Gun Owner Who Showed Restraint, Good Judgment Is Apparently an Argument Against Gun Ownership

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

That seems to be the takeaway from this Will Saletan piece.

Does the Tucson, Ariz., massacre justify tighter gun control? Don’t be silly. Second Amendment advocates never look at mass shootings that way. For every nut job wreaking mayhem with a semiautomatic weapon, there’s a citizen with a firearm who could have stopped him…

The new poster boy for this agenda is Joe Zamudio, a hero in the Tucson incident. Zamudio was in a nearby drug store when the shooting began, and he was armed…

But before we embrace Zamudio’s brave intervention as proof of the value of being armed, let’s hear the whole story. “I came out of that store, I clicked the safety off, and I was ready,” he explained on Fox and Friends. “I had my hand on my gun. I had it in my jacket pocket here. And I came around the corner like this.” Zamudio demonstrated how his shooting hand was wrapped around the weapon, poised to draw and fire. 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…

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.”

This is a much more dangerous picture than has generally been reported. Zamudio had released his safety and was poised to fire when he saw what he thought was the killer still holding his weapon. Zamudio had a split second to decide whether to shoot. He was sufficiently convinced of the killer’s identity to shove the man into a wall. But Zamudio didn’t use his gun. That’s how close he came to killing an innocent man. He was, as he acknowledges, “very lucky.”

That’s what happens when you run with a firearm to a scene of bloody havoc. In the chaos and pressure of the moment, you can shoot the wrong person. Or, by drawing your weapon, you can become the wrong person—a hero mistaken for a second gunman by another would-be hero with a gun. Bang, you’re dead. Or worse, bang bang bang bang bang: a firefight among several armed, confused, and innocent people in a crowd.

This seems like a strange interpretation of what happened. Zamudio saw violence. He was carrying. So yes, he’s naturally going to ready his gun. But he didn’t draw, point, or shoot before he assessed the situation. He did exactly what he’s supposed to do. I’m not sure how that’s an argument for gun control.

Contrary to stereotypes, legal gun owners tend to be sticklers about safety. For example, I received about a dozen emails and Facebook messages from gun owners chastising me for our October 2010 cover, which shows a woman violating gun safety rules by having her finger on the trigger.

Saletan notes that these mistakes happen in war all the time. I’m not sure that analogy works. While the military certainly tries to prevent collateral damage and friendly fire on the battlefield, it’s also understood that they’re inevitable and expected consequences of war. Accidental shootings and mistaken identity don’t generally result in criminal charges. The same goes for cops, who are rarely even disciplined for honest mistakes, much less charged. On the other hand, most people who carry legally do know that they will face severe consequences for responding to a violent incident by drawing and firing on the wrong person. And those consequences will likely include jail time.

Perhaps the wild west scenarios Saletan lays out have happened, but if they have I haven’t heard about them. And I would think “would-be hero gun owner shoots, kills wrong guy” would be the sort of story that would have generated some headlines.

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49 Responses to “Gun Owner Who Showed Restraint, Good Judgment Is Apparently an Argument Against Gun Ownership”

  1. #1 |  SJE | 

    I think your penultimate sentence is spot on regarding the cops. This gun owner acted responsibly, the same way that cops SHOULD act and used to act, but no longer because the cost-benefit calculation is so skewed: the decision to shoot has no downside for a cop.

    This story also shows that, despite the craziness of the situation, sensible people can act appropriately. There is no reason for the cops to be given a pass on their actions merely because of the situation.

  2. #2 |  Jacob | 

    He wasn’t arguing for more gun control. He was stating that adding guns to bad a situation may not be a good idea. The “2nd amendment remedies” folks have won the battle over gun control. It’s up to people against violence to point out how silly carrying around a gun is.

  3. #3 |  sux2bme | 

    “An unarmed man can only flee from evil, and evil is not overcome by fleeing from it.” – Jeff Cooper

    If this has to be explained to you, I don’t think the explanation will do much good …

  4. #4 |  Jay | 

    @ Jacob: we’ve “won” the 2nd amendment debate? I guess that means I’m imagining all the press I’ve been seeing about how the assault weapons ban would have stopped this shooter, and similar nonsense.

    When cities and states still have hundreds of unconstitutional laws restricting the 2nd amendment (which they do) and are in some cases ignoring Supreme Court precedent (as many are), we haven’t “won” anything.

    And that’s fine…I can handle debate. For instance, if you’d like to provide any evidence against carrying guns, I’m happy to hear it. But saying “how silly it is” is not evidence, nor is it a rational argument…it is your opinion, based on how you don’t like guns. And that is no foundation for law.

