Concealed carry and the myth of the ‘good guy’ with a gun

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Good guys with guns don’t stop bad guys with guns.

Most people would agree they could do without bullets at brunch. Yet after being robbed, Indianapolis restaurateur Art Bouvier is offering a 25 percent discount to customers with concealed carry permits. “I don’t want the OK Corral, I don’t want a shootout,” Bouvier told WISH-TV. “I actually just want the deterrent.” Essentially, Bouvier wants what the National Rifle Association has promised: a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun. It’s a nice thought, but it’s also a dangerous myth that is costing untold lives.

“A good guy with a gun” is likely what Steven Jones fancied himself when he packed a gun in his car. The 18-year-old Northern Arizona University Student opened fire outside the Mountain View residence hall earlier this month, killing a classmate. Jones claims that he was acting in self-defense when he shot 20-year-old Colin Brough and three others. Brough died from his injuries, and Jones has pled not guilty. Eyewitness reports suggest there was a fight, but no weapons apart from Jones’ gun were drawn.

To Jones, the shooting was justified. He claims he was protecting himself; that is, after all, the whole point of concealed carry. Yet one look at Jones’ Instagram page, which is now deleted, showed a dangerous affinity for firearms and American gun culture. The photos of Jones holding assault weapons and hashtags like #gonnakillshit are jarring but completely legal and all too common throughout this country, particularly in rural areas where this sort of display is almost expected out of young white men.

Just search Instagram for #ConcealedCarry or Twitter for #2A, and you’ll find an array of (mostly white) Americans ready to proudly display their guns. The rhetoric is often violent, often menacing, and often defensive. One shows a young white man napping under a pile of guns, which he calls his #freedomblanket. This is perhaps the most accurate image of American gun culture ever produced: Americans think of guns and think of liberty and security.

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Jones and his ilk illustrate how a country that is so blasé about guns and gun possession can lead one young man to bring a firearm to a fist fight, killing another. 

But he is hardly alone. Despite nearly 300 mass shootings this year, support for gun control is allegedly down among Americans. A recent CNN/ORC poll found that 52 percent of Americans oppose stricter gun control laws. A similar Gallup poll this month found that 56 percent of Americans think concealed carry makes us safer. While there is no empirical evidence to support that claim, there is mounting evidence suggesting that concealed carry may be taking more lives than it saves.

A study by a team of researchers at Stanford University and Johns Hopkins University found a direct correlation between increasing homicide rates and the adoption of concealed carry laws. “The totality of the evidence based on educated judgments about the best statistical models suggests that right-to-carry laws are associated with substantially higher rates” of violent crime, including murder, said the study’s principal investigator, John J. Donahue III.

And earlier this year, the editorial board of the New York Times again came out against concealed carry. They cited a study by the Violence Policy Center which found that “at least 722 non-self-defense deaths since 2007 were attributed to individuals with legal permits to carry concealed weapons.” Of the 544 shootings studied, “only 16 cases were eventually ruled lawful self-defense.” That’s just under three percent.

Critics accuse these studies of being limited, as many states restrict access to just who or how many people have concealed carry permits, and there are no national figures on gun crimes committed by those lawfully carrying a concealed weapon. The NRA has routinely opposed any efforts to create a public registry of permit holders, which makes it “impossible to get an empirical study that captures this on a national scale,” according to Ladd Everitt, a spokesperson for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

The photos of Jones holding assault weapons and hashtags like #gonnakillshit are jarring but completely legal and all too common throughout this country.

However, what we do know is that more guns lead to more violent crime. A 2013 study by the American Journal of Medicine found that countries with more guns had more gun-related deaths, not less, while the inverse was true for countries with low gun ownership.

Given that more guns mean more gun deaths, we should be moving toward reducing the number of guns in our public spaces and better monitoring who has the right to carry them. However, as Christopher Ingraham recently wrote for the Washington Post, increasing numbers of states are passing what are known as “shall-issue” or “constitutional carry” laws. These laws allow residents to carry firearms without any permit or instruction required,” and while they may have some age-restrictions, ultimately they mean anyone who wants to can carry a concealed weapon.

Age restrictions didn’t stop Steven Jones. At 18, Jones wasn’t old enough to legally carry a concealed weapon in Arizona, yet he did anyway. But even if he were old enough, would the three years between 18 and 21 (the age at which you can legally pack heat in the state) have made a difference? After all, another Arizona shooter—Jared Lee Loughner—was over 21 and therefore legally carrying his weapon when he opened fire on a grocery store former at which Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was speaking, wounding her and killing six others.

The vast majority of these deaths are not actually in self-defense, which takes the ammunition out of the gun lobby’s most enduring argument. The myth of the “good guy with a gun” has proven itself to be just that. 

Steven Jones was no archetypical good guy, and as his online persona shows, he fancied himself more a he-man than a hero. Yet, had he simply been old enough to take a shot of tequila, he’d have been old enough to legally take a shot in “self-defense.” And while more guns may make people like Jones and Art Bouvier feel safer, the evidence clearly indicates that concealed carry permits—and the culture they breed—aren’t just bad public policy. They are literally killing us. 

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a Chicago-based essayist, commentator, and journalist writing about masculinity, the LGBT community, and U.K. politics. 

Photo via ArtBrom/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

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