Posted by: Jeff | January 12, 2011

Cautionary Tales About Cautionary Tales

The news this past weekend that a gunman, possibly self-deluded and suffering from mental illness, opened fire on a meet and greet for Congressional Representative Gabrielle Giffords, killing 6 and injuring 12 more, was truly horrifying.  Giffords was critically injured, and is currently hanging on to dear life, but already pundits and observers are emerging from all corners of society to offer lessons learned and point fingers.

Though I’m empathetic to those calling for a more civil tone in politics – I, too, thought it was irresponsible for many in the Tea Party to use hunting imagery to “target” Democrats in the midterm elections – I’m not sure that it’s helpful in processing just what happened in Arizona.  It appears to be the work of a lone gunman struggling to get a grip on reality – a fact that brings me into agreement with Sarah Palin that the right is not culpable.  It doesn’t do much good to blame the tragedy on Palin or other right-wingers.  While they are certainly irresponsible and playing with fire by promoting violent imagery, this particular instance of violence was likely motivated by something else – a failure to provide adequate care for those suffering from mental health.  I worry that this societal shortcoming will be glossed over in the he-said, she-said of punditry.

Another false conclusion that worries me even more deeply is an argument already emerging among gun advocates – that if concealed weapons were more common, someone could have stopped the shooter.  These advocates champion the story of Joe Zamudio, a would-be hero who, carrying a concealed handgun, ran toward the scene of Saturday’s shooting intent on putting an end to the violence with a bullet.  When he got there, however, he fully admits that he almost shot the wrong man:

As he rounded the corner, he saw a man holding a gun. “And that’s who I at first thought was the shooter,” Zamudio recalled. “I told him to ‘Drop it, drop it!’ “But the man with the gun wasn’t the shooter. He had wrested the gun away from the shooter. “Had you shot that guy, it would have been a big, fat mess,” the interviewer pointed out.

Zamudio agreed:

I was very lucky. Honestly, it was a matter of seconds. Two, maybe three seconds between when I came through the doorway and when I was laying on top of [the real shooter], holding him down. So, I mean, in that short amount of time I made a lot of really big decisions really fast. … I was really lucky.

When Zamudio was asked what kind of weapons training he’d had, he answered: “My father raised me around guns … so I’m really comfortable with them. But I’ve never been in the military or had any professional training. I just reacted.”

The Arizona Daily Star, based on its interview with Zamudio, adds two details to the story. First, upon seeing the man with the gun, Zamudio “grabbed his arm and shoved him into a wall” before realizing he wasn’t the shooter. And second, one reason why Zamudio didn’t pull out his own weapon was that “he didn’t want to be confused as a second gunman.”

I’m not at all convinced that adding more guns would have saved lives – in fact, I’m skeptical that it wouldn’t have put more in danger.


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