  5. #5 |  EH | 

    sux2bu: You’re only talking to True Scotsmen then, eh?

  6. #6 |  Dave Krueger | 

    If the chance of an accidental shooting in public is an argument against guns, then the same can be said of using guns on your own property (like when the cops erroneously target your house for a drug raid and you shoot one of them).

    The fact that something can go wrong is a poor excuse to abandon a fundamental right. I don’t even like having to defend a basic right using the argument that the pros outweigh the cons. A fundamental right is something so important that the fact that there is a downside doesn’t matter.

    They’re making that argument with regard to free speech as well. Sure, if no one was permitted to get angry, there would probably be less violence. And all we have to do is give up our right to free expression. Is that worth it? Of course, not (although the world is full of people who think it is).

    The right of free speech and the right to have a gun are most important to those who actually use those rights. Many people don’t don’t see a big down side to abandoning those rights, because they simply don’t believe they’d be affected. And, it would make the world a nicer place if everyone could just get along, right?

  7. #7 |  J.S. | 

    “That’s what happens when you run with a firearm to a scene of bloody havoc.”

    Pity most cops don’t follow that logic themselves. No way I’d ever pick up a dropped gun near a cop or help them out in that type of situation, I’m liable to be shot first, questioned later when their backup arrives.

  8. #8 |  J.S. | 

    “The “2nd amendment remedies” folks have won the battle over gun control.”

    Jacob, many people put too much faith in Heller or the Chicago case. The right to bear/own arms may have been confirmed as an individual right but they still let states make all kinds of laws to reduce the number of people who would own a gun.

  9. #9 |  Chris M. | 

    It’s interesting that on one hand, you advocate against using SWAT teams for non-violent drug raids, because they bring violence to otherwise non-violent situations; but yet you are willing to stick up for people’s right to carry a concealed weapon at a public gathering.

    True, guns-don’t-kill-people-people-do, but the adage “if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail” worries me somewhat. A couple of teenagers playing with a toy gun or BB gun could easily be confused by a “Good Samaritan” as imminently killing one another.

    (I don’t care if people own guns, but I’d prefer not to be around them. Stupid sh*t happens quite regularly.)

  10. #10 |  Delta | 

    The argument that additional armed civilians on the scene could have prevented this rampage is probably the single biggest pile of BS that I’ve seen.

    This guy didn’t actually improve the situation any. And he was one twitch away from recreating that off-duty-cop-killed-by-other cops situation from last week.

  11. #11 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Having a gun available in case something happens is not the same as waving a gun around and intentionally shouting and shoving people around to keep them confused and disoriented.

    In one case, you’re prepared to deal with violence should it happen. In the other you’re intentionally initiating a violent encounter.

  12. #12 |  djm | 

    Will Saletan sure picks an odd angle to advance his gun control agenda. I read his pieces often and whether I agree with them or not, at least they are intelligent arguments.

    If I were a gun control advocate looking to make some hay out of this issue, I would probably argue for more rigorous psychological testing for potential gun owners. I might also focus on the weapon, and banning large clip magazines (as a lead-in to banning assault weapons generally).

    The “armed bystander could have fucked up, but didn’t” argument is weak, very weak.

  13. #13 |  BamBam | 

    I’d like to hear why the non-shooter person picked up the gun. WTF????

    Yes Radley a majority of firearms owners when acting in a private capacity (vs public e.g. cop) are far more conscientious about safety, including the trigger finger example you gave. I have been around hundreds of other private firearms owners, and we all watch each other for safety violations and correct them. We’re human so we all make mistakes, but it’s drilled into our heads a lot to drastically decrease the chance for error. If a person hasn’t experienced this, then I’d say you’re around people that are uneducated about firearms safety and should get some safety training and begin to educate your friends.

  14. #14 |  Dave Krueger | 

    The only problem with the armed bystander is that he wasn’t closer to the action when it first broke out. It sounds like he behaved exactly like a cop would have behaved if one had happened onto the scene at the same moment.

  15. #15 |  CyniCAl | 

    In other news, a jogger in Florida who was accosted by a teenager shot and killed him with a legally concealed handgun and will not face charges. So apparently there are important people who disagree with Saletan, which is nice.

  16. #16 |  Gerald A | 

    What if it was an off-duty cop instead of Zamudio? Who would be more likely to shoot first?

  17. #17 |  BamBam | 

    The article that Radley quotes has some poor wording. After watching an interview with Zamudio here http://www.dailypaul.com/node/154189 and reading other articles, it’s now clear to me that the person who Zamudio saw holding the pistol had just taken it away from the shooter. The timing of it created a scenario that could have turned ugly but did not.

