The NRA said arming more ‘GOOD GUYS’ would stop mass shootings after the Sandy Hook massacre. 10 years later, it’s still a fantasy.

By Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert

Jimmy Greene, left, Nelba Marquez-Greene, center, parents of Sandy Hook School shooting victim Ana Marquez-Greene, and Nicole Hockley, right, mother of victim Dylan Hockley, react during a news conference at Edmond Town Hall in Newtown, Conn., on Jan. 14, 2013. (Jessica Hill / AP)

The proverbial “good guy with a gun” became a fixture of the US conversation around gun rights and gun control ten years ago when, days after the massacre of 20 young kids and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary, a National Rifle Association executive gave a speech where the now-ubiquitous phrase was uttered. 

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” NPR reported Wayne LaPierre, the NRA executive vice president, said at a media event on December 21, 2012.

Now, a decade later, recent mass shootings — including the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs and the Uvalde, Texas, attack on Robb Elementary School — have prompted renewed discussion about whether a so-called “good guy with a gun” is the best way to stop a mass shooter.

On November 19 in Colorado Springs, two unarmed bystanders fought back against a gunman who had just killed five people and injured 25 more. One of the bystanders, Richard Fierro, was dubbed “a good guy without a gun” after disarming the shooter and holding him down until police arrived. 

While 376 law enforcement officers milled about the hallways and threatened parents outside Robb Elementary School on May 24, a single shooter killed two teachers and 19 students in their 3rd and 4th-grade classrooms and wounded 18 others. The Department of Public Safety’s Steve McCraw called the police response to the tragic shooting an “abject failure.”

A recent analysis of 433 shootings by The New York Times found that in nearly 60% of cases, the attacks ended before police arrived on the scene — usually when a shooter flees. In 131 incidents, or roughly about 30% of cases, incidents ended when officers either shot or subdued the attacker.

If a good guy with a gun does intervene, they run the risk of being killed, as was the case of Aaron Salter Jr. at the Tops Supermarket shooting in May. 

Salter was an armed security guard and a retired police officer with more than 30 years of experience in the Buffalo Police Department. He was killed after shooting at the gunman, whose body armor allowed him to carry on the attack unharmed as he killed 10 people and injured two more.  

“It is often said that a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun,” Buffalo News reported Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said. “Aaron was the good guy and was no match for what he went up against: a legal AR-15 with multiple high-capacity magazines. He had no chance.”

A ‘good guy with a gun’

Gun rights advocates frequently laud armed bystanders intervening in active shooter situations as the “only thing” that can stop a gunman. Examples include an armed civilian in Greenwood, Indiana, who shot and killed a suspect who had killed three in a shopping mall and two locals from Sutherland Springs, Texas, who exchanged gunfire with a shooter in a church until he fled. 

The argument is often made in support of having more widespread access to firearms — including arming teachers to prevent school shootings.  

The NRA did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

The incidents are rare examples of civilians disarming a shooter with their own firearm — according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, people successfully defend themselves with guns in less than 1% of crimes in which there is contact between a perpetrator and a victim.

In fact, The New York Times found that shootings are stopped by bystanders less than 15% of the time. Of those, they more often used physical force than gunfire to subdue the attacker. 

Bystanders who intervene are also at risk of violence, even after stopping a shooting. Last year, a bystander who shot and killed an attacker in Arvada, Colo., was shot and killed by the police who mistook him for the gunman. When Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in Tucson in 2011, bystanders disarmed the shooter when he paused to reload — but another civilian who had heard the shots came running out of a nearby Walgreens and almost shot the survivor who helped disarm the attacker

When a shooting ocurrs, even law enforcement professionals who are experienced at intervening in crisis situations may not adhere to their training or try to stop a gunman, as in the case of the Uvalde school attack. In such cases, police inaction during active shooter situations prompt questions of liability. 

When inaction becomes negligence

Peter Arredondo, the Uvalde school police chief who was among the first responding officers at the scene, was fired in August over his handling of the shooting, but the Texas Tribune reported community members believe he should also face criminal charges.

“There’s not a whole lot to debate,” Jesse Rizo, whose niece Jackie Cazares was killed in the shooting, told the Texas Tribune: “You look at someone that didn’t do their job, didn’t follow their protocol there and you simply hold them accountable.”

Rizo, who believes every officer present at the school should face “some sort of accountability,” was joined by Vicente Salazar, whose granddaughter Layla Salazar was killed in the attack, at a school board meeting to advocate for charges against Arredondo for his failure to protect their loved ones. 

Though police officers are often shielded from liability from their actions while on duty due to qualified immunity laws, there is some precedent that Uvalde police may face legal consequences for what they failed to do during the shooting.

Former Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Scot Peterson is facing 11 counts — including child neglect, culpable negligence, and perjury — for his inaction during the Parkland, Florida, shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in which 17 people were murdered and 17 others injured.

A 15-month investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement led to the charges after finding that the former sheriff’s deputy, who was a school resource officer, “did absolutely nothing to mitigate” the shooting, Rick Swearingen, the department’s commissioner, said in a statement, The New York Times reported

“There can be no excuse for his complete inaction and no question that his inaction cost lives,” The New York Times reported Swearingen said.

Peterson’s trial was rescheduled from September to February of next year. 

The numbers don’t add up

Gun reform advocacy groups point to multiple studies that indicate armed campus police do not prevent school shootings and more guns in the country makes us less safe.

“If firearms everywhere made us safer … we would be the safest place in the world,” Cass Crifasi, the Johns Hopkins Center’s director of research and policy, said in an episode of Public Health On Call. “We have more guns than people in this country, yet we are the only country that continues to experience exceptionally high rates of firearm homicide and fatal mass shootings occurring with regularity.” 

The myth of the “good guy with a gun” is perpetuated by American fiction, some experts say, with pervasive pop culture images of cowboys and superheroes who save the day, only ever shooting those who “deserve” it. 

“This is something particular to American fiction, the romanticized notion of the man who is alone and armed,” Georgetown University professor Susanna Lee, author of the book “Hard Boiled Crime Fiction and the Decline of Moral Authority” told US News. “And it’s particularly American on a second level – that being that Americans are uniquely not just willing but eager to mix fiction and reality.”

“The fiction is that having a gun is an extension of strength, confidence, and self-possession,” Lee continued. “But gun ownership and gun use is really all about men feeling fearful, inadequate, and vengeful.”

Despite its glorified media perception, the persistent fantasy of a good guy saving the day with a gun has dangerous real world impact. John Donohue, a law professor at Stanford University who studies gun violence, told ABC News that his recent analysis of 47 major US cities found that allowing citizens to carry handguns appears to increase violent crime 13 to 15 percent by the 10th year and “any crime-inhibiting benefits from increased gun carrying are swamped by the crime-stimulating impacts.” 

“The presence of the gun actually stimulates more provocative action and ends up getting people killed,” Donohue said.