A competition is probably already under way to draw messages from today's incident at the Gloucester Township, New Jersey, police station, where a man arrested on a domestic violence charge managed to seize a gun from one of the officers and open fire. He wounded three police before they shot him dead. For some, it may prove the point Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association tried to make when he said, "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." The good guys did stop the bad guy this time, but not before the bad guy took advantage of the opportunity presented by the good guys' guns. This is not an argument for disarming the police, obviously, but it might serve as a warning for other good guys out there, self-styled or otherwise. Gun-rights apologists always want to remind us that gun regulations won't deter criminals from getting guns. That's a common sense argument so long as guns are around. But stolen guns are almost by definition guns taken by bad guys from good guys. If we want to differentiate further between bad guys and good guys, today's news provides an extreme example of the audacity that often gives bad guys an advantage even over armed good guys. If a motivated person can disarm a cop inside a police station, how much better would civilians fare against such a motivated person?
Here some will pause for further information on today's incident. Since one of the wounded policemen is a woman, it may be suspected that the bad guy disarmed the weak female, turning the incident into an argument against arming female cops. If the bad guy disarmed a policeman, it may only prove that all cops need more hand-to-hand combat training against attempts to disarm them. That itself may prove that the audacious criminal has an inherent advantage -- at least until a good guy actually draws his or her weapon -- since it's unlikely that criminals undergo professional training in the art of disarming people. Whatever differences exist categorically between "good guys" and "bad guys" probably favor bad guys in most showdowns. I always think of the man who witnessed Howard Unruh's 1949 proto-amoklauf and took a shot at the killer from the safety of a second-floor window. That would-be hero simply froze when his first shot, a hit, failed to bring Unruh down. Call this "cherry picking" if you like, but I only want to suggest that the "good guy" is more likely than the "bad guy" to freeze at such a crucial moment, while the "bad guy" is more likely to be calculating his chances of taking the gun from the "good guy." How far do the rest of us have to go toward emulating criminals in ruthlessness and hair-trigger reactions before we can really be certain of our advantage against them? The cops won today in Gloucester Township only through a preponderance of force that no individual will ever enjoy. LaPierre's one-on-one ideal is too idealistic, but this moral might be overlooked during the debate over weapons. The ultimate answer to criminal individuals, or to "bad guys" collectively, isn't individual "good guys" but a vigilant and truly just community. An individual right to self-defense is no solution to social or cultural problems -- and if it puts more weapons within reach of bad guys, it may be counterproductive.