  18. #18 |  Juice | 

    Everyone seems to be trying to rationalize an irrational act. Everyone seems to be trying to bring order to a random act. The fact is that there was no real reason that this happened and there is no “public policy” that will “fix” or “prevent” situations like this.

  19. #19 |  David in NYC | 

    “Contrary to stereotypes, legal gun owners tend to be sticklers about safety.”

    Just like legal gun owner Jared Lee Loughner, right?

  20. #20 |  Retrorv | 

    To argue that the gun control issue hasn’t been won by the gun rights crowd is simply silly. Nate Silver has an excellent take on that here: http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/did-democrats-give-up-in-gun-control-debate/
    There hasn’t been a federal gun control law enacted since 1993 and the federal bench is much more prone to agree with 2nd Amendment advocates-especially the Supreme Court. There are still cities like D.C. and Chicago where, locally, gun control sentiment runs high but nationally this debate is over for now.

  21. #21 |  thom | 

    #18 has it exactly. Folks are sitting around trying to figure out why a crazy person did something crazy.

  22. #22 |  BamBam | 

    @19, you’re going to find exceptions to everything in life. This doesn’t negate the author’s statement “Contrary to stereotypes, legal gun owners tend to be sticklers about safety.”

  23. #23 |  james | 

    Well… if anything has come of this it’s that someone has finally found an actual purpose for a 32 round magazine. Glad those are legal and ready for purchase at any fine retailer of firearms in Arizona.

  24. #24 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Chris,

    Mr. Balko’s argument against SWAT lead drug-raids is not that the SWAT men are armed, but that they go into the raid with a battlefield mindset, and in consequence every place they raid turns into a battlefield … even when they are at the wrong house.

    If the average armed citizen went around with that battlefield mindset, then every loosening of gun control laws WOULD have resulted in the kind of Wild West shoot out that Gun Control advocates always predict in such cases.

  25. #25 |  Danny | 

    A situation that chaotic is as random as twenty rolls of a fair die. There is no way to know whether armed civilians on or near the scene will make it better, worse, or have no effect at all.

    The merits of civilian gun carrying have to be evaluated under much less extraordinary scenarios. Whatever legislation on civilian gun carrying is going to be, it cannot be based on these kinds of absolutely wild, unpredictable and hens-tooth-rare situations.

  26. #26 |  cw | 

    > While the military certainly tries to prevent collateral
    > damage and friendly fire on the battlefield, it’s also understood
    > that they’re inevitable and expected consequences of war.

    Accidents are also an inevitable consequence of a free society that embraces liberty for all! Despite the inevitability of harming the innocent and the associated low probability that I will be harmed, I’ll take a free society over a society that senselessly pursues the impossible goal of absolute safety, at the loss of liberty, any day.

    I also find it strange that it’s commonly accepted as neccesary and rightous for soldiers, and even innocent victims of war, to lose their lives in the name of freedom for the people of our state and the entire “free world.” In truth, the pursuit of freedom is rarely, if ever, the true reason that soldiers die, but people accept and honor their deaths, and perpetuate the loss of life in war as a necessity to bring freedom to the world (which, again, it truthfully never does.) On the other hand, when a few people die as a consequence of an accident or a horrible tragedy like the Giffords’ shooting, the typical reaction of people is to destroy freedom and liberty and, in doing so, dishonor the soldiers that have fallen in the name of freedom. (I’m speaking from the inconsistent perspective of those who think soldiers must die for freedom here).

  27. #27 |  Jesse | 

    So Will Saletan is simply a government police boot-licker. Since the free, private citizen did it, it was a potentially catastrophic situation.

    We can only assume that had it been a government tax-feeder with the appropriate costume, Will’s remarks would include the heroism and near-divine judgement and restraint of the police officer, holding him up as an example of selfless public service.

  28. #28 |  Nick T. | 

    I don’t understand Saletan’s argument unless he would also make the same argument against a police officer (or perhaps a soldier on leave) being at the scene.

    I’m guessing he wouldn’t which begs the question of why? I mean, I think almost no one, if asked: “would the situation in Tucson have been less tragic and violent had an armed, off-duty cop* been present?” would say “No.” So why is a calm, prepared civilian any worse? Of course, when you realize it’s not worse at all, Saletan’s argument is reduced to not wanting anyone at all to bring a gun in response to a crazed gunman.

    *(I say off-duty because a uniformed cop may have dispelled the whole attack to begin with and thus change the scenario to be irrelevant to this discussion)

  29. #29 |  Jesse | 

    Chris, your eyeglasses are on the back of your head. Might want to put them on in front of your eyes.

