practiced shooter has almost no lag in mag changes so little to no affect.

    From everything I have read this could easily have taken place in Canada. Gun control laws would not have changed a thing. Firearm’s have increased in Canada and the US and in both countries the violent crime rate has been dropping, in fact world wide the violent crime rate per capita has been dropping since the 70’s. The 6 cities with the most gun crime happen to be in some of the most restrictive states and if those 6 cities were removed from per capita stats the US gun rate per capita would look very similar to Canada.

    The main problems for Gun crime are culture and society. It is of no surprise that most people to be involved in Gun crimes in the states are 16-35 year old males. It is no surprise that if there is a gun in the house it would be easier to commit suicide with a gun (the same as owning a car and driving a car make you more susceptible to dying in a car). Maybe if they reached out more to the youth in gangs, maybe if more money was spent on mental health you would actually see some improvements. And as for the NRA’s the only thing to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, most cases of a firearm being used in self defense in the US that does not involve the firearm being discharged go unreported it is hard to say how much carrying or not carrying has actually changed anything there. But if 5 bad people wanted to break into my house where my wife and daughters are and the police (also good guys with guns) were 10 minutes away which situation would you rather be in. Armed in a room on the phone with 911 hoping to hell you don’t have to use said firearm. Or in the same room, on the same phone call and the only thing you can do is wait for the bad guys to come in and pray to the FSM that the RCMP make it first. I like having the option and hope to hell I never have to make that decision.

    • That’s an accurate assessment except that the decision to be prepared or not must be made.

      You either decide to be prepared or you decide not to be prepared.

      Some citizens are stupid and afraid. They would die before protecting themselves. Survivors choose to be prepared.

  6. This article lies in that it proffers the fiction that the NRA’s position is to defeat criminal aggression by feat of arms. In truth, the strategy is that concealed carry of weapons by civilians will deter a great many attacks because the attackers do not know who is armed and have a desire to stay alive. States adopting this concealed carry strategy have never experienced the bloodbaths always predicted by liberals. In particular, with regards to mass shootings, the attackers usually make it a point to attack in a gun free zone. The Las Vegas attacker picked a situation where he was out of effective range of return handgun fire, which is all one would expect from the victim crowd.