Bad Guy with a Gun
Like millions of other Americans, Micah Johnson was angry about police shootings of unarmed African-American men. Unlike any other American, Johnson expressed his anger by murdering five Dallas police officers.
In a way, it’s a wonder this hasn’t happened before. High-powered weaponry is abundantly available. Concentrated police targets are easy to find in major cities – at parades, demonstrations, or near a police precinct house. Anger at police is intense, and is renewed by every police shooting of an unarmed black man. Means, opportunity, motive.
But as far as I can tell, this was the first mass shooting of police officers in American history.
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Can we finally put to rest the National Rifle Association myth that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun”? This particular fantasy was spun by NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre after the mass murder at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. LaPierre proclaimed that the 20 school children and six adults who died there might still be alive if elementary school teachers packed heat.
The idea is that gun proliferation is a better crime control measure than gun control. All you have to do is arm the “good guys,” and bad guys with guns will be stopped dead.
The notion persists even as it defies reality. The notion that elementary school teachers will maintain cool precision under assault weapons fire is absurd. The notion that patrons of Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, will respond to assault weapons fire in the dark by precisely distinguishing the armed bad guy from all the simultaneously shooting good guys, is beyond ludicrous.
The “good guy with a gun” meme, like the “stand your ground” policy, seems to be rooted in the Old West of Hollywood movies, where the heroic citizen takes down the outlaw with a single shot at 30 paces in a duel at high noon. It was mythology in the age of six-shooters; in the age of assault weapons, it’s archaic mythology.
Police officers are presumably among the best-trained gunmen in the country – better able to maintain calm under fire, better able to shoot accurately. Yet Micah Johnson killed five and wounded seven of LaPierre’s good guys with guns.
Johnson didn’t even need an assault rifle – he reportedly used a Soviet World War II-era SKS-45, a semi-automatic carbine. The weapon is cheap and reliable, but not nearly as accurate or deadly as newer, more expensive weaponry.
And Johnson was not stopped by a good guy with a gun. He was stopped by a robot with a bomb.
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Another NRA myth is that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to enable individual resistance to tyrants. After Barack Obama was elected – and once again race plays a key role in firearms issues – it became standard among gun proliferation advocates to quote Thomas Jefferson’s statement that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
One of the more fundamental flaws with this myth is that it provides no mechanism for validating the individual’s determination that a government has become a tyranny, and that the time has come to “water the tree.”
Micah Johnson certainly believed that white police officers had become tyrannical, and that the time had come to shed their blood. By the NRA’s logic, Johnson is a patriot who should be regarded as a national hero.
July 10, 2016 – My statement that the Dallas shooting “was the first mass shooting of police officers in American history” requires clarification. There has been at least one previous incident in which many police officers were shot and killed. On January 2, 1932, ten police officers went to a farmhouse in Greene County, Missouri, to arrest two brothers on charges of auto theft. Six officers were shot and killed, and the suspects escaped to Houston, where they were killed in another shootout three days later.
Legally speaking, the Greene County incident certainly counts as a mass murder shooting of police officers. But, unlike the Dallas shooter, the Greene County auto theft suspects did not seek out officers in order to kill them.
Also, during an uprising of Puerto Rican nationalists from October 30 to November 2, 1950, seven police officers were shot and killed, and 23 were shot and wounded. Again, the uprising certainly included mass shooting murders of police officers, but the “incident” occurred over four days in at least half a dozen cities, and was not a single event in the same way that Dallas was.