    SWAT teams bring guns to drug raids of non-violent people because they draw those guns and point them at people. Peaceful, law-abiding citizens carry guns not because they intend to shoot the first person they see in public, but for protection in case someone decided they are going to act like a SWAT team, meaning bring violence to an otherwise peaceful situation.

    Criminals also carry guns, but suffice it to say, if this guy was intent on shooting the congresswoman and other people, the gun laws are of absolutely ZERO consequence. Even if some psychologist deigned him unfit, there are places to get guns outside the law. You cannot stop a psychopath with laws.

  30. #30 |  Jesse | 

    I suppose the bottom line, for Will Saletan, is that when there is a scene of bloody havoc, nobody carrying a gun should be allowed to help.

    I suppose he’d prefer that the Salvation Army respond to these situations instead of the police (not that I think the police outcome would have been any better, we all know that the innocent guy that wrestled the gun away would most likely have been shot dead.)

  31. #31 |  karl | 

    “Would-be hero gun owner shoots, kills wrong guy” does generate headlines, I remember it happening a couple of times over the last 40 years here in Phoenix. Very rare but not unheard of.

  32. #32 |  wrp | 

    If the quality of Zamudio’s response turns out to be typical of untrained gun owners under unexpected stress, that will be an argument in favor of widespread concealed carry. Saletan is basically saying that he expects otherwise.

    If you’re looking for relevant anecdotes, there was an incident last year in Sammamish, near Seattle, where an argument in a park escalated badly (two dead, multiple wounded, and ultimately multiple shooters) when concealed weapons came out. There were allegations of gang affiliation, but as far as I know the only “evidence” was that they were Asian kids and owned guns, so of course they were in gangs, right?

    It made local headlines, but as far as I know the national press never picked it up.

  33. #33 |  Michael Chaney | 

    The guy who picked up the gun was in the wrong – and he did expose himself to potentially being shot and killed by a police officer or good samaritan. A police officer would have likely faced no repercussions for such an action, and a good samaritan likely would have faced no more than a couple of years in jail. In a situation like that, unload the gun close to the ground and then stand on it, but don’t pick it up unless you have to use it.

  34. #34 |  RWW | 

    To argue that the gun control issue hasn’t been won by the gun rights crowd is simply silly… There hasn’t been a federal gun control law enacted since 1993…

    That the state hasn’t further encroached upon poeple’s rights isn’t an indication of victory — just an end of defeat.

    The merits of civilian gun carrying have to be evaluated…

    No, they don’t, because it’s no one’s business.

    “Would-be hero gun owner shoots, kills wrong guy” does generate headlines, I remember it happening a couple of times over the last 40 years here in Phoenix. Very rare but not unheard of.

    Certainly more rare than the daily police killings and other brutality against innocents.

  35. #35 |  Retrorv | 

    “That the state hasn’t further encroached upon poeple’s (sic) rights isn’t an indication of victory — just an end of defeat.” Valid point but not exactly what I was responding to. Certainly, political views could change and the environment for more gun control could become more willing for such legislation. As I ended my comment, the debate is over…for now. But I was responding to a post that suggested its still going on. I’m a Life Member of the NRA and I have to laugh at the warnings that Pelosi/Reed/Obama are going to take my guns away. Not a single bill even brought to the floor of either house, much less presented to the President.

  36. #36 |  BSK | 

    With all the focus on cross hairs and bulls eyes and such, why are we so eerily silent on Target? Clearly, the store is a Democratic ploy to get middle Americans seeking budget prices into a concentrated place and blowing them off the planet. Or maybe it’s a Republican ploy to get poor urban folk into a concentrated place and blowing them off the planet. Or maybe… it’s just a store.

    I think the rhetoric is gross. But it’s just that… rhetoric.

  37. #37 |  Richard Pinney | 

    analagy?

  38. #38 |  stan | 

    Based solely on the description in the article, I would guess that the fellow who disarmed the shooter and was carrying the gun away was very lucky that there were no police around. Unlike the concealed carry guy, who showed admirable restraint and clear thinking, the police would most likely have simply shot him first.

    I agree that carrying the shooter’s weapon away rather than standing on it may have been a mistake, but I can also understand the impulse to remove the weapon from the vicinity of the shooter.

  39. #39 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    “An unarmed man can only flee from evil, and evil is not overcome by fleeing from it.” – Jeff Cooper

    Reduction of an argument to one sentence is not the same thing as being right or effective. Here’s another sentence.

  40. #40 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    BSK is correct. None of us are safe as long as Target is allowed to exist.

