There's a popular belief among hardcore Second Amendment advocates that "a good guy with a gun" is one of the best defenses against gun violence.
Rep. Chris Collins (R-New York) leaned heavily on that myth when he announced, in response to the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and four others last Wednesday, that he would exercise his constitutional right and begin carrying a gun with him at all times.
"When I hear concerns from loved ones, friends and constituents fearing for our safety, my instinct isn’t just to rely on law enforcement," Collins wrote in an Op-Ed for The Washington Post. "Capitol Police officers were heroes last week — their bravery and quick thinking probably saved the lives of Scalise and my other colleagues — but self-defense is my responsibility, too."
"Now, more than ever, I truly believe that the best place to be, during a terrible episode like the one in Alexandria, is next to a good guy with a gun," the congressman continued.
What Collins fails to recognize is that this "good guy with a gun" logic is inherently flawed.
In the summer of 2016 amidst protests by Black Lives Matter against police brutality in the United States, an army reservist targeted law enforcement and began shooting. He stood off against heavily armed authorities and still murdered five police officers, injured seven others, and wounded two civilians as well. Ultimately, it was a police robot with a bomb that killed him, not a gun shot wound from a "good guy.".
The Harvard Political Review noted the telling silence of Republicans after this tragedy and the many deaths despite the presence of many guns.
"In practice, the promised success of armed opposition to an active shooter once again proved more difficult than some might suppose," the author wrote.
Mass shootings are not like target practice at the gun range; they are risky, fast-moving, and highly disorganized, and the potential for a well-intentioned gun owner to kill another civilian is high. In addition, it compounds the situation for police. A high-ranking police officer in Texas told NPR that citizens walking around armed and dangerous are a "headache" to law enforcement.
"When you have all these people running around with guns and rifles, you don't know who the bad guy is," he said.
Collins, like the National Rifle Association and many others who sway in his direction when it comes to gun rights, relies on an oversimplified version of violence to make himself feel safe. He places the responsibility of self-defense squarely on his own shoulders because it gives him a comforting feeling of control, and with it an overblown sense of agency in what is actually something he has startlingly little power over in the moment itself.
It's a cultural mentality that runs parallel with the victim-blaming reasoning that survivors of sexual assault face. In both circumstances responsibility for the outcome of the event is forced onto the victim, doing nothing to address the source of the violence itself.
When a public figure like Collins feeds into foolishness that just doesn't hold up in the chaos of real life, people pay attention. Some, if they're not gun owners already, may be inspired to start carrying their own firearm in a misguided attempt at self-defense. While they'll see themselves as a lawfully-armed citizen and potential hero, the police and other civilians will just see a person with bullets to shoot.