What happens when the ‘good guys with guns’ are afraid?


The common refrain we hear from Republicans after an act of violence is that a “good guy with a gun” — whether an armed vigilante or a police officer — would have saved the day. 

The idea is that adding an armed person to any scenario is the way to make that scenario more secure. But that logic has always failed to account for the fear many of those armed “good guys” may feel in these harrowing scenarios. The deadly mass shooting Tuesday at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, put that into focus. 

The Associated Press reported Thursday that onlookers standing outside Robb Elementary School during the attack, which left 19 children and two teachers dead, urged police officers to enter the building to try to subdue the gunman, but the officers refused.

“Go in there! Go in there!” women yelled at them to no avail, a witness told the AP.

Javier Cazares, whose daughter was killed, told the AP that he said to bystanders, “Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to.”

The exact sequence of events has been tough to pin down, because Uvalde law enforcement officials have given incomplete and contradictory accounts of local officers’ role in stopping the gunman. The Uvalde Police Department’s communication failures — along with viral footage of distraught parents at the scene — have prompted outrage from some who believe the officers didn’t do all they could or should have to thwart the shooter.

Officials initially said an armed security guard engaged the shooter but later walked that back. The gunman was inside the school for about an hour before Border Patrol agents arrived on the scene, entered the building and killed him, according to authorities. The New York Times reported Friday that local police officers would not allow the federal agents to enter right away once they arrived.

On Thursday night, Texas Department of Public Safety Lt. Chris Olivarez suggested that some police officers were reluctant to engage the gunman because “they could have been shot.” And during a press conference Friday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said officers made the “wrong decision” to not immediately breach the classroom and engage the shooter.

Finally, a clearer picture emerges.

We’ve seen police take battering rams to people’s doors for far less than a school shooting, yet the gunman was somehow able to carry out his attack for nearly an hour before being killed. And in a moment where use of force was actually warranted, they failed to act quickly.

I sympathize with the predicament at some level. And fundamentally, I suspect most people do as well. I value my life and I wouldn’t want to run into a school with a gunman inside. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be staring down the barrel of a war machine that Republicans have fought — fervently, shamefully — for killers to be able to carry.

Ultimately, the shooter is responsible for taking the lives of innocent children and teachers. Many people clearly carry animus toward the responding police officers as well. But they should carry twice as much for the politicians responsible for enabling the violence in the first place — the ones who say this is what comes with being a so-called free country. The conservatives who, despite claiming to support police, happily put police officers’ lives in jeopardy by making it easy for so many to acquire guns.

The flawed logic behind the “good guy with a gun” solution to mass shootings is precisely why many law enforcement groups back gun control measures conservatives have routinely blocked. Despite these groups’ acute awareness of what officers can or can’t do (or will or won’t do) during a mass shooting, Republicans reject their pushes for gun reform. 

Rather than restricting access to mass murder weapons, the GOP thinks it’s fine to send these officers back into a battle of its own making — although maybe with an extra gun or two next time — to do the deadly dirty work.