  41. #41 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    The good samaritan could have just been a gamer. Picking up dropped weapons is second nature.

    To #18′s comment: I agree with you. Wake me when the discussion turns to mental health services and not gun control or extra protection for Congressmen. Before he was a murderer, he was a mentally sick kid who needed help.

  42. #42 |  Mattocracy | 

    A lot of liberals will say that if our government didn’t meddle in the middle east, terrorism wouldn’t be a problem. But the same logic doesn’t apply to domestic issues resulting in gun violence. Vice versa is true for conservatives.

    We sow our own seeds more often than not. I really wish politicians would stop every once in a while and think about why people want to kill them, both at home and abroad.

  43. #43 |  Mattocracy | 

    Just to clarify, I’m not saying anyone deserves to get shot or assassinated. No one deserves to get robbed either, but we still lock our doors at night and mind our own business for the most part.

  44. #44 |  Marty | 

    #12 | djm |

    ‘If I were a gun control advocate looking to make some hay out of this issue, I would probably argue for more rigorous psychological testing for potential gun owners.’

    cops and firefighters routinely go through ‘psychological testing’ as part of the hiring process in large departments. Do you really want a bureaucrat saying, ‘djm, the test results came back and… sorry, we can’t issue your permit.’ only to find out the reason they won’t give you a permit is that the test shows you’re the kind of person who is independent and doesn’t take shit and is wary of authority.

    generally, people with genuine psych issues have bigger things to worry about than how to get a gun permit…

  45. #45 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Nicely put, Marty. The debate sometimes goes “anyone THAT into guns is crazy”. No, sanity cannot be deduced by quantity of gun ownership no more than believing in a bearded dude living in the clouds will help your football team win on Sunday.

  46. #46 |  Mannie | 

    Brief summary of the action: Shooter fires up the crowd, killing several. No cops were in attendance. The Militia responds. This is what the militia is for. One Citizen grabs the weapon. Another citizen, wounded himself grabs the shooter. The militiamen wrestle the shooter to the ground. Another militiaman armed, arrives at the scene, and used UNARMED techniques to attempt to disarm the wrong guy. No one was particularly trained, that’s what the Unorganized (Disorganized?) Militia is. Finally, the cops show up and police up the trash.

    But the Militia responded where no government operatives were present. They prevented additional shootings. AND NO ONE WAS HURT.

    If you can find a better argument about why a bunch of nobody-schlubs should get involved, I’d like to hear it. It could have gone better, but it worked. AND LIVES WERE SAVED.

    God bless the Militia. Those old guys in funny wigs were right.

  47. #47 |  Steve Verdon | 

    This is a much more dangerous picture than has generally been reported. Zamudio had released his safety and was poised to fire when he saw what he thought was the killer still holding his weapon. Zamudio had a split second to decide whether to shoot. He was sufficiently convinced of the killer’s identity to shove the man into a wall. But Zamudio didn’t use his gun. That’s how close he came to killing an innocent man. He was, as he acknowledges, “very lucky.”

    This is true of every cop, so can we disarm them too?

    Will Saletan…fucking retarded badge licker.

  48. #48 |  Southern Man | 

    I remember firearms training way, WAY back in the day in Boy Scouts. It was conducted by a couple of guys from the NRA. Every third word was “safety.” Our scoutmaster deliberately did a few things wrong so they could jump on him (verbally) and explain in detail what the error was and how to correct it. I’ve never forgotten their combination of passion for shooting and emphasis on safety, and have passed that on to my family as best I can. Given that, it sound to me, based on this account, that Zamudio acted properly.

  49. #49 |  MikeZ | 

    “The guy who picked up the gun was in the wrong – and he did expose himself to potentially being shot and killed by a police officer or good samaritan. A police officer would have likely faced no repercussions for such an action, and a good samaritan likely would have faced no more than a couple of years in jail. In a situation like that, unload the gun close to the ground and then stand on it, but don’t pick it up unless you have to use it.”

    I haven’t seen any live footage of the takedown here but I don’t think the guy who picked up the gun can automatically be thought of as wrong. I’m sure I might do the same thing. Suppose there is a psycopathic shooter shooting people in a crowd you are in, somebody tackles the guy and the shooter drops the weapon. Wouldn’t you pick up the weapon to make sure a psycho doesn’t get it back? Then having picked it up knowing its loaded and the safety is off, I’m not putting it away unless I’m familiar with the model and know how to put the safety on (or even better ejecting the clip and removing the live round from the chamber). Call me paranoid but I don’t trust anyone/anything which certainly includes the mechanics of weapons fired by psychos. So the uninformed police/bystanders would see me holding the weapon as well.

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