The Fallacy of the “Good Guy with a Gun”

Via the DMN:  After gunman takes Texas churchgoers hostage, police shoot the man who disarms him

After a gunman took 100 people hostage at a Texas church this month, police burst in and shot a man holding a gun.

But that man, Tony Garces, had taken the pistol away from the gunman after churchgoers were able to tackle him.

“I got the gun,” he told KVII-TV. “I thought it was over. but they the cops shot me. The good guys shot me.”


Just before police arrived, several of the hostages managed to wrestle the gunman to the ground, and Garces snatched the weapon from his hand.

Responding officers then came into the building from two entrances and saw Garces. At least one officer opened fire, and Garces was struck in the neck and torso.

The is pretty straight-forward:  when the police arrive on the scene, they aren’t going to know who the “good guys” are and who the “bad guys” are.  They will, however, likely shoot guys holding guns.  Luckily Garces was able to disarm the perpetrator and to survive being shot by police.

Events such as the above illustrate why trite characterizations of “good guys” and “bad guys” are tiresome and unhelpful.  That is the backyard “pretend like” talk of youth or the stuff of action movies.  Real life is complicated and this actual example of that fact ought to give pause to the notion that arming teachers is our solution to school shootings.

FILED UNDER: Guns and Gun Control, Policing, US Politics, , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. MBunge says:

    That’s a good example for one side of the argument. On the other hand, the fact that we just saw law enforcement stand around and do nothing to stop a school shooter would seem to be a pretty good example for the other side.

    Or what about this?

    Real life IS complicated. That’s why argument through anecdote is bad, even when the anecdote in question seems to support your position.


  2. MarkedMan says:

    That is the backyard “pretend like” talk of youth or the stuff of action movies.

    Hear, hear.

  3. DrDaveT says:


    That’s why argument through anecdote is bad, even when the anecdote in question seems to support your position.

    So, you advocate taking positions based on the overall statistics of how gun ownership affects life and death? You amaze me. Bravo.

  4. Franklin says:

    @MBunge: I can agree with your point about anecdotes.

  5. One of the guys at the Vegas shooting in the band was carrying. He didn’t pull his gun because he was afraid the police would mistake him for the shooter.

  6. TM01 says:

    Weird. Every single one of those untrained church goers was braver than the members of the Broward County PD.

  7. @MBunge: You are correct that one anecdote is not proof. But, as the post notes, this example illustrates the difficulties police face in these situations.

  8. JKB says:

    Well, in Parkland, the teachers could have shot back, cleaned their weapons and stored them while the Broward County cops were milling about smartly outside.

    But yes, cops are dangerous. If you decide to carry, or disarm someone, you have to be aware of the police and not have the gun in hand, because the police are dangerous once they’ve got their courage up.

    SOP for an active shooter. Police shoot everyone with a gun. Of course, SOP since Columbine for most police is you go in or at least that is the line they sell. Now we here, you form up into a team while the victims are being killed.

    SOP for Secret Service if they come under serious attack. Mow down everyone, reporters, staff, citizens, police, etc. Remove the President or other protectee and send in the secondary team to clean up. Something to keep in mind if you are around a Secret Service protectee.

  9. KM says:

    What makes you think the teachers would have responded any differently then the resource officer? What makes you believe the exact same thing wouldn’t have happened – that the teacher wouldn’t have frozen or been indecisive? It’s one thing to talk big in safety but when it hits the fan, just possessing a gun doesn’t grant courage or valor.

    I keep seeing you people swear up and down the teachers would have shot back while completely ignoring the fact that they too could have been cowardly. Before that sad day, the cop was someone you’d have held up as the guy willing to shoot the bad guys. You just don’t know. What’s to stop some dishonest soul from agreeing to carry for a bonus and then flake when needed? Y’all say you can’t trust the police when they’re minutes away but want the kids to trust their math teacher will turn into Dirty Harry and not Spineless Joe?

  10. Gustopher says:

    @KM: If you arm enough teachers, one of them is bound to go in, guns a-blazin’

    It might create an even worse disaster, or it might end up perfectly, but someone is bound to go in. Law of big numbers.

  11. EddieInCA says:

    One of the perks of doing what I do is I get to some fun sh*t that most people don’t ever get the opportunity to do. While working in Florida (wr, you know when I’m talking about), I got to, among other things:
    A. Swim with Manatees
    B. Drive a Nascar car at Homestead Raceway
    C. Hold a 5 foot alligator
    D. Go through the Tactical Operations Course of the Broward Sherrifs.

    I own several handguns, and am not anti-gun, although I am anti-NRA. I keep my guns cleaned, oiled and ready to go to shoot at the range. That’s all I use them for. I’m a decent shot. Better than most, not as good as some. When I’m not using them, they’re locked, unloaded, and stored. I have no illusions of using any of my guns for self-defense. But I practice target shooting regularly.

    When I went through the Tactical Course, I got “killed” every single time by the bad guys. Every. Single. Time. 11 times in all. And in all different ways. Most times, for not “clearing my blind corner”. And here’s what’s messed up. Even though we were shooting blanks. Even though there was absolutely no chance of me being shot, or injured, or killed, my heart rate was through the roof. My hands were shaking. My legs were shaking. I was sweating, even though it was cold. Fear overtook every part of me.

