Conservatives are cheering a victory for a 'good guy with a gun.' The real story is actually a strong case against the Second Amendment
Conservatives have quickly rallied around a story that, they say, proves their oft-repeated claim that we need more "good guys with guns" to stop the "bad guys with guns."
But as should be obvious, the good guy/bad guy hypothesis is simplistic and childish. And indeed, the story that sites such as National Review, Town Hall, and the Daily Wire are celebrating is much murkier than they would like you to think. It's not clear who the "good guy" and the "bad guy" in the story is. And in fact, the incident in question provides strong evidence for the belief that Second Amendment boosterism is itself quite a dangerous force.
Here's what happened.
The 20-year-old Dmitriy Andreychenko went to a Walmart in Springfield, Missouri, carrying a rifle, wearing military fatigues, and sporting body armor, according to police. He walked around the store, they said, causing a "panic" while filming a video on his phone. At no point, according to the reports, did he begin firing his gun or even, it seems, point it at anyone.
Then a man who police describe an "off-duty firefighter" reportedly held Andreychenko at gunpoint until police arrived and arrested him. Andreychenko is now charged with making a terrorist threat in the second-degree.
Conservatives quickly hailed the incident as a victory for a "good guy with a gun". David French of the National Review quickly deemed the firefighter a "hero." The Daily Wire headlined its story: "Good Guy With Gun Stops Potential Attack At Walmart After Man Shows Up With Rifle, Body Armor." Christian Broadcasting Network was even more aggressive and clichéd, declaring: "Good Guy With Gun Stops Bad Guy With Gun in Walmart: 'He's Lucky He's Alive.'" Matt Vespa of Townhall opined: "So, a good guy with a gun stopped a possible attack, but I'm sure the anti-gun wingnuts will keep their heads in the sand."
And French crafted a whole opinion piece around the incident on Friday, urging readers to take a lesson from the story and arm themselves:
Here’s the bottom line. Regardless of your frustration at national politics and regardless of your sense of frustration at social forces that feel are out of your control, you can do something about mass shootings. You can defend yourself. You can defend the people you love. And that’s exactly what you should train yourself to do.
But the story doesn't suggest that message at all. In fact, it seems to entail the exact opposite. And despite conservative outlets portraying, explicitly or implicitly, Andreychenko as a potential attacker or a "bad guy," there's every reason to believe he shares their ideological viewpoint.
According to the police, Andreychenko was recording himself at the Walmart to see if anyone would tell him to leave. He said, "I wanted to know if the Walmart honored the Second Amendment." He was surprised, he told police, that people were upset, saying: "This is Missouri. I understand if we were somewhere else like New York or California, people would freak out." The body armor, he said, was protection in the wake of the recent shootings. His sister told police that he had asked her if she wanted to film a "social experiment" at the Walmart about Second Amendment rights. Video shows that when he got to the store, he got a shopping cart.
None of this suggests that Andreychenko was a potential mass shooter or a thwarted terrorist. The police did not accuse him of threatening anyone. Instead, he's someone who you'd think the likes of National Review, Townhall, and The Daily Wire would sympathize with: a guns rights enthusiast.
Anyone should be able to admit that what he was doing was irresponsible. But Missouri has laws that allow people to carry firearms openly without a permit.
It's true that threatening people with firearms is, indeed, illegal. But it's exactly the right-wing view of outlets like National Review that people shouldn't find guns inherently threatening; that's why French thinks everyone should get one.
What is actually threatening is holding someone up with your gun — which is what the "hero" in the story, the unnamed firefighter, supposedly did. (Dee Wampler, a lawyer for Andreychenko, however, said that he doesn't see any reason for the firefighter to be charged.)
In my view, it wouldn't be helpful to charge either of them. But this is the absurdity that the right-wing view that everyone should be armed all the time leads to. Who is the good guy here? Who is the bad guy? The most plausible conclusion, based on the evidence, seems to be that no one in the incident was trying to harm anyone; they were just trying to exercise their Second Amendment rights.
But the idea that we'll all be safer if more people are packing heat is flawed for precisely this reason. The firefighter seems to have misjudged the intentions Andreychenko. What if a third gun-wielding person on the scene misjudged the firefighter's intentions? What if Andreychenko had tried to defend himself when another civilian drew a gun on him, which is exactly what he was afraid of in the first place? When you actually try to imagine how these scenarios are supposed to play out, it's easy to see how they can lead to chaos. And indeed, the evidence shows that having more guns in an area increases the likelihood of homicides, and having "right-to-carry" laws actually seems to increase violent crimes.
Perhaps you'll say we need responsible, trained people wielding guns who can evaluate the situation and make wise judgments. Andreychenko, according to his wife, is "immature," and perhaps not ready for gun ownership.
You might think gun ownership is appropriate for someone like the National Review's David French, who frequently writes in a professional capacity about responsible firearm use. But then, in this very instance, French seems to have badly misjudged the situation. What's to stop him from misjudging any other situation he finds himself in that prompts him to think using a gun would be appropriate?
The idea that more "good guys with guns" will stop "bad guys with guns" is mere wish fulfillment. As one firearm safety researcher said, it's a "collective adolescent fantasy." We'd be better off reducing the number of guns in our society. Unfortunately, we're starting with such a large stock of firearms in the United States that it's hard to imagine how we could successfully put a dent scale of gun ownership.