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Thursday, Aug. 28, 2008

Gun merchant Eric Thompson is not in any sort of reality

Jeff Norman, Milwaukee

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Gun merchant Eric Thompson's suggestion - that laws allowing the concealed carrying of firearms might have prevented shootings such as those enabled by his company's sale of weapons to Cho Seung-Hui and Steven Kazmierczak - is completely ungrounded in any sort of reality. Bret Ratner cites several good reasons for this, but a look at what might happen in a shooting scenario suggests several others.

First, Thompson's belief that potential killers might be discouraged by the possibility that their victims might have guns overlooks the fact that quite frequently, such killers end their sprees by turning their weapons on themselves. Clearly, the threat of being killed is no deterrent for such killers: their own deaths are part of the plan.

But let's look at what might happen if several people in a classroom or lecture hall were carrying concealed firearms. First, Thompson's rosy scenario imagines the shooter and potential victims cleanly separated by an invisible plane such that everyone has a clear, clean shot at the shooter. In reality, this is unlikely; instead, a room full of people firing off guns is likely to increase the number of victims, not decrease it. This is especially the case since it's unlikely, even with training, that all these armed students and teachers would be accurate shots.

Second, Thompson assumes that the average person would be perfectly ready and willing to pull the trigger, knowing that in doing so, he or she is likely to kill another human being. While the shooter has obviously had time to overcome such moral reluctance, it's unlikely that potential victims would have done so...and while they're wrestling with whether they should pull the trigger, the shooter is already prepared to shoot. And of course, if a student has pulled out a gun but hasn't resolved to shoot, that will only draw the shooter's fire.

Third, Thompson assumes that training, such as that offered by the NRA, will automatically create a disciplined, confident firearms user. In an article published last year in the UWM Post, Thompson absurdly compared students to soldiers - who are, of course, not only trained far more extensively than any law could require for firearms users but are subject to a disciplined chain of command. Who's disciplining or commanding some student in a classroom with a gun tucked underneath his jacket?

And what happens if the potential victims are lucky and the police arrive quickly? The shooter is not wearing a uniform with the word "villain" in large block letters on its back; when the police arrive in this concealed-carry scenario, and there are four students firing in addition to the shooter, how are the police to know which is the shooter and which are students defending themselves? Again: it's likely that more people, not fewer, would get shot in such a scenario.

Even if the police don't arrive quickly, more guns could mean more innocent people shot. The shooter arrives, and shoots; a student with a concealed weapon pulls out a gun and shoots...and a third student, who happened to be looking the other way when the first shot is fired but whose attention was drawn by the other student's shot, thinks the other student is the shooter...and fires, at the student.

Thompson's beliefs are structured on the fallacy that the distinction between "villain" and "hero" is always crystal clear, that everyone will know always who is a threat and who is to be protected. Reality is nowhere near so simple.

All of the above is hypothetical. But we don't need a hypothetical scenario - since the poorest, roughest neighborhoods of many cities are already full of people carrying concealed weapons, legally or otherwise. And in such neighborhoods, concealed carry is an unquestioned success - as the tranquility and peace of those neighborhoods, undisturbed by violence since everyone knows everyone else has a gun, eloquently attests. Right?


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Jeff Norman
Senior Lecturer, UWM
Milwaukee