    Anyone who thinks that a civilian is going to be able to step up and calmly put a round into someone shooting an AR-15 or M-4 at them is insane AND delusional. Not. Going. To. Happen.

  12. Jay Dee says:

    Did anyone order Garces to put the gun down before they started shooting?

    No, what this illustrates is poor police practices. No training in discerning good guys from bad guys, poor scene management, etc.

    Mr. Garces showed poor judgement in retaining the gun when the police showed up but the question whether he was given the opportunity to drop the gun in open to question.

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Jay Dee: You’ve been watching too many movies.

  14. @Jay Dee: I don’t think we have any indication, one way or another, whether anyone ordered him to drop the gun.

    But what you are pointing out is that a lot of little things can go wrong in a scenario like this, which is happening at breakneck speed in the context of a high stress situation. If the only way for these scenarios to go well is for all participants to behave perfectly, then it seems to me that we cannot count on these scenarios going well.

  15. mattb says:

    The challenge of the multiple good guys with guns scenario, as demonstrated in the church shooting case, is that the difficulty of IDing who an actual shooter is versus the people defending. Police (and other organized forces) have the visual short hand of uniforms to help quickly identify ally versus threat. It’s worth noting that there have been more than a few cases in recent memory where uniformed police have shot uncover police (because there were no clear visual markers to suggest that individual was a “good guy.”).

    Most of the cases where we have seen a “good guy with a gun” (like the one that @MBunge posted) it was a case where there was a single citizen with a gun in the situation and so there was a clear delineation.

    To @Steven’s point, absent clear markers, in the midst of an unfolding situation in a close quarter environment, if multiple good guys with guns show up, we have to hope that they are all going to have a hell of a lot of presence of mind to make a lot of split second decisions correctly.

  16. @mattb: Exactly.

  17. Hal_10000 says:

    I’m not sure what your point is here. The cops were incompetent, so … civilians shouldn’t defend themselves? I agree with you on not arming teachers (for different reasons). But the general failure of law enforcement to deal with these situations and the SCOTUS precedent that cops are under zero legal obligation to protect citizens kind of mitigates the relevance.

  18. Mister Bluster says:

    @KM:..It’s one thing to talk big in safety but when it hits the fan, just possessing a gun doesn’t grant courage or valor.

    Coward’s Courage

  19. @Hal_10000: My point is that it is very difficult, in an active shooter situation, for law enforcement to know the difference between a “good guy” and a “bad guy” if they have guns.

    I do not consider this example to be one of police incompetence.

  20. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:


    Real life IS complicated. That’s why argument through anecdote is bad, even when the anecdote in question seems to support your position.

    So your point is that we should engage in anecdote duels or were you warning us to ignore your anecdote?

  21. Bob The Arqubusier says:

    So, the examples to prove the argument that we should leave stopping bad guys to the professionals are 1) a cop who screwed up and shot the wrong guy, and 2) several cops who, when the time came for them to do their duty, proved they were utter cowards.

    I wonder just how things might have turned out had Aaron Feis had had a gun that day…

  22. @Bob The Arqubusier:

    I wonder just how things might have turned out had Aaron Feis had had a gun that day…

    The honest, sad answer is that he would likely still be dead and the shooting would continued as it did. Unlike on the Walking Dead, people don’t calmly and easily produce a kill shot. And it still would have been semi-automatic rifle v. handgun.

    Might he have stopped the shooting? Sure. But if we are playing scenarios we need to know where the shooter was, and where Feis was and what real and actual options he had. He might have could have stopped the shooter if he had had a rock to throw at that moment and had hit the shooter in the head with enough force. If he had been closer and could tackled him, etc.

    We can all think up alternative scenarios, but that doesn’t make them realistic.

  23. Bob The Arqubusier says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Unarmed, he threw himself between the gunman and students. He had enough presence of mind to willingly sacrifice himself. That indicates he might have had the presence of mind to properly use a gun instead.

    In case you missed it, here’s one of the main reasons the shooting happened. It’s a quote from Sheriff Israel from before the shooting:

    As our sheriff, I successfully implemented new policies and approaches to public safety that sharply reduced violent crime and burglary rates – the sharpest declines in the entire State of Florida. My innovative initiatives also helped keep children in school and out of jail, greatly expanding the juvenile civil citation program and making issuance of civil citations mandatory for BSO deputies. I worked to combat gun violence by openly lobbying legislators to curtail Stand Your Ground, block open carry legislation, and block legislation allowing concealed guns on school campuses.

    He ordered his department to do everything they could to keep the shooter out of jail. If the kid had been arrested and convicted, he would not have been able to legally buy guns. But that would have messed up the sheriff’s statistics and made him look bad, so the shooter got pass after pass after pass.

  24. Tyrell says:

    There is a convenience store up the road that was the target of some holdups. The owner finally got fed up and started carrying a gun. Since then there have been no robberies.
    “Security by Smith&Wesson”

  25. Bob The Arqubusier says:

    @Tyrell: There you go, using anecotes to refute anecdotes…

  26. teve tory says:

    It’s just such a shame that Donald Trump wasn’t there to run in unarmed and take the shooter down.

  27. al-Ameda says:

    @Bob The Arqubusier:

    I wonder just how things might have turned out had Aaron Feis had had a gun that day…

    I’ve always wondered what would have happened if Trayvon Martin had a gun instead of packet of Skittles that day …